The serial killer’s confessions make LA detectives chase ghosts

When Sam Little spilled details about the 93 murders he claimed to have committed throughout the United States, the charge rose in Los Angeles.

In hundreds of hours of interviews with investigators, the former boxer admitted to killing dozens of women, almost all by suffocation, from 1970 to 2005 as he moved around the United States. The details he offered – a year, an intersection, a landmark – let the FBI and local police fight to fill in the blanks and confirm his appalling confessions. Twenty of his victims had been in the city of Los Angeles or elsewhere in LA County, Little claimed.

Authorities say they have confirmed that Little committed about two-thirds of the murders, but they are still outraged by 31 of them. Of those, 16 allegedly took place in LA County, where he was eventually brought to justice.

Texas Ranger James Holland is "serial killer whispers." During his 20-year career at Rangers.

Texas Ranger James Holland interrogated Samuel Little for months and evoked confessions of dozens of murders.

(Louis DeLuca / For The Times)

With Little’s death last year in a California jail and the senior investigator’s retirement next month, detectives are launching a public outcry to get answers. Investigators with the Texas Rangers and the FBI released details Tuesday of Little’s confessions about the outstanding murders. In addition to the people he claims to have killed in LA County, Miami is the only metropolitan area with several open cases attached to Little. Investigators are also seeking to close cases in Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Cincinnati, among others.

“We hope to get the public’s help, jogging a detail, something that helps us connect these cases,” said James Holland, Texas Ranger, whose interrogations of Little ultimately led to his confessions in 2018.

Holland said he is hopeful that Littles’ sometimes vivid descriptions of crime scenes and that the people he targeted will trigger a memory for a retired police detective or a victim’s relative. In Los Angeles, for example, Little claimed he strangled a black prostitute nicknamed T-Money and then hid her body under a mattress in an alley. In 1996, he said, he left a white prostitute half-dressed in a bathtub in a vacant house near Slauson Avenue. And during riots in 1992, possibly due to Rodney King beatings, he said he dumped the body of a black woman wearing a turban behind a bank or loan company in Compton during a rainstorm.

Despite Little’s honesty, LAPD investigators say it’s hard to finally tie his confessions to any of the thousands of unsolved murders the agency has on its books. Little claimed to have killed sporadically in LA from 1987 to 1996, a period in which the city’s total annual killings sometimes exceeded 1,000. And his frequent targeting of black prostitutes and drug-addicted women in southern LA reflected the profile of other serial predators in the city at the time.

In this photo from Thursday, March 14, 2013, Los Angeles police investigators Rick Jackson, on the left, and Mitzi Roberts take a break to view photos

LAPD detectives Rick Jackson, left, and Mitzi Roberts in an alley in Los Angeles, where the body of Carol Alford was found on July 13, 1987, after she was allegedly murdered by Samuel Little.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Mitzi Roberts, the LAPD’s murder detective whose investigation led to Little’s conviction in 2014 for three murders, recalled how two years ago she drove the alleged killer around areas of the city and county where he claimed to have murdered people, hoping that it could loosen traces. .

“He was only able to take us to five places and he was a little confused about the rest of the things,” she said. “We were unable to obtain additional information to help us confine ourselves to a specific victim.”

Roberts noted that Little’s confessions were also difficult to verify, in part because although he could be very detailed in some ways, he was frustratingly vague in others. In one case, according to summaries released by Rangers and the FBI, Little said he killed a woman in a garage near the intersection of 72nd and Figueroa streets, but was not sure if the murder happened in 1987, 1993 or 1995.

In other cases, Roberts said, Little described dumping corpses “way out in the county,” leaving the detective deterred by the likely prospect that other police agencies have records of unsolved murders he committed in the city. The murder of Alice Duvall underscores this problem. Little originally said he killed Duvall in the city of Los Angeles, but in fact it was in Long Beach. Michael Hubbard, a homicide detective in the city’s police department, said Duvall’s strangled corpse was discovered in an industrial area, and DNA evidence linked Little to the case in 2020.

