The portraits are crudely drawn, as you might expect of a self-taught artist pushing 80. They are bright and primitive, but if you look at them more closely, they take on a shocking individuality.
Most of the subjects are African American, and the paintings reward the committed gaze by separating into distinct individuals. So individual that you could probably pick out any one of them in a police line-up.
Only they’re not potential perps. They’re victims.
Each is just one of the more than 90 women killed by Samuel Little, who is now in a maximum security US prison.
Little is 79, and his astonishingly accurate drawing from memory has led the FBI to work out that at least 50 of the ninety homicides to which he has confessed were undoubtedly committed by him. The chances are pretty good the rest of the 90 were also committed by him.
Which makes him the worst serial killer in American history. He killed and killed again, over a 35-year period, before DNA led the cops in Kentucky to nail him for three of the deaths in 2012.
He is now incarcerated in California, sitting all day in a wheelchair because of diabetes and a heart condition, drawing pictures of the women he killed. Most of the time, he doesn’t remember their names and the police records of the deaths of 40 years ago mirror that, in their descriptions of “Jane Doe, black female”.
The women he killed were easy victims. Many of them were sex workers. Many, in addition, were strung-out, improverished drug addicts who had lost touch with their families and who had nobody to protect them from a wandering predator such as Little.
The question has inevitably been asked as to why this man is singing like a canary at this point in his destructive life.
Even if he has nothing to lose — since he will not be executed as a result of his confessions — why would he want to help the police in the 19 states wherein he killed to identify the long-dead, long-forgotten women he raped, beat, and murdered?
Ted Bundy, a serial killer of boundless self-regard, played games with the cops for ages and then changed his tune, beginning to confess to murders of which he had not been suspected.
That happened when he realised the electric chair was an impending reality. He began to babble confessionally, in the hope of putting off the evil hour of his execution, although the forces of the law were, at that point, so fed up of his exhibitionist fabrications that they cut through the narrative by killing him.
Nobody has suggested that Little is racked with remorse. The possible explanation most frequently mooted is that drawing portraits of the women he murdered, and sharing what he remembers, helps to pass the time and give him the respect from the police that he never had.
The only certainty is that, like most serial killers, Little picked on the most marginalised, the most vulnerable: The ones who never stood a chance against his prison-taught boxing skills or physical bulk.
This, in turn, has led to mention of half-a-dozen other prolific murderers, all male. The idea has grown up that, with the exception of Aileen Wournos — who shot seven truckers and whose court defence was that all of them were about to rape her — serial killers are almost always male, because men are bigger and have a ready population of perfect victims in the form of drug-addicted, family-estranged sex workers.
However, women have always had a ready population of perfect victims, in the form of orphaned or abandoned children, and a solid case can be advanced that a woman outdid Samuel Little in the number she killed.
This woman had almost nothing in common with Little, who was born to a sex-working, under-age mother, brutalised by her transient partners, and in trouble from his first day in school.
Georgia Tann was white, middle class, educated, rich, and highly respected in her day, which was the first half of the 20th century.
Tann was ‘the mother of modern adoption’, consulted by 1930s First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on child-care issues. The reality of her operation, however, was that it was trafficking and mass murder for profit.
Mothers, married or single, were accosted by her officers as they came out of anaesthesia, having given birth, and, in their confusion, forced to sign documents they didn’t understand, which ceded their rights over their newborn’s life, allowing Tann’s people to pick up the child and sell it on — often at an enormous price — to rich, childless couples.
When babies failed to thrive or were insufficiently pleasing in their appearance to make a sale to a choosy couple, Tann killed them. She did not believe in feeding infants who were unlikely to enrich her, although she made profit from many of them by making them available to sadists and paedophiles.
She advertised the prettiest babies in publications designed to reach the rich and famous, including film star Joan Crawford, whose adopted daughter Christina later penned a memoir, Mommie Dearest, about the horrors of living with Crawford, not knowing at the time that whatever miseries she endured at the hands of a crazy and cruel diva, she was not put to death in an unspeakably cruel way by Georgia Tann.
Serial killing of the most vulnerable in society, continuously, over at least 25 years, was what Tann did.
Even though the death rates due to illness in the homes run by Tann were statistically off-the-scale, deliberate killings ran into the hundreds. The luckier children ended up in the homes of wealthy adoptive parents who loved them, believing, in most cases wrongly, that the children’s natural parents had died or abandoned them.
Tann’s records were deliberately skewed to make it difficult for the adoptees, as adults, to find out anything about their past. They were even more skewed when it came to children massacred because they could not contribute to her bottom line.
After her death, when her children’s home was closed, a state investigator got nowhere in trying to find out how this woman made what today would be $20m out of prostituting children to paedophiles, selling them to rich couples and killing the remainder. Her records were finally opened 25 years ago and it is now estimated that she personally murdered between 300 and 500 stolen children.
Several authoritative — and popular — biographies have been written about Georgia Tann, America’s worst serial killer. Yet merciful amnesia means she never figures when a modern serial killer is outed.
Public consciousness is less discomfited when the serial killer is male.