How the most prolific serial killer in American history got away with it for nearly 50 years

Ashley Collman
samuel little

Associated Press/Damian Dovarganes

  • On Sunday, the FBI confirmed that Samuel Little is now the most prolific serial killer of all time, after connecting him to at least 50 murders.
  • Officials say Little was able to go undetected for so long due to a combination of factors: such as the fact that he moved around a lot and targeted marginalized women.
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The FBI on Sunday confirmed that Samuel Little is now the most prolific serial killer in history.

Last year, the 79-year-old confessed to strangling 93 women to death between 1970 and 2005. The FBI has confirmed 50 of those killings so far, which is enough to unseat Gary Ridgeway, the "Green River Killer," as America's worst serial killer.

But just how was he able to get away with killing so long before being caught? The answer lies in a combination of factors, including Little's lifestyle and his preferred type of victim.

When the FBI first announced his confession last year, they detailed what they had learned about Little's life of crime in a press release.

Officials said that Little led a mostly nomadic life after he dropped out of high school and left his home in Ohio in the late 1950s. The killings reflect this, as they're spread out across 16 states, according to USA Today.OpenStreetMaps/Federal Bureau of Investigation

A map samuel little murders

Little also targeted "marginalized and vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs," the FBI said.

"Their bodies sometimes went unidentified and their deaths uninvestigated," the statement reads.

There's also something to be said about how Little killed his victims. A former boxer, Little knew how to stun or knockout his victims before strangling them. Because of this, these deaths would sometimes be classified as drug overdoses or accidents, since there were no obvious signs of trauma such as stab marks or bullet wounds.

DNA profiling also was not as advanced as it is today. "DNA evidence was often not available or could not provide a clear link back to Little," the FBI said.

Read more: The FBI said a 79-year-old man who claims to have killed 93 women is the most prolific serial killer in US history

The final factor is the fact that Little, up until last year, always fought law enforcement when he was accused of murder. And more often than not, he came out winning.

In the early 1980s, Little was charged with killing women in Mississippi and Florida, but escaped indictment in Mississippi and conviction in Florida. Even after being convicted of three California murders in 2014, he refused to admit to the crimes, which dated to the 1980s. 

It was only after Texas Ranger James Holland started flying to California more than a year ago to interview Little in connection to the 1994 murder of a prostitute in Odessa that he finally started confessing.

Holland says he doesn't know why Little decided to open up to him out of all people.

"Maybe Sammy just liked me," Holland told "60 Minutes" recently.

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