Samuel Little's mugshots—Source: FBI Media
On January 24th, 1971, the decomposing body of 33-year-old Mary Brosley was found in a 6-inch grave, her legs partially sticking out of the ground. Nearly half a century later, 78-year-old Samuel Little — also known as Samuel McDowell — confessed to choking her to death, providing small details such as the necklace she was wearing the night he took her life.
As it turned out, Mary Brosley was the first of allegedly 93 unfortunate women — by the account of Little himself — who would die by his hand, in a serial-killing spree across 19 states and spanning 34 years, until his last murderous deed in 2005.
At least 50 of Samuel Little’s alleged killings have been confirmed by the FBI, making him the most prolific serial killer in the history of the United States.
Background and early felonies
Samuel Little was born in 1940 in Georgia, to a mother who was, in his own words, “a lady of the night”. The details of his birth are obscure, and investigators speculate he may have been born in jail as his mother was incarcerated several times.
At the age of 16, Little was convicted for the first time for breaking into private property and sent to an institution for juvenile offenders in Lancaster, Ohio. Then, from 1957 to 1975, he would be arrested 26 more times in 11 different states for charges ranging from shoplifting to attempted rape.
During his multiple incarcerations, he took up boxing as a middleweight against other inmates. This would prove useful as he gained the necessary fighting experience to easily subdue his future victims.
A violent criminal history
In December 1976, Little was arrested and sentenced to three months in jail on the grounds of assault and intended rape of Pamela Kay Smith. Years later, he was detained for shoplifting, with the police realizing he matched the description of the main suspect of the killing of 22-year-old Melinda LaPree, for which he had to stand trial.
Despite being found not guilty, Little wasn’t free yet, as he had another case in Florida to answer for: the murder of 26-year-old Patricia Ann Mount, whose body had been found two months earlier in Forest Grove. Again, he was acquitted after several days of trial in January 1984.
Later on that year, Little was arrested again and tried for the attempted murder of Laurie Barros, and sentenced to four years in prison, of which he served only two and a half. He was paroled on February 1st, 1987, and then moved to Los Angeles.
Samuel Little’s mugshots from 1966 to 1995 — Source: FBI Media
From there, Little would go rampant. In a series of cold cases, the dead body of Carol Ilene Elford was found in 1987, followed by the remains of Audrey Nelson and Guadalupe Apodaca in 1989, all three had been strangled to death on the streets of Los Angeles.
From 1990 to 2012, Little continued breaking the law in seven different states and was arrested multiple times for burglary, theft, shoplifting, drug possession, and DUI. Despite his reoccurring encounters with the authorities, he always managed to avoid getting caught for his murders. His good luck, however, was about to run out.
Little was living in a Kentucky shelter when he was once again taken into custody on September 5th, 2012 to respond to a narcotics charge. The investigation led to DNA testings revealing he was indeed involved in the murders of Guadalupe Apodaca and Audrey Nelson, with Little’s DNA found in their bodies.
In November of the same year, again through DNA testing, LAPD was able to connect Little with the killing of Carol Ilene Elford.
Trial, incarceration, and confessions
Little was accused of the murders of Elford, Nelson, and Apodaca in 2014, in a trial in which he was linked to at least 40 other killings since 1980, including Melinda LaPree’s.
During his trial, Pascagoula detective Darren Versiga called Little, “a professional shoplifter who left a trail of bodies as he traveled across the country,” and added, “He was a thief by day and a murderer by night. He would steal, steal, steal all day long and then flash his money to get these girls in his car and then strangle them.”
After two hours of deliberation, and despite repeatedly claiming he was innocent, Little was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder on September 25th, 2014, and given three life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Little was sent to California State Prison, Los Angeles County. Outside the courthouse, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said to reporters, “He’s a serial killer, and he’s done this for years. This was a verdict a long time coming… It’s the end of an entire career of killing.”
After four years in prison, Little started confessing the full extent of his violent criminal career, receiving a fourth life sentence for the murder of Denise Christie Brothers in Odessa, Texas. When asked about the reasons for his confessions, Little said:
“Probably [sic] be numerous people who are — been convicted and sent to [the] penitentiary on my behalf. I say, if I can help get somebody out of jail, you know, God might smile a little bit more on me.”
The following is an incomplete list of Little’s victims, all by his own account according to the FBI, although not all of them have been confirmed to be connected to him.
- Mary Jo Brosley, approximately 33, 1971, Homestead, Florida:
Brosley was an alcoholic who had been previously reported missing. Investigators believe Little choked her to death and was only partially buried because the soil was too hard, which is why Little never attempted to bury anyone else there again.
- “Linda,” approximately 22, 1971 Miami, Florida.
- “Marianne/Mary Ann,” approximately 18, 1971–1972, Miami, Florida,
- Sarah Brown, age unknown, 1973, New Orleans, Louisiana:
Little remembered meeting her at a bar, buying her a gold necklace, driving off with her, and killing her in a park-like area near a river.
- Martha Cunningham, aged 34, 1974, Knox County, Tennessee:
Cunningham was last seen alive on New Year’s Eve 1974. Little confessed to driving her outside of town and strangling her in his car.
- “Emily,” approximately 24, the mid-1970s, Miami, Florida.
- “Jo,” approximately 26, 1976–1979, Granite City, Illinois.
- Lee Ann Helms, age unknown, 1977, Fulton County, Georgia:
Helms lived and worked in Downtown Atlanta. Allegedly, Little met her at a club. Her body was found by a Department of Transportation worker.
- Julia Critchfield, aged 36, 1978, Harrison County, Mississippi:
Little strangled her and threw her body off a cliff and into a dirt pit. Her autopsy revealed she had died about two hours before being disposed of by her killer.
