The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday announced that they have identified a woman who was found dead all the way back in December 1977. Authorities have not determined Clara Birdlong’s cause of death, but they do think that prolific, now-deceased serial killer Samuel Little committed the slaying. After all, investigators said he had confessed to murdering the woman long known as “Escatawpa Jane Doe.”
Hunters found Birdlong’s skeletal remains near what’s now Highway 613 and Interstate 10 in Mississippi, deputies said.
“A medical exam revealed the remains belonged to a small in stature African American woman, with a distinctive front gold tooth and possibly wearing a wig,” deputies said. “It was also determined the remains were discovered three or four months after she was killed.”
But investigators could not name her. They did find a suspect one day, however. Convicted serial killer Samuel Little confessed to killing 93 people (nearly all women), Escatawpa Jane Doe among them. Little did not know her name, however. This left her among the dozens of his uncorroborated, unidentified victims, whose lives Little took as he drifted throughout the United States for decades. Chillingly, Little drew pictures of many of the victims based on his memory of them.
An FBI photo timeline tells the story of Little’s booking history.
Little died in December 2020 at age 80, but just the following month, investigators began to uncover Escatawpa Jane Doe’s real name. They tracked down the woman’s cousins using her DNA.
“In cooperation with the Mississippi State Crime Lab, Othram Inc., a DNA research facility in The Woodlands, Texas, was contracted to attempt to create a family tree based on Escatawpa Jane Doe’s DNA,” investigators wrote. “That same month Dr. David Mittelman of Othram, Inc., gave Investigator Matt Hoggatt information of a possible distant cousin of the victim living in Texas. The tip was generated by the victim’s DNA.”
One of the cousins, a 93-year-old grandmother, said Birdlong went missing from Leflore County in the 1970s.
“Another distant cousin in Texas said Clara went by the nickname ‘Nuttin,’ and described her as a small woman who had a gold front tooth and wore a wig,” deputies said. “The cousin also recalled Clara disappeared in the 1970’s.”
Another woman said she remembered Birdlong, and said she left the county in the 1970s with a Black man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on the way to Florida.
“Clara was never seen or heard from again,” deputies wrote. Investigators determined she was Escatawpa Jane Doe after matching DNA with the grandmother and ruling out all other relatives, living and deceased.
“Investigators eventually learned Samuel Little was arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977 for petit theft,” deputies wrote. “Although he is now deceased, Samuel Little is considered a prime suspect in the death of Clara Birdlong.”
Birdlong’s cause of death remains undetermined, however. Little’s murder M.O. did not always leave obvious signs that these deaths were killings, the FBI has said.
“The one-time competitive boxer usually stunned or knocked out his victims with powerful punches and then strangled them,” they wrote. “With no stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes.”
Jackson County deputies ask that anyone who may remember Birdlong to call them at (228) 769-3063 or Mississippi Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.
[Image of Birdlong and booking photo of Little via Jackson County Sheriff’s Department]
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