Linked to a Serial Killer: A deep dive into ‘Escatawpa Jane Doe’ cold case

Crime

JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) — A woman given her identity back after 44 years and her death was linked to a serial killer.

44 years after her brutal murder, “Escatawpa Jane Doe” was identified by DNA as Clara Birdlong of Greenwood, Mississippi. Her cousin Isacc Birdlong speaking exclusively with WKRG News 5 about Clara.

“She was a jokester, she always had interesting stories so when we would go visit her we would listen to her stories about travel,” said Isacc.

Isacc says Clara left their hometown when he was 16 and they never heard from her again.

Clara was drifter, the kind of woman Pascagoula Police Cold Case investigator Lt. Darren Versiga says would have caught the eye of the US’ most prolific serial killer. Sam Little confessed to Clara’s murder and 92 others before he died in a California prison in 2020.

“She absolutely went through horror, but listening to Sam Little and his confessions of what he did and how he treated them, He thought he was doing them a favor by killing them from society,” said Lt. Darren Versiga.

Little remembered gruesome details about the killing, but with so many victims he couldn’t recall Clara Birdlong’s name.

In fact, for decades no one made the connection until Pascagoula Police started digging into cold cases.

“In doing all of this background information and finding these cases that nobody knew existed, I found the skeletal remains of who we now know is Clara Birdlong.” said Versiga.

Then the case began to break when Versiga put Little on the Mississippi coast in 1977, he was arrested in Pascagoula for a petit crime there, the same year Clara was killed.

However, back then a missing African American woman just wasn’t a priority for police. 

“Especially in the 70s, especially in the south, who were they going to call. Who was going to go look for an African American woman in the 70s, probably nobody to be honest with you,” said Lt. Darren Versiga.

With the help of Pascagoula PD, cold case investigators and a new DNA technology used by Othram, Clara gained her name back.

“We gave her name back and it’s probably the most fulfilling moments in law enforcement that I think I’ve ever experienced, I’ve put murders in jail, but this one for some reason, because she was so long forgotten,” said Lt. Darren Versiga.

Isacc saying this gave his family much-needed closure.

“It just resolved a lot of questions that we had and so I could give everyone else the answers. There is a bit of sadness that she had to go that way and that we didn’t get a chance to see her in her final,” said Birdlong.

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