Crime

‘He was reliving what he did’: Serial killer confesses to Miami strangulation murders

Miami-Dade detectives solve two murder cases from the 1970s

David Denmark, a Miami-Dade Cold Case Homicide Detective, helped spearhead an investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. He interviewed Little in Wise County, Texas and helped solve two murders from the 1970s.
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David Denmark, a Miami-Dade Cold Case Homicide Detective, helped spearhead an investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. He interviewed Little in Wise County, Texas and helped solve two murders from the 1970s.

Each woman was strangled, dumped in the woods, their corpses left to rot for weeks. For decades, Mary Brosley and Angela Chapman, women on the fringes of society, remained forgotten footnotes of crime-plagued Dade County in the turbulent 1970s.

Until Samuel Little began to talk.

Little is the 78-year-old serial killer jailed in Texas who in recent months has stunned law enforcement by confessing to 90 murders across the United States, stretching between the 1960s and the 1980s. He may wind up being America’s most prolific serial killer. Cops have corroborated at least 34 murders. The FBI believes at least 12 happened in Florida.

Now, Miami-Dade police and prosecutors have officially concluded that Little murdered Chapman in 1971 and Brosley in 1976. The evidence is ample. Cold-case homicide detectives David Denmark and Lester Aguilar flew to Texas to interview Little, who recounted the murders in chilling detail.

In a small jailhouse interview room, Little excitedly remembered facts only the killer would know: Brosley’s pronounced limp when he met her a a bar, the chain she wore just before he strangled her in his car, the distinct concrete arches near where he dumped Chapman by the Everglades.

“He was so hyped up on seeing his victims again, his ‘babies,’” said Denmark, who showed him photos of the victims when they were alive.

Said Aguilar: “You could tell he was reliving what he did. He was getting sexually aroused.”

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has decided it will not charge Little, who is serving life in prison for three murders in California and one in Texas. With Little’s advanced age and the certainty he will die behind bars, both agencies decided clearing the cases “is the appropriate disposition.”

“To give the next-of-kin closure in these long unsolved murders of their loved ones,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague wrote in her final memo on the case.

The investigation, however, is not over. While the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office and police found Brosley’s family in Massachusetts, there’s been no such luck with Chapman.

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David Denmark, a Miami-Dade cold case homicide detective, holds a photo of murder victim Angela Chapman, whose body was found in a field in Southwest Miami-Dade on May 16, 1976. Denmark helped spearhead an investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

All police know is that Chapman was 25 years old and worked as a prostitute at two motels in Northwest Miami-Dade before she was murdered in the spring of 1976. Other prostitutes told police at the time that Chapman was extremely naive, and claimed she had family in Indiana.

Arrest reports from the era listed her as “Miriam Chapman,” and provided two different Social Security numbers, both of which proved dead ends. Leads on possible Chapmans across the country have not panned out.

“It’s frustrating,” Denmark said. “Someone out there has to know something.”

The murders of Chapman and Brosley were largely unnoticed during a decade in the United States that seemed rife with serial killers, many targeting prostitutes, runaways, hitchhikers and drug addicts.

Florida was no exception. In an era when cellphones, video surveillance and DNA evidence didn’t exist, serial killers such as Robert Frederick Carr, Paul Rowles and Gerard John Schaefer prowled the state looking for victims.

Little was a drifter who grew up in Ohio, according to the FBI, and racked up small-time arrests across the country. He was a tall, strapping man with piercing green eyes. He was also a boxer.

He later claimed that his first victim was in Miami, a “big ol’ blonde” wearing fishnet stockings whom he met at a Coconut Grove restaurant in 1969 or 1970.

“It was my sign. From God,” he told author Jillian Lauren, who interviewed Little at length and is writing a book about him.

Throughout his decades of killing, Little was often jailed for sex assaults but served short or no prison terms.

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Officials say Samuel Little gave cops the alias William Lewis for this 1975 Macon police mugshot after a DUI arrest. Macon Police Department

Little, who also used the alias Samuel McDowell, was identified as a suspect in the 1982 murder of Rosie Hill in Ocala.

