Leflore County supervisor helps investigators find family of Jane Doe
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - For more than four decades, family members of Clara Birdlong have wondered what happened to her. Now, even though the story is heartbreaking, it’s at least bringing some closure to those who still remember here.
Birdlong has been positively identified through DNA as the name of the woman found in the late 1970s in South Mississippi. Samuel Little, one of the country’s most prolific serial killers, confessed to several murders throughout the country before he died in 2020. One of those matched the description of a body found in 1977 in Jackson County.
For decades, the woman who was found was referred to as a Jane Doe. Thanks to the science behind DNA, the perseverance of Jackson County investigator Matt Hoggatt, and the determination of a rural county supervisor, the decades-old cold case can finally be put to rest.
When Hoggatt got the DNA match linking who we now know is Clara Birdlong to Leflore County, he turned to a trusted member of the community for help in finding family members of the deceased.
Anjuan Brown is not only the county supervisor in the community where the Birdlongs once lived; he also has a background in law enforcement, serving as the chief of police for the Greenwood-Leflore Consolidated School District.
Hoggatt reached out to Brown to ask for his help in locating potential family members, and Brown was quick to get to work going door-to-door in the small Delta town of Schlater, looking for anyone who might have known Birdlong.
“Hoggatt called me and said someone had given him my name as it relates to this incident. He told me what had transpired, that they were looking into a situation where there’s a possible lady that came missing from Leflore County - which is from Schlater, Miss. in my district. So I went out talking to a lot of the elderly people in Schlater that may remember this incident or may remember Clara Birdlong. One lady led me to her cousin. This process went on for a couple months.”
Brown said he spoke with Clara’s cousin first and explained why he was calling.
“When I told them there was the possibility of her being deceased at the hands of a serial killer, that they had found a body on the coast, it was almost like a pause on the phone, almost like chill bumps went down her back,” recalled Brown. “She stated she was hoping that wasn’t the case but that they had known for years and years that (Clara) hadn’t come back and nobody had heard from her, and they did want closure.”
Brown said most of Clara Birdlong’s close family, like her mother and the aunt she was named after, were long deceased. Of the few cousins that were found, a couple remembered Clara getting into a car without a man that matched the description of Samuel Little. At the time, they thought Clara was going to Florida to get out of Schlater and start a new life, they said.
As the years passed by, they never heard anything else about her until they were contacted recently about the Jane Doe in Jackson County.
For Brown, it’s been a mystery that he is thankful he was able to contribute to in any way.
“It’s been a roller coaster for me. You put yourself in that situation. What if that was my child, what if that was my sister, what if they was my aunt, my cousin, my mom? When you have a tendency to put yourself in that situation, that means you have a tendency to want to find the truth, to want to dig a little bit deeper. I’ve always had an interest in cold cases for people to find closure. Even though the loved one is gone, if they know who or how, it can bring closure. I kind of took it personal because I put myself in those shoes. As a public servant, I just want to be a help to the community, and this happened right in our back door.”
Investigators eventually learned Little had been arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977 for theft. Although he is now dead, he is considered the prime suspect in the death of Birdlong, and her cause of death is undetermined.
“There weren’t a lot of people who remembered our victim, but for those who did they seemed very grateful that we were able to finally put a name to someone who spent that long going unknown,” Hoggatt said.
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