UNSOLVED FLORIDA: Did a notorious serial killer get to Bobbi Jean?
Detectives believe it may have been Samuel Little, but we may never know for sure.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In 2007, a grisly discovery off the beaten path in the woods of Tallahassee brought a two-and-a-half-year mystery to a close, but it also ushered in a new era that has remained empty of closure.
On Oct. 1, 2007, the remains of Bobbi Jean Jackson Tew, 34, were found in a wooded area on the city’s west side. She had been reported missing more than two years earlier on April 27, 2005.
“You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces,” said Elaine Tew, Bobbi Jean’s mother. “They just left her... like she was trash in the woods.”
Elaine still lives in the Chiefland home where she raised her family. The walls are filled with family photos. Bobbi Jean was the second child of four kids and the only girl.
“This is her with her brothers,” Elaine said, as she pointed to her favorite picture that hangs on the kitchen wall.
Born on June 22, 1971, Bobbi Jean was an animal lover with a big heart, who struggled to fit in with the men of the family, said Elaine.
“She was always looking for somebody, actually, to love her,” recalled Elaine. “Course, John came along and she loved him ‘till the day she died.”
Bobbi met John Jackson at a local bowling alley when he was in town visiting a cousin.
“She was really outgoing. Funny. She never met a stranger,” said John.
The couple married young and had four children. They moved to Monticello together but tragedy struck the first time for the family in 2000 when their youngest child, Kasey, passed away from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at two months old. Bobbi’s family said she struggled to come to terms with the loss and seemed to lose her way in the years that followed.
“The people she was hanging out with,” said John. “I was scared of what happened- or what I thought would have happened.”
By 2005, Bobbi and John were divorced. John had custody of the children most of the time, but Bobbi always kept in touch. The family said she would talk to the children by phone multiple times a day. However, in late April 2005, Bobbi stopped calling.
The family went to Bobbi’s home and found her cat and dog had not been fed for days. John filed a missing person report in Gadsden County after she missed her daughter Kaitlin’s 10th birthday.
“She hadn’t called in a long time and she was supposed to take me to a Kenny Chesney concert after my birthday,” Kaitlin Jackson told WCTV in April of 2006 around the one-year anniversary of her mother’s disappearance.
The family had turned to the local news to try to find Bobbi.
“If she’s out there she really needs to get in contact with them and let the kids know she’s alright,” pleaded John during the 2006 news segment.
The effort was to no avail.
Years passed without answers until a Monday afternoon in October 2007 when the Leon County Sheriff’s Office got a call from a man who was traversing a transient footpath in a wooded area just off of Tennessee Capital Boulevard. He told investigators that something had caught his eye and he had noticed a pair of white sneakers and then a skull.
“Looking at the scene, we started locating more kinds of bones scattered throughout,” said LCSO Lt. Brendan Brunner. “Time’s definitely not on your side with something like that.”
Deputies spent more than two days at the scene sifting through the Florida dirt and fallen foliage. Dental records and DNA would later confirm what they had already suspected- the remains belonged to Bobbi Jean.
The footpath was heavily used by residents to cut from local businesses to a mobile home park nearby. That is where they believe Bobbi may have been headed when whatever happened to her happened. Detectives theorize her body was then drug roughly 25 yards off the footpath into the brush where it lay for more than two years until it was discovered.
Due to the circumstances surrounding her body, detectives believe foul play was involved. Brunner said Bobbi’s body was left face down and that there was tape attached to her when she was found.
“We’re sad,” said a grown Kaitlin between tears. “We didn’t get the chance to know her like everyone else.”
Kaitlin now has children of her own, but she was just a young girl when her mother was laid to rest. It was a Friday afternoon in November 2007. The sun was shining as Bobbi was taken to an old Taylor County cemetery in a white hearse. She was interred in the back corner right next to baby Kasey.
“She used to say Kasey was the brightest star in the sky,” said Elaine. “And now there’s two bright stars up there.”
While the family was able to stop and grieve, detectives at the time were only just getting started.
Investigators put together a timeline of Bobbi’s final known moments, said Brunner. It included catching a ride from an employee at an auto repair shop in Midway to the mobile home park off Tennessee Street. She had friends who lived in the community and it was near where Harvey’s Grocery Store where Bobbi had worked for a short time and needed to pick up a paycheck. After that, the trail went cold.
“Nobody could really provide us with any sort of information,” said Lt. Brunner of Bobbi’s acquaintances at the mobile home park. “It’s my belief that you can narrow it down within just that couple day period that she was reported missing that she was probably killed.”
