August 30, 1952 |
Los Angeles, California
|Other names||Strawberry Murders|
|Victims||10 victims, 1 survivor|
Span of killings
Grim Sleeper is the nickname for a suspected and accused serial killer in Los Angeles, California, believed to be responsible for at least ten murders, one suspected and one attempted murder in Los Angeles since 1985. The attacker was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because he appears to have taken a 14-year slumber from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002. Chief suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, worked as a garbageman during this period, suggesting he may have taken advantage of his employment and hidden his victims in a landfill.
On July 7, 2010, Franklin was arrested. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged him with ten counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders in the case. A grand jury indictment was issued on March 23, 2011. Franklin has been in jail since his arrest awaiting trial; the large volume of evidence in this case, some dating back thirty years, had caused a lengthy pretrial discovery.
The trial was originally scheduled to begin on June 30, 2015. In May 2015, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy delayed the trial until September 9 after Franklin's defense attorney requested more time to test several pieces of evidence.
In the 1980s, following the deaths of several women in South Los Angeles, California, community members formed the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders. The group pressured police into setting up a task force and to acknowledge the deaths as serial killings. The Coalition launched a media campaign and set a monetary award aiming to capture the killer. The joint Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department-LAPD investigation determined that the murders were committed by a single person labelled the "Southside Slayer". Their results were announced to the public on September 23, 1985.
According to investigators, evidence was found suggesting that several serial killers were murdering women in South Los Angeles. Louis Craine committed at least two of the "Southside Slayer" murders, and Michael Hughes, Daniel Lee Siebert, and Ivan Hill at least one each. A separate series of killings commenced with the murder of Debra Jackson and a different MO involving a firearm. These became known, misleadingly, as the "Strawberry murders". Sheriff's Detective Ricky Ross was wrongfully arrested due to a ballistics error. Two decades later, the perpetrator of these crimes was named "Grim Sleeper" due to a long period of apparent inactivity between murders.
In May 2007, the murder of Janecia Peters, 25, was linked through DNA analysis to at least eleven unsolved murders in Los Angeles, the first of which occurred in 1985. The "800 Task Force" was formed in secret, consisting of seven detectives. After a four-month investigation, the LA Weekly investigative reporter Christine Pelisek broke the news of the task force's existence, the linking of Peters' killing to the earlier murders, and the silence of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton regarding the killer's existence. The mayor and police chief never issued a press release nor warned the community. In some cases, LA Weekly was the first to inform the families that their daughters had long been confirmed as victims of a serial killer.
In early September 2008, Los Angeles officials announced that they were offering a $500,000 reward to help catch the killer. On November 1, the case was detailed on the Fox program America's Most Wanted. On February 25, 2009, Chief Bratton addressed the press for the first time regarding the case, at which time the police formally gave the killer the "Grim Sleeper" nickname chosen by L.A. Weekly. Bratton also released a 911 call from the 1980s in which a man reported seeing a body being dumped by the Grim Sleeper, giving a detailed description and license plate number of a van connected with the now-closed Cosmopolitan Church.
In March 2009, Pelisek did an extensive interview with Enietra Washington, the sole survivor of the Grim Sleeper's attacks. She described him as "a black man in his early 30s [...] He looked neat. Tidy. Kind of geeky. He wore a black polo shirt tucked into khaki trousers." She also described the interior and exterior of his vehicle. After the Weekly published the story on Washington, an aide to Police Chief William Bratton said he was too busy to comment on the case.
In December 2009, following pressure by community leaders, the LAPD re-released the 1988 police sketch of the Grim Sleeper, based on Washington's description. The department also released three age-enhanced composite drawings showing the markedly different faces of three middle aged black males.
On July 7, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that an arrest had been made. District Attorney Steve Cooley identified the suspect as 57-year-old Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a mechanic who worked between 1981 and 1988 for the City of Los Angeles in the sanitation department and briefly for the police department. The arrest of Franklin reportedly was due, at least in part, to the use of familial DNA analysis.
Police had been unable to find an exact match between DNA found at the crime scenes associated with the Grim Sleeper and any of the profiles in California's DNA profile database. Thus, police searched the database to try to find stored profiles that demonstrated sufficient similarity to the profile from the crime-scene evidence to allow police to infer a familial relationship between the person who left the DNA at the crime scenes and the similar profile stored in the database.
Police eventually located similar DNA belonging to Franklin's son, Christopher, who had been convicted of a felony weapons charge. According to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, detectives then used a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin's DNA to make the link. One Los Angeles undercover police officer pretended to be a waiter at a restaurant where the suspect ate. He collected dishes, silverware, glasses, and pizza crusts to obtain DNA. The identification was used to arrest Franklin after his DNA was obtained and deemed a match. Saliva found on the victims was used to obtain a DNA match thus linking Franklin to the murders.
