Cold cases are, by their nature, among the hardest for law enforcement to crack. So it was with the 1981 killing of a Smiths Grove woman, Linda Sue Boards.
The body of the 23-year-old Boards was found in a farmer’s field on Hydro-Pondsville Road off U.S. 68 on May 15 of that year. There were few leads and little evidence, and the case was eventually moved into the repository of unsolved murders dubbed cold cases.
But last year, after nearly four decades, an unexpected source helped potentially solve the case – the alleged killer himself, a man who authorities believe may be one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history.
On May 11, 1981, Boards left her Smiths Grove home to go to a Bowling Green nightclub with her sister and brother-in-law, according to a 1981 Daily News article. When her sister and brother-in-law left the club, Boards decided to stay behind. Her family never saw her alive again. Boards’ family members declined interview requests from the Daily News.
After her body was found, investigators with Kentucky State Police Post 3 in Bowling Green were assigned the case. But with little evidence to go on, the case remained unsolved for decades.
In 2008, KSP detective Chad Winn was assigned the cold case.
“There were several obstacles in this case – there literally were 10 (witnesses) who are now dead or moved on (and) there was not much physical evidence,” said Winn, now a lieutenant with the KSP.
He began reinterviewing remaining witnesses and people who knew Boards.
“We also looked at what physical evidence there was to see if testing could be done,” Winn said.
Advances in technology have fundamentally changed how evidence is gathered and analyzed since the 1980s.
Along with not having DNA technology, police in the early 1980s did not have access to tools such as online databases. There are now not only databases for things such as fingerprints and DNA, but even for specific items like shoe prints.
Winn also noted that, unlike the early 1980s, “anywhere you go now, there’s a good chance you will be on camera.”
And while the new investigation and technology did not directly lead to a solution to the Boards killing, DNA evidence eventually led police to the man who is now charged with her murder.
Samuel Little, 78, is believed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, with perhaps 93 – or more – victims.
The Georgia native was convicted in California in 2014 of killing three women and was serving life sentences when he began last year detailing dozens of other murders across numerous states, going back to the 1970s.
Little was arrested numerous times as he traveled around the country, but he was never convicted on murder charges until DNA evidence linked him to the California killings.
Last summer, he was indicted in the death of a Texas woman and was extradited to Texas, where he remains. According to news reports, Little agreed to recount his crimes in hopes he would not have to return to the Los Angeles County prison where he was being held.
Law enforcement representatives from across the country have been traveling to Texas to interview Little – who is reported to have almost complete recollections of his crimes – regarding open cases in their jurisdictions.
In February, the FBI released sketches recently drawn by Little that are based on his memory of some of his victims, along with other information on unsolved homicides to which investigators say he confessed, according to The Associated Press.
KSP Post 3 was contacted in September about Little’s possible link to Boards’ death based on similarities to other crimes he had confessed to.
Winn and other KSP investigators went to Texas in October to interview Little.
They very quickly determined they had their man.
“He gave us intimate details of the murder,” Winn said. “He was forthright with us. He gave us details of the case, details on how he killed her and where the crime scene was. He remembered in detail everything that happened, what was said, what car he was driving.”
Little’s transient nature, along with the lack of physical evidence, helped explain how he eluded capture here for so long.
“He was not known to the victim,” Winn said, and Little encountered Boards the night of May 11, 1981, somewhere in downtown Bowling Green.
Little said that he was only in Bowling Green for about a day, Winn said, before he moved on to his next stop, and next victim.
“He’s a sociopath,” Winn said of Little. “He has no feelings of remorse whatsoever. It seemed like he enjoyed recounting” the murder.
KSP presented their evidence against Little to a Warren County grand jury, which indicted him for Boards’ murder in December.
The FBI is working on identifying more victims in conjunction with the Texas Rangers, who responded for a request for comment with the following statement:
“In December 2017, the Texas Rangers became aware of Little’s potential connection to Texas. The cold case investigation led Rangers to interview Little while he was incarcerated in a California prison. Facts obtained during the course of the investigation resulted in an indictment in Ector County. The Texas Rangers are actively working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from across the country in an effort to definitively identify Little’s victims. Based on Little’s confessions, the number of cold case homicides attributed to him continues to grow.”
According to an AP report in December, “Little, who also went by the name Samuel McDowell, targeted vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs, authorities have said. Once a competitive boxer, he usually stunned or knocked out his victims with powerful punches before he strangled them.”
“With no stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes,” the FBI said, according to the AP.
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said his office will work with authorities to potentially bring Little back to Kentucky to face trial for Boards’ death.
“We are continuing to work with the Texas authorities to ensure the proper process to make sure the charges are adjudicated,” he said.
At this point, with Little reportedly in ill health and facing charges across the country, it’s not known if he will ever be brought back to Kentucky to face a trial.
But Winn said being able to provide some answers to Boards’ family is a positive development.
“It gives the family some amount of closure. But,” he added, “you can never fully heal from something like this.”
– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.