Cold case arrest prompts cross-country probe

Timeline of the whereabouts of suspected strangler

Authorities have pieced together a 24-page timeline that tracks Samuel Little’s activity across the country since his birth. Little stands charged in the slayings of three Los Angeles women in the 1980s, and investigators in other states are now scouring cold case files and running DNA tests to determine whether Little may be a suspect in other crimes. A timeline of his whereabouts, according to police and public records:

June 7, 1940: Samuel Little is born in Reynolds, Ga. He grows up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio.

Nov. 29, 1956: Little is arrested for burglary in Omaha, Neb. He serves time with a youth authority.

1957-1975: Little, who sometimes went by Samuel McDowell, is arrested by police officers 26 times in 11 states including Ohio, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Arizona, Illinois and Georgia. Charges included shoplifting, theft, assault, rape, aggravated assault on a police officer, DUI, fraud, breaking and entering, solicitation of a prostitute.

December 1976: Little is convicted of assaulting Pamela Kay Smith in Sunset Hills, Mo., with the intent to ravish-rape and is sentenced to three months in county jail.

Sept. 12, 1982: The body of Patricia Ann Mount is found in rural Forest Grove, Fla.

October 1982: The skeletal remains of Melinda LaPree are found in a Gautier, Miss., cemetery. She was last seen in Pascagoula a month earlier after getting into a brown wood-paneled station wagon with a man later identified by witnesses as Little. During the investigation two prostitutes come forward and allege Little also assaulted them in Pascagoula in 1980 and 1981.

November 1982: Little is arrested for shoplifting in Pascagoula and police realize he matches the description of the suspect in the LaPree slaying. Little is charged with murder and the aggravated assaults of the two other prostitutes, but a grand jury does not indict. He is extradited to Florida to face charges in the Mount slaying.

January 1984: After several days of trial, a Florida jury acquits Little of murder charges in the Mount case.

October 1984: San Diego police officers find Little with a woman who accuses him of attacking her. He is arrested and charged in that assault and one a month earlier also in San Diego. Little is tried for attempted murder in the cases, but the jury deadlocks. He pleads guilty to assault and false imprisonment and serves about 2.5 years on a four-year sentence.

Feb. 1, 1987: Little is paroled and moves to Los Angeles.

July 13, 1987: Carol Alford is found dead in a South L.A. alley.

Aug. 14, 1989: Audrey Nelson is found dead in a downtown L.A. trash bin.

Sept. 3, 1989: Guadalupe Apodaca is found dead in an abandoned commercial garage in South L.A.

1990-2006: Little continues to encounter law enforcement in seven states for DUI, burglary, larceny, theft and shoplifting, among other charges.

May-August 2007: Little is arrested for possession of cocaine in Los Angeles. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to a drug diversion program, but he fails to attend or appear in court to report his progress. A judge issues a bench warrant, but it is nonextraditable.

2007-2012: Little has about a dozen contacts with law enforcement officers, some of whom find the outstanding warrant but, because it was nonextraditable, authorities let him go.

April 2012: LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts gets a DNA match on the Nelson and Apodaca cases, and then a DNA match in the statewide offender database to Little.

Sept. 5, 2012: Roberts receives a call from Louisiana sheriff's deputies saying they've traced an ATM purchase by Little to a Louisville, Ky., minimart. Little is found at a nearby Christian shelter and arrested.

January 2013: Little is charged with three counts of murder in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He remains in custody with no bail, pending trial. He has pleaded not guilty.

When Los Angeles cold case detectives caught up with Samuel Little this past fall, he was living in a Christian shelter in Kentucky, his latest arrest a few months earlier for alleged possession of a crack pipe. But the L.A. investigators wanted him on far more serious charges: The slayings of two women in 1989, both found strangled and nude below the waist — victims of what police concluded had been sexually motivated strangulations.

Little’s name came up, police said, after DNA evidence collected at old crime scenes matched samples of his stored in a criminal database. After detectives say they found yet another match, a third murder charge was soon added against Little.

Now, as the 72-year-old former boxer and transient awaits trial in Los Angeles, authorities in numerous jurisdictions in California, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio are scouring their own cold case files for possible ties to Little. One old murder case, in Pascagoula, Miss., already has been reopened. DNA results are pending in some others.

