Samuel Little is an American serial killer and serial rapist born in Reynolds, Georgia, on 7 June 1940. While he was only convicted of eight murders between 1981 and 1994, he has confessed to murdering at least 93 women across more than a dozen states between 1970 to 2005. The FBI has been able to verify at least fifty of the murders thus far, making Samuel Little America’s most prolific serial killer.
Little, who often went by the name Samuel McDowell, grew up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio, after his mother, who was allegedly a sex worker, abandoned him. He dropped out of high school and lived a nomadic lifestyle, drifting from state to state, committing crime after crime. His criminal history dated back to 1956, when he was arrested for stealing a bicycle at 16-years-old. Between 1957 and 1975, Little was arrested 26 times across 11 different states. The charges he was booked on including shoplifting, theft, assault, rape, aggravated assault on a police officer, DUI, fraud, breaking and entering and solicitation of a prostitute.
In 1982, Little was charged with assaulting a woman in Missouri with the intent to sexually assault her and spent three months in a county jail. Later the same year, he was charged with the murder of 22-year-old Melinda Rose LaPree whose skeletal remains were discovered in a Gautier, Mississippi, cemetery. A grand jury refused to indict him for the murder. He was then transferred to Florida where he was ordered to stand trial for the murder of 26-year-old Patricia Ann Mount, who was murdered in Forest Grove, Florida. During the trial, several witnesses said that they saw Little with Mount just before she vanished. However, he was acquitted of her murder after the case against him was found to be 'weak.'
Around nine months later, Little was accused of attacking a woman in San Diego, California, and was tried for attempted murder. The jury deadlocked on the verdict and Little would then change his plea from not guilty to guilty of assault and false imprisonment. Following his release from prison in February of 1987, Little moved to Los Angeles, California. While here, Little continued to rack up arrests on minor charges, including theft and drunk driving.
Over the years, the only constant in Little’s life was Orelia Jean Dorsey, who he met in prison in 1971. Orelia – or Jean as Little called her – had been incarcerated in a Cleveland jail at the same time as him. They spoke through a crack in the floor as Jean tipped Little off that the woman Little was arrested with was planning on turning him in. Jean became Little’s long-term girlfriend; the couple spent much of their time shoplifting and then selling the goods out of the back of their car. They remained together until she passed away in 1988. Decades later, investigators would say they were convinced that Jean knew of Little’s murders. Jean would rent out the motel rooms they stayed in during their travels across the United States and would clean his car out after each murder. Investigators had been able to match several motel receipts to dates coinciding with the murders.
Little was arrested in 2012 at a homeless shelter in Kentucky and was extradited to California where he was facing a narcotics charge from 2009. Once here, his DNA was run through the California Department of Justice’s DNA Combined Internet Index System where it was linked to three unsolved murders in Los Angeles from the late 1980s. Carol Elford had been found dead in an alleyway on the 13th of July, 1987. Audrey Nelson was found dead in a dumpster on the 14th of August, 1989. Guadalupe Apodaca had also been found dead on the 3rd of September, 1989, in a derelict commercial garage.
Two years later, Little was convicted of these three murders and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His DNA had been found on the shirts of two of the victims and underneath the fingernails of the third victim. While Little had been definitively linked to the murders with DNA evidence, he continued to profess his innocence. During the murder trial, several other women testified that they had been attacked by Little in the past and had narrowly escaped with their lives. The world would soon come to discover that this was only a drop in the ocean compared to the true number of attacks that Little had carried out.
Little remained tight-lipped about other murders he was potentially involved in until 2018 when Texas Ranger James Holland visited Little in prison to discuss with him unsolved murder cases throughout Texas. At the time, Little was wheelchair-bound and began to confess to a spate of murders as a bargaining chip to be transferred to another prison. As the confessions came, so did a cascade of investigators across the country in a bid to corroborate Little’s claims with unsolved murders in their state.
In addition to the three murders he was already convicted of, in December of 2018, Little pleaded guilty to the 1994 strangulation murder of Denise Christie Brothers, who was discovered in a vacant lot around a month after she vanished. For this murder, he was handed down another life prison term. Then in August of 2019, he pleaded guilty to murdering four women in Ohio: Anna Stewart, who was murdered in October 1981, Mary Jo Peyton, who was murdered in July 1984, Jane Doe, who was murdered at some point between 1980 to 1999, and Rose Evans, who was murdered in August of 1991.
While Little was only convicted of a handful of murders, he confessed to killing at least 93 women. These confessions very often contained intricate detail which was never publicly released, lending an air of credibility to his claims. He confessed to killing women in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, California and Arizona. Among the confessions were:
- 23-year-old Brenda Alexander, who was murdered in Phoenix City in August of 1979.
- 30-year-old Patricia Parker, who was found strangled in Hooker, Georgia, in 1981.
- 23-year-old Frances Campbell, who was murdered in Tremont Park, Georgia, in 1984.
- 34-year-old Roberta Tandarich, who was murdered in Akron, Ohio, in 1991.
- 26-year-old Jolanda Jones, who was murdered in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1994.
Little mostly targeted vulnerable and marginalized women who were involved in sex work or addicted to drugs. Little had been a competitive boxer and he used the skills he had honed to stun or knock his victims unconscious before strangling them to death while masturbating. The beatings were so brutal that one victim’s autopsy showed that she had been struck in the abdomen with such force that it had broken her spine. Since he left behind no bullet wounds or stab wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as murders and instead attributed to drug overdoses, accidents or natural causes. Moreover, DNA profiling was not available during the period when a number of these murders occurred and some of the bodies have never been found. A number of the victims were also found long after the signs of strangulation were gone; many were nothing but bones when finally discovered.
Samuel Little’s confessions would lead to a nationwide search for answers as investigators trawled through missing person files and cold cases in a bid to corroborate his extensive and disturbing claims. By 2019, the FBI would confirm Little’s involvement in at least fifty murders, which is the largest confirmed victim count for any serial killer in the United States.