The serial killer’s recent portraits of women are markedly more expressionistic than his rendering of a smiling Betsy Ross in a jailhouse mural set around the time of our nation’s Bicentennial.
But the most marked difference in the 1974 portrait is that Ross’ throat is hidden by her lowered chin and the collar of her top. The throats of the women in the later portraits are prominently presented.
Which only makes sense, because Samuel Little had no opportunity to strangle the woman credited with stitching the first American flag. Little says he did take the lives of his 16 other subjects with the very hand that later sketched their throats, the strokes of the pastels guided by his memory of each particular murder.
Investigators believe they have matched three of the drawings to specific cases. He has been convicted of three other killings.
In all, Little has confessed to killing more than 90 murders. Police say they have linked him to more than 60. He may take his own place in American history as our most prolific serial killer.
Back at the time of the Betsy Ross painting, the guards of Dade County Jail only knew Little as a 35-year-old habitual criminal from Ohio who had been behind bars 16 times.
He would later tell a reporter for New York magazine that he first got interested in art in the 1960s, while serving a three-year term for robbing a furniture store in Ohio. He offered a slightly different account to a reporter for the Miami News, saying he got his start while incarcerated in Maryland in 1967.
“I first became interested in sketching when I served two years for assault with intent to rob in the Baltimore jail,” he was quoted saying. “I made portraits of Gov. Marvin Mandel and Martin Luther King from snapshots and they hung them in the jail.”
He said that he had taken up art anew each of the many times he was locked up. That meant he had a considerable portfolio to show a guard in 1976, when he landed as a “16-time loser” in the Dade County on charges of assault, grand larceny, resisting arrest and parole violation.
The guard was so impressed that he brought the portraits to his captain, Martin Ross. The captain invited Little to paint a mural for the facility.
“I told him to do whatever he wanted to do,” the captain recalled to the Miami News.
As the nation was celebrating its 200th birthday, Little decided to paint an inclusive Bicentennial mural on the jail’s second floor.
Along with Ross, he depicted Sitting Bull, a sheriff from the Wild West, an African-American Medal of Honor recipient named William Carney and Benjamin Banneker, an African-American architect who worked on the Capitol.
“I didn’t realize I had the ability to do anything this big,” Little was quoted saying. “Everybody says it cheers up the atmosphere for the officers and the inmates.”
He went on, “This jail sentence has been a blessing in disguise. I pray to God to give me the ability to make me good enough for people to notice me.”
In April of 1976, Little was released from the Dade County Jail and transported directly to Leon County on charges of driving under the influence. He faced a 17th jail sentence, but he told the Miami News there would be no more.
“I'm looking forward to the day I can get out and open a studio on the beach,” he was quoted saying. “Those streets are not what they seem to be. The next time I’m out, it’s do or die.”
Five months later, on September 11, 1976, a woman named Pamela Kay Smith ran screaming up to the back door of a home in Sunset Hills, Missouri. She was naked from the waist down and her hands were tied behind her back with electrical cord.
When police responded, Smith told them that a man had choked, beaten and raped her before she managed to get away from him. Her description of her assailant and his car led police to Little.
“I only choked her,” he is said to have told the police.
Little landed back behind bars yet again, but was only convicted of a reduced charge of “assault with attempt to ravish.” He was back out after only three months.
In September of 1982, a man later identified as Samuel Little was seen dancing with a 26-year-old woman named Patricia Mount in Alachua County, in Florida. Mount was said to be developmentally disabled, with an IQ of 40. She was seen getting into Little’s car, the same vehicle he had been driving when he was arrested for attacking Smith.
After Mount’s nude, strangled and battered body was found dumped beside a road, Little was arrested and charged with murder.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s office reportedly sent a letter to its counterpart in Little Rock, Arkansas, seeking help in locating a witness. The letter indicated that Little was suspected of as many as 60 killings. Little was nonetheless acquitted when the Mount case came to trial.
Later that year, Little was arrested for the murder of a Mississippi woman who was found nude, strangled and battered in a cemetery. The charges were eventually dropped for lack of physical evidence.
Little might still be out there killing had Los Angeles detectives not used DNA to tie him to the murders of three women, one in 1987 and two more in 1989. He was arrested at a homeless shelter in Kentucky after he was traced there through a pre-paid Walmart card.
By then, his rap sheet recorded more than 100 times behind bars. He landed a final time with three consecutive life sentences.
For reasons that may range from special attention to special treatment, Little confessed to more than 90 killings. He began making portraits as he had of Betsy Ross back at the time of the Bicentennial, only now of women whose chins were raised. He drew their throats with energetic strokes of a pastel clutched in the hand that had joined its mate in strangling them.
“My babies,” declared the man who may prove to be the worst serial killer in all our nation’s history.