- Evelyn Weston, aged 19, 1978, South Carolina.
- Brenda Alexander, aged 23, 1979, Phoenix, Alabama:
Little left a Columbus dance club with Alexander in the early morning hours. In his confession, Little smiled and said, “I knew she was mine.”
- Annie Lee Stewart, aged 32, October 11, 1981, Cincinnati, Ohio:
Little strangled her and disposed of her body in the woods behind some apartments off Queen Anne Place in Grove City.
- Patricia Parker, aged 25–30, 1981 Dade County, Georgia:
Little confessed to murdering her and four other women in the Georgia-Tennessee area. Forensic reconstruction of her skull and matching DNA samples confirmed his claims.
- “Jane Doe”, a woman in her 20s, 1982, Dade County, Georgia:
Little confessed to killing Doe after meeting her at a nightclub on 9th Street in Chattanooga. After facial reconstruction based on Doe’s skull, her family was able to identify her, thus confirming Little’s claims.
- Fredonia Smith, aged 18, 1982, Macon, Georgia:
Smith’s skeletal remains were found in the backyard of a Magnolia Street home, by the owners who had just moved in.
- Dorothy Richards, aged 55, 1982, Houma, Lousiana.
- Rosie Hill, aged 20, 1982, Marion County, Florida:
Hill’s body was found in a wooded area next to a pig pen in Florida’s Marion County. Little confessed to killing her and disposing of her body there. He also remembers Rosie “was a big fighter, but [he] won the fight.”
- Frances Campbell, approximately 23, 1984 Savannah, Georgia:
Campbell met Little at a bar. Then they drove off and Little strangled and raped her before dumping her body in a construction area on Tremont Road.
- “Granny,” approximately 50, 1987, Los Angeles, California.
1990s to mid-2000s:
- Roberta Tondarich, age unknown, 1991 Akron, Ohio:
Tondarich disappeared in early September 1991. Her decomposing corpse was found on September 30th, with authorities unable to determine the cause of her death. Little confessed to killing her.
- Rose Evans, aged 32, 1991, Cleveland, Ohio:
Little spotted Evans while driving and offered her a ride. He then killed her in an abandoned area, and then disposed of her body in a vacant lot, covering her with tires.
- Alice Taylor and her friend Tracy Johnson, 1992, Mississippi:
Taylor’s body was found under a pile of tires, followed by Johnson’s less than three weeks later on a dirt road. Little confessed to killing both Taylor and Johnson on the same day, at different times.
- Jolanda Jones, aged 26, 1994, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
- Denise Christie Brothers, aged 38, 1994, Odessa, Texas:
Brothers was reported missing on January 1st, 1994. Her body was found a month later. According to District Attorney Bobby Bland, she was strangled. Little pledged guilty of killing her, receiving his fourth life sentence for it.
- Priscilla Baxter-Jones, aged 36, 1996, West Memphis, Arkansas:
Baxter-Jones was last seen on Christmas Eve 1996. Little raped, stabbed and strangled her before throwing her body in the Mississippi River. Her corpse was found three weeks after her disappearance.
- “T-Money,” approximately 23, 1996 Los Angeles, California.
- Melissa Thomas, aged 29, 1996, Opelousas, Louisiana:
Little strangled Thomas to death. Her body was found in the Little Zion graveyard in the city of Opelousas.
- Daisy McGuire, aged 40, 1996, Houma, Louisiana:
Little killed McGuire by beating her with a jack iron in her head. About a week later, her corpse was found in the 900 block of Magnolia Street in Houma on February 6th, 1996.
- “Ann,” age unknown, 1997, Phoenix, Arizona.
- Nancy Carol Stevens, aged 46, Tupelo, Mississippi, 2005:
Little started a friendship with Steven which led to her strangulation in a Walmart parking lot when they were traveling together in his RV. He then disposed of her corpse on the side of the road.
Samuel Little confessed to killing a total of 93 women, most of them African-American, and provided the FBI sketches of 27 of them. Many of his victims are yet to be identified.
Samuel Little’s sketches of 27 of his victims — Source: Youtube
Rationale and M.O.
Little would usually use his boxing skills to brutally knock his victims senseless before choking them to death with one hand while masturbating with the other. He would often proceed to rape their corpses and dispose of their naked bodies in ditches by the roadside.
Little was confident he would never be caught, as he considered that the women he preyed on — mostly prostitutes and drug-addicts drawn to petty crime — were unaccounted for, and therefore not worth investigating. He’s quoted saying:
“I’m not [sic] gonna go over there in the white neighborhood and pick out a little, young teenage girl. I [sic] ain’t [sic] gonna go over there and pick out a housewife … That’s the kind you get busted for.”
Interrogated by Texas Ranger James Holland, Little confessed to many of his killings which, in combination with his surprisingly-detailed sketches, lead to the solving of 50 cold cases. His elaborate and often disturbingly cheerful confessions were recorded in a series of videos made available by the FBI.
Footage of Samuel Little’s murder confessions — Source: FBI/Youtube
When confronted by Michael Mongeluzzo, a detective from Marion County, Little justified his actions saying, “God put me on Earth to do what I did. He made me.” He also recognizes the atrocity in his murders arguing, “I don’t think there was another person that did what I liked to do. I think I’m the only one in the world. That’s not an honor. That’s a curse.”
Suffering from heart disease and diabetes, and needing a wheelchair to move around, Samuel Little died at a hospital in Los Angeles County on the morning of December 30th, 2020, aged 80. His death leaves behind unanswered questions about many cold cases he was, in all likelihood, involved in.