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Cold case arrest prompts cross-country probe

Monday - 4/8/2013, 5:16am  ET

In this Monday, March 4, 2013 photo, Samuel Little, a suspected serial killer, appears at Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles. Little, 72, was arrested in Louisville, Ky., in September by U.S. Marshals on an unrelated narcotics warrant while investigators built their case. He later waived extradition and was brought to Los Angeles, where he was charged with three murder counts and the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

TAMI ABDOLLAH
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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 LA 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," said LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts.

Little has pleaded not guilty in the three LA 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 reviewed by The Associated Press.

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.

In Mississippi, Pascagoula cold case Detective Darren Versiga is re-investigating the killing of Melinda LaPree, a 22-year-old prostitute found strangled in 1982. Little had been arrested in that crime but never indicted, Versiga said. The detective has tracked down old witnesses and is working to reconstruct the case file because much of it was washed away during Hurricane Katrina.

Little, who often went by the name Samuel McDowell, grew up with his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio. His rap sheet shows his first arrest at age 16 on burglary charges. After serving time in a youth authority he was released and, months later, arrested again for breaking and entering.

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