Suspected serial killer's path ran through Gainesville


In this Monday, March 4, 2013, photo, Sam McDowell, also known as Samuel Little, appears in a courtroom for his arraignment in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.

Evil rolled into Gainesville on Sept. 11, 1982, in a 1974 Ford Pinto wagon with wood grain siding, a barking muffler and missing tailpipe.

Irene Monts, a 44-year-old hotel laundry worker, was sitting on the hood of a car at Northwest Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street around 10:30 p.m. when Sam McDowell pulled alongside her.

McDowell, 42, with a violent criminal record reaching back to his youth, would go on to be suspected in about 60 killings. But he was easygoing that night as he unfolded his stocky 5-foot-8-inch frame from the car and straightened his gray pants and brown pullover.

He was a light-skinned black man. His hair, bushy on the sides, was slightly cropped on top with a distinctive reddish tint that extended to his moustache.

He strolled over to Monts and, in a voice as soft and smooth as his manners, asked, “Would you like a drink?” He spoke confidently as he announced his personal preference for vodka.

McDowell said he was in town from San Diego for the big game earlier that day, when the Gator football team beat the University of Southern California 17-9, a rare visit to the Sunshine State for the Trojans.

When Monts turned him down, McDowell pointed to a nearby bar and asked, “What's going on down there?''

“That's where we drink and dance,” she replied. “You should check it out.”

Moments later, McDowell was inside Willie Mae Hodge's Beer Tavern, checking out the women. Paulette Pepper watched him order a Budweiser and hit on Vanessa Simmons, who snubbed him. He then tried her friend, Daffney Simmons, striking out again.

McDowell turned to a tall, white woman who was dancing — more like staggering — on the dance floor.

Patricia Ann Mount was well known at the juke joint, for all the wrong reasons. She was 26, with diminished mental capabilities. She was known to drink heavily and cuss and get into fights, which she routinely lost.

The night before, Mount had been in the Gainesville Police Department lobby, drunk to the point of passing out, complaining about being beaten the previous day. Her husband, who also had mental challenges and who met her at the Sunland Training Center, took her home.

It took McDowell less than 15 minutes to buy Mount a beer and talk her into leaving with him. Irene Monts was still sitting on the car when the two walked back to the Pinto, the woman unsteady on her feet.

As McDowell drove off in the Pinto, its busted muffler coughing and gasping for air, Monts looked at the car with the Alabama tags and said, “There's no way he drove that raggedy car all the way from California.”

***

Around midnight, something set off the dogs in the rural Forest Grove area east of U.S. 27 between Newberry and High Springs. Maybe it was a fox or some other critter that typically runs through the area of modest ranch and mobile homes with lots of elbow room.

Mike Crane, an Alachua County sheriff's deputy, went out to call in his barking dogs that were at the fence line near his trailer. He saw a light between the trees northeast of his house, about three-quarters of a mile away.

Crane's wife heard a male voice yelling. A minute later, the light shut off, and the dogs stopped barking.

Shortly after sunrise, another noise roused Crane. This time, Zack Edwards and Joel Hull were pounding on his door. The men told the deputy they had gone to a nearby field to bale hay that morning when they came upon the body of a woman.

She was nude, covered in bruises and lying face up. She had scratches on her neck with fingernail marks on the front of her throat indicating she had been choked from behind. There was evidence she had put up an intense struggle.

Her outfit, distinctive because it was all men's clothing, lay in a heap next to her body: a pair of maroon-colored pants, white underwear and a beige T-shirt with a design on it. A pair of worn, blue flip-flops lay with her clothing, which like the woman's body, was smeared with human feces.

Using fingerprints from arrest records, authorities soon identified the victim as Patricia Ann Mount of Gainesville.

***

As usual, the Pinto noisily announced its arrival.

The teen had been asleep in the Southwood Motel in Ocala for only a few hours when McDowell returned around 8 a.m. Sept. 12 in 1982. It was the second straight night McDowell, the teen and Orelia Dorsey had spent in the motel, but they were familiar with Ocala.

They had been there in August, when Dorsey — McDowell's 69-year-old traveling companion — was arrested for shoplifting. She was given a court date in November, an appointment she would not keep.

At around that same time, on Aug. 16, a woman's body was found in the Marion County woods off County Road 326 just west of County Road 225A. The woman's body was so decomposed that scientists needed facial reconstruction techniques to identify her three months later as Rosie Hill, 21, of Arcadia.

Hill was last seen around 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 12 leaving an Ocala bar with a light-skinned black man, around 5-foot-9, with a stocky build. They got into a small station wagon with a wood grain finish.

On Aug. 6, McDowell and Dorsey had added to their party a young man, then 18, whom they met at a seedy motel in Arkansas. He had been living there with his mother, who paid the rent through prostitution.

Dorsey's offer to help him find a job in exchange for him sharing driving duties seemed like a good idea.

The teen, whose name is being withheld at the request of prosecutors, felt sorry for Dorsey in part because of the demeaning way McDowell treated her. She had traveled with McDowell for at least 12 years, and if she had any emotional affection for him, the feeling was not mutual.

She was much older than McDowell, and “she ain't got no teeth,” the teen said. The pair fought often, and the teen said McDowell once bragged of breaking her leg with a jackhammer.

McDowell didn't deal with other women any better. He explained his philosophy to the teen once: “You treat a woman like a dog, and she'll like you.” He said he would pick up a woman and take her far out in the woods “so they would have to have sex with him to get back,” the teen said.

On the road, a pattern soon emerged. During the day, Dorsey would shoplift such items as clothes and small appliances and radios from dollar stores and convenience marts. She would sell the items in the small towns where they would stop, using the cash to pay for rooms in low-budget motels.

At night, McDowell would disappear. “He'd just get up and go,” the teen told police. He would return the next morning, when Dorsey had a routine of her own.

She would grab cleaning supplies and scrub the seat cushions. The Pinto was in her name, “and she liked a clean car,” McDowell would tell investigators.

On the morning of Sept. 12, McDowell rolled back into the Ocala motel room, stripped off his clothes, took a shower and fell asleep. Dorsey picked up her washing liquid and powdered Purex and headed for the Pinto. When she opened the door, the smell assaulted her senses.

“It smelled like someone doo-dooed in it,” the teen said.

Dorsey woke McDowell up, demanding to know why the car smelled so bad. He cussed her out and said some friends of his had been in the car.

She went back to the car, and the teen asked, “Do you need some help?'' She said no and continued cleaning at a feverish pace.

At 4 p.m. that day, McDowell was awake, and soon the Pinto was loaded with their belongings and stolen clothes to sell.

While investigators in Alachua County were talking to people living near where Mount's body was found, McDowell, Dorsey and the teen were driving north on Interstate 75, about five miles from the crime scene.

It would be a long drive to their destination, the Imperial Motel in Ocean Springs, Miss. The smell in the backseat, while diminished by Dorsey's scrubbing, was still gagging.

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