According to the FBI, Samuel Little was the “most prolific serial killer in US history.” His criminal career began in the 1950s, when he was a teenager in Ohio. Little travelled around the country and was in and out of jail for decades.
He was caught in 2012 on an outstanding narcotics charge, and a DNA test linked him to three unsolved deaths in California dating back to the late 1980s. In 2014, he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Little soon confessed to a slew of additional murders that took place across 19 states between 1970 and 2005, claiming culpability for 93 deaths. Little died in prison in 2020, at the age of 80. Investigators had verified Little was guilty for more than 60 murders as of December 2021.
On June 7, 1940, Samuel Little was born as Samuel McDowell. Little, who was born in Reynolds, Georgia, said his mother was an adolescent prostitute who abandoned him. Authorities suspect Little’s mother gave birth to him while she was incarcerated. Little was raised in Lorain, Ohio, by his grandmother. He struggled in high school and eventually dropped out.
Little began committing crimes throughout his adolescence, beginning with theft. He was placed in juvenile jail, and his misdeeds worsened from there. Beginning in the 1950s, he travelled from state to state and was arrested for fraud, DUI, assault, armed robbery, and rape, among other offenses.
By 1975, he had been arrested over 25 times in 11 different states. He served a total of ten years for these numerous acts and avoided two murder trials prior to his 2014 guilty verdict.
Little claimed he spent his time in prison learning to box and that he showed promise as a prizefighting boxer, a job he never pursued.
Convictions, Confessions, and Victims
Little was apprehended in a homeless shelter in Kentucky in 2012 and transferred to Los Angeles on an outstanding drug charge. Little was arrested and his DNA was examined, which confirmed his link to three homicides in California between 1987 and 1989. Carol Ilene Elford, Guadalupe Duarte Apodaca, and Audrey Nelson Everett were the victims.
A jury convicted him guilty of the murders in 2014 and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release. Following Little’s conviction, the FBI entered his information into its Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which began uncovering strong linkages between his actions over the years and a plethora of unsolved homicides in 19 states.
In August 2019, the imprisoned Little pleaded guilty to the 1981 murders of four people in Ohio, including 32-year-old Anna Stewart. On top of his previous rulings, he received two consecutive sentences of life in prison and two consecutive sentences of 15 years to life.
Authorities reported at this point that they had confirmed at least 60 of the deaths Little professed to taking out. Little stated in his later years that he hoped his confessions would assist exonerate anyone wrongfully convicted of his crimes. “I say if I can help get somebody out of jail, you know, then God might smile a little bit more on me,” he told 60 Minutes.
One of the main reasons Little’s killings stayed unsolved for so long was that many of his victims and purported victims were on the periphery of society—for example, sex workers, homeless people, and drug addicts—many of whom were women of color. “I never killed no senators or governors or fancy New York journalists. Nothing like that,” Little told the New York Times. “I stayed in the ghettos.”
Many of the victims have yet to be identified, and many of their deaths have been attributed to natural causes, drug overdoses, or accidents. Little’s technique of killing began with punching his victims out cold, followed by strangling them to death. It was difficult to detect foul play because there were no bullet or stab wounds. The Los Angeles Police Department dubbed him “The Choke-and-Stroke Killer” because he frequently masturbated while strangling his victims.
According to New York Magazine, Little believed he was sent by God to kill his victims in order to relieve their suffering. At times, he believed he was possessed by the devil. In any case, he described murder as exciting. “It was like drugs,” he told an investigator. “I came to like it.”
Authorities identified his first known victim, 20-year-old Yvonne Pless, in May 2023. In 1977, Little murdered her in Macon, Georgia. In 1982, he murdered Fredonia Smith, also of Macon.
Although Little’s memory of dates and what his victims were wearing at the time of their killings was not perfect, he appeared to have an excellent memory for other aspects. “He recalls where he was and the vehicle he was driving. “He draws pictures of many of the women he kills,” according to an FBI statement from 2018.
While Little was imprisoned in California in 2018, Texas Ranger James Holland paid him a visit in the hopes of solving the 1994 murder of a prostitute called Denise Brothers in Odessa, Texas. Little eventually confessed to the murder and several others in exchange for being transferred out of the Los Angeles County jail.
When Holland discovered Little’s skill for drawing, he gave him art equipment so he could illustrate his victims. Little created stunningly precise images of his victims, which the FBI attempted to utilize to solve a slew of cold cases.
“I live in my mind now. With my babies [victims]. In my drawings,” he told New York Magazine. “The only things I was ever good at was drawing and fighting.”
Little claimed to have been married once, though no proof of that has been found, and to have been in two long-term relationships. He didn’t have any kids.
Little’s most noteworthy long-term relationship was with Orelia “Jean” Dorsey, whom he met in prison in 1971.Dorsey advised Little that his then-girlfriend Lucy Madero planned to testify against him in an impending robbery trial, according to Cleveland Magazine. According to court records, a jury found Little not guilty in 1972. Dorsey, who was 27 years his senior, and Little remained inseparable after that, with Dorsey serving as his surrogate mother and traveling companion. Until Dorsey died of a brain hemorrhage in 1988, the two stole thousands of dollars in clothing, cigarettes, and electronics.
Little died in detention on December 30, 2020, at a hospital in the Los Angeles area. The cause of death for the 80-year-old was not made public, although there were no signs of foul play.
Little, who was once 6-foot-3 and weighed more than 200 pounds, had become wheelchair-bound in prison. He had heart difficulties, diabetes, and other unnamed illnesses.