When Samuel Little was charged and convicted with the murder of three women in California, authorities had no idea that those homicides were just the tip of the iceberg for a man who claimed to be the most prolific serial killer in American history.
Having moved to Florida with his mother, Little had been arrested 26 times by the time he was 35 across 11 states. His crimes included theft, assault, attempted rape, fraud and even attacks on government officials. However, no one had any idea at the time of those more minor crimes that this man was a cold-blooded killer and sadist.
Samuel Little was born in 1940 in Reynolds, Georgia. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Ohio, and he was raised there, mainly by his grandmother. He was a poor student at the Hawthorne Junior High School; both regarding discipline and grades, although he was an aspiring sportsman and loved both Football and Baseball. But it was in high school when Little was arrested for the first time, and that would be the first time of many.
Growing up was hard for Little, and his folks struggled to make ends meet despite all the hours they worked. At the age of 16, Little was caught breaking and entering into a property in Omaha, Nebraska and was sent to an institution for juvenile offenders. He flunked out of school completely after that and spent most of his time on the streets, involved in petty crimes and theft.
Little’s family knew that Samuel was headed for jail and that it was only a matter of time before he served some time. In 1961, he was sentenced to three years behind bars for breaking into a furniture store in Lorain. Following his release, he shuttled between different states having left Ohio and made his living through robbery and theft. Then, in the late 1960s Little moved to Florida with his mother.
Having a strong physique and being well built and fit, Little got different jobs in an attempt to turn around his life. He worked as an ambulance attendant for a while and then as a cemetery worker. He even took up boxing while in jail and considered himself to be a prizefighter at one point. But the life of fast rewards through crime was just too tempting, and it wasn’t long before Little was back on the streets and up to no good.
Little was quite the career criminal by 1975, having been arrested 26 times across 11 states for crimes ranging from theft to attempted rape and worse. He chose to spend the majority of his time with prostitutes and their pimps, but when one prostitute went missing into thin air, Little was under suspicion for her disappearance. Melinda LePree, 22, hadn’t been seen by anyone for days, and the last person she was seen with was Little.
Even though at the time a grand jury declined to indict Little for LaPree’s murder, he was transferred to Florida to stand trial for the murder of 26-year-old Patricia Mount, whose body was found in the fall of 1982. Witnesses in court identified Little as the man seen with Mount on the night before she disappeared. However, the court was unsuccessful in convicting Little of that murder due to mistrust of witness testimony and other factors.
Soon after Little’s acquittal for Mount’s murder he moved down to California and stayed in the San Diego area. A few years later and Little was in trouble once again, this time being arrested for beating two prostitutes. For those crimes he was convicted to two-and-a-half years in jail; a sentence he fulfilled. Following his release, he moved to Los Angeles and carried on with his life of crime.
Back in the days when Mount and LaPree were murdered there was no such thing as DNA testing to any degree of certainty. Many years later and Little would be arrested in 2012 at a Louisville, Kentucky homeless shelter after police tied his DNA to the murders of Carol Elford, Audrey Nelson, and Guadalupe Abodacha. The women, all prostitutes, were found dead on the streets of LA in the 1980s and 1990s.
Following the police investigation into Little’s ties to these three murders, he was extradited to Los Angeles, where he was charged. But a few months later and police were shocked to discover that Little was also implicated in dozens of other murders across numerous states over a 30-year period. The LePree case was reopened, and Little’s DNA was tested against 60 women who were murdered across the U.S.
A little while later and Little was in court for the murders of Elford, Nelson, and Abodacha. The prosecution’s presentation of DNA test proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Little was guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison for those murders without the possibility of parole. Even past the verdict, Little swore his innocence despite being sent for the rest of his natural life to the California State Prison in Los Angeles County.
After the dust settled and Little began to open up to the police, what he revealed shocked them to their core. He told authorities that he had killed at least 90 women across the country between 1970 and 2005. That would make him one of the deadliest and most prolific serial killers in history. He targeted prostitutes and drug addicts and basically “women that wouldn’t be missed,” as one detective put it.
