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DOJ BJA's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Helps Bring Serial Killer Samuel Little to Justice

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), an innovative program of the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) which is helping law enforcement agencies nationwide test rape kits and close cold case sexual assaults and homicides, is one of the critical investigative tools that led authorities to believe Samuel Little may be the worst serial killer in American history, by enabling police across the country to corroborate at least 34 of Little's confessions.

"Samuel Little provided detailed confessions of his alleged heinous crimes, but many of them involved Jane Doe victims," said BJA Director Jon Adler. "It was the combined innovation of BJA's SAKI and the FBI's Violent Crime Apprehension Program (ViCAP), along with the invaluable contribution of the Texas Rangers, that enabled investigators to connect the forensic DNA dots to Little.

"SAKI and ViCAP are resources that law enforcement jurisdictions should know about –especially those that are looking to apprehend serial rapists and killers," Adler said. "There are an untold number of serial criminals nationwide who continue to commit heinous crimes because they haven't been identified and DNA and case information have not been linked. SAKI and ViCAP can fill that gap," Adler said.

"These two innovative programs are the embodiment of the Department's commitment to drive down violent crime," Adler added.

Over the course of 35 years (1970-2005), Little allegedly killed as many as 90 victims in at least 19 states, by his own admission. He eluded identification by targeting high-risk, low-profile victims such as prostitutes, but denied all allegations against him until experts from BJA, ViCAP, and the Texas Rangers elicited confessions from him in early 2018.

Little's confessions were prompted by a Ranger who specializes in interviewing sociopaths and psychopaths and then linked to unsolved murders by BJA and ViCAP forensic investigators. The investigative team then reached out to local authorities to corroborate Little's confessions via information in the original case files and/or physical evidence.

Little, 78, is currently serving life without parole for three murders in California.

Many of Little's alleged crimes occurred in jurisdictions that had received SAKI grants, which has enabled at least 11 cities to close cold cases linked to him. BJA shared information from Little's confessions with the SAKI sites, helped locate cases based on Little's confessions, helped sites assess any available evidence for DNA testing and facilitate interviews with Little to close their cases.

The BJA-FBI collaboration has already confirmed forensic linkage to 34 of the murders Little confessed to, identified an additional 24 cases for corroboration, and will continue to pursue leads from the remaining confessions. Based on Little's confessions, murder victims have already been confirmed in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. As a result of these innovative forensic programs and law enforcement collaboration, victims' families will finally get answers and a form of justice.

The SAKI jurisdictions with identified victims to date are Mobile, Alabama; Phoenix, Arizona; Georgia; Kentucky; New Orleans, LA; Maryland; Nebraska; Las Vegas, Nevada; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cleveland, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee.

More than 230,000 homicides committed in the U.S. since 1980 remain unsolved and tens of thousands of SAKs collected since the 1970s have not been tested. However, only seven percent of law enforcement agencies have a formal cold-case unit and only one in 20 cold-case investigations results in arrest and only one percent in conviction.

BJA's SAKI program was launched in 2015 both to assist state and local jurisdictions in testing previously unsubmitted SAKs and to enable agencies to establish cold case units to investigate unsolved sexual assaults and sexual assault-homicides. It provides investigators access to subject matter experts, technical resources, training and education, and national databases such as ViCAP's, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and Next Generation Identification (NGI).

Between FY 2015 and FY 2017, $117 million in SAKI grant were awarded to 41 state and local jurisdictions under SAKI. An additional 32 awards totaling $42 million were made in 2018.

As of June 2018, SAKI grants had resulted in:

  • 53,929 SAKs inventoried
  • 42,484 SAKs sent for testing
  • 33,228 SAKs tested to completion
  • 11,336 profiles uploaded to CODIS
  • 5,001 CODIS hits
  • 4,602 investigations
  • 815 cases charged

Are you a recipient of BJA funding? If so, we'd love to hear how the funds have impacted your community and efforts. Visit our site to submit a Success Story or to read about other programs supported by BJA.