Thirteen years after his last murders, a serial killer is on the move again in Los Angeles, terrorizing the neighborhoods of South L.A. The gruesome body count of his long spree -- 11 young African American women shot, sexually assaulted and stuffed in trash bags, as well as one man -- makes him the deadliest serial killer in California history. Yet until news of the killings surfaced last month in the LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Police Department didn't see fit to notify the community that a predator was on the loose. That's raising some troubling questions.
Expert "profilers" say it's hard for outsiders to judge the Police Department's actions -- working a case without alerting the community means keeping the killer in the dark and giving officers an advantage. Widespread publicity has been known to work both ways in such cases: Some killers bask in the attention and make crucial mistakes that reveal their identity; others go underground.
FOR THE RECORD:
L.A. murders: A Sept. 13 editorial incorrectly called the "Grim Sleeper" the deadliest serial killer in California history. The 23-year span of his activity makes him the state's most enduring killer, but not its deadliest. —
But not alerting the public also means passing up an opportunity to rally potential witnesses. Few crimes are solved because a David Caruso-like detective outwits a criminal. Rather, acquaintances and neighbors of the victims -- or the criminals --step forward with evidence. What's more, the fact that the victims in this case were mostly troubled young black women with histories of prostitution adds an unavoidable element of class and race to the case. If the victims had been well-to-do white women living on the Westside, would police have kept mum for so long?
Despite the killer's lengthy history, the LAPD didn't discover there was a single perpetrator behind the slayings until DNA analysis tied them together in May 2007. When news of the murders broke in August, it prompted a community outcry, but the department waited until Friday to issue a statement informing the public of the slayings and asking for its help finding the killer. It still has not explained its decision not to issue a warning last year.
The LA Weekly has dubbed the killer the Grim Sleeper because there appears to have been a years-long gap between the slayings, and it's as good a name as any. But such lulls are extremely rare among serial killers, according to experts. It may be that police simply haven't connected other slayings to the same killer -- an LAPD task force has identified 33 cold cases with similarities to the 11 killings, so there may be more bad news coming. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council has offered a record $200,000 to $500,000 reward for the killer's capture. It's about time.