Photos of the crime scene show that Bobbi’s remains were mostly bones and clothing, which has led detectives to believe she had likely been there since around the time she stopped calling her family. While the medical examiner did not find any noticeable trauma, the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
However, any leads detectives had did not take them very far.
Bobbi’s ex-husband John, her current boyfriend who was incarcerated at the time, the man who reportedly gave her the ride, and the man who found her remains were all ruled out as suspects, said Lt. Brunner.
In 2007, with little information, Crimestoppers printed Bobbi’s face on playing cards that were distributed to inmates at the Leon County Jail in the hopes that someone would come forward with information. No one ever did.
In 2017, ten years after Bobbi’s remains were found Lt. Brunner pulled the case from the cold case file and made an eerie connection.
“I was working with a gentleman over at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and we realized that Sam Little was kind of in that same area that Bobbi Jean was located,” he told reporter Katie Kaplan.
Little was a notorious serial killer and former boxer who enjoyed sneaking up behind vulnerable women before strangling them with his bare hands. He confessed to more than 90 murders across the nation to a Texas Ranger.
“They was broke and homeless and they walked right into my spider web,” he told CBS News’ 60 Minutes in 2019.
Little, who traveled the nation, was a well-documented at-large resident of Tallahassee at the time Bobbi went missing.
“We can actually put him all over that area at the time Bobbi Jean went missing in 2005,” said Lt. Brunner.
Sheriff’s records show he was caught shoplifting from Harvey’s Grocery store roughly a month before Bobbi stopped contacting her family. The store, which has since closed, was located roughly 500 feet from where Bobbi’s body was found.
Lt. Brunner’s detective work also uncovered the title of a car Little had purchased within days of her disappearance just down the street.
“That to me was, kind of, almost like an ‘ah ha’ moment,” he said.
A photograph of a handwritten list of killings that was reportedly made by Little and that was published in a Los Angeles Times article appears to list one victim in Tallahassee, Fla.
Investigators were eager to question Little about the case, but that is when it went cold again.
“Bobbi jean was specifically brought up to Mr. Little who denied (sic) seeing or knowing Bobbi Jean or anything of that nature,” Lt. Brunner said.
WCTV requested a transcript of the exchange with Little from the Texas Department of Public Safety, but it was denied. In 2019, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled the Samuel Little files regarding specific people were exempt from disclosure. The Texas Ranger who got Little to confess was also unavailable. A Texas Ranger spokesperson said the Ranger retired at the end of 2021.
Little died in December 2020, taking whatever secrets he still held within him to the grave. The FBI has a web page dedicated to solving some of his outstanding confessions.
“When that lead went away, it kind of... the case again went cold,” said Lt. Brunner.
Without a definitive answer, Bobbi Jean’s case remains unsolved.
“I have her personality,” said her youngest daughter Jordan Jackson, who does not remember much about her mother. ‘I could get along with anybody.”
The family finds solace in remembering her and in some of the details Bobbi left behind. Like a distinct Scooby-Doo lunchbox that she was known to use as a purse and that was found alongside her remains.
“She had it when they found her,” said Kaitlin. “One detective, at one point, was at least nice enough to tell me that those concert tickets were in her lunchbox when they found her. So she didn’t go without me.”
Bobbi’s mother tried to heal by visiting the site where Bobbi was found. She marked the spot with a wooden cross made by Bobbi’s father and inscribed it with a message to those who pass by.
“I hope that out of this horrible place one day some beautiful flowers will grow and take away the ugliness of what happened to her there,” Elaine said, reading the inscription off of a photograph she took.
The photo is stored with a collection of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings on Bobbi’s case. Elaine holds on to hope that Bobbi’s case will one day be solved and the family can have closure at last.
“It’s like a puzzle that you know there’s that one piece that’s missing,” she said.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office has not had a lead in years. Anyone who might have interacted with Bobbi, or who might remember her distinct Scooby-Doo lunchbox is asked to come forward.
Tips can often be made anonymously with a cash reward to Big Bend Crimestoppers, 850-574-TIPS.
WCTV’S ‘Unsolved’ series delves into some of the region’s most notorious missing person and cold cases, providing the public a one-stop-shop to learn more about the crime. Anchor and reporter Katie Kaplan spends weeks investigating- interviewing, filming, writing and editing- each story in an effort to humanize the victim and in the belief that someone, somewhere, knows something.
Do you have a case you would like to see covered on Unsolved? Send us the information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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