Law enforcement missed an opportunity to catch Franklin because his DNA was never collected. In 2003, he was convicted of a felony and was serving three years of supervised probation. When he was on probation, his DNA was supposed to enter the DNA database. In 2004, voters approved of Proposition 69. The law states that DNA must be collected for all people charged with a crime. It also requires the expansion of the DNA database. Authorities collected and sorted through thousands of DNA samples. On July 2005, Franklin was on unsupervised probation. During that time, Franklin's DNA never entered into the system. Probation officers did not collect DNA samples from people that are on unsupervised probation between the periods of November 2004 and August 2005. During that period, the probation department also did not have the resources to immediately collect samples. Officers did not collect samples until August 2005.
Franklin has a criminal record dating back to 1989. He was convicted of two charges of stolen property, one charge of misdemeanor assault, and one charge of battery. He served time for one of the charges of stolen property. He is charged with 10 murders and 1 attempted murder. He is held without bail and could face the death penalty if convicted. He is not charged in the death of an 11th suspected victim, an African American man. There is no DNA evidence in that case.
On December 16, 2010, the Los Angeles Police Department released 180 photos of women found in Franklin's home. Police officials released the images after unsuccessful attempts to identify the individuals, possibly additional victims. "These people are not suspects, we don't even know if they are victims, but we do know this: Lonnie Franklin's reign of terror in the city of Los Angeles, which spanned well over two decades, culminating with almost a dozen murder victims, certainly needs to be investigated further," said Chief Charlie Beck of the LAPD. In all, investigators found over 1,000 photos and several hundred hours of video in his home.
The images show mainly African American women of a wide age range, from teenagers to middle-aged and older, often nude. Police believe Franklin took many of the pictures, which show both conscious and unconscious individuals, and date back up to 30 years. The photos were released in an effort to identify the women with the help of citizens.
On November 3, 2011, Reuters reported that the police were considering Lonnie David Franklin as a suspect in six more slayings. The police are investigating two of the six additional female victims tied to the case as potential victims and were killed during a 14-year lapse between an initial spate of "Grim Sleeper" murders that ended in 1988 and several more that began in 2002. Of the remaining four slayings, two are of women whose bodies were discovered in the 1980s and two are victims who were reported missing in 2005 but whose bodies were never found, police said. Detectives said they linked Franklin to the six additional killings after reviewing hundreds of old case files and seeking the public's help in identifying a collection of 180 pictures of women and girls that were found in his possession.
Jury selection for Franklin's trial is scheduled for June 30, 2015.
The known killings began in 1985 in South Los Angeles, California. The Grim Sleeper took a 14-year hiatus after his last murder in 1988 but began murdering again in 2002. His last confirmed murder was in January 2007. All of his victims were found outdoors, a few miles from downtown Los Angeles.
All but one of his victims were black women. One of his suspected victims was a black man. Many of his victims were sex workers. One witness recalls that Franklin would frequently bring prostitutes into his home. The Grim Sleeper would have sexual contact with victims before strangling or shooting them. He would shoot all of his victims with a .25 caliber gun. Franklin took several photographs of nude women and kept them in his garage.
These are the Grim Sleeper's known victims in chronological order of attack:
|1||Jackson, DebraDebra Jackson||F||29||August 10, 1985|
|2||Wright, HenriettaHenrietta Wright||F||34||August 12, 1986|
|3||Steele, ThomasThomas Steele ‡||M||36||August 14, 1986|
|4||Ware, BarbaraBarbara Ware||F||23||January 10, 1987|
|5||Sparks, BernitaBernita Sparks||F||26||April 15, 1987|
|6||Lowe, MaryMary Lowe||F||26||November 1, 1987|
|7||Jefferson, LachricaLachrica Jefferson||F||22||January 30, 1988|
|8||Alexander, Alice MoniqueAlice Monique Alexander||F||18||September 11, 1988|
|9||Washington, Enietra "Margette"Enietra "Margette" Washington‡‡||F||30||Survived|
|10||Berthomieux, PrincessPrincess Berthomieux||F||15||March 19, 2002|
|11||McCorvey, ValerieValerie McCorvey||F||35||July 11, 2003|
|12||Peters, JaneciaJanecia Peters||F||25||January 1, 2007|
‡ One of the Grim Sleeper's suspected victims, though there is no DNA evidence to support this claim. Being the only suspected male victim, it is believed that Steele either knew about Grim Sleeper's history of murders, or that he was friends with one of the victims.
‡‡ Enietra "Margette" was told to use her middle name as her last name for her protection, but has since come forward as Enietra Margette Washington. Attacked on November 20, 1988, she is the only known survivor.
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