Other killings may be tied to Grim Sleeper suspect
Los Angeles police detectives are reexamining at least 30 unsolved killings of women in South Los Angeles, seeing if they can link any of the homicides to the man accused of being the Grim Sleeper serial killer.
Sources with the Los Angeles Police Department told The Times that the 30 cases share similarities to the slayings linked to Lonnie David Franklin Jr., who appeared briefly in court Thursday, where he was charged with 10 counts of murder involving women killed over three decades in South L.A. Some — but not all — of the victims in the unsolved cases lived on the margins of society, including drug users, prostitutes and those suffering from mental illness.
Franklin was ordered held without bail Thursday, and his arraignment was postponed to Aug. 9. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Regina A. Laughney, said in court that she had not had time to review the evidence in the case. She could not be reached for comment.
Franklin allegedly killed seven women between 1985 and 1988, when his crimes seemed to abruptly stop, authorities say. The slayings resumed in 2002, with a killing that year, another in 2003 and a third in 2007, police said.
The L.A. Weekly dubbed the killer the Grim Sleeper because of the lengthy, unaccounted gap in the slayings. But officials said Thursday that they suspect Franklin may be responsible for more homicides, possibly during the apparent lull.
“I believe we will find additional victims,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, calling the gap “one of the troubling aspects of the case.”
Detectives have spent the last two days scouring Franklin’s home, collecting photo albums, documents, business cards and other records that they hope can provide a better picture of the suspect and perhaps provide links to other victims. A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said police recovered multiple firearms from Franklin’s home and will be testing the weapons to see if there is a match to the ballistics evidence from the crime scenes.
Officials acknowledge that linking more cases to Franklin could be challenging.
There is no DNA evidence in any of the 30 cases, which is significant because authorities said they tied Franklin to some of the 10 killings based on information from DNA databases. Many of the cases are three decades old and occurred during a period when several serial killers were allegedly operating in South L.A.
A task force had been investigating the unsolved cases before Franklin’s arrest in an effort to uncover any links. But now, with the suspect’s identity known, investigators are reexamining the deaths for specific ties to Franklin.
Because Franklin once was a sanitation worker, one source said police would be examining any unsolved homicides where bodies were dumped in landfills.
In addition to focusing on the apparent hiatus in the Grim Sleeper homicides, detectives are trying to determine whether the suspect might have begun committing his crimes earlier than police previously believed.
“Now that we know who he is, we can get out and show his picture, and talk to neighbors, co-workers, friends,” said Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who is heading the task force investigating the killings.
At a news conference outside police headquarters downtown, Beck said the case was the largest and most important currently being handled by the department.
Since 2007, a group of detectives has worked exclusively on identifying the killer, chasing lead after lead down dead ends. But last week, LAPD officials learned that a “familial search” of the DNA database by the California Department of Justice had come up with a convicted felon whose genetic blueprint indicated he was a close relative of the suspect.
A suspect soon became clear: the felon’s father, Franklin, a 57-year-old mechanic.
He fit the serial killer’s description. And his address in South Los Angeles “was right in the heart of it all,” one law enforcement official said.
As LAPD officials realized the gravity of the news, Beck kept the circle tight. No one was to know about the DNA hit until police had a game plan for how to proceed. No information would leak out; and not even deputy chiefs were in the loop.
With the help of federal drug agents, police watched Franklin around the clock, monitoring his every move.
The suspect spent most of his daylight hours indoors, sources said. He left his house on 81st Street only to run a few mundane errands — to an auto parts store, nothing that would allow detectives to retrieve any DNA samples.
At night, Franklin became more active. But even those evenings proved fruitless. He would take long, seemingly pointless drives through the city. On some occasions, he would slow down at street corners as he drove along Western Avenue, an area known for prostitution.
The big break, police say, came Monday.
Franklin traveled to northern Orange County, near Buena Park, where he stopped for pizza. At the end of his meal, he discarded a pizza crust, a fork, napkins and a drinking glass. Detectives moved in.
DNA tests on the leftovers from the meal came back early Tuesday. Franklin’s genetic profile matched that of the Grim Sleeper. Roughly two hours later, Franklin was arrested at his South L.A. home.
Several of the victims’ relatives, some of whom have been critical of the police response to the crimes, attended Thursday’s news conference and praised the work of detectives.
“I had a doubt in my mind after all the years that passed that I would not live to see this day,” said Porter Alexander, whose daughter’s body was found dumped in an alley in 1988. “But … the long arm of the law still prevails.”
Enietra Washington, the only known survivor of an attack by the suspected serial killer, recounted Thursday how she accepted a ride from a man after admiring his orange Pinto in 1988. She described the driver as well-dressed and said she felt safe.
As they rode together, her attention wandered. Suddenly, he shot her in the chest. “I was thinking how can I get out of this car without this man doing more to me than just riddling me up,” Washington said.
When asked whether Franklin was the same man who shot her, Washington replied: “Looking at the pictures, yeah, it was kind of almost right on target. When I saw him he was younger, skinnier…. He was a neat person, that’s why I wasn’t feeling threatened when I finally accepted the ride. He wasn’t dressed crazy. He didn’t look crazy.”
Times staff writers Jack Leonard, Victoria Kim, Corina Knoll and Hector Becerra contributed to this report.