For 23 years, Opelousas Police Chief Donald Thompson often wondered about an unsolved case involving a 24-year-old woman found dead in an Opelousas cemetery. He also wondered her killer, who had seemingly disappeared like a malevolent ghost.

Until recently, Thompson, who was the lead detective in the January 1996 death of Melissa Thomas, had no idea that this victim, found strangled underneath a pecan tree, had somehow encountered a killer authorities are saying could be one of America’s most prolific ever.

Thompson, who became police chief in 2014, announced Nov. 21 that 78-year-old Samuel Little, an itinerant career criminal, currently serving multiple life sentences for the 1980s deaths of three California women, had confessed to federal investigators in Texas that he had also killed Thomas.

Little's admission to the Opelousas murder came as he was being intereviewed about as many as 90 other women he has confessed to killing in at least 14 states over the past five decades. Investigators say they have established Little’s ties to about 30 of the murders so far, and have little reason to doubt his confessions.

“The ending is sort of bittersweet for me, the family and this city," Thompson said. "It was also personal for me. I know (Thomas’) family well. A tragedy like this never goes away for the family and for all of us on the force who worked with such a passion to solve the case."

No physical evidence

Thompson said what always made Thomas’ death such a difficult investigation is there were few leads and almost no physical evidence at the crime scene in the Little Zion Cemetery at the corner of East Grolee and Waillor streets.

“We did what we had to do in processing the body, looking for fingerprints. We ordered a rape kit performed and the results showed no evidence from sexual assault. As we looked for a motive and a person, we could not find anything from our sources out there on the street,” Thompson said.

No physical evidence

Thompson said what always made Thomas’ death such a difficult investigation is there were few leads and almost no physical evidence at the crime scene in the Little Zion Cemetery at the corner of East Grolee and Waillor streets.

“We did what we had to do in processing the body, looking for fingerprints. We ordered a rape kit performed and the results showed no evidence from sexual assault. As we looked for a motive and a person, we could not find anything from our sources out there on the street,” Thompson said.