The victim wears a mournful expression. Her head is slightly cocked, her bright red lips dipped in a frown, her eyes staring into the middle distance.
Samuel Little drew the portrait from memory nearly two decades after he says he killed the woman in 1996 in Los Angeles. It is one of 16 haunting pictures that police say the serial killer made in prison of his victims — and who remain unidentified.
The FBI released the portraits Tuesday in hope of generating tips that might help authorities identify the women Little killed, and finally close out the long-cold cases.
After Little began confessing in May to killing 93 people over 35 years, starting in 1970, police and federal law enforcement have scoured old files and crime scene photographs in an effort to link unsolved murders to the details he recalled.
Police have confirmed more than 36 cases so far, a tally that puts Little among the deadliest serial killers, according to the FBI. He claims to have killed 20 people in Los Angeles.
Linking Little’s confessions to victims has been difficult for several reasons.
Most lived on the margins of society: prostitutes, drug addicts or transgender women who drew little notice when they disappeared. Little’s memory for individual faces and the slayings is vivid, but his recall of dates can be off by a decade.
He strangled all his victims and dumped their bodies, often in wooded areas. He did not keep track of jurisdictional boundaries.
Without a gunshot or knife wound, police mistakenly blamed overdoses, accidents or natural causes for some of the slayings and never opened a murder investigation. Some bodies have never been found, and some departments have lost old case files.
Little has told investigators he considers himself an accomplished artist and promised last year that he could render portraits of his victims from memory.
Investigators encouraged him to do so, and using a mix of chalk, pastel pencils and watercolors he has drawn 16 in their final frightened moments, the last known images of the victims until police found their remains.
Each image has bright red lips and large oval eyes. Most stare straight at the killer or just over his shoulder.
He gave each a unique feature or two: A Miami teenager’s blue headband holds back long black hair; a victim in Atlanta has sharp features and appears caught in mid-laugh; and a woman slain in Texas has purple hair.
Police have yet to link 13 of the portraits to victims or crimes.
In the other three cases — one from Prince George’s County, Md., another from West Memphis, Ark., and the third from Pascagoula, Miss. — police have matched one of Little’s confessions to skeletal remains and corresponding case files. But they have been unable to put a name to the bones.
Little had confessed to killing 90 people by November, the FBI said. But the grim tally rose after he recalled, while being driven in December from one Texas jail to another, killing three more victims, including two in Los Angeles, the FBI disclosed.
The FBI urged anyone with information about the victims to call or email analysts at the bureau’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program at (800) 634-4097.