A 2012 arrest of Samuel Little on narcotics charges at a homeless shelter in Kentucky resulted in a DNA match for three unsolved Los Angeles murders. Now, Little has claimed to have killed as many as 90 people. With three consecutive life sentences ahead of him, it seemed possible that Little was simply trying to gain some notoriety with his claims… that is, until the FBI and Texas Rangers began corroborating his testimony with unsolved murders. So far, law enforcement has linked Little to at least 34 murders, with many more investigations still ongoing.
“He remembers where he was, and what car he was driving,” an FBI statement said about his claimed slayings. “He draws pictures of many of the women he killed.”
“Over the course of that interview in May, he went through city and state and gave Ranger Holland the number of people he killed in each place. Jackson, Mississippi — one; Cincinnati, Ohio — one; Phoenix, Arizona — three; Las Vegas, Nevada — one,” said crime analyst Christina Palazzolo.
The most pressing question at the root of this story is: how is it possible that someone could get away with killing so many people for so long in modern America?
As of 2016, the nationwide murder “clearance rate,” or the rate in which murders were solved, was only 59.4%. That means a bit more than 40% of all murders in our country never lead to a conviction, but even those statistics can be a bit misleading. In some parts of major cities, as few as 33% of murders will result in law enforcement even making an arrest, let alone following through to any conviction. To put that another way, in some parts of Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, and many other cities, 7 out of 10 murders go unsolved.
Many cite the high crime of the 70’s and 80’s as responsible for American law enforcement’s difficulty nailing down violent crimes today. Police methodology has shifted in recent decades toward an emphasis on crime prevention, rather than solving crimes that have already occurred, and as a result, there are fewer resources to devote to each murder. Others contend it’s often disinterest on the part of law enforcement in high crime areas — particularly those with minority populations.
In recent years, some have begun to suggest that the popular anti-police sentiment among the people and politicians has led to a reduction in murder clearance rates.
“When politicians think it’s politically expedient to be tough on cops … how do you expect the detectives to get up and go out and do their jobs and put themselves in jeopardy when this is the environment they’re working in?” Said former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy.
There are things a killer can do to improve his or her chances at evading arrest. While movies and television shows might suggest that would involve purchasing rolls of plastic in bulk like Dexter, one of the most effective ways a murderer can dodge the fuzz is actually just by targeting people who tend not to draw as much attention when they go missing. Sex workers, drug users — and in many urban communities, impoverished minorities don’t draw the same headlines middle class homemakers do when they turn up dead.
A strangled prostitute in a Los Angeles alley is, of course, a tragic story… but in terms of media coverage (and as a result, often, police resources) it doesn’t register with the same effect as a school teacher or stay at home mom. As a result, these victims are often referred to as “the less dead,” because the nation is less interested in solving their murders.
Based on Little’s statements, those “less dead” made up the majority of his victims. By choosing targets that were unlikely to draw much attention and spreading his killing spree out over most of the country, he managed to not only evade capture, but law enforcement never even recognized Little’s killings as a pattern. Not only is Little potentially the most prolific serial killer in the nation’s history — he may have done so without the law enforcement even realizing there was a serial killer on the loose at all.
Without a doubt, violent crime has been on a steady decline in recent years, despite a recent spike in mass shootings — and some had even begun to wonder if DNA evidence and improved police procedures had brought an end to the era of serial killers operating within the United States. Spree killers have replaced serial killers as the real-life boogeyman in the minds of the American people, but Little serves as a powerful reminder that murders in the United States go unsolved every day. As prolific as Little’s kill count may ultimately be, that doesn’t change the fact that no one was even looking for him.
Which begs the question: how many other serial killers aren’t we looking for?