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The confessions of a prolific serial killer have left LA detectives chasing ghosts

James Queally and Del Quentin Wilber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — As Sam Little spilled details of the 93 murders he claimed to have committed across the U.S., the toll in Los Angeles mounted.

In hundreds of hours of interviews with investigators, the former boxer admitted to killing dozens of women, almost all by strangulation, from 1970 to 2005 as he moved around the U.S. The scraps of detail he offered — a year, an intersection, a landmark — left the FBI and local police scrambling to fill in the blanks and corroborate his chilling confessions. Twenty of his victims had been in the city of Los Angeles or elsewhere in L.A. County, Little claimed.

Authorities say they’ve confirmed that Little committed about two-thirds of the murders, but they remain flummoxed by 31 of them. Of those, 16 allegedly occurred in L.A. County, where he was ultimately brought to justice.

With Little’s death last year in a California prison and the lead investigator’s retirement next month, detectives are launching a public push for answers. Investigators with the Texas Rangers and FBI released details Tuesday of Little’s confessions to the outstanding murders. Beyond the people he claims to have killed in L.A. County, Miami is the only metropolitan area with multiple open cases linked to Little. Investigators are also seeking to close cases in Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Cincinnati, among other places.

“We are hoping to get the public’s help, jog loose a detail, something that helps us link up these cases,” said James Holland, the Texas Ranger whose interrogations of Little ultimately led to his confessions in 2018.

Holland said he is hopeful Little’s sometimes vivid descriptions of crime scenes and 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 stashed her body under a mattress in an alley. In 1996, he said, he left a white prostitute half-clothed in a bathtub in a vacant house near Slauson Avenue. And during rioting in 1992, possibly over the Rodney King beating, he said, he dumped the body of a Black woman who wore a turban behind a bank or loan company in Compton during a rain shower.

 

Despite Little’s candor, LAPD investigators say tying his confessions definitively to any of the thousands of unsolved murders the agency has on its books is difficult. Little claimed he killed sporadically in L.A. from 1987 to 1996, a period when the city’s annual homicide total sometimes surpassed 1,000. And his frequent targeting of Black prostitutes and women with drug addictions in South L.A. mirrored the profile of other serial predators in the city at the time.

Mitzi Roberts, the LAPD homicide detective whose investigation led to Little’s conviction in 2014 for three murders, recalled how two years ago she drove the confessed killer around areas of the city and county where he claimed to have murdered people, hoping it might pry loose clues.

“He was only able to take us to five locations and he was kind of confused about the rest of the stuff,” she said. “We weren’t able to get any additional information to help us narrow down to a specific victim.”

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

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