Grim Sleeper is the nickname for convicted serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr., responsible for at least ten murders and one attempted murder in Los Angeles, California. The attacker was dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because he appeared to have taken a 14-year break from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002. In July 2010, Franklin was arrested as a suspect, and, after many delays, his trial began in February 2016. On May 5, 2016, the jury convicted him of killing nine women and one teenage girl. On June 6, 2016, the jury recommended the death penalty, and on August 10, 2016, Los Angeles Superior Court sentenced him to death for each of the ten victims named in the verdict.
Lonnie Franklin, Jr. was born on August 30, 1952. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, California. He married and had two children. He was given a general discharge from the United States Army on July 24, 1975.
Franklin’s criminal record dates back to 1989. He was convicted of two charges of theft, one charge of misdemeanor assault, and one charge of battery. He served time for one of the theft charges.
In the 1980s, the LAPD marked the deaths of several women in South Los Angeles with the identification “NHI”, meaning “no humans involved”, which was used for cases involving chronic drug users and prostitutes. Margaret Prescod formed the “Black Women Count” movement with community members to pressure the LAPD into acknowledging the deaths as serial killings and forming a task force in response. The coalition launched a media campaign and set a monetary reward aiming to capture the killer. The joint LAPD-Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation determined that the crimes were committed by a single person labeled 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, Chester Turner, and Ivan Hill committed at least one each. A separate series of killings commenced with the murder of Debra Jackson and a different modus operandi involving a firearm. These became known, misleadingly, as the “Strawberry Murders.” Sheriff’s Detective Rickey Ross was wrongfully arrested due to a ballistics error. Two decades later, the perpetrator of these crimes was dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” due to the long period of apparent inactivity between murders.
In May 2007, the slaying 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. That same year, in secrecy, the LAPD formed the “800 Task Force,” composed of six detectives and overseen by the Robbery-Homicide Unit. After a four-month investigation, LA Weekly investigative reporter Christine Pelisek broke the news of the task force’s existence, the link between Peters’ killing and the earlier murders, and the silence of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton regarding the killer’s existence. Villaraigosa and Bratton neither 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 featured on the Fox program America’s Most Wanted. On February 25, 2009, 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 LA Weekly. Bratton also released a 9-1-1 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 conducted an extensive interview with Enietra Washington, the sole survivor of the Grim Sleeper’s attacks. Washington 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.
On July 7, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that an arrest had been made. Los Angeles 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 LAPD. Franklin was identified for arrest, at least in part, on familial DNA analysis.
Police had found no exact match between DNA found at the crime scenes and any of the profiles in California’s DNA profile database, so they searched the database for stored profiles that demonstrated sufficient similarity to allow police to infer a familial relationship. They found similar DNA belonging to Franklin’s son, Christopher, who had been convicted of a felony weapons charge. According to Cooley, detectives then used a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin’s DNA to make the link. One undercover police officer pretended to be a waiter at a restaurant where Franklin ate, collecting 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 established a DNA match linking Franklin to the deaths.
On December 16, 2010, the LAPD released 180 photos of women found in Franklin’s home 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 Police Chief Charlie Beck. In all, investigators found over 1,000 photos and several hundred hours of video in his home. The images show mainly black 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, dating back 30 years. The photos were released to the public in an effort to identify the women.
On November 3, 2011, Reuters reported that the police were considering Franklin as a suspect in six more slayings of additional female victims. The police were investigating two of the six as potential victims 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 victims, two bodies were discovered in the 1980s and two were reported missing in 2005 but the remains of the other two 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 photographs of women and girls that were found in his possession.
Franklin was charged with ten murders and one attempted murder. He was held without bail until he received his death sentence. He is not charged in the death of an eleventh suspected victim, a black man, a crime for which DNA evidence was not found. On May 5, 2016, after nearly three months of trial and a day and a half of jury deliberation, Franklin was convicted of ten counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. On June 6, 2016, a Los Angeles County jury sentenced Franklin to death.