In December 1977, hunters discovered skeletonized human remains near the area that is now Highway 613 and Interstate 10, which was under construction at the time. Investigators determined that the remains belonged to an African American woman, small in stature. She had a distinctive front gold tooth and may have been wearing a wig. Investigators estimate that the woman might have died 3-4 months prior to discovery. Over the years several facial reconstructions and computer composites were created in an effort to help identify her. With no viable leads to her identity, she became known as "Escatawpa Jane Doe". Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP10369.
In 2018, convicted serial killer Samuel Little confessed to numerous murders across the Southeast, including the murder of Escatawpa Jane Doe, whom he did not know by name. Investigators confirmed Samuel Little was in Jackson County in 1977, during the approximate time frame of the woman’s death. Samuel Little died in prison in 2020.
With all leads exhausted, Jackson County Sheriff's Office, in cooperation with the Mississippi State Crime Lab, contracted Othram to see if advanced DNA testing could help produce leads to Escatawpa Jane Doe's true name. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile from the skeletal remains of the woman. The Othram genealogy team worked closely with Jackson County Sheriff's Office and specifically Investigator Matthew Hoggatt, to produce leads from the genealogical research. Investigator Hoggatt made contact with a genetic match who referred him to her 93-year old paternal grandmother, who was originally from Leflore County, Mississippi. The grandmother told Investigator Hoggatt her cousin Clara Birdlong, born around 1933, went missing from Leflore County sometime in the 1970’s. Another distant cousin in Texas said Clara went by the nickname “Nuttin,” and described her as a small woman who had a gold front tooth and wore a wig. The cousin also recalled Clara disappeared in the 1970’s.
Investigator Hoggatt found a woman in Leflore County who remembered Clara. She said Clara 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.
Investigator Hoggatt requested reference DNA samples from several people closely associated with Clara to help confirm the ID. Othram used KinSNP rapid familial testing to confirm the suspected relationships. After further investigation and elimination of all other living and deceased relatives, investigators concluded the victim known as Escatawpa Jane Doe, was Clara Birdlong, born in 1933 in Leflore County, MS.
Investigators later learned Samuel Little was arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977. Although he is now deceased, Samuel Little is considered a prime suspect in the death of Clara Birdlong. Anyone who may remember Clara Birdlong is asked to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 228-769-3063 or Mississippi Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.
The Othram team wishes to gratefully acknowledge Carla Davis, who provided critical funding support for this case.