The following is a chapter from the book “California: The Unforgettable True Stories of Compulsive Serial Killers On the West Coast”
Sam Little: The Most Prolific Killer in the U.S.
October 4, 2019: An obese seventy-nine-year-old man sat across from a Texas ranger in the interview room at California State Prison in Los Angeles. He simply looked like an old black man, tired of life, and ruminating about his family and his grandchildren. However, he wasn’t. He was smiling, though not about any grandchildren.
Instead, the Ranger patiently waited for Sam to speak. Sam then grinned, slammed his eyes shut, and the faces of ninety-three women revolved in his mind as if on a carousel. One face halted in his mind. Then he opened his eyes, looked straight ahead at Ranger James Holland, smiled, and talked. “Miami and Los Angeles,” he said, stroking his face. “That’s where I killed the most women.” His eyes sparkled. He was proud of that. And he was famous. They called him “The Most Prolific Killer in the U.S.” ‘Imagine that!’ he thought.
Then Sam Little closed his eyes and the mental carousel of faces again revolved in his mind. One face halted. Looking up, he described a twenty-three-year-old black prostitute lying on the ground outside the warehouse on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He related how his hands curled around her neck and he squeezed with his right hand while masturbating with the left. Every time he came, he squeezed her neck again. She kicked and screamed—what a nuisance!—so he knocked her out. As he pressed her neck yet again, the unconscious woman’s eyes rolled back and bulged in her head. It’s astonishing how eyes could do that. Her chest instinctively throbbed. Then, all at once, she went limp.
Sam grinned because the woman was dead and he reached orgasm. It was a thrilling experience and he was gratefully tired. He then lay the woman her down on the grass that was growing in the vacant lot alongside the building. It wasn’t always important where he put the bodies—just a tad out of the way so they wouldn’t be noticed too soon. (And he wouldn’t get caught.) Although her body was found, that victim was never identified.
Sam Little never had a permanent residence. His mother was a prostitute who traveled and that’s how he inherited the wanderlust and the lust for insatiable sex. A Honolulu reporter once wrote that he was arrested in eight states for armed robbery, fraud, solicitation, aggravated assault, and rape. He was never properly raised. His father was hardly ever present and his grandmother was left with raising him.
Sam Little’s mother never gave him a decent home in which to live, so, when Sam came into an area, he scouted out all the YMCAs and, of course, the homeless shelters. In 2012, Little was arrested at a homeless shelter in Kentucky, brought to Los Angeles and convicted of the murders of Carol Elford in 1987, Audrey Nelson in 1989, and Guadaloupe Apodaca in 1989. Sam was seventy-four years old when he stayed at the shelter, but investigators didn’t suspect him of the murders of those women when he was at the shelter.
Later, DNA evidence was ordered, and, as a result, Little is serving three life sentences for the triple murders without the possibility of parole. He has been linked to as many as sixty murders of women, but when Sam tells the story, he lays claim to have killed as many as ninety-three women! Sam Little, according to the chief investigator, had a photographic memory.
In 1972, Little claimed he met a transgender woman named Marianne at the Pool Palace in Miami. They didn’t join up at the time, but Marianna was a “bar-hop” who went to a number of bars in the area. She met Little again in a bar in Overtown, Miami. “Can I give you a ride?” he offered. She recognized him, thought that was sweet, and accepted.
He drove her into the driveway of an empty house. Inside his car, he sodomized and strangled her then dragged her body to an old path cloaked with undergrowth. The ground was muddy and water ran into the stream. He rolled her face-down into the mud.
Sam Little intensely disliked being called a rapist. He considered himself just a normal man fulfilling his sexual desires, but mostly preferred being known as a killer. That would make him famous. ‘Women of the streets were easy targets and easy to find, so why not?’ he would ask himself. There was no compunction about it… no reflection. That’s how he got his jollies.
The year 1974 found him in Knoxville, Tennessee. He said her name was “Martha,” and Martha was an epileptic, but also a drug addict. After Sam assaulted Martha until he reached orgasm, he then dumped her body in the woods, which was discovered by hunters the following year. Sam found it fun to engage in sex with disabled people.
