True Crime Docuseries Review: Confronting a Serial Killer

 Author Jillian Lauren found out about serial killer Sam Little while researching a book.  He had been charged with three murders in Los Angeles, and continually denied that he was responsible for the deaths. After interviewing Little for a non-fiction book, Lauren was somehow not only able to get Little to finally admit to the three murders, but to also start to confess to many others.  Sam Little confessed to ninety three murders, making him the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Lauren offered to Little that she would keep constant contact with him and make sure he had companionship until he died in exchange for his confessions.  The relationship that developed was brutal, as he held nothing back from Lauren, especially just how much he enjoyed strangling women.  We are shown the scale of how this affected her life negatively, as she spent so much time (talking to him on the phone daily and visiting him in prison on Sundays) in his dark world.  I have great respect for her husband, Scott Shriner (the bassist for the band Weezer), and the support that he gave her through this tormenting process.

Director Joe Berlinger (whose projects have been reviewed many times on this blog) read about Lauren and her connection with Little and thought it would make a good docuseries.  He was quite right.  What Jillian Lauren was able to do is quite unimaginable.  This man had destroyed many lives, and now numerous cold cases we able to be closed.

The horrible thing about this story is just how long Little was able to get away with his crimes.  He mainly targeted women who were prostitutes or drug addicts, knowing that the justice system didn't put as much effort into solving crimes against people in that 'lower' social setting.  Lauren referred to these people as being 'less dead' than people of different socio-economic standing, their deaths meant less to society  

In one case, he was charged with two accounts of rape and attempted murder.  One victim was left in garbage because he believed she was dead.  With the second victim, the police literally caught him in the act of raping and killing her.  He was convicted, and only spent two and a half years in jail.  The prosecutor in the case made it quite clear that jurors don't trust the testimony of prostitutes, and that somehow they would believe the word of Little over them.

This docuseries takes a lot of time to look at the misogyny and racism in the justice system.  This is a really important aspect to Lauren, as she had a very rough past and was able to identify with the women on whom Little preyed.

Unfortunately, between telling the story of Lauren, Little, and the experiences of victims and their families, this series starts to feel a little long and bloated.  With five episodes, I feel as though it could have been condensed into perhaps three, or maybe would have worked as a feature length documentary.  Everything is interesting, but it doesn't feel as though so much time needed to be spent on all of the components.  A few times it seems as though we are going through territory which we had already travelled.

The most disturbing aspect of this series is not the fact that Little killed so many people, it is hearing the absolute perversion of how aroused strangling women made him.  While he says that he loves Jillian, he also makes it very clear that he wants to murder her, to see her eyes plead for life as he strangles her.  This, he said, would make her his forever.  It is all extremely hard to hear, and I cannot begin to imagine the damage that sort of thing would do to Lauren who refused to stop communicating with Little to help solve as many cold cases as possible.

This is a very interesting series, and it is quite clear that the intent is to focus more on the crimes and the victims than it is to focus on Little as a person.  I respect when directors do that, as really the damage is more important than the terrible person and their notoriety.  Like some other docuseries, however, it can feel bloated and that the point could have been made effectively in a much shorter run-time.  Still, this is a fascinating story, and one that I think a lot of true crime fans would enjoy.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars