He Started Murdering Women in South Florida — Then Became the Worst Serial Killer in US History
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Samuel Little, a 79-year-old man with a penchant for storytelling and drawing chalk pastel portraits in his California prison cell, was recently labeled by the FBI as the United States’ most prolific serial killer.
Over the past two years, Little has confessed to charming, beating and strangling more than 90 women between 1970 and 2005 — at least a dozen in Florida. About 50 of these murders have so far been confirmed by the FBI and local state detectives, but nine still are unsolved in southern and central Florida.
The vast majority of Little’s victims were homeless, runaways, drug users or prostitutes — women so on the fringes of society that many investigators struggled to figure out their real names.
Their bodies were found half-buried in wooded areas alongside highways or stuffed into dumpsters. Without the technology to perform DNA analysis, their deaths often were wrongly attributed as accidental or the result of drug overdoses.
In a collection of videos recently released by the FBI, Little smiles while telling detailed and whimsical tales confessing to murdering women in Florida and other states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Nevada. By his own admission, his decadeslong reign of terror stretched all across the country.
But according to the FBI and Little, he cut his teeth in the business of murder in South Florida.
THE FIRST KILL
In a North Miami Beach bar on New Year’s Eve in 1970, Little, a charming man with crystal blue eyes and a stocky, former boxer’s frame, struck up a fateful conversation with Mary Brosley.
Brosley, 33 at the time, had been reported missing from her hometown of Massachusetts in June that year.
At the bar, detectives said Brosley and Little shared a drink. Brosley told Little she’d left Massachusetts after her family confronted her about her drinking problem. Later, the New Year rang in and Brosley joined Little in his car.
They drove up U.S. 27, toward the Everglades, and stopped in a secluded area. Detectives said Brosley sat on Little’s lap and played with a chain on his neck. Then Little strangled her and left her body in a shallow grave.
Little recently confessed to the FBI that Brosley was his very first kill.
Brosley’s decomposing body was found 23 days later. Like many of Little’s victims, authorities were unable to identify the body and the autopsy report listed the manner of death as unclassified, according to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
In 1982, the autopsy report was refiled for unknown reasons and the death was deemed a homicide. The body continued to go nameless until 2017, when the Medical Examiner’s Office used dental to records to identify Brosley.
A break in the cold case did not come until 2018, when Miami-Dade Homicide detectives were among many agencies across the country to get a call from a Texas Ranger with crucial information to share.
Little’s nearly 40-year murderous spree was interrupted at various points for minor charges and prison stints for shoplifting, fraud, drug possession, and breaking and entering. The FBI said that in Florida in the 1980s, he came closest to being caught for real.
In 1982, Little was suspected of the murder of an Ocala woman named Rosie Hill, but there was not enough evidence to indict. A year later, he was arrested for the murder of a Gainesville woman named Patricia Ann Mount. According to news reports, he was acquitted in 1984. (Little has since confessed to killing both women.)
In 2012, Little was found in a Kentucky homeless shelter and extradited to Los Angeles for a narcotics charge, according to the FBI.
The Los Angeles Police Department ran his DNA — a procedure that did not exist when Little committed most of his murders.
A hit came back on three unsolved murders in the state between 1987 and 1989. In all three cases, the women had been beaten and strangled, and authorities wondered whether Little might be connected to more crimes that fit the same pattern.
Christie Palazzolo, a crime analyst in the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a unit that analyzes serial violent and sexual crimes, looked for similar cold cases and landed on one in Odessa, Texas, in the 1980s. But authorities couldn’t get Little to say anything about it.
In 2014, he was convicted for the California murders and sentenced to life, three times over.
However, Palazzolo and her colleague Angela Williamson, a liaison between the FBI and the Department of Justice, didn’t stop thinking about Little.
In 2017 Williamson ran into Texas Ranger James Holland who she said is known for interrogating a vast number of serial killers over his career. In the minds of many, she said, he is something like a serial killer whisperer.
Williamson mentioned Little to Holland and some months later, in 2018, Palazzolo, Williamson and Holland paid Little a visit.
Williamson and Palazzolo sat in another room while Holland sat across from Little. Palazzolo remembers Holland making Little feel comfortable and offering him a chance to set the record straight.
Little, after all, was 78 at the time and knew he would be in prison for life. He had nothing to lose, Palazzolo said, so Little started talking — in detail. Not only about the Odessa murder, but about another 20 murders he said he had committed.
“He welcomed the opportunity to talk about all these things he’d done over 40 years of his life that he never told anyone about,” Palazzolo said.
Little, who hadn’t had a visit in three years and at the time was housed in a prison with a population of young gang members, said he had information about 90 murders in total.
However, he would spill only if authorities transferred him to a better prison in Texas. Palazzolo said Little was looking for somewhere quieter, as well as a change of scenery.
He got his wish.
Once in Texas, Little spoke to Holland for more than 700 hours, detailing murder after murder.
MAPPING OUT THE VICTIMS
With each new confession Little made, Palazzolo and Williamson worked to gather as much information about the victim for local authorities to look into. However, the details Little provides are often far from the basics that authorities need to close a case.
Palazzolo and Williamson said Little remembers intimate details about victims, such as what they were wearing or distinguishing marks on their body. He can also recount specifics about the way he killed them and the cars he drove. He’s not so great with the names, dates or nailing down locations of where the murders took place.