The death was ruled an accidental overdose originally, but changed in 2012, when Little described her accurately, including the location of her body. He also said she had a nine-year-old son and a teenage daughter. Her full name was Martha Cunningham.
Detectives researched their cold cases and realized that Little’s slaughtering spree spread from 1973 to 2005. The Texas ranger who interviewed Little told the viewers of the TV show 60 Minutes about this murderer whom he called, “wicked smart… like genius.”
Little recalled details about each murder. In Miami in 1976, he stated that he killed Miriam Chapman near some arches on the beach and up the way from “a Baptist Church that needed white-washing.” The police located the arches, but the church was no longer there.
In 1982, a couple was cleaning out some underbrush from the backyard of their newly-purchased home on Magnolia Street in Macon, Georgia. Suddenly, their rakes hit something hard. It was brown and protruded from the earth. Thinking it was a rock, they grabbed and pulled until they pried it loose. It was a human arm bone. Next, they found a skull. Horrified, the couple called the police. The skeletal remains were removed and taken to the coroner’s office where a DNA analysis was conducted.
The forensic examiner who examined the skeleton discovered signs of excessive bruising. Sam didn’t get his sexual urges satisfied by Fredonia Smith that day, though. She was a tough fighter. At the trial, Eddie Smith, her brother, muttered, “I just want to put my hands around his neck and squeeze, and let him see how it feels.” Smith didn’t find out about the cruel, cold-hearted killer until thirty years later. Fredonia, they said, died in 1977.
A court in Ocala, Florida, finally heard the case of Sam Little when detectives determined that he killed a beautiful black woman, Rosie Hill, a twenty-one-year-old light-skinned black woman. He met her in a bar in 1982. She was wearing a white-flowered dress and her hair was coifed in an attractive hair-do. They left together. August 16 was the last time she was seen alive. Her remains were discovered outside a hog pen. Rosie was nude from the waist down.
In 2018, Sergeant Michael Mongeluzzo drove to Odessa, Texas, seeking information on Rosie Hill. Little was being temporarily held there while giving evidence on his murders of countless women across the country. Rosie Hill’s gruesome murder had never been solved until then. After questioning, Mongeluzzo confronted him with the evidence. Little then admitted to killing Hill, then smiled and said, “God put me on this earth to do it.”
He also told Holland about a woman in North Little Rock, Arkansas. “She had buck teeth. She had gaps between her teeth everywhere.” Then Little’s face lit up, he smiled broadly, proud of having strangled the young woman and relived the gruesome event like it happened yesterday. “You know she’s fighting for her life and I’m fighting for my pleasure!”
Julia Critchfield loved to dance and sing at Chris’s Lounge in Gulfport, Mississippi. She was a divorcee who lived with her four children in a trailer park. Julia had left her husband because he abused her and the children and she hoped for a better prospect. One Saturday night, two male friends drove her over to Chris’s. On January 21, 1978, she never came home. Her children called the police, but there had been no report as to her whereabouts.
The next day, Mark Tubbs and a friend were driving their dirt bikes through an old dirt pit in a wooded area of Saucier, Mississippi—twenty miles away. Mark spotted Julia’s nude body with a black dress draped over it. He raced to the police department and they sent out forensic investigators.
Julia had been thrown off a cliff into a pit and there were indents of fingers around her throat. She had been brutally strangled. The police questioned Critchfield’s male companions who had been at Chris’s Lounge with her, but both had alibis.
An eyewitness reported she had left with a heavy-set man in his fifties. Julia’s daughter, Blair, at first had thought her father committed the murder, but she was wrong. Sam Little had.
And what’s more, he remembered it. So did another one of Julia’s daughters—June. Her mother used to call her “June bug,” she told the police. “I used to pray to her and she would say, ‘I’m okay. Things are so much better. Be happy. I’ll see you one day.”
In June of 1981, Sam Little was in Ohio. He was familiar with the area, as he had been raised there by his grandmother. In Cincinnati, he singled out a thirty-two-year-old woman by the name of Annie Lee Stewart. After he had pleasured himself, he strangled her, stashed her in the back seat of his car, and drove to Grove City. He disposed of her body behind some apartments. He was indicted for Stewart’s murder in 2018, when he confessed to it.
