In December 1977, the skeletal remains of a woman who became known as “Escatawpa” Jane Doe were discovered in an area under construction to become a highway months after she was murdered. Almost 44 years later, investigators have identified her as Clara Birdlong.
According to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, a medical exam of the remains when they were found revealed the victim was small in stature, Black and had a distinctive gold front tooth and wore a wig.
As the years passed, investigators attempted to identify her, including through facial reconstructions, computer composites and DNA analysis.
Authorities got a break in the cold case when, two years before he died, convicted serial killer Samuel Little confessed to multiple murders across the Southeast. Although he didn’t know her name, Little provided details on “Escatawpa” Jane Doe and investigators were able to confirm the killer was in the area around the time the woman went missing.
Last January, officials began to create a family tree based on the woman’s DNA and identified a distant cousin in Texas. From there, Investigator Matt Hoggatt was referred to the cousin’s 93-year-old paternal grandmother, who was originally from Leflore County, Mississippi.
The grandmother told Hoggatt her cousin, Clara Birdlong, had gone missing from the area in the 1970s, and a second distant cousin said Birdlong, born in 1933, had a gold front tooth, wore a wig, and had vanished.
Hoggatt then tracked down a woman in Leflore County who recalled Birdlong was last heard from in the 1970s when she left the area with a Black man who claimed he was passing through Mississippi and heading to Florida.
This month, forensic tests confirmed “Escatawpa” Jane Doe’s DNA was a match with the grandmother.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department said although Little has since passed away the serial killer remains a prime suspect in Birdlong’s death. Little confessed to killing 93 people between 1970 and 2005.
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.