Roberts also expressed concern that Little was “open to suggestions” during interviews, noting that he only ever mentioned a riot during riots after the Rodney King verdict after her partner raised the topic.

“It was hard to determine if it was his memory or it was his memory after it was suggested,” she said.

Sgt. Robert Martindale of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, who has been investigating Little’s alleged killings, believes four took place in the sheriff’s jurisdiction, but he’s not optimistic he’s ever going to solve them. As the county has undergone dramatic development over the past few decades, Little’s crime scenes may no longer exist, Martindale pointed out.

A man walks through the woods

Los Angeles County Sheriffs Sgt. Robert Martindale is investigating a murder case in La Verne.

(Los Angeles Times)

Martindale was with Roberts as she drove Little around and said that during the trip, Little struggled to locate murder sites in the county because so “many landmarks had changed.”

“What was once a field is now a shopping mall or apartment complex,” Martindale said.

Lack of case files and evidence is another problem, he said. In one case, a colleague had a photograph he had taken of a victim while on patrol in the 1980s or early 1990s that appears to match a murder that Little said he committed.

Little was “interested in” the image, which depicted a victim in tall grass, Martindale said. But the investigator has not been able to find any reports documenting the killing. He said he thinks it may have happened in Compton before the Sheriff’s Department took over police in that city.

Martindale believes he identified one of Little’s killings – in Rowland Heights – but said he could not find the forensic evidence that would link the serial killer to the crime. “It’s hard to solve it,” he said, “with Little gone, and the evidence has been disposed of.”

Little’s death ended a life that saw him slip in and out of the crosshairs of law enforcement as he collected a deadly book across the country.

Samuel Little photographed after his arrest in May 1972 in Washington.

Samuel Little photographed after his arrest in May 1972 in Washington.

Little operated mainly in the southeast and California and was able to remain undiscovered for decades, in part because of his choice of victim. Many of the lives he claimed belonged to “women who would not be missed,” as Roberts once put it. His crimes rarely provoked a public outcry, significant media attention or a major police response.

Although Little is believed to have obtained sexual gratification by killing, Roberts said he rarely sexually assaulted his victims. As a result, he was less likely to leave DNA evidence at a crime scene. And even in cases where Littles’ DNA was found on a woman’s body, Roberts said his choice of victims could make it difficult to put a kill on him, as genetic material from several men was sometimes found on the bodies of women who working as prostitutes.

Little was arrested for murder in Florida in the early 1980s, but acquitted. He was convicted of assaulting a woman in San Diego in the 1980s, but was released from prison in 1987. He wanted to kill two women in Los Angeles the same year.

Little was finally caught in 2012 when Roberts, who now heads the LAPD’s Cold Case unit, obtained an arrest warrant based on DNA evidence. While Roberts and others strongly believed that Little had killed far more than the three victims for whom he was convicted, Little stoned their interview attempts and, according to Roberts, developed a special hatred for her.

Instead, it was Holland, the Texas Ranger, that finally got Little to start talking in 2018. As an interrogation expert, Holland played out Little’s disgust for the LAPD investigators that caught him and his mockery of being called a rapist. Ranger was able to build a connection with the then elderly man, which sparked the talks that led to the closure of more than 60 open murder cases across the country.

The Netherlands expressed frustration over the number of open cases in Los Angeles.

“Am I disappointed with the results from LA? Yes. Little’s confessions have proven to be accurate, and most of his details have remained consistent over more than two years of interviews,” he said. the manner of death, descriptions of places where he met the victims, where he killed the victims, where he discarded the bodies of the victims are all accurate. They just have to be found, and it’s not a simple task in a city like Los Angeles, but it can be done, and I really think releasing that information will get it done. “

The Netherlands urged anyone with information about the killings, as Little described, to call 800-CALL-FBI.

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