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Samuel Little: The Most Prolific Serial Killer in United States History

He's confessed to a staggering 93 murders thus far—and the FBI believes all his confessions are credible.

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

His name may not be as well-known as some of America’s more famous serial murderers, but the FBI believes Samuel Little is the most prolific serial killer in the history of the United States. Little has confessed to a staggering 93 murders. The FBI has verified 50 of the killings thus far, and believes all of Little's confessions are credible. 

If Little's confessions are true, he will have claimed far more lives than Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer. Ridgway was convicted of 49 murders in Washington State, which represents the highest number of murder convictions for an American serial killer.

When Samuel Little was arrested in 2012 at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky and charged with the murders of three women, he maintained his innocence, even up through his sentencing in September of 2014. Soon enough, however, Little would confess to a stunning litany of murders.

Related: 32 Most Horrifying Serial Killer Books 

Little’s 2012 arrest wasn’t his first run-in with the law. A drifter, he had been arrested more than two dozen times in eleven states by the time he was thirty-five for crimes ranging from assault and attempted rape to fraud and attacks on government officials.   

That was in 1975. By then, authorities now suspect, his decades-long string of murders had already begun. 

Who Is Samuel Little? 

Samuel Little was born on June 7, 1940, in Reynolds, Georgia. By his own account, his mother was a prostitute. Little grew up in Ohio, and served time in a juvenile detention center after breaking an entering in Omaha.

Related: 46 Gripping True Crime Books from the Last 54 Years 

Much of what we know of Little’s early life comes from his own accounts. He claims to have worked as a cemetery caretaker and ambulance attendant, and to have taken up boxing during his various stints in prison. He even says that he was a prizefighter for a time. What authorities now know is that beginning in 1970 and stretching into the early 2000s, Little was murdering women across the United States.

It was a Texas Ranger named James Holland who got Samuel Little to confess. Over the course of more than 700 hours of jailhouse interviews, Little confessed to some 93 murders. The FBI has verified at least 50 of these slayings, and believes that all of them are accurate.

Related: 33 Books About the World’s Most Famous Serial Killers 

During the interviews, Little drew dozens of detailed portraits of his victims in chalk pastels—portraits that the FBI has since sought help from the public in identifying. Thanks to Little’s confessions, prosecutors have been able to close homicide investigations dating back decades—and bring closure to the families of dozens of victims.

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  • A timeline of Samuel Little's mugshots.

    Photo Credit: FBI.gov

Over the course of those hours of interviews and drawings, a chilling picture emerged. From 1970 until his arrest in 2012, Little crisscrossed the country, picking up vulnerable women and strangling them to death, one after the other, in states all over the United States—from Ohio to Arizona, Florida to California.

“Where did you kill the most?” Texas Ranger James Holland asked Little. “Oh that’s easy,” Little replied, “Florida and California.” When Holland asked how many he killed in Los Angeles alone, Little replied, “Approximately twenty.”

Related: Inside John Wayne Gacy Jr.'s Real Life Murder House 

Little has thus far been convicted of eight murders. While this is less than the Gary Ridgway's confirmed 49 murders, Little has admitted to killing as many as 93 people, and there’s strong evidence to believe he's telling the truth.

“Nothing he’s ever said has been proven to be wrong or false,” Holland said of Little’s numerous confessions. “We’ve been able to prove up almost everything he said.”

The Many Murders of Samuel Little: "It is important to seek justice for each victim"

Discussing Little, Holland points out the man’s lucidity, his near-photographic memory. Indeed, this is perhaps how he's able to keep the details of so very many victims straight after all these years. “He basically takes a photograph in his mind of exactly what he sees as he leaves them,” Holland said of Little’s uncanny recall.

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  • Sketches produced by Little portraying six women he claims to have killed. Their identifying locations, clockwise from top left: New Orleans, LA 1982; Las Vegas, NV 1993; Miami, FL 1971-72; Covington, KY, 1984; North Little Rock, AK, 1992-94; Savannah, GA, 1974.

    Photo Credit: FBI

Right now, Little remains in prison in Lancaster, California, where he's serving consecutive life sentences. During his incarceration, he has been convicted of five additional murders, with who knows how many more in the works. Investigators and prosecutors are taking full advantage of Little’s cooperation, working day and night to identify as many of his victims as possible.

At 79 years old, Little’s failing health underscores the need for decisive action on the part of investigators. “Even though he is already in prison,” Christie Palazzolo of the FBI said, “the FBI believes it is important to seek justice for each victim—to close every case possible.”

Related: The Killer Encyclopedia: A List of Real-Life Murderers, from A-Z 

As Little’s health and memory begin to slip, the possibility of closing all of the cases that he may be linked to dwindles. Yet prosecutors and investigators continue to work with the convict, pushing him to produce more sketches and reveal the details to his crimes, in the hope that they can close additional cases that have remained open for years. 

Through all his confessions, Little has treated his crimes lightly, and evinced little in the way of motive. “God put me on earth to do what I did,” one detective recalled him saying. “He made me.”

Related: Gary Ridgway: The Green River Killer Who Evaded Capture for 20 Years

“I don’t think there was another person that did what I liked to do,” Little said of his crimes. “I think I’m the only one in the world. That’s not an honor. That’s a curse.”

Little preyed almost exclusively on vulnerable women: sex workers, runaways, drifters—women who are too often overlooked by society and whom Little believed would also be overlooked by investigators.

“For many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims,” Palazzolo said

Related: 11 Notorious Female Serial Killers

Ranger James Holland, who elicited from Little his many confessions, had a more chilling explanation. “He was so good at what he did,” Holland said. “You know, ‘How did you get away with it, Sammy?’ Did the crime, left town.”

Samuel Little: The Confessions

To extract the confessions that have helped to close so many cases, Holland turned to some unusual tactics. He convinced Texas prosecutors to waive the possibility of the death penalty, and in the interview room, he supplied Little with pizza and Dr. Pepper.

When asked why he would treat a serial killer so well, Holland replied that there was a greater good at work. “I say that we can have one case [solved] or we can have 93 cases,” Holland said.

Related: 6 True Crime Books About Lesser-Known, Suspected Serial Killers 

As to why Little ultimately confessed to him after having maintained his innocence for so long, however, Holland sighed and offered a simpler explanation, “maybe Sammy just liked me.”

For now, Little remains in prison and continues to cooperate with investigators, proffering new drawings of potential victims for as long as his failing memory and health will allow. While the FBI considers him the most prolific serial killer in American history, they need your help in identifying his many victims. 

If you have any information linked to Little’s confessions, please contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit at tip online at tips.fbi.gov. A collection of Samuel Little drawings, as well as a map of murder locations, can be found here

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons and FBI