Local records chief hailed for helping crack nationwide cold case
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.
Officials from at least two states say the Alachua County Sheriff's Office has provided key help to authorities prosecuting a man suspected of killing dozens of women across the United States over the course of decades, including victims in Alachua and Marion counties.
Samuel Little, 72, also known as Samuel McDowell, is being held in Los Angeles on three murder charges. It was as Samuel McDowell that he was acquitted in 1984 on a charge that he murdered a Gainesville woman two years earlier.
While local officials remain convinced nearly 30 years after the acquittal that he was the killer of 26-year-old Patricia Ann Mount, the records from that court case have given new life to dozens of other murder investigations throughout the country involving Little.
All the women Little is suspected of killing were beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death, some only days apart. The victims also lived high-risk lifestyles, making them easier targets for the transient Little, authorities said.
On March 26, law enforcement officials from as far north as the Panhandle and as far south as Orlando gathered at the city of Alachua Police Department to compare notes on unsolved homicides going back decades. The meeting came about because of the case file found by Linda Brown, records bureau chief for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.
In 1984, Gainesville Assistant State Attorney Ken Herbert led the prosecution of Little, who then was using the name McDowell.
McDowell was accused of brutally beating, raping and strangling Mount. Her nude and badly bruised body was found in a field along U.S. 27 in northwestern Alachua County on Sept. 12, 1982.
Eyewitnesses identified McDowell as the man they saw leaving the bar with Mount on the night before her body was discovered, but a lack of physical evidence combined with the inability to locate a key witness in time for trial led to his acquittal.
Last April, DNA results connected the man, now using the name Little, to the 1989 murders of two Los Angeles women. Shortly after that, evidence collected from a third female victim from 1987 was matched to Little. It was then that LAPD cold case Detectives Rick Jackson and Mitzie Roberts began asking for the Mount case file.
Gregg Weeks, the original ASO lead detective on the Mount case, referred Jackson to Brown.
"He told me there's a woman named Linda Brown who's great at finding old cases ... I talked to her and told her what was going on. Within a week, not only had she found it, but she copied everything and she had organized and labeled everything into sections so it made it simple for us to go through."
Brown, who has been overseeing the records for ASO for 12 years, says the file was among 3,000 boxes of closed case files that had been moved off-site. Part of the problem in locating the entire file was that at that time, investigator and detective files were kept separately, even on the same case. She used her years of experience and a paper copy of the off-site records list to narrow down which box contained the Mount file.
Brown found a case file that was hundreds of pages long, in no particular order. The file contained critical information linking Little to murders throughout Florida, including a slaying in neighboring Marion County just a month earlier. On Aug. 16, 1982, the body of Rosie Hill was found in a wooded area in Marion County. Hill was also found unclothed, beaten and may have been strangled.
The file also contained a letter the Alachua County Sheriff's Office sent to the Little Rock, Ark., Police Department asking for help in locating a witness known to have traveled with Little around the time.
In that 1983 letter, investigators indicated Little could have been involved in the murder of about 60 women throughout the United States.
ASO was hoping Little Rock police could track down a teenage male companion who had been traveling with Little during at least the early '80s.
Despite contact with police in 24 states on crimes involving rape, attempted murder, petty theft and burglary, Little remained largely free until last September, when he was captured in Louisville, Ky.
"We work very hard in the records bureau to maintain these records and sometimes you feel like you're doing all this work and does it help or does it make a difference?" Brown said.
"But it's a good feeling," she said of a letter the LAPD chief sent to Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell praising Brown's efforts. "I expected to send the file and never hear another word."
Not only did the case file provided by Brown help the LAPD create a timeline of Little's whereabouts over the decades using a compilation of old motel receipts, records of Little's past contacts with law enforcement and witness statements, but it also confirmed the suspected killer's pattern of behavior. Little was believed to shoplift during the day in order to fund his trips to bars at night, where he found many of his victims.
In addition to the Arkansas teen, Little was also accompanied by a woman 20 years his senior, Orelia Dorsey, who would rent the motel rooms they stayed in during their travels.
According to a deposition the teen gave to ASO, the woman washed Little's vehicle every morning when Little returned from his nighttime activities. Investigators later matched many motel receipts to dates coinciding with murders.
The documents Brown sent to LAPD also contained an entire case file for a woman Little is suspected of killing in Pascagoula, Miss.
Four days after Little was seen leaving a Gainesville bar with Mount, a woman in Pascagoula was found beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in a similar manner. Her name was Melinda LaPree and she had given birth just three weeks earlier.
Little was the primary suspect in that case after survivors of similar attacks described him and the vehicle he was known to be driving at the time, a brown station wagon with wood grain finish.
ASO had been working with Pascagoula police back then, although Pascagoula did not proceed with murder charges against Little at the time for lack of evidence. Over the years and possibly during the flood caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Pascagoula lost track of the LaPree file. Because of Brown's findings, Pascagoula Detective Darren Versiga said they hope to get an indictment on Little a lot sooner.
Sheriff Darnell said the case highlights the importance of continuing to work on cold cases. "If someone has committed a murder, they are highly likely to murder someone else," Darnell said. "It's our responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen again and to ensure the victim is honored by holding someone accountable."
Darnell has placed an emphasis on solving cold cases within the department since her 2006 election. With the major advances in DNA technology over the past few decades, Darnell established a cold-case unit in 2007 to review old evidence for potential DNA material.
The unit was so busy that last year ASO hired retired Fort Lauderdale homicide and cold case detective Kevin Allen to work solely on ASO cold cases
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