After 44 years, a woman known only as Escatawpa Jane Doe has been identified as Clara Birdlong of Leflore County, Mississippi, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department announced Tuesday. Investigators believe she was murdered by Samuel Little, the so-called “most prolific serial killer” in U.S. history, who died in 2020.
Two days after Christmas 1977, hunters came upon skeletal remains in a construction area in Escatawpa, Mississippi, and unincorporated area in Jackson County, according to the sheriff’s statement. A medical examination identified them as belonging to a small Black woman who may have worn a wig, and who had a distinctive gold front tooth. Her identity remained unknown, and she was called simply Escatawpa Jane Doe for the place she was found.
Decades later, in 2018, serial killer Samuel Little confessed to her murder, although he told police he did not know her name. Police were able to confirm he was in Jackson County around the time of her death, although they have not definitively verified his claim.
Little, who confessed to a total of 93 murders, targeted mostly black women, particularly those who were estranged from their families or struggling with poverty or addiction. He bragged to investigators about choosing victims who wouldn’t be immediately missed. “I’m not going to go over there into the white neighborhood and pick out a little teenage girl,” he said in one recording obtained by the Washington Post. After his arrest in 2014 and subsequent conviction, he began drawing portraits of the women he’d killed, which authorities have used to identify more victims.
Earlier this year, according to the sheriff’s statement, investigators worked with a DNA research firm and began building a family tree for the unidentified woman. Soon, they’d found a distant cousin, who referred investigators to her 93-year-old Mississippi-born grandmother. The grandmother told investigators her cousin Clara Birdlong, born around 1933, had gone missing from Leflore County in the Seventies. They reached another distant cousin in Texas, who also said Birdlong had vanished in the Seventies, that she went by the nickname “Nuttin,” and that she was a small woman with a gold front tooth who wore a wig. In August, a third woman investigators contacted in Leflore County said she remembered Birdlong leaving the area in the Seventies with a man who’d said he was passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida. She never saw Birdlong again.
Investigators then matched the DNA of people associated with Birdlong to the 93-year-old Mississippi woman. By ruling out other potential relatives as the deceased woman, they concluded Escatawpa Jane Doe was Clara Birdlong, born in 1933 in Leflore County, Mississippi. Authorities consider Little a prime suspect in her death.