(CNN) – Almost 44 years after hunters discovered human remains near a Mississippi highway, authorities identified the victim as Clara Birdlong, who they believe was killed by Samuel Little, the United States’ deadliest serial killer. United.
The announcement was made Tuesday by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. Little died last year, at age 80. He was serving three consecutive life sentences without parole for the deaths of three women in the late 1980s. But he had confessed to 93 other murders between 1970 and 2005, according to the FBI.
Little targeted women, often from marginalized and vulnerable communities, many of whom were involved in prostitution or suffered from drug addiction and whose bodies were sometimes not identified and their deaths not investigated.
“Sometimes I would go back to the same city and pick another grape,” Little once said in an interview with researchers obtained by The Washington Post. “How many grapes does everyone have on the vine here?” He said, adding that it would avoid “people who would be immediately missed.”
“I’m not going to go to the ‘white neighborhood’ and pick a little teenage girl,” Little had said, according to The Post.
Two years before his death, Little had confessed to multiple murders in the Southeast, including the murder of “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” whom he had said he did not know by name. The Sheriff’s Department statement did not provide details about the confession and the crime.
Finding the remains of the victim
In the Birdlong case, hunters found the skeletal remains of the victim, who had been known as “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” in December 1977, the Sheriff’s Department said. Investigators learned that Little was arrested in Pascagoula, the Jackson County seat, in August 1977 for robbery.
A medical examination at the time found that the remains belonged to a “short African-American woman with a distinctive front gold tooth and possibly wearing a wig” who was likely killed three to four months earlier, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
How was Samuel Little’s victim identified?
Over the years, there were several attempts to identify the woman, including with the help of facial reconstructions, computer composites, and DNA analysis. None were successful, until January 2021, when Mississippi authorities hired Othram, a Texas DNA research facility, to create a family tree based on the victim’s DNA.
There was a DNA result: a possible distant cousin of the victim who lived in Texas, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
An investigator found the cousin and spoke to her 93-year-old grandmother, who said Birdlong – born around 1933 – disappeared from Leflore County, Mississippi, in the 1970s, the department said.
Another cousin in Texas who recalled the woman’s disappearance in the same time frame said Birdlong was called “Nuttin”, had a gold front tooth and wore a wig.
A woman in Leflore County, where family members said Birdlong disappeared, said she recalled that the woman left the county in the 1970s with an “African-American man, who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida.” said the Sheriff’s Department.
“Clara was never seen or heard from again,” they added. Earlier this month, a researcher requested DNA samples from several people who were closely associated with Birdlong to compare the DNA.
With the help of the Texas lab, officials confirmed the DNA matched that of the grandmother authorities had spoken to, the Sheriff’s Department said.
His cause of death remains undetermined, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Little is considered one of the main suspects in Birdlong’s death, the department said.
CNN’s Laura James contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism