How Did a Serial Killer Escape Notice? His Victims Were Vulnerable and Overlooked

The families of women killed by a man the F.B.I. has described as America’s most prolific serial killer say their cases went unnoticed for years. “It just tears me up,” one relative said.

Comments: 58

  1. It’s heartbreaking on so many levels, how some of these women fell through the cracks, how some were never missed, how there was no one to pressure for investigations on several of these cases. May finding an answer to what happened to a loved one provide a some peace to some of the victim’s families.

  2. The authors of this piece end by claiming that Little got away with murder for so long because he “targeted young black women.” And by the magic fiat of the media’s inability to talk about economic class, all his white victims become black. Voila! Don’t make Little’s murder spree about race. The deciding factor in his getting away with murder for so long is class. The victims were poor, socially disadvantaged women. So they didn’t get the media’s sympathy and attention, and their families couldn’t hire lawyers to pressure the authorities. Police departments all over the country felt free to do nothing for these victims as they still do with poor victims. That’s why to this day in so many parts of the land, even with current technology and advances in forensic science, you have a good chance of literally getting away with murder if you target the “right” victims. Yes, racism is real, so when we talk about the poor and the disadvantaged, we are focusing on a population that is disproportionately black and brown. That doesn’t mean that disadvantaged whites should magically become black to make the media’s analysis job easier. I am sure the fact that the victims were women also played a part. So race and gender were both factors. But the overriding issue in Little getting away with murder for so long is class, the topic America really doesn’t like talking about. Come on NY Times! Your reporters can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  3. @C. Hiraldo Excellent post. Thank you.

  4. @C. Hiraldo Please re-read the article. In the beginning the author clearly states "Most of them were black, and many were poor. ". Key word being MOST. At the end of the article they are discussing Mr. Franklin another serial killer who targeted black women, as did Mr. Little. Also the only photo shown of one of the victims is white.

  5. Jack the ripper, son of sam, the zodiac killer, this, others needless to name should be a declining feature of civilized culture and disappear in the future. Where I live the police apprehend virtually all criminals, and bring them all in alive for appropriate disposition by the court, health care, and social service systems. There are cameras, data bases, co-operating citizens, and competent police well supervised. Serial killing should not be possible any more than measles epidemics. In past primitive patriarchal times a Jack the Ripper may have served to deter the young daughters of the English elite from seeking illicit adventures. Or so the lordly gentlemen of that day may have thought. Society should have progressed past being ruled by patriarchs and puritains; served by incompetent police, of controlled by managed fear or terrorism. The President, the Supreme Court, and all our leaders and influencers by now should be protecting preyed upon people with enlightened law, policy, and words. And all citizens should demand that ever higher standard, never tolerating serial violence, any violence, and especially not any exploitation of violence for any purported purpose.

  6. @JVM Serial killings are becoming less common because it is harder to get away with. The is a line of thought that modern would-be serial killers are today's mass shooters.

  7. @Jen They are not less common ,there are more unsolved,suspicious abduction cases today than ever.There are over 200,000 for young women alone.There are also a few million completely undocumented virtually untraceable immigrants roaming the country today who never existed in this country.A serial killer doesn't have to have dozens of victims ,a couple will will comply .

  8. Triple victimization: The wolf who took their loved one away; the system's indifferent inertia which let him. And then, these women's families must be thinking, "If only we hadn't kicked her out of the house; if only we had loaned her more money; if only..." I cannot imagine how people function in spite of this toxic stew of guilt, shame, horror, and loss. My God, give them strength.

  9. Sadly women suffering drug addiction and sex workers have always been prey for serial killers. The Grim Sleeper comes to mind, as his victims race and gender were the same. He was captured through DNA evidence. Serial killers are extremely difficult to solve as there is no social connection between killer and victim.

  10. How many murders did he do before he was ever arrested ? California charged him with what ? Seems like there is still a lack of details all around.

  11. Let's hope that Little reveals as much information as possible before he dies (of old age, sickness, or accidental death). Maybe some sense of closure can be reached for the families/loved ones of some of these victims.

  12. Early on, the same dynamic existed with the Green River murders. The victims were mostly vulnerable women, and few at first even noticed the victims had gone missing.

  13. He escaped notice because law enforcement doesn’t bother with investigating the suspicious deaths of black and brown girls and women who may be poor or otherwise vulnerable. The FBI profiler complex has romanticized and elevated white serial killers and their victims, from which a cottage industry of movies, books, documentaries, and podcasts have arisen. The District of Columbia and many other communities have an epidemic of missing black women and girls. Serial killers, whether they are black or white, can kill these women decade after decade with impunity.

  14. Let us remember that ALL women are vulnerable to the violence of certain men.

  15. @Kevin Yes, but society and so law enforcement consider some lives more valuable than others. There is an inside joke within the black community when referring to the obsessive, near hysterical news reporting around those whom we consider valuable and those we don't: Missing White Woman Syndrome.

  16. Let's not rush to judgment here about whether the cops pursued these cases as hard as they should, with the implication of racism etc. The killings attributed to Little are stranger on stranger crimes -- committed in various locations across the US. Some of the bodies were never found, or by the time they were found, Little had left town. So, if you substitute upper class white girls for Little's victims, is it possible the police would have behaved differently. That you can probably bet on that, as they had families in the area, bright futures, etc. And other neighbors who would certainly rally to their side. But would that make a difference? Unlikely. If the killer disposed of the body and it isn't found, if the killer moves on, has no connection to the girl, no forensic evidence etc., then the cops are unlikely to find him. The Texas Killing fields victims (known) were mostly White as have been many victims of serial killers. And the cops rarely catch these killers unless it's through happenstance or a confession, not due to them putting on their Sherlock Holmes outfits when it's an upper class person who is killed. Any cop would love to solve serial killings regardless of the race or station of the victims. But let's say in your town, a prostitute or a runaway's body is found in an alley. No clues, the id of the victim isn't known at first. Do the cops immediately think, this has got to be the work of a serial killer? No.

  17. Blaming the police has always been popular, and there's no question some of the blame is deserved. But women who turn to sex work and/or become addicted to drugs are constantly at risk of meeting up with someone like Little. They live in harm's way, and are oftentimes shunned by their families and friends. A man like Little knows that their sudden disappearance will not be an immediate cause for concern. I just wish the media would dial back the attention he's being given because that is exactly what he craves at this point in his evil life.

  18. There isn't "the same organized community pressure to solve those crimes,” when the victims are from a vulnerable population. WOW! That reads like a well polished political justification for not pursuing the murders of black women, many who were poor, "estranged from family members or living far from relatives . . . and some who were isolated, users of drugs or alcohol, or prostitutes. " The fact that there was "no file in existence, except for the medical examiner’s report" on the murder of Martha Cunningham DOES speak for itself & loudly. All human lives matter & must matter equally, but sadly, they do not nor have not. And while this article is a glaring example of how so many lives were stolen while having gone unnoticed or worse, dispassionate and apathetic, I don't have much faith that police attitudes will change any time soon. Being black, poor, a pros and/or drug abuser is a bias that will always hover over most police departments and will often if not most times, hinder an investigation if a murder or missing victim falls into any or all of those categories. The relatives of these murdered women are struggling with various levels of pain - a loved one was murdered and all too often because the police perform a cursory investigation, at best, if at all, these relatives cannot help but feel that they AND their loved one was either forgotten or worse, never mattered in the first place. Profound condolences to the many families who lost a loved one.

  19. Does it seem bizarre to use the word "prolific" to describe these heinous crimes against women? "Prolific" generally has neutral or positive connotations like fertile, bountiful, productive. Was he just trying to make murder more productive? A better term might be deadliest, as in "he is now considered the "deadliest" serial killer." (It just seems strange, given how law enforcement long slighted the importance of these women, to have reporters now calling their murderer "prolific.")

