The Screams Ignored


Det. Cliff Shepard represents the Los Angeles Police Department at its best. Thanks to his refusal to give up on an unsolved case, prosecutors this week are expected to charge Chester Dewayne Turner -- already in prison for a 2002 rape -- in 10 killings. All the victims were women who were raped and then strangled, their bodies dumped along a 30-block stretch of Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles between 1987 and 1998.

Would that this story ended with Shepard’s discovery of DNA evidence tying Turner to the slayings, but it doesn’t. In 1995, another man was convicted of two of the killings now linked to Turner. Exonerated by the new evidence, David Allen Jones was released from prison in March. If the charges against Turner are an extraordinary example of stick-to-it police work, the earlier ones filed against Jones represent the criminal justice system at its worst. Bullying detectives put words into the mouth of Jones, a part-time janitor described as having the mental capacity of an 8-year-old. A jury convicted him despite ambiguous testimony, no physical evidence and no witnesses.

No wonder that in South L.A., court justice is often seen as no better than street justice. It is to counter such a legacy that the LAPD needs detectives like Shepard.


The rest of the city is left to ponder another attitude: indifference. Los Angeles’ worst serial killer apparently stalked South L.A. for years without the rest of the city noticing enough to even give him a name. We didn’t talk about an unidentified Figueroa Street Strangler as we did a Freeway Killer, Night Stalker or Hillside Strangler.

It was not just that some of the victims were prostitutes or women who exchanged sex for crack cocaine. A lot of infamous serial killers preyed on prostitutes, not the least Jack the Ripper and Gary Leon Ridgway, known as the Green River killer. Nor was it because serial killers had lost their hold on the public’s fear and imagination. It was simply one more example of how the rest of the city had grown inured to the slaughter in South Los Angeles, where, as The Times reported, it wasn’t seen as unusual that two good friends both had daughters believed to be victims of Turner.

This is, after all, a city in which campaign managers for Measure A believe that the only way to persuade voters to approve a sales tax hike to hire additional police is to run ads featuring a white, suburban housewife terrified by a home-invasion robbery. Worse, they may be right.