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After 44 years, authorities ID woman who was possible victim of most prolific serial killer in U.S. history

Samuel Little confessed to 93 killings across the country, including the murder of a woman known as "Escatawpa Jane Doe." Officials identified her Tuesday as Clara Birdlong.

Authorities on Tuesday identified skeletal remains found nearly 44 years ago at a Mississippi construction site as Clara Birdlong, a woman they believe was a victim of the late Samuel Little, the most prolific killer in U.S. history.

In December 1977, hunters found her remains near a highway in Jackson County, the sheriff's department said. Birdlong, long identified by investigators as "Escatawpa Jane Doe," was a short Black woman with a distinctive front gold tooth who was discovered about three to four months after she was killed, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Since she was discovered, more than four decades ago, authorities said "several facial reconstructions and computer composites were created in an effort to help identify her." A breakthrough came after Mississippi authorities contracted with a Texas DNA research facility, which traced Birdlong to a cousin in Texas. That relative connected investigators to her 93-year-old grandmother.

Another cousin told investigators in January that Birdlong, of Leflore County and born in 1933, went missing around the 1970s. In August, a woman who remembered Birdlong told authorities the victim "left Leflore County in the 70's with an African American man who claimed to be passing through Mississippi on his way to Florida."

"Clara was never seen or heard from again," the sheriff's department said.

Samuel Little appears at Superior Court in Los Angeles on March 4, 2013.Damian Dovarganes / AP file

Little, who was serving multiple life sentences in prison before he died in late December at age 80, confessed to killing 93 women across the country between 1970 and 2005, including "Escatawpa Jane Doe," whom he did not know by name, according to authorities.

"Investigators confirmed Samuel Little was in Jackson County in 1977, during the approximate time frame of the woman’s death," the sheriff's department said.

The agency added: "Investigators eventually learned Samuel Little was arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977 for petit theft. Although he is now deceased, Samuel Little is considered a prime suspect in the death of Clara Birdlong."

Her cause of death was undetermined.

CORRECTION (Sept. 28, 2021, 12:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the state in which the cousin traced to Birdlong lives. The cousin lives in Texas, not Mississippi. This article also misquoted part of the sheriff department’s statement. The statement said a woman told authorities Birdlong left the county with an African American man, not an African man.