Samuel Little Wiki: The Serial Killer Who Managed to Fly under the Radar for 30 Years

In 2014, Samuel Little was convicted of strangling three California women to death in the late 1980s. He’s currently serving his time in a California state prison, where he’s confessed to countless other murders. The FBI is now working on building a much larger case against him. Read our Samuel Little wiki to find out everything you need to know about the man who could be one of America’s most prolific serial killers. 

A Tumultuous Upbringing

Samuel Little was born on June 7, 1940 in Reynolds, Georgia. He says that his mother was a prostitute, or “lady of the night,” as he put it, and that she was constantly in and out of prison due to her profession. It’s possible that she gave birth to her son while she was in prison.

About Samuel Little

Shortly after Little was born, he moved to Ohio with his family and was raised in the city of Lorain by his grandmother. He was later enrolled at Hawthorne Junior High School, but he didn’t make it very far.

After being arrested in 1956 for breaking and entering into a private property in Omaha, Nebraska at the age of 16, Little dropped out of high school and never completed his education. He was convicted on one count of breaking and entering and was held in a juvenile detention center for a while.

By the end of the 1960s, Little moved to Florida to live with his mother. He held a number of odd jobs that included working as an ambulance attendant and at a cemetery.

During his numerous stints in prison around this time, Little also took up boxing to help him strengthen his body and maintain good physical shape. When he wasn’t in prison, mainly for petty crimes, he worked part-time as a day laborer.

He spent a lot of time with prostitutes and pimps. It was obvious that he had very little direction in his life, both literally and metaphorically.

Samuel McDowell
Samuel Little’s mugshot in Washington (1972), D.C.; Photo: Metropolitan Police Department

Life on the Road

From a very young age right up until late adulthood, Little led a very nomadic lifestyle traveling from coast to coast across the United States, using various forms of transportation. He was usually surrounded by seedy people, and this influenced the types of crimes he committed.

Aside from committing petty crimes like solicitation, breaking and entering, shoplifting, fraud, and a few other misdemeanors, Little also started physically assaulting many of the women he’d come across. A number of these women were prostitutes with drug problems. Therefore, these incidents typically remained unsolved and were rarely investigated.

The fact that many of Little’s victims were also marginalized women of color, combined with the lack of information shared across different police jurisdictions, might be the reason that this violent offender was able to escape long-term imprisonment. Oftentimes, rather than conducting complete and thorough investigations, the police were more likely to oversimplify matters.

If they had actually taken the time to look a little closer, they might have noticed a more consistent MO. But Little rarely struck in the same region more than once. The few times that he did, the investigations were so minimal that it didn’t seem to matter much.

Samuel McDowell
Samuel Little in Macon, Georgia (1975); Photo: Macon Police Department

Little Narrowly Escapes His First 2 Murder Charges

In September 1982, 22-year-old Melinda LaPree was reported missing by her boyfriend. She was a prostitute living at the King William Motel in Pascagoula, Mississippi. According to witness reports, LaPree was last seen getting into Samuel Little’s vehicle outside of the motel.

On October 4, 1982, a man discovered her naked body in a ditch while he was mowing the lawn at a cemetery in the area.

Although there was a trial before a grand jury, they failed to indict Little for this murder.

Melinda LaPree
Melinda LaPree; Photo: Pascagoula Police Department via The Sun Herald

During that trial, Little was also being investigated for another murder that happened in Florida. This one was for the killing of 26-year-old Patricia Mount.

Mount’s body was discovered nude and covered in bruises in a field near U.S. highway 27. Despite witness accounts that she had spent the evening with…guess who…Samuel Little before her body was discovered, the jury decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him and he was released.

Both LaPree and Mount had been beaten and strangled to death. Nearly three decades later, Little confessed to killing both women.

During his closing statement in the Mount murder case, Little’s defense attorney, John Kearns, said, “There’s more doubt than there is fact.”

