His name is not as well known as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or John Wayne Gacy, though the scale of his crimes far eclipses theirs: confessing to 93 murders over 35 years. On Sunday, the FBI reported on months of investigatory work, declaring 79-year-old Samuel Little the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.
Fifty of Little’s killings have been confirmed by the FBI, who noted that “all of his confessions are credible,” reports The New York Times.
Part of the reason Little evaded authorities for so long—and thus, amassed the body count he did—was because few people cared about his victims.
“For many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims,” Christie Palazzolo, an analyst for the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program said, according to NBC News.
Little is believed to have killed more people than Bundy and Dahmer combined. But the women he targeted were vulnerable: many were sex workers and drug users. If their bodies were found, their deaths were ruled as overdoses or accidental causes. Those that weren’t found didn’t draw much attention from police, and their cases went cold, quickly.
They were also mostly black women.
Originally from Ohio, Little drifted from city to city, admitting to authorities that he chose victims “police wouldn’t work too hard to find,” according to a recent 60 Minutes episode. Little was convicted of strangling three women to death in 2014, and was serving three consecutive life-terms in California when a Texas Ranger investigating the case of a missing woman from 1994 decided to fly out to the Mojave Desert to interview Little on a hunch.
Little had been pegged as a sexual predator—a label that enraged him, Texas Ranger James Holland told 60 Minutes. But Holland reassured the septuagenarian he didn’t believe that to be the case. Holland told Little he believed he was a killer; the California inmate responded by confessing to his crimes, starting with three murders in Texas. Holland’s cold case was one of them.
Over the course of more than 700 hours of interviews, Little has confessed to killing women in 19 states between 1975 and 2005 (he told Holland he’s killed 20 women in Los Angeles alone). Investigators are now in a race against the clock to identify as many victims as they can: Little, wheelchair-bound, is in poor health, and they worry his photographic memory may one day fade.
Little has sketched dozens of pictures of his victims in startling detail, which the FBI has posted on a page dedicated to Little’s crimes. The images are haunting: rows and rows of black women, from Ohio to Mississippi to California, killed and forgotten. Many were in their twenties and thirties, some were as young as 18.
According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control, black women are more likely to be murdered than any other group of women in the U.S., at a rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people (indigenous women are a close second, at 4.3 per 100,000). For every other racial and ethnic demographic, that rate hovers between 1 and 2 per 100,000.
But when black people are killed, their killers are less likely to be found and charged with a crime. A recent Washington Post report found homicide cases in which black people were the victims were far less likely to be resolved by investigators: “While police arrested someone in 63 percent of the killings of white victims, they did so in just 47 percent of those with black victims,” the Post wrote.
Some of this is due to historical distrust between black communities and police. But it’s also worth noting that the deaths and disappearances of black women, in particular, are less likely to make any kind of news, let alone the national fervor that tends to cluster around young, white female victims.
Little’s victims were, by his own admission, carefully selected: women who engaged in sex work or had substance abuse issues; women without connections and visibility. If a man like Little annihilated so many of those women, it was in no small part because the people charged with investigating their deaths and disappearances helped render them invisible.
Little has shown no remorse for his crimes, allegedly telling Michael Mongeluzzo, a detective from Marion County, Fla., “God put me on Earth to do what I did. He made me.”
In his interview with 60 Minutes, Little also made clear he saw himself as a singular figure: “I don’t think there was another person that did what I liked to do. I think I’m the only one in the world. That’s not an honor. That’s a curse.”