Jackson County investigators piece together case, identify ‘Escatawpa Jane Doe’
Jackson County Sheriff’s Department investigators have identified the remains of a woman found in 1977 and believe she was killed by a serial killer who was coming through the state en route to Florida.
Sheriff Mike Ezell said in a press release on Tuesday that the woman, found in December 1977, has been identified as Clara Birdlong of Leflore County. Birdlong has been known for 44 years as “Escatawpa Jane Doe” after her skeletal remains were found in an area that is now Highway 613 near Interstate 10. At the time she was found, the area was under construction.
A medical exam revealed the remains were that of a small-statured African American woman with a gold front tooth and possibly wearing a wig. She was found about three or four months after her death, according to the forensic evidence. The cause of death was undetermined.
In 2012, Pascagoula Police Investigator Darren Versiga uploaded the victim’s information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Initial attempts to identify her through DNA analysis were unsuccessful.
In 2018, a convicted serial killer, Samuel Little, confessed to numerous murders across the Southeast, including that of the woman known as “Escatawpa Jane Doe.” Little did not know the woman by name, but investigators did confirm Little was in Jackson County in 1977 and had been arrested in August of 1977 for petit theft. Little died in prison in 2020.
In January of this year, Othram Inc., working with the state Crime Lab, was contracted to try to create a family tree based on the victim’s DNA. Dr. David Mittlman of Othram Inc., gave Investigator Matt Hoggatt information of a possible distant cousin, who referred him to her 93-year-old paternal grandmother. She was originally from Leflore County.
The grandmother told Hoggatt that her cousin, Clara Birdlong, was born about 1933 in Leflore County, but went missing in the 1970s. Another cousin in Texas said Birdlong 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 confirmed Birdlong went missing in the 1970s.
In August, Hoggatt located a woman in Leflore County who remembered Birdlong and said she left the county in the 70s with an African American man who claimed to be passing through on his way to Florida. Birdlong was never seen or heard from again.
In September, Hoggatt requested DNA samples from several people closely related to Birdlong. Othram, Inc., analyzed the samples and confirmed the DNA matched the grandmother. After further investigation and elimination of other relatives, investigators concluded the remains were indeed Clara Birdlong.
Little is now considered the prime suspect in Birdlong’s death.
Anyone who remembers Clara Birdlong is asked to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 228-769-3063 or Mississippi Crime Stoppers at 1-877-787-5898.