A Mississippi sheriff’s office has identified the skeletal remains of a woman who went missing 44 years ago, saying she was the likely victim of a serial killer.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department announced Tuesday that investigators identified the remains of Clara Birdlong, who for 44 years had been referred to as “Escatawpa Jane Doe.”
“The reason this case wasn’t solved 44 years ago isn’t because investigators didn’t try hard, they just didn’t have 44 years of technology they didn’t even know existed,” investigator Matt Hoggatt said, according to WLOX. “Over the years there have been dedicated people working on this case.”
Investigators said Birdlong was likely “murdered by the late serial killer Samuel Little.”
The case began Dec. 27, 1977, when hunters found skeletal remains near what is now Highway 613 and Interstate 10. Investigators, who at the time said Birdlong had been dead at least three months, were able to identify the victim as being African American and having a “distinctive front gold tooth and possibly wearing a wig.”
For decades, authorities were unable to identify Birdlong, uploading her information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in 2012.
A breakthrough in the case came in 2018, when Little confessed to several murders, including that of Birdlong, though he did not know her name. Investigators confirmed Little was in Jackson County at the approximate time of Birdlong’s death, with investigators calling Little the prime suspect. Little confessed to 93 murders and the FBI believes all of his confessions are legitimate. Several of his victims have still not been identified.
A DNA research facility managed to create a family tree in January that led investigators to Birdlong’s cousin, who confirmed Birdlong went missing in the 1970s. (RELATED: Police Find Body Of 87-Year-Old Woman Inside Freezer, Detain Daughter For Questioning)
Another distant cousin also confirmed Birdlong’s disappearance and that she had a gold front tooth and wore a wig.
Eventually, investigators tracked down a woman in August who recalled Birdlong had left Leflore County in the 1970s with a man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida.
Birdlong’s cause of death remains undetermined, according to Fox 10.