The fact that the victims of the so-called “Grim Sleeper,” were African American may not have been the reason that it took the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) almost a quarter century to corral a suspect in the killings, according to Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents the eighth District, which includes South Los Angeles.
Retired mechanic Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested last week for allegedly killing 10 women in South Los Angeles over more than two decades. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Regina A. Laughney said this week that the defendant will enter a plea in court next month. The 57-year-old man will be arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 9.
“We had people who lost their lives. Clearly, they were African Americans, and it’s an African American community,” Parks said. “It’s easy to say it would have gone differently, if it had happened in Beverly Hills. But the truth is, that this didn’t happen in Beverly Hills,” Parks said. “People can speculate all they want. How can you criticize, if (the authorities) have done everything humanly possible (to catch the killer)? You can’t solve it, until you can solve it. There was no holding back. We wanted people to come forward, if they had seen something. We wanted to jog memories. That was my motivation. I didn’t look at it like there was an added motivation because they were Black, and I’m Black.”
Parks plays down his role in the capture of the suspect. Nevertheless, he was instrumental in keeping the case in the public eye in recent years with news conferences, and in the initial stages of the investigation in the 1980s. When he was police chief, he established the L.A.P.D Cold Case Unit.
The unit looked at cases from the 1980s, retested bits of hair and skin from those crime scenes and discovered matches with the Grim Sleeper killings, said to Dennis Gleason, spokesman for Parks.
“I think the case has a number of unique issues,” Parks said. “Number one, when you hear from the families (of the victims), they’re overjoyed. And it’s a major positive for the community he preyed on. I feel pride for the detectives that managed the investigation and put together (the arrest).”
According to the Los Angeles Distract Attorney’s office, the complaint prepared for filing last week includes 10 counts of murder with the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making Franklin eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At the time of the arrest, District Attorney Steve Cooley praised the commitment of the L.A.P.D. in solving the case. Major Crimes Head Deputy Patrick Dixon will lead the prosecution team.
Franklin was taken into custody after an “exhaustive task force investigation that began more than three years ago,” according to a release on the L.A.P.D. website.
In the release, Police Chief Charlie Beck said, “We never gave up on this investigation, not for one minute. Our detectives worked relentlessly following up on every lead received. Their hard work has resulted in (the) apprehension of this vicious killer. I am hopeful that the hard work of these men and women will bring some closure to the families who tragically lost loved ones during the last 23 years.”
At one time, the so-called “Grim Sleeper” was one of the longest operating serial killers in the country, according to authorities.
The murders took place between August 1985 and January 2007, according to the D.A.’s criminal complaint. The victims range in age from 14 to 36 years old. All resided within Los Angeles County. Most were discovered dumped in alleys, covered with debris, with gunshot wounds to the chest and/or strangled.
During the killing spree, a task force was established, as well as a half million dollar reward offered for information leading to the capture of the killer. Also, billboards about the murders had been on display throughout South Los Angeles.
It was not until 2009 that former Police Chief William Bratton spoke publicly about the so-called Grim Sleeper.
He was criticized for not speaking sooner about a serial killer who had been operating in South Los Angeles since the 1980s, according to media reports. And it was just last year that Bratton also released a 911 call from 1987 that was supposedly from a witness, who had allegedly seen someone dump the body of one of the victims.
Bratton assembled a squad to investigate the killings in June 2007, after the body of the killer’s last victim was found.
About the more than 20 years it took to bring a suspect to heel, Parks said, “The pieces of the puzzle didn’t come together until recently. Some of the investigative techniques didn’t even exist,” when the killer began operating, he said. “This case was solved with the help of technology, and it’s made history because it’s the first time the technique was used in the state of California.”
Law enforcement authorities believe they’ve scored with a new forensic method of nabbing suspects.
Franklin was taken into custody last week after a task force compared DNA samples from Franklin and his son, who was arrested on non-related charges about a year ago. Police had obtained a sample of Franklin’s DNA from a piece of pizza he apparently had thrown away (see story on page 13). They used the discarded food to undertake so-called “familial searching” of DNA. The method has been approved by Attorney General Jerry Brown.
In a release, Brown said, “In the face of multitude of objections, we’ve crafted a balanced policy to respect the rights of citizens and the same time deploy the most powerful DNA search technology,” the release said. “Forensic scientists at our Richmond crime lab have developed unique computer software and rigorous protocols that can link a family member of a convicted offender with DNA taken from a murder or rape scene. The successful match in this case demonstrates the extreme importance of the new forensic procedure.”
In 2008, California became the first state to adopt a familial search program. It has been used 10 times since its inception in November 2008, according to Brown’s office.
“The initial familial search under the new program that same month was aimed at finding the Grim Sleeper suspect, but it failed to find a relative in the data base. A second search initiated on April 28, 2010, was successful because, in the meantime, Lonnie David Franklin’s son had been convicted; his DNA analyzed and linked to the crime scenes in accord with California’s unique familial search procedures,” the release said. “The Los Angeles Police Department then confirmed our finding by taking the suspect’s personal DNA.”
According to media reports, the Grim Sleeper left a trail of bodies along a section of Western Avenue. Eight of the victims were discovered between 1985 and 1988. In the interim, a ninth intended victim escaped after being shot in November 1988. The bullet retrieved from the woman’s chest was matched to the gun apparently used to kill the first eight victims, according to media reports.