  20. @Mary, ‘Prolific’ in this instance is a numerical reference only.

  21. In the article, Minnie Hill mentions that she had forgiven the man who murdered her daughter. I don't understand what that means. I get the decision to not devote precious time and energy hating someone. That level of hate and anger can act as a self-corrosive poison. But I do not understand what is meant by forgiving someone--especially someone who has not apologized or asked for forgiveness.

  22. @cpeacock I'm with you. I don't get it either. But thankfully it never happened to me or my family. If forgiveness brings dome measure of comfort or closure for someone then Godspeed.

  23. The horror and pain of Little's murdered victims, and the grief and anguish of the victims' families and others who loved these women, is mirrored by this psychopath's indifference. Little's pretense of schadenfreude -- feigned to provoke more grief and pain -- keeps him temporarily at center stage. I don't and can't know, but I would guess that Little relives his crimes on a daily basis. Little's victims escaped notice because police agencies simply didn't notice them; fill in the blank for the reasons why. Little escaped notice because he was a cunning and calculating serial killer, somewhat like Andrei Chikatilo, whose murders spanned roughly twelve years before he got caught.

  24. While reading the comments ,I discovered for a change everyone agrees upon the ways and means of these predators. However on the grand scale no race truly is more vulnerable than another according to the statistics.For example Ted Bundy preyed upon middle class white women in common places like parking lots using props such as casts and crutches.The biggest problem we have is not with the ones who've been caught but with the cases unsolved. at any time there are over 200,000 unsolved cases of missing young women.Many young white women young twenties are presumed abducted,many are students or traveling and undocumented immigrant types have been under suspicion in a few cases.Anything concerning the undocumented and crime is generally dismissed by the media so these unsolved cases remain on the shelve year after year.

  25. All life has value. It is a sad commentary that vulnerable populations are often seemingly written off because there isn't familial or societal pressure to bring justice. I'm saddened that this man got away with so much over such a long period of time. His victims and the lives of the survivors deserve better.

  26. Thank you for focusing on the killer's probable victims and their survivors. Much better than yesterday's story featuring the killer's artwork and video as if he were some kind of star.

  27. Pretty young blonde victims get all the press. It's that simple.

  28. If the victims were white, you can bet that the cases wouldn’t have been closed or forgotten so quickly. We do live in a racist society.

  29. Really? How did Little escape notice? Well, let's see . . . how did the BTK killer (Dennis Rader) avoid notice for decades? How did Gary Ridgway get to kill close to 90 women? How did Paul John Knowles (Cassanova Killer) take 35 women's lives? Let's not even mention the hundreds of women who have been killed by serial killing men in other countries around the world. Women, not only 'black and brown women,' as many commenters mention here, but ALL women fall prey to the men who enjoy (yes--enjoy) killing them. Robert Hansen kidnapped women, stripped them, and set them loose in the Little was able to be a successful serial killer for decades because Alaskan wilderness so he could hunt them down before killing them. Women do not matter. Yes, black and brown women may matter less in some contexts--one must not deny this--but the patriarchy looks away when women and girls are raped and murdered. The Catholic church is a perfect example of this. Women don't matter. Meanwhile, last week the Times ran an article with a headline screaming that 18 transgender women had been killed, calling it an 'epidemic.' Like the old saying goes, when women are oppressed, it's normal. When men are, it's a tragedy.

  30. So with Samuel Little, Benjamin Atkins, many, many others, there will be no more saying serial killers aren't black. They are, but their victims didn't matter and weren't counted.

  31. ……. "more vulnerable population" ....... The poor, the down-and-out, the anonymous, the desperate. And most of all, female.