An eyewitness recalled him leaving a bar in a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect’s car, according to the Ocala Star Banner, but there was not enough evidence to charge him. A year later, in 1983, Little was arrested for the murder of Patricia Mounts in Alachua County. He was acquitted at trial.

The scope of his crimes began to crystallize in 2012, when a Los Angeles cold case detective, through DNA matches, linked Little to three homicides of prostitutes in L.A. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life for the murders.

The FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program was asked to explore his case. “The FBI found an alarming pattern and compelling links to many more murders,” the federal agency wrote in an article on the case.

FBI analysts teamed up with Texas Rangers investigator James Holland to explore a murder in Odessa, Texas. They eventually got Little to talk. He was transferred to a jail in Texas, where he began helping Holland piece together decades of bloodshed.

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Lester Aguilar, left, and David Denmark, Miami-Dade Cold Case Homicide Detectives, spearheaded the investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. Both officers interviewed Little in Wise County, Texas and say they have solved two murders from the 1970s. Aguilar and Denmark talked to the Miami Herald at the Miami-Dade Police Headquarters in Doral, Florida on Monday, February 11, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Soon, detectives from around the country were flocking to Texas to interview Little, who even drew images of his victims to help police. (On Tuesday, the FBI released 16 portraits of victims done by Little in hopes of identifying the women).

Miami-Dade’s Denmark had met Holland at a cold-case investigation conference. After Little began spilling his secrets, Holland reached out to Denmark to tell him to start researching: Little had confessed to at least six South Florida killings.

The research was methodical and time consuming. Denmark and Aguilar began scouring homicide logs from the 1960s and ‘70s — back then, they were handwritten in cursive — looking for the unsolved murders of women that might fit the pattern. Then they began pulling dusty case files from the cavernous Miami-Dade Police property room.

“It got to the point where we had 60-something case files,” Aguilar said.

The list began to narrow. Little, Holland told them, never shot or stabbed his victims. Most were prostitutes, runaways, or women who had no one to report them missing. Because Little stunned the women with punches or chokes, investigators sometimes assumed they had died of drug overdoses.

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Mary Brosley was found murdered in a rural field in Northwest Miami-Dade on June 24, 1971. Serial killer Samuel Little, now in a Texas prison, confessed to killing Brosley. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

By happenstance, Aguilar had already been working on the case of Brosley, whose remains were found in Northwest Miami-Dade woods but had never been identified.

In mid-2016, Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office Investigator Brittney McLaurin, who specializes in identifying remains, had decided to review the case. She turned to NamUS, a national government Internet database that collects profiles of missing persons and unidentified bodies.

She began searching for missing women with specific physical abnormalities — the unidentified petite woman was missing part of her left pinky finger, and had a surgically repaired hip. One name in the database stood out: Brosley.

Her family revealed that Brosley, 33, of Boston, had accidentally amputated her pinky while cutting food. She had hip replacement surgery in 1968, the same year the hip plate found on the body was shipped to doctors. Brosley had vanished from Massachusetts in 1970.

“There was some pretty standout similarities between her and the unidentified remains,” McLaurin said.

A dentist also compared the body’s teeth to a photo of Brosley’s. They appeared a match. Based on the compelling circumstantial evidence, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office in June 2017 officially identified the body as Brosley’s.

Still, her family was guarded about the possibility that the killer might be found.

“They had gone through so many years of losing hope,” Aguilar said.

Finally, in October 2018, Denmark and Aguilar flew to Texas to interview Little. It was not a simple task.

Over the months, Holland had built a rapport with Little and knew his every idiosyncrasy and habit — from his favorite foods to the time he liked to wake up. He was not willing to talk to every cop. But Holland vouched for the Miami-Dade detectives.

Little lit up when Holland mentioned that the detectives had photos of his Miami victims. “Of my babies?” Little asked.

Still, Holland warned them that Little could be mercurial, prone to cutting off an interview if he felt slighted. He didn’t like to talk about why or how he murdered his victims — and he felt offended at the suggestion he ever stabbed or shot anyone.

Little was housed at the Wise County Jail, about an hour from Dallas. There, he had been given a small wing, complete with a makeshift art studio to craft images of his victims. The interview took place in a cramped, non-nondescript interview room.

