While Sam McClain hunted deer in the forest a different kind of hunter targeted his home.
[Note: unless otherwise attributed all quotes are courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.]
2:10pm, August 7th, 1988. At the conclusion of his overnight hunting trip twenty-four year old Sam McClain returned to the East Houston rambler he shared with his common-law wife and toddler son.
Upon his arrival he found the front door closed but unlocked;
the stereo was on, the air-conditioner hummed but otherwise the home was silent.
Sam McClain stepped across the threshold believing himself to be a husband and father—he would soon learn he was neither.
On the living room floor lay the body of his twenty-four year old wife Linda Flora;
clad in a bloodied white sundress, she’d been repeatedly stabbed before collapsing atop a pile of baby toys.
The couple’s thirteen month old child, Sammy McClain Jr., was missing.
“As soon as I saw what happened I called the police and got out of there. It just don’t seem real.” Sam McClain, August 8th, 1988Investigators from the Houston Police Department converged upon the couple’s Coulson Street residence;
aside from Baby Sam nothing was missing from the home.
Fearing the child had been abducted
the Houston Police Department contacted the FBI,
an agency better equipped to launch a comprehensive search for the missing toddler.
After the crime scene was processed a handful of investigators stayed behind to wait for federal agents to arrive.
“There was no forced entry into the house. There’s no indication of drugs being involved. The house was full of TV sets and guns. Nothing was taken, no signs of ransacking. Her purse was there and it had cash in it and they left it.” Houston Police Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988
While in the kitchen awaiting the FBI an errant detail caught the eye of Patrolman Frank Costa—a loaf of bread had been placed on top of the refrigerator.
At his own home the officer’s wife stored bread in the freezer,
and it occurred to him
that perhaps the loaf had once been in the freezer but was later removed to make room for something else.
Six hours after the discovery of Linda Flora’s body Patrolman Costa swung open the freezer door:
inside lay the body of Sammy McClain Jr.
Curled into a fetal position, Baby Sam had frozen solid—his nude corpse had to be pried from his icy tomb.
Four days after taking his first steps Sammy McClain Jr. was dead.
Even seasoned lawmen were aghast.
“I was standing about six feet away when he found the baby. What he (Patrolman Costa) said after finding the baby can’t be printed.” Houston Police Department Sergeant Jerry Welch, August 9th, 1988
Autopsies revealed an excess of violence had been inflicted upon mother and child.
Linda’s throat had been slashed and she’d been stabbed eleven times in the neck, chest, and abdomen.
Murdering her once was insufficient;
approximately an hour after her death—as her blood began to settle—the assailant returned and stabbed her an additional three times.
Linda’s body exhibited no signs of sexual assault and there was no indication the young mother had struggled with her attacker.
“All we know is that this was a crime of great rage. The fact that [the victim] was stabbed after death would indicate a tremendous amount of anger.” Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988
Baby Sam had died from blunt force head trauma and his nonfatal wounds were legion.
The toddler had been stabbed in the buttocks—six times in the right and three times in the left.
The killer also inflicted twelve stab wounds each
to the soles of his tiny feet—unexpectedly symmetrical behavior from an assailant blinded by rage.
The wounds—thirty-three in number—were shallow,
measuring from 1/16- to 1/4-inch deep and from 3/8- to 1/2-inch long.
Baby Sam also exhibited “numerous faint contusions of the penis.”
The conclusion was inescapable: the toddler had been tortured.
“It’s the kind of case you think about when you go home and go to bed at night.” Houston Police Sergeant Doug Bacon, October 21st, 1988
Sam McClain Sr. and Linda Annette Flora met in a 10th grade biology class at Houston’s North Shore High School.
The early years of their courtship featured an occasional rough patch but the birth of Baby Sam and the responsibilities of parenthood seemed to stabilize their relationship.
Money was tight—Sam Sr. was a machinist and Linda stocked shelves at a nearby Walmart—rendering theft or home invasion unlikely precipitating factors for murder.
The couple had close family ties and both were well-liked by friends and neighbors;
investigators were never able to identify any known enemies or viable motives for the crime.
“They were quiet. I never heard them fight and don’t think they had any serious problems.” Neighbor who asked to remain unnamed, August 9th, 1988
The crime scene provided detectives with few clues.
On the day of the murders Sam Sr. had departed for his hunting trip at 3pm,
and at approximately 8pm Linda had been spotted on the front porch by a neighbor.
The coroner determined the slayings had occurred sometime between 10pm and midnight—no one in the area had noticed anything unusual,
and the series of events that transpired in the home after the 8pm sighting remain unknown.
“They [the FBI] have given us some ideas but there is so little information available to go on, it’s difficult.” Sergeant Jerry Welch, August 11th, 1988
The means by which the assailant(s) entered the house is unclear—the killer(s) may have been invited inside
or surreptitiously crept in through an unlocked door.
Mother and son had been stabbed with different knives, neither of which was found at the scene;
and the object used to bludgeon Baby Sam has never been identified.
Blood spatter analysis revealed Baby Sam had been tortured on his parents’ bed;
since Linda was not bound investigators believe she was likely slain first.
“There was a revolver lying on top of a dresser about six or eight feet from where Linda’s body was; she’s not going to stand by while somebody tortures her baby and not do anything. She would have used that gun.” Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988
At the time of the crime Sam Sr. had been hunting with his fifteen-year old brother Erich on a deer lease in Trinity County, a ninety-minute drive from Houston.
The spouses of murder victims are suspects by default,
but his brother provided an alibi and Sam passed a six-hour polygraph exam.
Visibly stricken, the grieving widower called investigators on a weekly basis to inquire about the case’s progress.
He was soon cleared from suspicion.
“If the police were suspicious of me I didn’t care. [Linda and Baby Sam’s] deaths were such a giant idea. It was so big you couldn’t conceive of it all at once in your mind. I’d go home and pick a little piece of it to think about.” Sam McClain Sr., Vanity Fair, August 1991
I first read about the McClain-Flora slayings years ago in Vanity Fair,
and despite the passage of time the details of the crime remain etched in my brain.
I just can’t conjure a rational motive for Baby Sam’s torture—killing victims for financial or sexual reasons is evil, but at least I can understand the covetousness that spurs the crime;
that someone would invest time and effort to make dozens of teeny stab wounds on a thirteen-month old’s feet is simply inconceivable. How is it possible a killer so clearly deranged has never been apprehended?
“[Baby Sam] would smile at anything. You see him there, and then what happened… You wonder how anybody could…” Sam McClain Sr., Vanity Fair, August 1991
Baby Sam wasn’t gagged, and his howls of pain must’ve been ear-shattering.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes listening to crying children—babies are usually killed because they won’t stop crying.
So what kind of maniac could possibly enjoy the nerve-jangling screams of a toddler in pain?
Helpful hint: if you’re a deviant who delights in the shrieks of children there are ways to get auditory thrills
without resorting to murder—attendance at a Pixar movie matinee should suffice.
“You wouldn’t think somebody would do this, but they did it here, and they can do it to you.” Sam McClain Sr., August 9th, 1988
It’s been almost thirty years since Linda and Baby Sam were slain, and for three decades a fiend for whom the screams of babies are like music has walked among us.
There’s a good chance the killer is still out there, so if you have young children please remain vigilant—any strangers who attempt the “this little piggy” pantomime are suspect.
And if you take your toddler to Chuck E. Cheese
and notice anyone who seems to be enjoying the shrieks of children just a little too much
I suggest you choose a table on the other side of the room.