The serial killer, now imprisoned and in his late 70s, can’t remember her name but recalls her figure and death with ease.
She lived in Gulfport but was originally from the Jackson area, the killer said.
She was attractive. She was in her early 30s, weighed about 130 pounds and had light skin and an ample bottom. Her hands were rough from her job as a pipe fitter at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
From the moment he met her, he was planning to kill.
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That’s what Samuel Little, who has been in prison since 2014 for murdering three women in California, told investigators.
A few months ago, he began confessing to more killings, including several in Mississippi. At first, investigators had trouble matching Little’s description of the young woman from the Jackson area he met in Gulfport to a name — or a body.
Now, Lt. Darren Versiga with the Pascagoula Police Department thinks he has probably found her remains, which had sat nearly forgotten for decades in the offices of a late forensic anthropologist whose help law enforcement sought in identifying the victim.
Versiga, who specializes in solving cold cases, is trying to track down her identity and bring a sense of closure to her family, who may still be looking for her after all these years.
“There is no greater feeling than bringing them home,” he said. “That’s why I do it.”
The cold case investigator has traveled twice to Texas to interview Little about his crimes.
Little has now confessed to 93 killings total, Versiga said, in hopes of getting credit for his deeds. The FBI has said Little “may be among the most prolific serial killers” in this country’s history.
Jackson Police have reopened a separate case from the 1980s, which they believe may be connected to Little. They know the identity of the victim — who Versiga said was a transgender woman — but are declining to name the individual as the investigation is ongoing.
She was a ‘great woman,’ her killer said
For things like distance and time, Little’s memory can be faulty. However, when it comes to the graphic details of his crimes, he has a “photographic memory,” Versiga said.
Little and the victim met at a bar in Gulfport sometime before 1982, Versiga said. After talking for a while, they went across the street to the boarding house where she was staying. There, Little had an accident in the bathroom. He defecated outside of the toilet bowl. She came in and cleaned up after him.
Little told Versiga that she was a great woman and would have made a good wife.
Another man at the boarding house — possibly someone the victim had a prior relationship with — didn’t like the fact that Little was over.
So, that same night, Little and the woman went to Pascagoula. He bought her one last meal at a bar in Carver Village. Then he drove her a ways away and strangled her. He dumped the body in the the woods, off a dirt road.
“He had sexual gratification from strangulation and control and killing of a human being,” Versiga said. “That’s what got him off, for lack of a better term. He probably didn’t have a normal sex life like other people. That’s the way he got the relief he needed ... Why would God put a human being like that on earth? I have no idea.”
A possible match is identified
On Dec. 27, 1977, hunters stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a woman near a wooded area, off the side of the road, north of Pascagoula, Versiga said.
Back then, forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow was asked to take a look at the body. He estimated that the body had been there since August or September of 1977.
Snow examined the skeleton and noted that she had an area in her left jaw that may have caused her pain and she may have had a limp in her left leg, possibly from an old injury.
Snow also said it appears the victim had at least one child, possibly more.
The woman would have been 5 feet, 6 inches to 5 feet, 8 inches tall, he said, and 35 to 45 years old.
A couple of local newspapers reported the discovery of the body, but investigators were unable to make an identification.
Versiga didn’t locate the case file until 2012. He found out that Snow kept the skeletal remains at his office in Oklahoma after examining them. Versiga asked Snow’s office to send him photos of the body. In 2017, the Mississippi State Crime Lab received possession of the remains.
Even before Little began confessing to more killings, Versiga suspected it might have been the work of the serial killer.
Police records show Little was in the area in August 1977, when he was arrested for stolen clothes out of his trunk, Versiga said.
“We’re comfortable now we have found (the victim Little described),” Versiga said.
Versiga said the timeline matches. The build of the body appears to be similar to the victim Little described. The location seems about right.
Versiga showed Little photographs of a forensic sculpture, molded from clay off the skull and adorned with a wig. These types of sculptures, Versiga said, are “only suggestive,” offering an interpretation of what the person could have looked like when they were alive.
After seeing the first few photos, Little said it wasn’t her. Then he looked at another picture of the sculpture from an angle with a different wig.
“This looks just like her. This picture right here,” Versiga remembers Little saying.
One thing in particular leads Versiga to believe he’s on the right path.
The anthropologist’s notes said the hair on the body that was found was “plaited,” and said it was an indication she probably regularly wore wigs.
During an interview, Little used the same word — “plaited” — to describe his victim’s hairstyle. He said he remembers that she had a wig because it fell off when he strangled her.
There is one discrepancy. The skull found in 1977 has two prominent gold incisors. The gold on her front tooth has a distinctive triangle-shaped cutout, which may have had something in it at one point, Versiga said.
Little didn’t remember any gold teeth in the victim’s mouth, and believes it’s something that would have stuck out.
Despite the teeth, Versiga feels fairly confident that the body matches Little’s confession, but it’s not “100 percent.”
“He could be off,” he said. “We could be off.”
Pascagoula police are open to looking at other cold cases, Versiga said, if this body is not the one.
He said he encourages anybody with information about missing persons to reach out to Pascagoula police.
“I want to make sure if they have somebody missing, they need to be calling and we need to be looking into that as well,” he said.
‘It’s going to be a long process’
The next step in the investigation is looking for the location where Little met his victim.
The bar and boarding house are now gone, Versiga said. He’s going to try to find records from that time period that might give clues as to where they used to stand.
“Going back to ‘77, especially after Hurricane Katrina (wiped everything out) is going to be hard,” he said. “But we’re going to try.”
Versiga will also try to find records, starting in 1977 and going to 1983, of any black females from the Jackson area who didn’t show up to work one day and was terminated.
“It’s going to be a long process,” he said.
Another investigator with the Pascagoula Police Department, Joseph Bignell, said DNA testing could play a big role in the investigation.
The plan is to get a DNA sample from the skeletal remains and submit it to a database that will match it to potential relatives, Bignell said. It’s the same type of technology that allowed law enforcement in California to identify the man suspected of being the Golden State Killer last year.
Versiga plans to remain in contact with Little, who he is now “pen pals” with.
They bonded over the fact they’re both former fighters.
At one point, Little sent him a letter with a playful jab: “I’m a better fighter than you.” He drew a smiley face.
Versiga replied with something like, “Well I bet I’m a better artist than you.”
Versiga said he’ll put on a friendly face with Little as long as it helps him get the information he wants.
“He’s not my buddy, he’s not my pal. He is a killer. I’ve never lost sight of that,” he said.
Have a tip?
Versiga asks for anyone with tips to reach out to the Pascagoula Police Department at 228-762-2211 or to email him at email@example.com.
Read more at ClarionLedger.com