  32. This is still going on with murder of women and most assuredly rape. Police have contempt for victims in certain cases. Let’s say they don’t try very hard and it’s very hard to verify the shoddy investigations.

  33. I saw a young woman walking beside the road yesterday. I wondered if she knew how easily almost 100 women were killed.

  34. What a sad commentary on the way that our society judges the worth of a human being. Any one of these three characteristics - poor, black, female - somehow reduces that worth. All three together appear to render that person valueless. And as a result, this monster took dozens of lives with impunity.

  35. “One of the unfortunate realities of policing is that departments that are under pressure to solve a variety of murders may pay less attention to victims from a more vulnerable population if they don’t have the same organized community pressure to solve those crimes,” said Jim Bueermann, the former police chief of Redlands, Calif., and the former president of the National Police Foundation. This is a crazy rationalization for "Criminals have always been able to exploit the racism of the police to just kill black people."

  36. If anyone ever doubted there was a caste system in the U.S. -- this proves otherwise.

  37. This is cynical but is borne of having to had deal with the police concerning a particularly nasty child molest case. If it involves what is referred to as "No Humans Involved", i.e., a disadvantaged, marginalized, or minority group, if it isn't high profile, if it doesn't involve the Mayor's daughter, they will go through the motions but that's about it. Whatever happened to the credo "Everybody matters or nobody matters"?

  38. The American justice system. Where you can get away with killing 93 people over a some twenty year period of time if the victims are from marginalized groups, are predominately black and are women. Also important to recognize is the murderer operated significantly in the southern states. A region of the country identified by its history of both cultural and official racism not completely relinquished in the 21st century. Racism isn't the only element to be considered here. Poverty is also a dominant signifier. If any of these black women had come from wealthy and or notable families or had been financially affluent themselves, their murders most likely would have received committed, active investigative efforts from law enforcement officials. Poor, black and female, too obviously a category not meriting that attention.

  39. How many innocent women’s lives would have been saved if one of the states he was arrested in, after a life long criminal record, had prosecuted and sentenced him to the fullest extent of the law?

  40. @J House Read monty's comment above, please. Apparently he was arrested many, many times. ("Little was arrested 26 times by 1975 in eleven states for theft, assault, attempted rape..."). Some may even have accused police of harassing him for so many arrest, in the end! He kept moving on and there is no way police can easily find people like him who leave no traces and are free to go anywhere they want, when they want - especially long before DNA & modern forensics were available. Our system does more to give freedoms to bad people than powers to police (innocent until proven guilty). Our Founders wanted it that way and most of us find that to still be the best choice, despite the tragedies this approach engenders.

  41. Another example of how there are two sets of laws in the U.S. One for the rich. If one of the victims had the last name of Kennedy, Gates or Buffet, no expense would have been spared to bring the killer to justice. One for the poor. Which as the article points out, law enforcement obviously does not care enough about to even investigate.

  42. @Stef yes, and that is the way of the world. People tend to not care unless they're obliged to care. I mean, do you intend to join the police force now, and be the kind of cop you want there to be for everyone? Or will you become a politician, and make this issue your platform? Or will you, as I strongly suspect, just feel that your statement of your anger and disgust about the way things are is you "doing your bit"? We're all part of the problem, that's the thing. We all expect others to make the world the place we can't really be bothered to make it ourselves.

  43. Sexual sadist serial killers often prey on sex workers. No one reports them missing for a long time. They're throw-away people; why bother? But it's not only the police at fault. Little was arrested 26 times by 1975 in eleven states for theft, assault, attempted rape... Charged with the murder of a Melinda LaPree, 22, in Mississippi in 1982, a grand jury declined to indict. Little was transferred to Florida to be brought to trial for the murder of Patricia Mount, 26, but was acquitted in January 1984. That October, he was arrested for kidnapping, beating and strangling Laurie Barros, 22, and before that was adjudicated police found him in his car with an unconscious, beaten woman. Little served ​2 1⁄2 years in prison for both crimes. Violent crimes against women - even before they're dead - should result in harsher penalties.

