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Cold Cases, Officials Keeping Bodies for ‘Personal Collections’ Spurred Push For New Law

Pascagoula Police Lt. Darren Versiga had been working in law enforcement for over a decade when the Sun Herald called his office in 2010, inquiring about how many cold cases the department had open.

The lieutenant soon discovered that the department had 26 unsolved cases in Pascagoula at the time, which he found odd.

“I thought, Pascagoula is not that big. How do we have 26? And they ranged all the way back to 1975,” he told the Mississippi Free Press on March 27.

Versiga shifted his focus toward solving the cases, reviewing whatever police files he could find and reviewing microfilms of old news clippings about skeletal remains that had been found over the years. “This took years. I went day by day, week by week. There was no database,” he said.

Two years into connecting dots on the cold cases and simultaneously investigating cases he believed were connected to serial killer Sam Little, Versiga came across an article about Melinda LaPree, a 24-year-old Pascagoula resident whose dead body a landscaper had found near a Pascagoula cemetery in 1982.

Her death was unsolved, but Versiga suspected that Little had killed her.

That’s when he learned that the State had sent LaPree’s body to Oklahoma in 1983—before Mississippi had its own state medical examiner. Versiga called the Oklahoma crime lab to see if they had any additional evidence that could help him figure out her cause of death.

Serial Killer Samuel Little confessed in 2018 to murdering Melinda LaPree in Pascagoula, Miss., in 1982. Family photo

The lieutenant told the Mississippi Free Press that he was shocked when someone at the Oklahoma crime lab told him they had the remains of several people that should have been sent back to Mississippi years ago.

“I thought, why would they have them for all these years?” Versiga said.

He said the 2012 discovery opened a “pandora’s box,” revealing a decades-old practice before the development of modern DNA testing where some county coroners, medical examiners and law-enforcement officials across the country would keep the human remains of people who could not be positively

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