Samuel Little’s extraordinary success as a serial killer was due to his utterly predictable choice of victims
Serial killer Samuel Little’s hunting ground for humans stretched from Southern California to just outside Washington, D.C., encompassing 90 murders of mostly black and Latino women, which took place between 1970 and 2005, in some 37 cities across the nation.
Little, 78, is serving a triple life sentence as a result of a 2014 conviction for the slayings of three Los Angeles women in the 1980s. He began confessing to other murders in September of 2018 as part of a deal he made to be transferred from a California prison to a facility in Texas. In late November, the FBI announced that it had corroborated 34 of the 90 murders to which Little has confessed.
Police believe Sam Little eluded justice for decades in part thanks to the population he targeted: sex workers. The breadth of his crimes makes him one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, and they offer a macabre prelude to the 15th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, commemorated on December 17.
The date serves as a memorial to slain sex workers worldwide and a rallying cry for decriminalizing prostitution. This year, candlelight vigils and marches are planned for cities in France, Canada, and throughout the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu, and Tucson.
The brainchild of sex educator and porn pioneer Annie Sprinkle, and leaders of the advocacy group, Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP), the day was first observed in 2003 in response to another serial killer who targeted sex workers: Gary Ridgway, Seattle’s “Green River Killer.”
Like Little, Ridgway laid claim to 90 murders. In a sixteen-page confession to 48 of the slayings, which prosecutors read aloud during a hearing in Seattle on November 5, 2003, Ridgway explained that he preyed on sex workers “because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
Prostitutes were “easy to pick up, without being noticed,” Ridgway said. He loathed them, and knew they “would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing.”
“There are a lot of people that feel that killing sex workers is fine. That’s where we’re at, after all these decades.” –Annie Sprinkle, sex educator, performer, and former sex worker
In an interview with Front Page Confidential, the San Francisco-based Sprinkle, a former sex worker, remembered the Ridgway case and the dark days that preceded the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
Sprinkle said pimps had approached law enforcement in Seattle with information about Ridgway, only to be ignored. Police used the slang, “No Human Involved” or simply, “NHI,” to refer to crimes against prostitutes, Sprinkle recalled.
She lamented that the Little case made it seem as if not much has changed in fifteen years.
“It’s very, very disheartening, sickening, disgusting, to have to go through this again,” she said.
“Let’s face it,” Sprinkle added. “If it was white cheerleaders or white nurses…. And if it wasn’t sex workers, they would have caught this guy a long time ago. There are a lot of people that feel that killing sex workers is fine. That’s where we’re at, after all these decades.”
Los Angeles Times crime reporter James Queally tracked Sam Little’s half-century killing spree, at one point focusing on a period in the early 1980s when Little is alleged to have assaulted several women in Pascagoula, Mississippi, “leaving at least one dead and two lucky to escape.”
Police there suspected that Little had killed 24-year-old Linda DuPree, whose body was discovered in a nearby cemetery. They arrested Little, but despite having two female witnesses who claimed that he choked them — Little’s preferred method of killing — authorities were unable to make the case, Pascagoula police Lt. Darren Versiga told Queally.
“At that timeframe, through societal ways, we just didn’t believe prostitutes when they cried rape,” Versiga said.
Ridgway and Little are not unique among serial killers in preferring to stalk and kill prostitutes. The most famous serial murderer in history, Jack the Ripper, reputedly murdered and mutilated prostitutes in Victorian London. Various serial killers since that time have followed suit.
In 2017, researchers at Baylor and West Virginia universities examined online adult advertisements and found that “prostitution has the highest homicide rate of any female intensive occupation in the United States by several orders of magnitude.”
Another serial killer is revealed after almost 50 years of active killing, and who has confessed to over 90 murders of primary sex workers and women of color. Structural racism and whorephobia are literally killing us https://t.co/c5eoEFF1kN #RestInPower ?️
— SWOP-USA (@swopusa) December 3, 2018
The researchers concluded that ads for adult services offered on Craigslist — starting in 2002 and ending in 2010 (when Craigslist removed the ads in response to pressure from law enforcement) — reduced the entire female homicide rate on average by 17.4 percent, largely by allowing sex workers the ability to work indoors and screen their clients.
The Craigslist study noted that female prostitutes are serial killers’ most common prey, comprising 50 percent of all victims.
Sex workers face assault, harassment, rape, robbery, and numerous other crimes, but reporting them to law enforcement is not a comforting prospect, given the fact that prostitution is illegal across most of the United States.
Moreover, there’s little doubt that the federal government’s war on sex work has made sex workers less safe.
In March 2018, the U.S. Senate passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), legislation that effectively forbade online adult advertising. As a result of the new law, some websites went out of business, and all sex workers — whether they worked legally or illegally — were confronted with a substantial new obstacle to vetting potential clients.
And on April 6, days before Trump signed FOSTA in to law, the FBI seized and shut down the classifieds listing giant Backpage.com, unsealing a 93-count indictment against the former owners and executives of the website for conspiracy, money laundering, and the facilitation of prostitution across state lines. (Editor’s note: Front Page Confidential publishers Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, who cofounded Backpage in 2004 and sold it in 2015, are among those facing charges.)
“I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.” — Gary Ridgway, Seattle’s infamous “Green River Killer”
Over the ensuing months, news reports in multiple cities have noted that street prostitution — a profession that’s inherently more dangerous than indoor sex work — is on the rise.
A recent Associated Press story reported that adult ads have dispersed across the web, leaving no central source to respond to subpoenas in a timely matter, as police say Backpage had in the past. As a result, law-enforcement agencies are finding it more difficult to track down missing girls and women.
“Sex workers are vulnerable, because of the bad laws that make their jobs more dangerous,” Sprinkle confirmed to Front Page Confidential. “There’s these do-gooders that think that they’re trying to help, and they are just making things worse. They don’t listen to sex workers.”
Proponents of abolishing commercial sex among consenting adults believe that all sex workers “are victims or perpetrators,” Sprinkle said, calling it a stance that robs them of free will and self-determination. Sprinkle herself parlayed sex work and pornography into a career as an artist, performer, and author.
While she concedes that she has been “privileged and lucky,” she said she’s convinced decriminalization would make sex work safer in general, as it has in other countries. Ultimately, she’d like to “decriminalize desire,” she said, so that sex work is no longer frowned upon.
“I think sex work is a benefit to society, and a loving thing to do,” she said. “Giving someone an orgasm, to me, was a nice thing. Like a pedicure, a manicure, a massage.”