Serial killer likely murdered Columbia woman in 1978, sheriff says

How Columbia may be linked to possible Texas serial killer

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said that a case he worked on in 1978 involving the death of Evelyn Weston may be linked to Samuel Little, a possible serial killer in Texas.
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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said that a case he worked on in 1978 involving the death of Evelyn Weston may be linked to Samuel Little, a possible serial killer in Texas.

In 1978, Leon Lott wasn’t Richland County sheriff. He was an investigator with the county’s Sheriff’s Department, and one of his earliest cases was the death of 19-year-old Evelyn Weston.

“Cases like this you never forget,” Lott said at a Wednesday news conference. “They’re always in the back of your mind.”

Lott announced Wednesday that the 40-year-old case likely has been solved because of the confession of a serial murderer who claims to have killed more than 90 people in several states.

Samuel Little, 79, a convicted murderer, says he committed the crimes between 1970 and 2013, The Washington Post’s Kyle Swenson reported. If he’s telling the truth, and so far investigators have said his stories check out, he would be the most prolific killer ever in the United States.

Little’s crimes typically involved the killing of younger women, including many who had lived troubled lives, according to the Post.

Little began confiding this summer to a Texas Ranger about the murders. That ranger contacted authorities at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to inform them that Little claimed to have killed a person in South Carolina.

Cold case investigators began combing through their files, and they found a case that matched the description that Little gave of the South Carolina murder, according to Lott.

“Things started to fall in place,” Lott said.

The time frame Little gave matched that of Weston’s death, and he gave details about the crime scene. He mentioned a military base being nearby; Weston was found near Fort Jackson.

Little gave other significant details that Lott said he couldn’t discuss because of the ongoing investigation. But “only the killer would have known” the details that Little remembered, Lott said.

“I think people’s conscience gets to them at some point,” Lott said. “I don’t think he’s doing it for the notoriety.”

Leon Lott’s notes from 1978 Evelyn Weston Investigation.JPG
Sheriff Leon Lott’s handwritten notes from the 1978 Evelyn Weston case when he was an investigator. David Travis Bland

Some of Little’s recollections about the South Carolina case don’t match the Weston incident, according to Lott. Still, because of the number of murders Little claims to have committed and the time that’s elapsed, the inconsistencies don’t warrant throwing the convicted killer out as a suspect.

Lott also said that Weston matched the type of women Little typically targeted and the pattern of her death matches Little’s other killings.

“I think people need to know that he may have been involved in Miss Weston’s case,” Lott said.

The 1978 obituary for Weston said she was survived by a son, her mother and foster mother. Both of the mothers are deceased, according to Lott. But Weston still has a brother who the sheriff’s department has been unable to contact.

Lott remembered working the case. He remembered driving from a Steak and Ale restaurant on Forest Drive, where investigators found Weston’s car, to the crime scene to map out the time the drive would have taken. The building that housed the restaurant is still standing, Lott said.

“The investigation really hit dead ends,” Lott recalled. “We never really developed a suspect.”

Even if authorities conclude that Little is Weston’s killer, charges are unlikely to be brought. Little’s already serving a life sentence for another killing, and so the sheriff believes justice is done.

Still, being able to mark Weston’s killing as solved will “bring closure to me but more important, it’ll bring closure to the family,” Lott said.

“We never forgot about her.”

David Travis Bland @dtravisbland

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.