Crime

Almost 40 years after Phenix City murder, California serial killer makes a confession

A convicted California serial killer serving a life sentence has confessed to the 1979 homicide of a Columbus woman, who’s nude body was discovered off of a dirt road in Phenix City, Russell County District Attorney Kenny Davis confirmed Thursday.

Samuel Little, now 78, who was convicted in 2014 of killing three women in Los Angeles in the 1980s, met with two Phenix City police investigators late last week in Decatur, Texas. Little described how he killed Brenda Alexander, then 23, after leaving a Columbus dance club with her in the early morning hours of Aug. 26, 1979.

At one point Little looked at lead interrogator Capt. Jason Whitten and described what happened when he got Alexander in his vehicle.

“He wringed his hands together, smiled and said, ‘I knew she was mine,” Whitten said this week.

The Phenix City killing is a smaller piece of a much larger puzzle that could make Little one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers.

He has provided investigators details on a “multitude” of murders he may have committed from 1970 to 2005 in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, California, Indiana, Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, according to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. Little has been incarcerated at the office’s jail. The story was first reported by NBC news.

Little has confessed to 91 homicides, Davis said he was told by authorities in Texas.

Alexander’s family has been notified of the break in the case, Whitten said. The case will be presented to the Russell County District Attorney’s office once the Phenix City detectives complete their report.

“We will present it to a grand jury,” Davis said.

After the conviction in California, Texas authorities asked to interview Little about a number of unsolved homicides in that state, Davis said.

Phenix City police were notified that there may be new information on the 1979 homicide by a cold-case advocacy group a month ago. At that point, the case was reopened.

All police had to go on was a police report.

About dark on Aug. 27, 1979, Alexander’s body was found in a wooded area in the 1700 block of 7th Street, according to the police report. The only thing that Alexander was wearing was a Timex calendar watch with a leather band. An empty Miller High Life beer bottle and an empty Camel filter cigarette pack were found near her body.

Alexander, wearing a black afro wig, a black disco shirt, a peach-colored skirt and wooden clog shoes, was last seen leaving the Tap Room, a Columbus dance club and liquor store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street, according to a police report filed at the time.

Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith, who was 11 at the time of the homicide, said that Little’s confession is all police have to go on.

“There are some photographs in the report, but there is very little evidence at all,” Smith said. “The road where she was found is not even there any more. There are houses up there now.”

Whitten and Lt. Andy Williams interviewed Little for about an hour on Oct. 8 in the Wise County Jail.

“It was like talking to an old man who you knew,” Whitten said. “I asked what I should call him, and he said, ‘Call me, Sam.’ ... He was very intelligent, street smart and gave off a calming presence. “

Williams, who was taking notes during the interview, said, “He is not the kind of guy when you talked to him who would make you fear him. And that is probably how he got a lot of his victims hemmed up. Before they realized it, it was too late.”

Little, who was a drifter, told the investigators that he made three stops in the Columbus-Phenix City area, Whitten said.

He was a shoplifter who sold his stolen items along the roadside and in public housing complexes, Whitten said.

This case illustrates why police try to keep as many details as possible from a crime scene out of the public, Smith said.

“In a cold case like this, there is information that only the offender would know,” Smith said. “This is exactly why we hold back information.”

Little’s secret life as a serial killer began to unravel in the fall of 2012 when Los Angeles cold case detectives discovered in a DNA database a match for Little in connection with three sexually motivated strangulations, according to an April 2013 Associated Press news article.

At the time he was arrested, Little was in his early 70s living in a Christian shelter in Louisville, Ky. He had been arrested a few months earlier by sheriff’s deputies in Lake Charles, La., and charged with possession of a crack pipe, according to AP. As police intensified the search for him, they discovered a hit on an ATM purchase at a convenience store in Louisville and found him later that day.

It was far from his first arrest.

The former boxer, who was born in Reynolds, Ga., and raised in Lorain, Ohio, moved throughout the country for decades and left a criminal footprint that was extensive. His 100-page rap sheet details crimes in 24 states spread over 56 years — mostly assault, burglary, armed robbery, shoplifting and drug violations. In that time, authorities say incredulously, he served less than 10 years in prison, according to AP.

He told Los Angeles detectives that he learned to box while in prison.

Los Angeles detectives allege he was also a serial killer, who traveled the country preying on prostitutes, drug addicts and troubled women, according to AP. He was convicted in 2014 of the three Los Angeles murders.

There is no evidence that Alexander was a prostitute, the Phenix City police chief said.

“As far as we can tell she was just a young woman who went out for a night on the town and went home with the wrong person,” he said.

Phenix City police worked with Columbus investigators in 1979 and have reached back out to Columbus police since the call from Texas.

“We have been working with them and we will talk to them again when they get back from Texas,” Columbus Chief Ricky Boren said. “We will see if any of our cold cases here could be impacted.”

The interview with Little took a strange turn at the end, Whitten said.

“As we were wrapping up, he said when he was teenager in 1957 he had seen the movie, ‘The Phenix City Story,’ in a movie theater in Ohio,” Whitten said. “The interview got off topic and he wanted to talk about the movie.”

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