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Possible victim of serial killer Sam Little found in Jackson County identified

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:19 PM CDT
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JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - Another South Mississippi victim of prolific serial killer Samuel Little has been identified, more than 40 years after her death.

The victim, formerly known as Escatawpa Jane Doe, has been identified as Clara Birdlong.

The body was found in 1977 in the area that is now Highway 613 and Interstate 10. While the remains were discovered in February of that year, a medical exam revealed she had been dead for three to four months before discovery.

Several facial reconstructions and computer composites were created to help identify her as the years passed.

“The reason this case wasn’t solved 44 years ago isn’t because investigators didn’t try hard, they just didn’t have 44 years of technology they didn’t even know existed. Over the years there have been dedicated people working on this case,” said investigator Matt Hoggatt.

In 2018, Samuel Little confessed to murdering more than 90 people across the United States, including Escatawpa Jane Doe, though he said he did not know her name.

Investigators were able to confirm Little was in Jackson County during the approximate time frame of her death.

In December of 2020, Samuel Little died in prison.

However, investigators did not stop in attempting to identify the rest of Little’s victims.

In January of 2021, in cooperation with the Mississippi State Crime Lab, Othram Inc., a DNA research facility in Woodlands, Texas, was contracted to attempt to create a family tree based on the victim’s DNA. From there, a possible distant cousin living in Texas was identified.

“We submitted DNA samples to the world wide web and we came across a very distant cousin who didn’t even know that part of her family history,” said Investigator Matt Hoggatt. “By getting in there and helping her figure out her own family tree we were able to solve this case.”

Hoggatt located the cousin, who referred him to her 93-year-old paternal grandmother originally from Leflore County, Mississippi. The grandmother told Hoggatt her cousin Clara Birdlong had gone missing from Leflore County sometime in the 1970s. Another distant cousin confirmed to Hoggatt a description of Birdlong that matched that of the victim.

Hoggatt located a woman in Leflore County in August of 2021 who remembered Birdlong. She said Birdlong left Leflore County in the ‘70s with an African American man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida. Birdlong was not seen or heard from again after this.

The next month, Hoggatt requested DNA samples from several people closely associated with Birdlong to compare DNA. After further investigation and elimination of all other living and deceased relatives, investigators concluded the victim was Clara Birdlong, born in 1933 in Leflore County.

“Luckily we were able to find a lady up there (Leflore County) who remembered Clara from her younger days and was able to provide us some information that she remembered from when Clara left town, went missing and they never heard from her again” Hoggatt said. “If you study the time frame of when that happened it lines up really close to the travels of Sam Little and where we know he was committing murders in the mid to late ‘70s.”

Investigators eventually learned Little had been arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977 for theft. Although he is now dead, he is considered the prime suspect in the death of Birdlong, and her cause of death is undermined.

“There weren’t a lot of people who remembered our victim, but for those who did they seemed very grateful that we were able to finally put a name to someone who spent that long going unknown,” Hoggatt said.

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