While Little ultimately admitted to killing 90 women, 30 have already been corroborated by the police across 19 states. Little confessed to murdering 20 women in Los Angeles, including the three he was recently convicted of. He also claimed responsibility for a murder in San Bernardino, according to The Los Angeles Times as well as tens of other homicides.
Unlike many other infamous serial killers, Little was able to slip through the net on numerous occasions and to carry on committing murders. as Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman, who secured Little’s 2014 conviction asked, “Did he kill 10 women? Did he kill 20?” asked Silverman, who secured Little’s 2014 conviction, adding, “I think he made a mockery of the justice system up and down the United States.”
While Little chose not to divulge details to investigators originally, that all changed when he was transferred to another jurisdiction. She believes that Little’s motive for murder was for sexual gratification and that he took some perverse pleasure in deciding whether his helpless victims would live or die. He was reportedly distraught over being arrested and questioned by two female cops.
Little’s murderous spree coincided with the capture of another serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper.” Lonnie Franklin Jr. lured many women to their death in the same place where Little was working, but there was another problem that severely hampered police investigations at the time. That was during a time where L.A. was in the grips of a terrible crack cocaine epidemic.
As Silverman explained to reporters: “During the time period that he was convicted of murdering three women here in L.A., we were in the middle of a crack cocaine epidemic,” she said. “During that time period, there were more than 100 women of color who wound up dead in alleyways in South L.A.” And there are plenty of cops who want to see justice served and for families of victims to get the closure they so badly need.
The Ector Country district attorney, Mr Bland, reported that Little was now freely offering information to assist with cold cases of women he may have murdered. “Justice for the victims of Samuel Little may have been delayed, but because of these efforts, justice is no longer denied,” Bland said in a statement.
As the details about Little came out, investigators were able to paint a picture of his modus operandi. Usually living in halfway houses or hostels for the homeless, Little was hard to find as he had no permanent address and moved from city to city frequently. However, with this vagrant life he lived there emerged a pattern, and it was one that Little followed closely for almost all his murders.
Little knew that the prostitutes he met were easy prey. He would pick them up and take them to a secluded place or meet them at their apartment. The women were always black or Latino, and he would inevitably overpower them and murder them after having sex with them and not paying. The women would fight back desperately, but Little was simply too strong and able to subdue them.
When Little gave details about how he killed all his victims by strangulation, cops were amazed by the level of detail he gave them. One survivor who was attacked on the street by Little in 1984 said he choked her to the point where she blacked out, then let her breathe and start all over again. That woman was lucky to survive the attack and was able to testify in court against Little many years later.
The woman told jurors “He liked to feel me swallow with his thumb on my neck,” she told jurors. “It became a game – right before I’d go unconscious, as my eyes started rolling back, he’d let go and ask me to swallow again.” He was convicted for assault and false imprisonment for that attack but only spend 30 months in jail for it.
Hard to Catch
Due to not having a fixed address, cops had difficulty locating Little after warrants were issued for his arrest. He would use a pre-paid benefits card to cover expenses, and that’s where the police were able to get his information and track him down. They called the card’s customer service line and were able to find where he was and to arrest him.
While many in law enforcement were hopeful that Little’s confessions would bring much-needed closure to the families of the victims across the country, the “full accounting” of his crimes is no victory for law enforcement who said he was always “two days ahead of them,” according to Silverman. “The amount of women who lost their lives. The amount of children who lost their mother. The amount of parents who lost their kid,” she said.
Despite evading the police for so many decades, Samuel Little finally received his comeuppance for the crimes he committed. While he showed some remorse in revealing information about women he had murdered freely, no one really knows how many victims he claimed during his murderous career. The number is estimated to be around 90, but even Little admits that he killed so many women that he lost count. The fact he is behind bars for the rest of his life is at least some comfort for the families.