Even in death, everyone should be equal

The recent arrest of prolific serial killer Samuel Little highlights a much bigger problem in the justice system.


ABC News (Fair Use)

A mugshot of Little from an arrest in the 1980s and from his arrest on murder charges in 2012.

Samuel Little is the worst serial killer in American history. According to the FBI he murdered at least 61 people and possibly up to 93. Samuel Little is not an evil genius. His highest level of education was junior high and he has never demonstrated any deep understanding of psychology and how to bend people to his will. Samuel Little is the deadliest serial killer in American history because he understood something that takes no education to comprehend: there are some people society doesn’t miss. 

Samuel Little is known to have been active from 1970-2005. Despite a 35 year window of activity, Little wasn’t caught until 2012. Little was able to avoid punishment for so long because he targeted the “less dead”, a term coined by Eric Hickey in his 2003 book, Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. The “less dead” refers to sex workers, drug addicts, transients and racial minorities. As uneducated as he was, Little knew this fact very well.

“I never killed no senators or governors or fancy New York journalists.” said Little in his only interview to date, “Nothing like that. I kill [a journalist], it’d be all over the news the next day. I stayed in the ghettos.”

Almost every single one of Little’s known victims fits into at least one of the “less dead” categories.

Even though murder cases are often complex and confounding, it does not excuse showing apathy towards the loss of a life

— Jack Harris '22

The “less dead” being ignored by investigators is far from a rare occurrence. Before Little, it was believed that a man named Gary Ridgway was the worst serial killer in American history. Gary Ridgway was dyslexic and had an abnormally low IQ of 82. Gary Ridgway still understood that the justice system could not care less about certain people and for this reason Ridgway’s victims were exclusively black sex workers. Every single one of these women was a person with life and a family. People do not enter the sex trade industry because they want to. It is a last ditch effort to scrape by when they have expunged every other resource. Unfortunately, the justice system decided that these lives that they were working so hard for, were worthless. 

In many cases these people weren’t even worth an investigation. According to the FBI, because Little strangled his victims and there were no stab or bullet wounds, police often chalked the deaths up to an overdose, without ordering an investigation or even an autopsy. Nevermind that there are clear and obvious signs to the cause of death when someone is strangled. Nevermind that Little left DNA at many of his crime scenes. By blaming their death on their lifestyle despite all opposing evidence, the investigators were inadvertently sending the message that they deserved to die. None of these women deserved to die. None of these women would have died if the justice system did its job.

There are roughly 6000 murders per year in the US and 40% will go unsolved. It’s not as if police are trying to ignore these sorts of deaths. It just so happens that a murder is hard to investigate and to solve, as well as being an inherently difficult thing to confront. Many times it’s easier to blame the death on something else or say that a missing person just moved to another town, and when investigators don’t care about the victim, it just means excuses are easier to make.  But even though murder cases are often complex and confounding, it does not excuse showing total apathy towards the loss of a life. The justice system’s job is that justice be served, but for thousands of people a year, their death ends up becoming just another failure at the hands of said justice system.

By blaming their death on their lifestyle despite all opposing evidence, the investigators were inadvertently sending the message that they deserved to die

— Jack Harris '22

Thankfully, the now 78 year-old Little will serve whatever life he has left in prison, thanks to one investigator who did what countless others had failed to do. Mitzi Roberts, an LAPD detective, with the help of women who had been brutalized at the hands of Little, was able to prove Little had murdered Carol Elford, Guadalupe Apodaca, and Audrey Nelson. Elford was one of the only white women that Little murdered, meaning if Little had stuck exclusively to the “less dead”, odds are that he would be a free man.

The story of Samuel Little is horrific and terrifying. A demon was allowed to walk the Earth and our justice system and police investigators subconsciously decided that it didn’t matter that his victims were being viciously murdered, because they didn’t agree with the lives these women had often been forced into. These women existed. Their lives mattered no matter what the justice system said. Even though they are finally getting justice, it’s indisputable that there are thousands of people who never will. Right now roughly 40% of murders in the US go unsolved. Is the reason for that because society doesn’t value all lives, or deaths, equally?