Sister of Knoxville woman murdered by serial killer speaks out

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) -- Decades after her sister's murder in 1975, East Tennessee resident Jessie Downs told WVLT News she finally has closure.

PICTURED: The Knoxville church attended by Martha Cunningham, a victim of notorious serial killer Samuel Little / Source: WVLT News

On Jan 18, 1975, Martha Cunningham's body was recovered in a wooded area near Oglesby Lane in Knox County, Downs said. But it would take more than 40 years for Cunningham's killer to come forward.

Samuel Little, now considered to be the deadliest serial killer in U.S. history by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has confessed to the murders of more than 90 women, and Downs' sister was one of them.

On Monday, October 7, authorities in Knox County confirmed that Cunningham, Downs' sister, was probably one of Little's victims.

Cunningham's body was found by a pair of hunters on that winter afternoon in 1975. She was bruised and nude from the waist down; her pantyhose and girdle bunched around her knees. Her purse and some of her jewelry were missing. Her body appeared to have been dragged into the woods and dumped behind a pine tree, authorities said at the time.

Despite that evidence, detectives at the time attributed Cunningham's death to natural causes within a day of the discovery. The medical examiner's investigative report lists the probable cause of death as "unknown."

Cunningham was a talented singer and pianist who grew up performing with her parents and her six younger siblings in a gospel group known as the Happy Home Jubilee Singers.

Little has been in prison since 2012 and, officials said, will likely stay there until his death.

For more information or to report potential cases linked to Little, contact the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program at 800-634-4097.

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