Little’s more than 100-page rap sheet details crimes in 24 states spread over 56 years — mostly assault, burglary, armed robbery, shoplifting and drug violations. In that time, authorities say incredulously, he served less than 10 years in prison.

But Los Angeles detectives allege he was also a serial killer, who traveled the country preying on prostitutes, drug addicts and troubled women.

They assert Little often delivered a knockout punch to women and then proceeded to strangle them while masturbating, dumping the bodies and soon after leaving town. Their investigation has turned up a number of cases in which he was a suspect or convicted.

Police are using those old cases — and tracking down surviving victims — to help build their own against Little.

“We see a pattern, and the pattern matches what he’s got away with in the past,” LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts said.

Little has pleaded not guilty in the three L.A. slayings, and in interviews with detectives after his September arrest he described his police record as “dismissed, not guilty, dismissed.”

“I just be in the wrong place at the wrong time with people,” he said, according to an interview transcript.

Still, as more details emerge, so do more questions. Among them: How did someone with so many encounters with the law, suspected by prosecutors and police officers of killing for decades, manage to escape serious jail time?

“It’s the craziest rap sheet I’ve ever seen,” said Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman, who has worked many serial killer cold cases. “The fact that he hasn’t spent a more significant period of his life (in custody) is a shocking thing. He’s gotten break after break after break.”

Deputy Public Defender Michael Pentz, who represents Little, declined to comment.

Authorities have pieced together a 24-page timeline tracking Little’s activity across the country since his birth. His rap sheet has helped them pinpoint his location sometimes on a monthly basis. Law enforcement agencies are now cross-referencing that timeline with cold case slayings in their states.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is leading a review of that state’s unsolved murders and helping coordinate the effort among 12 jurisdictions. The department published an intelligence bulletin alerting authorities in Florida, Alabama and Georgia about Little’s case, noting he lived in the area on and off in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

“We strongly encouraged them to look at any unresolved homicides that they had during those time frames and then consider him as a potential suspect,” said Jeff Fortier, a special agent supervisor at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The department is re-examining DNA evidence in about 15 cases that was collected before advances in forensic science allowed for thorough analysis, Fortier said.

“We are in the infancy stages of what we expect will be a protracted investigation,” he said.

Little, who often went by the name Samuel McDowell, grew up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio.

In an hour- and 15-minute interview with Los Angeles detectives, Little spoke openly about his past and his time in the penitentiary, where he started boxing as a middleweight against the other inmates. “I used to be a prizefighter,” he said.

“I’ve been in and out of the penitentiary,” he told the California officers.

“Well, for what?” a detective asked, to which Little responded: “Shoplifting and, uh, petty thefts and stuff.”

As he told the L.A. detectives in his interview, Little moved in 1987 to Los Angeles, where three women were soon discovered dead: Carol Alford, 41, found on July 13, 1987; Audrey Nelson, 35, found on Aug. 14, 1989; and Guadalupe Apodaca, 46, found on Sept. 3, 1989. All were manually strangled.

It is for those slayings that Little now stands charged. No trial date has been set, though Little is due back in court this month for a procedural hearing. If convicted, Little would face a minimum of life in prison without parole, though prosecutors said they may seek the death penalty.

When the case landed on Detective Roberts’ desk, she had no idea it would grow from two local cold case slayings to a cross-country probe into the past of a man with some 75 arrests.

In his interview with police, Little said he didn’t recognize the slain L.A. women. Detectives said that DNA collected from semen on upper body clothing or from fingernail scrapings connect him to the crimes.

Roberts and others who’ve investigated Little through the years said some cases may not have gone forward because DNA testing wasn’t available until the mid-1980s and, even when it was, wouldn’t have been useful in these cases unless authorities tested clothing, fingernails or body swabs. Due to this perpetrator’s particular modus operandi, DNA wouldn’t necessarily be found through standard rape kit collection.

Even in those cases that did go to trial, they said, jurors may have found the victims less credible because of their backgrounds, and the witnesses — often prostitutes — in some cases disappeared. Because Little was also a transient, Roberts said: “I don’t think he stuck in a lot of peoples’ minds much.”

“But what’s different now, we’re just not going to allow that to happen,” she said. “I think we owe it to the victims. I think we owe it to the families.”