MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — After more than 30 years of questions, a family says they now know the nation’s most prolific serial killer murdered their loved one.
Bernice Talley said the news sent chills through her.
She was just 5 years old when her mother Zena Marie Jones never came home in July 1990.
“I heard lot of stories,” Talley said.
They were stories she and her aunt, Vickie Weddington, refused to believe.
“In the back of our mind, we thought she may still be alive out here. Maybe lost her mind. Didn’t know where she was at,” Weddington said.
They held onto hope until the fall of 2019 when the family was watching News Channel 3, and this sketch appeared on their TV.
A portrait hand-painted by Samuel Little, who the FBI deems the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. He was serving a life sentence for murder when he admitted to killing 93 women, mostly by strangulation, between the 1970s and 2005.
He said he preyed on vulnerable women involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs. He gave intricate details only the killer would know.
LIttle also drew pictures of some of his victims for the FBI including a woman from Memphis.
“I’m like, oh my God. That’s her. That’s her,” Talley said when she saw the drawing.
We put the family in contact with authorities after airing Little’s drawing.
Memphis police cold case detectives and a Shelby County special prosecutor talked to Little before he died in 2020. He told them sometime between the mid-’80s and ’90s, he met a woman on Crump Boulevard. He strangled her, drove her across the bridge to Arkansas and dumped her body in the Mississippi River.
“When he said he killed one in Memphis up around Third and Crump, a light bulb went off in my head, because we lived around Crump and Mason for so many years,” Weddington said.
Detectives worked with the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office and were able to tie Little to an unidentified body pulled from the river in 1990. WREG covered the scene back then and reported a fisherman found the body. It had been on the shore for a couple of weeks. She was wearing the clothing Little described.
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The body was pulled from the shore here and sent to a crime lab. A sample of her remains was submitted and a DNA profile created. In January 2021, MPD got DNA samples from families of potential victims to see if there was a match.
“I went downtown. They did a mouth swab and said it would be like a year before we would get it back,” Talley said.
A little more than a year later, on April 21, Weddington said she got a call from police.
“We got a call that the DNA came back 98.99% that it was Zena,” Weddington said. “I just want to thank Channel 3 News, because if it wasn’t for you all, we wouldn’t know where to begin. We would still be stuck.”
The news came five days after Jones’ birthday. She would have turned 62 years old.
“I dropped the phone, but it was like a relief, but it hurt. I cried. I cried. I cried,” Talley said.
Jones was a young mother and a loving sister. Her family said she was caring, funny and the life of the party.
The memories and endless questions were all this family had for the past 32 years. Now, they can rest.
“I think she’s at peace now and is glad we found her,” Weddington said.
She said they are working to find out where her body is, so the family can bring her home for a proper funeral.