Despite the passing years, Samuel Little still had all the details neatly filed away in corners of his mind.
The particular shapes of noses. The way their hair was cut short or tumbled to their shoulders. The colours of their eyes.
And decades later, as he sat in a Texas jail cell and received daily visitors from around the country, the 78-year-old serial killer began drawing the faces of his victims from memory.
Late last year, Little – already convicted in 2014 of murdering three women in Southern California in the late 1980s – shocked the American law enforcement community by confessing to killing more than 90 women between 1970 and 2013, a body count that would make him one of the deadliest serial killers in history.
As The Washington Post reported at the time, Little’s remarkable confession upset many of the traditional ideas about serial killers – including that a single man could stalk the United States for decades, killing victims at will, without ever being caught.
Since Little’s admission, authorities have worked to verify his claims. As the FBI noted in a news release this week, 34 murder victims have been officially confirmed. NBC News reported an additional eight cases have also recently been linked to Little.
But the sheer number of potential victims has created unique problems. Law enforcement officials have unidentified victims who may be linked to Little’s murder spree as well as accounts from Little himself of women he killed that have yet to be matched with unknown casualties.
Little himself has offered to help – albeit in a grim way.
On Tuesday, the FBI released 16 portraits painted by the serial killer himself of his victims. Little has included rough dates and locations of where the assaults took place.
In some instances, he has included possible names. But the images – colorful and extremely precise renderings of the victims – offer a dark window into storehouse of mental detail the serial killer has carried around for years.
Authorities say Little’s portraits have already helped them identify some victims.
"He has an artistic ability that you wouldn’t expect for someone like him," a detective from Prince George’s County, Maryland, working to link Little to Maryland cold cases, told The Post in December. "We’re hoping that this sketch will produce some phone calls."
Little fell into the hands of authorities haphazardly. According to the FBI, he was arrested in 2012 at a homeless shelter in Kentucky. At the time, he had an open warrant on a drug charge in California, and he was eventually extradited west. A DNA match later tied Little to the unsolved killings of three women in Los Angeles between 1987 and 1989.
Little was convicted of the three murders and sentenced to life in prison. According to authorities, those convictions bore the same pattern that investigators would later trace across the country.
Little aimlessly drifted from state to state, targeting prostitutes, drug addicts and other troubled women. His victim’s were beaten – Little was a former boxer – and strangled, and their bodies were dumped. Authorities have yet to discern a motive for the murders.
"She just met the wrong person – me," Little reportedly told one investigator when describing a women he killed.
The convicted killer’s DNA eventually led Texas investigators to suspect his involvement in a cold case there.
In spring 2018, a Texas Ranger named James Holland and an FBI crime analyst named Christina Palazzolo went to interview Little in California. The killer was hoping to move prisons, and offered up information for a possible transfer. He then revealed his decades of murder.
"Over the course of that interview in May he went through city and state and gave Ranger Holland the number of people he killed in each place. Jackson, Mississippi – one; Cincinnati – one; Phoenix, Arizona – three; Las Vegas, Nevada – one," Palazzolo later wrote in an FBI news release.
Since then, Little has been matched to open homicides he confessed to in at least 16 states.
The portraits of victims led investigators in Prince George’s County to suspect Little was behind an unsolved 1972 cold case there.
The image he created showed a woman with "greenish eyes, dark hair and full lips," The Post reported in December. Maryland authorities noted at the time that Little seemed to have a "photographic memory."
According to USA Today, another portrait has helped investigators link Little to a 1984 Arkansas murder.
The 14 additional portraits done by Little hammer home the sheer frightening scale of his alleged murder spree. It spans from the early 1970s to 1997, and ranges across another 11 states, from California to Mississippi to Florida, with multiple stops in between. Little’s intricate drawings depict the women in detail – hair styles, skin tone, clothing, even the curve of their smiles.
Authorities believe broadcasting the images to the public will help propel the case forward.
"We are hoping that someone – family member, former neighbor, friend – might recognize the victim and provide that crucial clue in helping authorities make an identification," FBI spokesperson Shayne Buchwald told USA Today.
"We want to give these women their names back and their family some long awaited answers. It’s the least we can do."