To try to provide local authorities with more information, Williamson and Palazzolo came up with a creative idea. They noticed how passionate Little would get when talking about his victims, who he called his “babies,” as well as all the detailed portraits he’d drawn of celebrities and hung around his cell in California.
They asked if he might take a crack at drawing his victims. “We knew there were images in his head and maybe if he could translate them to paper that could help us identify them,” Palazzolo said. The gamble paid off and Little turned out portrait after portrait of victims, drawn using pastel chalk.
Even with the portraits, Palazzolo said initial outreach to detectives in various states is often difficult.
A lot of times she doesn’t have names to present them or a solid date of when the murder occurred, so they’d have to look through a 10- or 20-year period. Then there is the fact that many victims might not have been ruled a homicide, so investigators would likely have to look at all deaths that occurred during a given period.
“It’s a pretty tall order,” Palazzolo admitted.
Nonetheless, detectives across the country stepped up to the challenge. Many of them made the pilgrimage out to Texas to interview Little to confirm a cold case victim they had in mind or simply gather more information.
FLORIDA DETECTIVES JOIN IN
Between 2018 and earlier this year, Williamson said detectives from Miami-Dade, the city of Miami, Tampa, Fort Myers and Ocala all made trips to visit Little.
Miami-Dade Homicide Detective David Denmark and his partner, Lester Aguilar, made the trip to Texas in October 2018.
Before the visit, Denmark said he and his partner dug up over 30 cold case homicide files that could have been related to the information they received from the FBI. They eliminated anyone who was shot or stabbed and narrowed it down to two names: Brosley and Angela Chapman, murdered in 1976 and found in a wooded area near Kendall.
Denmark said he was briefed by Holland before the interview to make sure it went smoothly. Among the suggestions was that Denmark smile and let Little lead the conversation and not interrupt when he went into his storytelling. Denmark said he was also advised to compliment Little often.
“You have to laugh with him, follow his leads, and try to be his best friend,” said Denmark. “Which kind of turns your stomach at the same time.”
Denmark said that during the conversation, Little recounted details about Brosley and Chapman that only their killer would know, such as a limp Brosley had due to a hip surgery and the specific roadways near the area where Chapman’s body was found. It was enough for Denmark and his partner to close the cases.
Before the trip, the Miami State Attorney’s Office signed an agreement not to pursue the death penalty for Little, an agreement Palazzolo said Little requires before speaking to any detectives.
Palazzolo said states are free to prosecute Little, but the most he can get is another life sentence. “He’s racked up quite a few already,” she said.
Ultimately, the Miami State Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against Little — a decision Denmark said he agrees with given that Little is already guaranteed to die in jail.
Little, Denmark said, is far more useful alive — talking and drawing — than he is dead.
“Because of him, we’re able to close out cases that would have still been in the archives with dust on the boxes.”
UNSOLVED CASES REMAIN
The FBI said they have been able to confirm 50 of Little’s victims across the country, with more pending the sign-off from local agencies. However, dozens of possible victims remain, including nine in Florida, spread out among Miami-Dade, the city of Miami, Tampa, Fort Myers and Plant City.
Denmark, the Miami-Dade detective, said he is trying to close out three cases based on Little’s confessions, but they are far more difficult than closing out the cases of Brosley and Chapman because of the scant details available.
One victim has been described as a white female, possibly of Cuban descent between 25 and 35 years old and killed in 1971. Denmark said he believes he has a body based on a missing person’s report. But there is no clear name. Little has referred to her as Donna or Sarah.
Denmark said the missing person’s report is detailed, but many of the people mentioned are dead or have moved away. Currently, he is trying to identify the body by gathering DNA from the corpse’s femur and crosschecking it with databases to identify possible family members.
Denmark said he is further along with that case than he is with the other two, where he doesn’t have a possible name or a body — only a couple of sketches Little made.
“It’s backwards,” said Fort Myers Detective Mali Langton, of the process of investigating Little’s confessions.
Langton is currently investigating a confession related to an unnamed woman Little said he murdered in 1984 in Fort Myers. Usually, Langton said investigations start with a body and work toward a suspect, not the other way around.
Still, Langton, like other detectives, continues to push on. Last week, she released a portrait Little drew of the victim and put a call out to the public for help. So far, she said she has received a few promising calls.
Palazzo and Williamson said the same line of thinking factored into their release of a trove of Little’s hand-drawn portraits — as well as taped confessions and timelines — of unmatched victims on Oct. 6.
Little has since been transferred from Texas back to his original California prison and sits in an upgraded unit with his own art studio.
However, Williamson and Palazzolo said he has health issues, and at his age it is unclear how much longer he’ll be around to help close out cases and bring needed closure to the family members of his victims.
Closure that Darryl Brosley said is important.
Brosley is the son of Mary Brosley, Little’s first victim. His mother left Massachusetts when he was 7 years old and he grew up in the care of a great aunt.
For over 40 years, Brosley said didn’t have a clue what happened to his mother. For a while, he remained optimistic. “I thought she would come out of the woodwork one day and things would be great,” he said.
However, in 2017 he learned that she was dead. Only recently, he said, he learned that she was the first to die at the hands of Little.
Darryl Brosley is 58 now, with a full life in Massachusetts. He said understanding exactly what happened to his mother, and all the other victims like her, does bring him closure.
But it also makes him angry.
“How did someone get away with 90 murders?” he said. “It’s messed up.”
©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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