Apparent Victim of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer ID'd

It took 44 years to name Clara Birdlong
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2021 1:10 PM CDT
Apparent Victim of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer ID'd
Samuel Little’s mugshot from his 1977 arrest for petty theft in Pascagoula, Miss.   (Jackson County Sheriff's Department)

Authorities have identified a woman found dead in Mississippi 44 years ago, who is believed to be yet another victim of America's most prolific serial killer. Samuel Little, who died in a California prison in January, was convicted of three murders in 2014, but later confessed to killing 93 women in 19 states between 1970 and 2005. That included a "small in stature" Black woman with a gold tooth, who apparently wore a wig, whose body was found at a construction site in Jackson County in December 1977, three to four months after she was believed to have been killed, per CNN and NBC News.

Authorities used facial reconstructions, computer composites, and DNA tests to try to identify the woman known as "Escatawpa Jane Doe," whose cause of death was undetermined. They finally caught a break this year when Texas DNA research facility Othram, tasked with mapping the woman's family tree, learned of a possible distant cousin living in Texas. That woman put authorities in touch with her 93-year-old paternal grandmother, originally from Leflore County, Miss., who said her cousin, Clara Birdlong, had disappeared from the area in the 1970s, per WLOX. Another cousin said Birdlong, born in 1933, had a gold front tooth and wore a wig.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department said a Leflore County resident recently recalled Birdlong leaving the county in the 1970s with an "African American man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida." "They never heard from her again," an investigator tells WLOX. Little—who targeted vulnerable, often Black women—was known to be in the Jackson County seat of Pascagoula in August 1977, when he was arrested for selling stolen clothes out of the trunk of his car, per WKRG. The serial killer, who admitted to returning to strike again in cities where he'd already killed, also confessed to killing a woman named Malinda Lapree in Pascagoula in 1982. (Read more Samuel Little stories.)

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