On top of that, the prosecutor on the case, Ken Hebert, admitted that “it was a weak case” and there just wasn’t enough evidence at the time for a conviction.

It’s important to keep in mind that DNA testing was still in its very early stages during this time; it wasn’t widely used by law enforcement.

Following his unceremonious and undeserved 1984 acquittal in both cases, Little spent the next few decades traveling all over the United States raping, beating, and murdering more women.

That same year, Little made his way to San Diego, California where he was arrested and charged with assaulting two prostitutes. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for these attacks and was released in February 1987.

After that, he moved to Los Angeles, where he would continue terrorizing prostitutes.

Three Murders in Los Angeles

Samuel Little spent most of his time in L.A. cruising around in his car looking for prostitutes to get high with him. In fact, he often lured his victims into his car using the promise of drugs and sex for pay.

He also used his strength and prowess from his boxing days to overpower, sexually assault, and murder his victims.

The first woman to be killed was Carol Alford. She was 41 years old and working as a prostitute when she was murdered on July 13, 1987. Her naked, battered, and strangled body was found in an alleyway near East 27th Street. She had one surviving daughter named Brenda Gordon.

The second woman was Audrey Nelson, who was a 35-year-old prostitute. She was killed on August 14, 1989 and her body was discovered inside a dumpster behind Seventh Street. Nelson also had a daughter, named Pearl Nelson.

Lastly, there was Guadalupe Apodaca, a 46-year-old prostitute whose body was found on September 3, 1989 inside a commercial parking garage in south Los Angeles. She had a surviving son named Tony Zambrano.

Their murder cases would remain cold for nearly 15 years.

Samuel Little Arrested and Tried

Despite going cold, the investigations for the L.A. murder cases were kept open. Detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department found their “smoking gun” when latent DNA testing linked Little to the Nelson and Apodaca crimes. 

Since he’d been arrested so many times in the past, they already had his DNA in the California Department of Justice’s database.

On September 5, 2012, Little was staying in a homeless shelter in Kentucky when he was arrested—on a 2009 narcotics warrant. LAPD detectives enlisted the help of U.S. Marshal officials in Louisville to locate and apprehend Little.

He was extradited to California while detectives built their case against him for the murders. By November, DNA evidence had also linked Little to Alford’s strangling death.

He was charged with all three murders on January 7, 2013.

In addition to numerous other cases, the murder case of LaPree was reopened and Samuel Little was named as the primary suspect. In September 2014, Little was convicted of murdering the three women in Los Angeles. 

At the time, he continued to maintain his innocence.

During Little’s sentencing hearing, Audrey Nelson’s sister, Sherri Ann Nelson, said, “I cannot imagine the horror that went through my sister’s mind when the defendant was choking her to death. I loved my sister dearly and she did not deserve to have her life taken like this.”

Apodaca’s son Zambrano was also present at the hearing, which took place on September 25, 2014.

Little denied killing anyone and even got into an expletive-filled screaming match with the victims’ family members in court before his attorney advised him to quiet down.

When it was Zambrano’s turn to speak, he had this to say to the man accused of killing his mother: “You took something very dear to me. You messed up big time. You hurt my mom.”

The wheelchair-bound Little replied by saying, “I didn’t do nothing to your mom.”

He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life in prison, without the possibility of parole. He’s currently serving time at the California State Prison in Los Angeles County, California.

Also see: Jeffrey Dahmer: The Milwaukee Cannibal Who Murdered 17

The FBI Begins to Connect the Dots

After the LAPD was able to get a conviction on Little, they contacted the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) to create a complete DNA database on him to see if he was connected to any other murders.

Through this research, they were able to connect him to countless other killings across the country.

One case in particular from Odessa, Texas stood out. It was the 1994 murder of Denise Christie Brothers. That’s when ViCAP contacted Texas Rangers to find out if there were any updates on the case and inform them that they might have found the culprit.

Denise Christie Brothers
Denise Christie Brothers; Photo: Odessa Crime Stoppers

ViCAP Crime