PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WALA) - The arrest of a man in California on murder charges may help solve cases throughout the U.S., including at least one case in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The Los Angeles Police department arrested 72-year-old Samuel Little, also known as McDowell the LA County District Attorney charged him with the murders of three women there in the late 1980's.
LAPD detectives screening cold cases early last year got a DNA match on Little and began building their case against him. He was picked up in Kentucky last September by U.S. Marshals on an LAPD warrant for narcotics; he is now in California's Wasco prison.
Detectives traced Little's criminal history through the years and visited cold case detectives across the country, including the Gulf Coast.
"We have tracked him all over the United States: Florida all the way to Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona … he was in Kentucky, and California and Oregon so there's no telling the damage he's done to these people," said Pascagoula Detective Darren Versiga.
Detective Darren Versiga (Ver-soj-ah) works cold cases for the Pascagoula Police Department, cases clouded by time, and memories taken to the grave.
"Well sometimes it's very frustrating because you just can't get... witnesses have died, some of the victims have died, and evidence over time has been lost or destroyed," said Versiga.
Pascagoula Police are re-investigating the 1982 murder of Melinda LaPree, a 22-year-old who went missing.
"She had been a prostitute here, in the city of Pascagoula," said Versiga.
Her body was found less than a month after she went missing at a cemetery in Gautier, evidence suggests she was bound and strangled.
"We had forensic people come down and collect evidence off the body and the description of the vehicle was a Pinto station wagon. It had wood grain sides on it," said Versiga.
Versiga says in September 1982 a prostitute working out of the King William Motel, which was on Live Oak Street, got into a customer's car and began negotiating her price. The customer saw Melinda LaPree exit the hotel and told his companion that he wanted her instead.
"She gets in the car with this guy, by the name of Sam Little and she's never seen again," said Versiga.
The prostitute who left his car described the man to police and gave them his vehicle description. Detective Visarge says Little, then known as Samuel McDowell, was later arrested along with a woman and another man — that man may be a key witness to the case today.
"They found the car in Ocean Springs in November of '82, and that's what led to the discovery of Sam Little, Arella Dorcy, and a guy by the name of… Well, I'd like to keep him quiet at this time," said Versiga.
Police said the three of them would shoplift in stores in Mississippi, turn around and resell the items out of the trunk of a car.
"The woman was with him for 17 years, he would go out without her -- we know that based on the witnesses that saw him and the cases we've been able to find," said Versiga.
Pascagoula Police records show that Little was first arrested for selling clothes out of his car in 1977.
"So he was here in '77, we did have skeletal remains found in '77 we don't know if those are his or not we have to look at that. It's been unsolved," said Versiga, "They were found about four or five months after he left here."
Little was also charged in 1982 with the strangulation of a Gainesville woman.
"At the time, Florida had the information of the Pinto station wagon with the wood grain sides, they connected the dots, and then Florida took over the case because they had more evidence -- they found hairs on the body that resembled Little's," said Versiga.
That case went to trial and ended in acquittal, so the Jackson County DA in 1982 did not pursue the case against Little.
Versiga says the Florida jury acquitted Little because the prosecutor could not find a witness, who has since been located.
"That's how this case could possibly open in Pascagoula .... we're going to investigate it and see if there's enough evidence, present it to the district attorney's office along with the two witnesses we have that were strangled by Sam Little, identified back in 1982," said Versiga.
Detective Versiga recently interviewed those two female witnesses who survived attacks in the early '80s by a man they believe was Sam Little.
"They knew it like it was yesterday, it has stuck with them for a very long time, both of them believe they escaped death," said Versiga.
Now that the LAPD has linked Little to at least three killings, police nationwide are looking back at their own cold cases to see if Little, aka McDowell, may be a suspect in other unsolved homicides.
We spoke to one of LaPree's brothers, he said he thinks about Melinda every day and wants justice.
"If I can bring some resolution to the family, that's always a good feeling for a detective," said Versiga.
The case against Little is just beginning to evolve and Detective Versiga says he may be linked to murder cases from
Mobile to many other states.
Detective Versiga said he is also looking at Little as a possible suspect in the 1992 murder of a prostitute who was found in a field near a Pascagoula department store.
"She was a prostitute from Alabama, in tracking him I see where he was in California about two or three months prior to her being found and then he was in Florida a month after she was found," said Versiga.
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