FBI names inmate as the deadliest serial killer in U.S. history
Little claims he killed more than 90, including a woman in Chattanooga
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An inmate who claims to have killed more than 90 women across the country — including one found in Dade County, Georgia — is now considered to be the deadliest serial killer in U.S. history, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.
Samuel Little, who has been behind bars since 2012, told investigators last year that he was responsible for about 90 killings nationwide between 1970 and 2005. In a news release on Sunday, the FBI announced that federal crime analysts believe all of his confessions are credible, and officials have been able to verify 50 confessions so far.
Investigators also provided new information and details about five cases in Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada and Louisiana.
The 79-year-old Little is serving multiple life sentences in California. He says he strangled his 93 victims, nearly all of them women.
Some of his victims were on the margins of society. Many of the deaths were originally deemed overdoses or attributed to accidental or undetermined causes. Some bodies were never found.
In 2018, Little told investigators one of his victims was from the Chattanooga area.
He said he walked into a club on what was then Ninth Street — now known as M.L. King Boulevard — in downtown Chattanooga one night almost 40 years ago, met a woman and agreed to give her a ride home. About an hour later, according to an interview with investigators, Little dumped her body off Interstate 24 in North Georgia.
In May, investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office asked for the public’s help identifying the woman.
They exhumed her remains from a pauper’s grave in Dade County, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic artist created a facial reconstruction and sketch of what they believe the woman looked like.
Little couldn’t give authorities many details other than to say she was a black woman between 25 and 30 years old.
The FBI provided 30 drawings of some of his victims — color portraits that were drawn by Little himself in prison. They are haunting portraits, mostly of black women.
The agency also provided videos taken during prison interviews with Little. He described how he spoke about a woman he strangled in 1993 — and how he rolled her down a slope on a desolate road.
“I heard a secondary road noise and that meant she was still rolling,” he said.
In another video, he described a victim in New Orleans. “She was pretty. Light colored, honeybrown skin,” he said with a small smile. “She was tall for a woman. Beautiful shape. And, uh, friendly.”
It was 1982, and they met in a club. She left with him in his Lincoln, and they parked by a bayou.
“That’s the only one that I ever killed by drowning,” he said.
Investigators around the country are still trying to piece together Little’s confessions with unidentified remains and unsolved cases from decades past. In August, he pleaded guilty to killing four women in Ohio. He was convicted in California of three slayings in 2013 and pleaded guilty to another killing last year in Texas.
Little, who often went by the name Samuel McDowell, grew up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio. He was described by investigators as a transient and former boxer who traveled the country preying on drug addicts, troubled women and others.
Authorities in Knox County, Tennessee, said Monday that a woman named Martha Cunningham was likely a victim of Little’s.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported in December that a cold case investigator with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had identified the victim who Little called “Martha.” The Knoxville mother’s body was found in a wooded area in eastern Knox County in 1975.
Cunningham’s body was found by a pair of hunters on the afternoon of Jan. 18, 1975. She was bruised and nude from the waist down; her pantyhose and girdle bunched around her knees. Her purse and some of her jewelry were missing. Her body appeared to have been dragged into the woods and dumped behind a pine tree, authorities said at the time.
Despite that evidence, detectives at the time attributed Cunningham’s death to natural causes within a day of the discovery. The medical examiner’s investigative report lists the probable cause of death as “unknown.”
Cunningham was a talented singer and pianist who grew up performing with her parents and her six younger siblings in a gospel group known as the Happy Home Jubilee Singers.
Law enforcement in Tennessee had Little in custody 19 years after Cunningham’s body was found.
Little was convicted of misdemeanor larceny in 1994 in Nashville, and he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation criminal records obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides from about 1974-1978. John Wayne Gacy killed at least 33 boys and young men in the 1970s.
Arguably one of the deadliest killers globally was an English general practitioner named Harold Shipman, who an investigative panel determined was responsible for the deaths of 250 people. He was convicted in 2000 in the deaths of 15.
Samuel Little leaves the Ector County Courthouse after a hearing in Odessa, Texas. The FBI said Little, who claims to have killed more than 90 women, is the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.
Joe Montgomery, second from right, assistant special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, discusses the search for the identity of one of Samuel Little’s victims on March 19. Also pictured, from left, are Mike Mathis, supervisor of the cold case unit for the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office; Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston; and GBI Special Agent Steve Rogers Jr. In the foreground is a facial reconstruction of the victim.