  44. I don't think it would have made much of difference if police had aggressively investigated these murders. Less than half of all murders are solved and I think the ones that are have an obvious suspect - and witnesses. Serial killers exist because they are so hard to identify and convict - so they can continue to kill. It took DNA to link Little to the first murders he was convicted of. Hopefully that will help prevent further atrocities like those Little committed.

  45. The answer to the article's question is right in the article: "Many of the victims were vulnerable women. Most of them were black, and many were poor."

  46. The unrelenting mediocrity of our country's public services is maddening. The police, public schools, health care systems- you better get yourself wealthy and important as quickly as possible because when things hit the fan you can only count on yourself and, if you're lucky, close family and friends. It's like we as a nation have no pride, no self love, no will to be better. We have all the money and all the knowledge that we need but lack the drive. I'm sorry that these women died in such an awful way and that their families have to deal with the extra burden of feeling like no one cared.

  47. Sadly, most homicide teams are understaffed and communication between areas is still poor. There hasn't even been a concerted effort to find serial killers. That's why it's so interesting to see people use data and technology to do what the police/FBI aren't and find patterns across the country. Like this man:

  48. The biggest threat to women's physical safety in American Society (and perhaps the world) is men. It doesn't matter if he is Matt Lauer or Samuel Little.

  49. @RP But likewise, a large majority of the ones providing physical safety for women are men.

  50. A tragic and heartbreaking story. The real serial killers like Samuel Little and Gary Ridgeway are so often grey men, who can blend into the world around us and not draw a second glance, and yet they are also cunning enough to evade capture for decades because more often than not they target society's most marginal people, who nobody really cares about. These poor women will willingly get into a stranger's car because very often that is how they make their living. What happens after they take that fatal step is a depressingly familiar story when one looks at these cases. Strangled, dumped and forgotten. The real irony is that in many cases the person who remembers them best is the man who ended their lives.

  51. You only have to look at how the murders are described by police and then reported in the press/news. They say "so and so" killed prostitutes or drug addicts not women or even human beings. The fact that these young women were black added to the lack of concern. There was none of this lack of concern with Ted Bundy who target young white women who were not so destitute that they had to sell their bodies to survive. I doubt that anything has changed.

  52. Imagine if the daughters of the wealthy started disappearing . . . their bodies later found in the woods and along the highways. The simple thing this guy understood was that there are certain people that society simply does not care about at all. And he focused on them. And he got away with it for years. The news articles focus on him. He is a sad case, but so often, so is this society, which values individuals based on economics . . .

  53. @Davey Boy Yes, it's true that if it was the daughters of the wealthy that started disappearing we'd be more concerned. But it is also true that if women started killing men the way men kill women, we'd take more notice. It's a wonder what predators get away with - and they're almost always male.

  54. @Davey Boy We live in a capitalist democracy. Economics are going to play a part in one’s contribution to our society. Substance use, vagrancy, drifting, and sex work - not so much.

  55. @Brad Steele "Economics are going to play a part in one’s contribution to our society." This doesn't make sense. The victims were not valued less because they "contributed" less to society in an economic sense. Though I appreciate your honesty here. It's very rare for someone to explain away racism and sexism based on arguments such as this (even if many I'm sure believe that the two are linked; poor people mattered less because they generate less income for the society as a whole).

  56. He went unnoticed because his victims were unimportant women, women who were not and are not valued by society.

  57. Don't understand how the police could have closed a case of a dead woman, found bruised and nude. Did they think she died of natural causes? Died because some animal mauled her and removed her clothes? How on earth would this case have been closed?! I hope this killer suffers for eternity.

  58. One young woman was found in a dumpster in the Los Angeles area in 1985, with two broken arms, and wrapped in barbed wire. The family was distressed because the police had determined it was a suicide.