Since Samuel Little began cooperating with authorities in May 2018, he has confessed to killing 93 people in 19 states, virtually all women, reports the Washington Post in the third of a series on the nation’s worst serial killer. Nearly half of them remain unidentified. Even as Little vividly recalls certain details of his crimes, such as the pattern of a sundress, a necklace nestled against a soft throat, and a leg protruding from a shallow grave, he often cannot remember his victims’ names. With Little now 80 and in failing health, police across the U.S. are racing to complete a wave of investigations in reverse: They have the culprit. They need to find the victims.
The FBI considers Little’s confessions credible and has gone to extraordinary lengths to publicize details of the unsolved cases. The agency has circulated Little’s eerily lifelike drawings and created a webpage with video snippets of him describing his victims. Meanwhile, local police are searching old files for crimes that match Little’s confessions, so far with uneven results. Some police agencies have found no evidence Little committed a crime on their turf. Other agencies have developed significant leads, but have struggled to close cases involving victims from the margins of society, mostly women of color whose disappearances failed to trigger extensive investigations or generate thick case files bristling with clues. In Memphis, police quickly tied Little to an unidentified body pulled from the Mississippi River in 1990. The old case file was conspicuously thin, and the campaign to solicit tips from the public rapidly got complicated. After Little’s drawing appeared on the local TV news, several families called, all claiming the woman as their loved one. One man remains certain it depicts his mother, even though her body was pulled from the Mississippi in 1996.