Investigators had also found a body on a Cincinnati hillside in 1982. Using his photographic memory, Sam told Cincinnati Police Detective Kelly Best, “I hear you want to talk about the girl by the highway sign or the billboard.” He went on to explain that he raped her in the front seat of his car, then dragged her to the back seat where he raped her again.
Sam Little drew her picture with colored pencils and showed it to Best. He said they called her “Jane Doe,” because they never established her identity. Sam said he thought perhaps her name was “Alberta.” She wore a wig, glasses, and a very dark-skinned black woman. As the decomposed remains had a similar appearance and displayed the same M.O. that Little used, “a certain ‘neck type,’ slender, elegant, and easy to strangle.” This indictment didn’t occur until 2018.
In relating about a woman he met in New Orleans, Sam said, “She was pretty… honey-colored skin… She was tall for a woman—about five eight or five nine. She had a beautiful shape and… uh… friendly.” Then he described how he led her to a park, knocked her out and raped her. After that, he dragged her molested body into the water. “That’s the only one I drowned.” Sam continued speaking in a very matter-of-fact way about the woman. Little showed Ranger James Holland her picture, and scribbled with a crayon, while Holland watched: “Woooo… That’s what she said when she saw my car.” Little was driving a Lincoln Continental Mark III at the time. This murder occurred in the Fall of 1982. The woman has never been identified.
Sam Little was in Mississippi in 1982. He often went there to sell some of his stolen goods—clothing and jewelry. In the evening, he chatted with the guys at a bar in Pascagoula. They told him about a motel on Oak Street in which a number of young prostitutes lived. ‘That’s ideal,’ he thought. No family would be around to protect them.
Melinda “Mindy” LaPree lived at that motel. Sam spotted her in the parking lot. She was a light-skinned African-American with a baby face and a winning smile. ‘Perfect!’ he thought. Prostitutes made ideal targets for him, as they would always willingly climb in his car. Mindy did that, and Sam drove a little further along until he saw a cemetery.
Sam was comfortable in cemeteries, having once worked at a cemetery as a young man. The dead never bothered him, and the deaths of his victims did not either. At the cemetery which was in Gautier, Mississippi, he coaxed LaPree out of the back seat, then sucker-punched her. He was already getting an erection at the mere thought of thrusting his penis into her tender body, so he pulled her over behind a tombstone and thrust himself into her until he orgasmed. Then he put his hands around her throat, but she came to. She thrashed her head back and forth and tried to force him off, but she was no match for this man. When she stopped moving, he left her dead body there.
They found Mindy’s body in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina had wreaked its devastation on Mississippi. Some of the police files were missing after the hurricane, but Sergeant Darren Versiga was able to get related reports from Florida and Oklahoma.
Investigators engaged the aid of an anthropologist as well as the forensic team to determine the cause of death. They affirmed she’d been raped and strangled. There was no DNA evidence, but Sergeant Versiga collected written records from the other two states. Upon examining the documents, the district attorney didn’t take the case to court. There simply wasn’t enough evidence to connect Little with this murder, although everyone suspected Little did it. In his 2019 interview with the Texas ranger, Sam Little confessed he had murdered her.
Sam Little liked to drive to the Gulfport, Mississippi area when he took joy rides across the South. In 1992, he came upon an exciting nightspot called the Flamingo Club. Alice “Tina” Taylor was there one night at the bar. She was a twenty-seven-year-old with an elegant face. Her good friend, Tracy Lynn Johnson, nineteen, was with her. Johnson was so attractive she could easily win a beauty contest, according to Sam.
Little pulled into the parking lot and invited the two beauties in his car. They climbed in and giggled. Having intercourse with two women might be an exciting experience, after all. Little then stopped along a road near an abandoned site where old tires were stored. Tina and Tracy were puzzled. Little knocked both of them out. Next, he dragged Tina into the site, pulled down his jeans, and raped her repeatedly. It was a wonderful thrill feeling her warm vagina, so he pumped and pumped until he orgasmed. Then he started to strangle her but she became conscious and tried to heave her body up, but it wasn’t possible. After a few more attempts, she fell back. Sam then dragged her body further into the dump and put some tires over it.
