1:03 PM PDT, September 28, 2021
The skeletal remains of a Mississippi woman known as “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” has been identified 44 years later, and investigators believe she was a victim of one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers, Samuel Little, who was known for drawing haunting, colorful portraits of the women he killed, according to a published report.
Clara Birdlong was the name of “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” whose remains were found near the Escatawpa River Marsh Coastal Preserve, by a group of hunters in December 1977, three to four months after she had been killed, Mississippi Sheriff’s Department announced on Tuesday, according to a press release by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
The medical exam was able to determine that the remains belonged to a small Black woman, who had a distinct front gold tooth and who was possibly wearing a wig. Over the years, several facial reconstructions and computer composites were created in an attempt to help identify Birdlong, the sheriff’s department said.
In August, there was a break in the four-decades-old case, when investigators were able to trace Birdlong to a distant cousin living in Texas and the cousins’ 93-year-old grandmother, based on details from a DNA research facility in Texas. A family tree was created based on samples from the woman’s remains, according to the sheriff’s department.
Distant relatives told investigators that Birdlong was born around 1933 and went by the nickname, “Nuttin” and told them that she had gone missing from Leflore County, MS, in the 1970s. In August, one of the women told the authorities that Birdlong left the Leflore area around that time with a Black man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi to Florida, The New York Times reported.
Investigators confirmed that Samuel Little was in Jackson County in 1977, during the approximate time frame of the Birdlong’s death, the sheriff’s department said.
In September 2012, Little was arrested at a Kentucky homeless shelter and extradited to California, where he was wanted on a narcotics charge. Once Little was in custody, Los Angeles Police Department detectives obtained a DNA match to Little on the victims in three unsolved homicides from 1987 and 1989 and charged him with three counts of murder, according to the FBI.
In 2014, Little was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole, the FBI reported.
Little confessed to strangling and killing 93 women across the Southeast in at least 14 states, between 1970 and 2005, according to authorties. One of those women was Birdlong, who authorities say, he did not know by name. The FBI said they have verified at least 50 of the murders, according to a release by the FBI.
Little had a habit of drawing eerie portraits of his victims, whose eyes all possessed a vacant stare. Some had a little smile while others were stoic. In his drawings, he would detail the type of hairstyle the victim wore, the color of their eyeshadow, and lipstick, and their jewelry and accessories, according to reports.
Little, who was a one-time competitive boxer, usually stunned or knocked out his victims with a powerful punch and then strangled them. Investigators said his method of killing did not always leave obvious signs that the death was a homicide. The authorities said that, with no stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes, according to an FBI report.
He chose to kill marginalized and vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs. The FBI said many of his victims’ deaths were originally ruled overdoses or attributed to accidental or undetermined causes. And, some bodies were never found, a report said.
Many were young white, Black, or Latino, who were estranged from their families or struggling with addiction or poverty. He said he would find his victims in bars, nightclubs, or along the streets and strangled them to death in the backseat of his car, The New York Times reported.
Little was convicted of at least eight murders, some of which were solved using DNA analysis, the Times reported.
In 2019, the FBI published some of Mr. Little’s confessions, including descriptions of his victims and where he dumped the bodies. The bureau said it believed all of his confessions were credible, according to the FBI release.
Little died in prison in December at age 80, and was the primary suspect in Birdlong’s murder. Meanwhile, investigators said Birdlong’s cause of death is still undetermined, according to the sheriff’s department
Anyone who may remember Clara Birdlong is asked to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at (228) 769-3063 or Mississippi Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.