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Why Did It Take So Long to Find Prolific Serial Killer?

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Martha Cunningham was found dead near Knoxville, Tn., in 1975. Nearly half a century later, her family learned she was one of scores of people killed by Samuel Little, the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. A retired investigator from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office said it was clear her death had not got the attention it deserved, reports the New York Times. “There was no file in existence, except for the medical examiner’s report,” he said. “That speaks for itself, that it wasn’t investigated the way it should’ve been.” In the year since Little, 78, began confessing, the question is how he managed to go undetected, unnoticed for decades. Many of the victims were vulnerable women, black and poor. Some were estranged from family members. Some were drug or alcohol users, or prostitutes. Their deaths did not draw the same level of attention and outrage as other killings.

“One of the unfortunate realities of policing is that departments that are under pressure to solve a variety of murders may pay less attention to victims from a more vulnerable population if they don’t have the same organized community pressure to solve those crimes,” said Jim Bueermann, former police chief of Redlands, Ca., and former president of the National Police Foundation. “If a killer wants do as many murders as possible, they’ll start to exploit those gaps in the social fabric and those weaknesses in law enforcement with victims that few people care about.” Little drew scant attention until 2014, when he was sentenced to life in prison for three murders. Experts said his case was similar to that of Lonnie Franklin Jr., the “Grim Sleeper,” who was convicted of murdering nine women and one teenage girl in Los Angeles beginning in the 1980s before he was sentenced to death in 2016.

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