He did not look like a monster. Little was no longer the strapping boxer of the 1970s. He was balding, skinnier and frail. His health was failing. He was brought in on a wheelchair. He looked like an ordinary elderly grandpa.

Until he spoke.

‘I knew she was leaving with me’

Little remembered Brosley by her limp.

He met her at a North Miami Beach bar, and thought she had a bad left leg. The woman, he recalled, was easy prey because she seemed troubled. Brosley told him she was from Massachusetts and had left because of strife with her family over alcoholism.

”Once she sat with me, I knew she was leaving with me,” Little said.

For the detectives, the details were a stunning confirmation. Little did not know it, but Brosley’s relatives had already told them about her alcohol issues, and Brosley’s hip replacement.

Brosley had left with him, driving away in his Oldsmobile, parking in the wooded area near Northwest 107th Avenue and 162nd Street, today a semi-rural industrial area.

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Lester Aguilar, a Miami-Dade Cold Case Homicide Detective, holds up a photo of a chain found on Mary Brosley who was discovered murdered in a rural field Northwest Miami-Dade on June 24, 1971. Aguilar helped spearhead an investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. He interviewed Little in Wise County, Texas and helped solve two murders from the 1970s. Aguilar talked to the Miami Herald at the Miami-Dade Police Headquarters in Doral, Florida on Monday, February 11, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

He remembered exact details about the scene, the clothes she wore and how he played with a chain around her neck — jewelry later found on the corpse. Even his description of the position of her body confirmed details from the old police files. Little normally didn’t bury his Florida victims. But he tried to bury Brosley — and grew annoyed that he’d left one of her legs exposed.

As he spoke to detectives, his eyes grew wide. He began rubbing his crotch, the detectives remembered.

Little, however, didn’t say how he murdered Brosley. As Little spoke rapidly, Aguilar gambled and casually asked. To his surprise, he spit it out.

“He’s thinking to himself, as he’s playing with the chain, she’s got a nice neck and that he’s getting ready to kill her,” Aguilar recalled. “That he’s going to choke her until she dies.”

A father and son out hunting later found Brosley’s body on Jan. 24, 1971.

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A Pascagoula Police Department mug shot of Samuel Little taken in 1988. Pascagoula Police Department

CHAPMAN’S DEATH

Little remembered Chapman’s murder scene because of “the arches.”

A husband and wife collecting rocks and plants found Chapman’s decomposing corpse in a brush thicket on May 16, 1976.

The body was near a canal off the Tamiami Trail near Krome Avenue. Little murdered her in the shadow of 70-foot-tall concrete arches that have become a local, if mysterious, icon — a rural spot where people used to picnic, hunt snakes and shoot guns (the arches were actually constructed as an entrance for a planned industrial park that was never built).

The discovery was described in two paragraphs buried deep in the Miami Herald: “She had red, sandy blonde hair, was approximately five feet two, weighed 100 pounds, wore a red tube top and had a spoon ring on her right hand. No cause of death was apparent, Metro homicide detectives said.”

Dr. Joseph Davis, the county medical examiner at the time, ruled she had been strangled.

Chapman was a well-known prostitute who plied her trade at the Turf Motel and the Saxon Motel near Liberty City. One hotel owner said he’d last seen her with a tall black man with a bushy goatee who claimed to be an artist. With no witnesses and no suspects, the case went cold.

Decades later, Little’s memories of her remain sharp.

He recalled how he held Chapman under water “until she almost passed out” and then dragged her out to a canal and strangled her, according to the prosecutor’s memo. That matched the physical evidence — her brightly colored shorts had slipped off and were embedded in the canal bank.

Detectives provided Little mugshots of Chapman and women from the time period. He immediately picked out Chapman.

“He said, ‘There she is. There she is,’” Denmark said. “No hesitation.”

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David Denmark, a Miami-Dade Cold Case Homicide Detective, helped spearhead an investigation of serial killer Samuel Little in Miami-Dade County. He interviewed Little in Wise County, Texas and helped solve two murders from the 1970s. Denmark talked to the Miami Herald at the Miami-Dade Police Headquarters in Doral, Florida on Monday, February 11, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Anyone with information on Chapman’s family can call Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers at 305-471-TIPS, or Miami-Dade’s homicide bureau at 305-471-2400.

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