Returning to his car, he pulled off Route 49 and drove on to a dirt road. Then he dragged Tracy out of his car. He rested from his prior encounter, and—when he regained his energy—he raped her too. As per his profile, Little leaves no witnesses, so he grasped Tracy around the neck and squeezed. She didn’t become conscious, but it was clear she suffocated. Little could feel the life leaving her body as it fell back limp. Sam raped her in his back seat. After the assault, he threw her in the tire lot, too. December 7, 1982 was the last day anyone saw Tracy and Tina alive.
In 1996, Little was cruising around Louisiana. In the city of Opelousas, he spotted a very cute-looking black woman, Melissa Thomas, on the street. Sam invited her in his car, and they drove to the Little Zion Baptist Church. As per his style, he knocked her out and raped her. Then he strangled her and dragged the body toward the graveyard there. The dead were her companions for thirteen years.
Melissa’s parents were despondent over the loss, which had been reported back in 1996, and Melissa’s sister, Dr. Emma Thomas, tried unsuccessfully to comfort them. That was to no avail, she told the police. They both died “of a broken heart,” Emma said.
Sam Little was being held in custody temporarily in Texas when Emma found out about him. He remembered Melissa. Of her, Melissa’s sister said, “I still have questions as to why. It’s a scar that was opened, but it won’t be a deep wound as it was before.” When she spoke about dear Melissa, Emma elaborated, “If you knew her, she always put a smile on your face and it was never a dull moment.” Little was indicted on this murder in 2018.
This family then had some sense of closure. Closure, however, doesn’t matter to a heartless killer. They don’t care about the families of the victims any more than they care about the victims.
Serial killers have no remorse. That is a human trait Sam Little never experienced. Instead, he grinned and laughed a lot and came across like he was bragging about his conquests.
While the Opelousas detectives were investigating the murder of Anna Steward, the police from Houma, Louisiana, made contact with the Texas ranger. Did Little have anything to do with the deaths of two middle-aged women there? Little didn’t just prey upon young girls—he preyed upon anyone with a vagina and a neck.
Daisy McGuire, who was forty when she disappeared, was found in an empty lot near Magnolia Street in Opelousas in 1996.
Dorothy Richards was fifty-five when she disappeared and her strangled corpse was found in a nearby town in 1984, thrown haphazardly in a grassy area near Woodland Ranch Road.
Investigators from Houma County verified that he murdered both Daisy and Dorothy because he stated details about the sites that weren’t in the newspapers or released to the press.
The smiling killer sometimes teased Ranger Holland when he described his crimes in Texas. Texas still had the death penalty and Sam wanted that waived. When Little considered confessing to the killings of anyone in Texas, he begged Holland to approach the district attorney, Robert Bland, and convince him to waive the death penalty first. Holland did so in those cases.
Bland cooperated and sent a letter to that effect to Sam Little. Before the TV cameras, he waved the letter and smiled broadly. By promising even more confessions, Sam Little assiduously avoided the death penalty in Texas. He squeezed the life out of every single one of the Texas girls he listed, but he himself didn’t want to die.
Little was then transported to Wise County, Texas, and confessed to sixty-five murders, while Holland brought him pizzas and Dr. Pepper’s to keep him talking. His victims, he said, were “broke and homeless and they walked right into my spider web.”
One such unfortunate woman was Denise Brothers, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of two boys, Damien and Dustin. Denise was divorced from a man who abused her, but leaped into marriage once again—with a drug addict. After she, too, became addicted, she plodded the streets of Odessa, Texas, turning tricks in order to support her habit.
Sam sought out hapless women like her on the street and would coax them into his car. In 1994, he drove Denise to a field off a side street, beat her unmercifully and left her there, broken and bleeding. Her body was found a month later. Evidence indicated that Sam had tried to rape her, but Brothers was a feisty woman and fought him off. You can’t win them all.
Sam will spend the rest of his life in prison, as he was successfully convicted of eight murders and serving his sentence without the possibility of parole.
There were more confirmed killings, but authorities lacked sufficient evidence to pursue those further.
Little claimed to have slaughtered ninety-three women.
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