South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Serial killer’s four-decade spree started with S. Fla.
It depends onwhoyoumurder. Samuel Little confessed to 93 homicides. Police verified enough of his gruesome recollections— more than 50— to secure him an ignominious distinction as the nation’s most prolific serial killer. A dozen of his victims were killed in Florida. At least four in South Florida.
Yet, I doubt Samuel Little’s name rings a bell.
Notoriety eludes him for the same reason hewas able to elude justice during four decades of killings that began, he told police, with awoman he met in aNorth Miami bar in 1971.
Most of his victimswere prostitutes or runaway teens orwomen whose troubled circumstances were exacerbated by drugs and alcohol. In some respect, theywere already missing persons when they encountered Little, exiled from mainstream society, adrift in a squalid netherworld where no one was likely to alert police if awoman disappeared from her regular street corner or her downtown flophouse.
His murdersweren’t likely to generate headlines or community outrage. His victims weren’t the kind of promising youngwomen, college students or young professionals, whose killings made Ted Bundy a synonym for serial killer.
The horror of Samuel Littlewas Ted Bundy times three. Except nobodywas paying much attention.
Well, some noticed. During his depraved wanderings through 19 states, police detectives occasionally suspected they had encountered a criminal of far-reaching evil. But in the days beforeDNA tracing and hightech crime-fighting tools, itwas a daunting challenge to catch a random killer with no previous ties to his victims or the communities where they died, an untethered transient, aimlessly drifting from one police jurisdiction to the next, from one state to another. (Little’s trail of mayhem from Florida along the Gulf Coast to Texas, before he finallywent on to California, paralleled the same I-10 corridor haunted by the nomadic serial-killer duoHenry Lee Lucas and Ottis Elwood Toole in the 1970s and early ‘80s. Police believe Toolewas responsible for the murder of six-year-old AdamWalsh, kidnapped from aHollywood mall in 1981.)
AWashington Post examination of 80-year-old Little’s long criminal history found that police and prosecutors, even when theywere sure that hewas guilty of violent rape, even murder, had difficulty assembling a case thatwould convince jurors. The survivors, often sexworkers, were reluctant witnesses with their own criminal histories for defense attorneys to exploit. That is, if they showed up for the trial.
Last month, Miami-Dade police, who had already tied two local homicides to Little, added two more, including the strangulation of Dorothy Gibson, a 17-year-old runaway whose bodywas dumped behind a downtown Miami hotel in 1977. Her killing had been among sixwrongful murder convictions police in Broward and Miami-Dade counties had hung on a mentally deficient carnivalworker named Jerry Frank Townsend in 1979. Townsend, whowould have confessed to any unsolved crime suggested by his shameless police interrogators, spent 22 years in prison beforeDNA evidence undid his shoddy convictions.
DNA tied two other murders attributed to Townsend to yet another serial killer, Eddie LeeMosley. The illiterate Fort Lauderdale junk dealer had managed to sustain a rape and homicide spree— killing two dozen women, raping 60 others— from1971 to 1987. Like Little, he committed his depravities in dreary, poverty-ridden places where the extent of his horrific crimeswas obscured by police indifference.
Much of whatwe nowknowabout Samuel Little’s crimes has to do with hisweird genius for remembering long-ago details about circumstances and victims (disclosed as part of his deal to avoid the death penalty). And Little, serving a life sentence in California, has sketched portraits— unnervingly accurate— of many of his victims.
It’s not the first time his artistic endeavors have made the news. TheWashington Post dug up a 1976 feature story about Little from the archives of the old MiamiNews. Confined to theDade County Jail on larceny charges, Little had painted a large mural, featuring historical figures, on a jailhouse wall. He told the MiamiNews reporter that he intended to become an artist once hewas freed. “The next time I’m out, it’s do or die.” Yeah. Something like that.
As a kind of addendum to the Little story, I’m adding the names of his four known South Florida victims. Mary Brosley, Angela Chapman, Karen O’Donoghue and Dorothy Gibson deserve something more than perpetual obscurity.
Police suspect therewere others. Murdered outcasts. No one noticed.