Alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin, Jr. was indicted today in the gruesome murders of 10 women and the attempted murder of another in a series of murders that spanned over two decades. The victims, who ranged in age from 14 to 35 years old, were found in alleyways and dumpsters along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles. The charges make Franklin eligible for the death penalty.
The indictment came down yesterday afternoon by a secret Los Angeles grand jury following more than six days of testimony from 40 witnesses. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said the indictment was necessitated by a desire to move the murder case forward to trial. “The families of the victims should be accorded timely resolution of the allegations of the murders of their loved ones,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Victims' family members were in court during the five-minute hearing that began at 1:30 p.m in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “I am elated,” said Porter Alexander, whose daughter Monique was allegedly murdered by Franklin in 1988. “I hope it continues to give me the same gratification. We have waited too long for this day.”
Franklin, 58, was wearing an orange-colored jail uniform and sneered at the families as he left the courtroom, which was also filled with Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives and prosecutors. He was indicted for the murders of Debra Jackson, Henrietta Wright, Mary Lowe, Barbara Ware, Bernita Sparks, Lachrica Jefferson, Monique Alexander, Princess Berthomieux, Valerie McCorvey, and Janecia Peters. He'll next return to court April 4 for a pre-trial hearing.
Jackson was last seen leaving a friend's house in Lynwood to take a bus back to her apartment in South Los Angeles. Days later, she was found covered with a carpet in an alley west of Vermont Avenue on August 10, 1985. She had been shot in the chest. Jackson was the first known victim of the alleged killer.
Police say Franklin, a former army officer, was a career crook with a constant history of run-ins with the law.
Franklin’s last known victim was Peters whose body was found by a homeless man collecting recyclables on January 1, 2007. Her body was found stuffed in a garbage bag in a Dumpster near 94th Street and Western Avenue. She had been shot.
Franklin was also indicted for the attempted murder of Enietra Washington. Washington told police that a man driving an orange-colored Pinto picked her up one night in November 1988. The man shot her in the chest, then sexually assaulted her, and took a photo of her using a Polaroid camera, before pushing her out of his car.
A mechanic with a history of car theft, Franklin was arrested in July of 2010 as he walked out of his modest green home in South Los Angeles. Investigators had found that DNA taken from a slice of pizza he had been eating earlier positively matched DNA taken from semen and saliva found on the victims. Franklin was tracked down through familial DNA testing after his 28-year-old son was arrested on a weapons charge in the summer of 2009 and had to give up a DNA swab.
Franklin also collected a $1,658 monthly pension from the city, and had been living in the epicenter of the killings since the early '80s when he was working as a trash collector for the city's Department of Sanitation. Many of the Grim Sleeper killings occurred during the same years Franklin claimed he was injured on duty.
Police say Franklin, a former army officer, was a career crook with a constant history of run-ins with the law. In 1969, he was arrested twice for grand theft auto. The following year, he was nabbed for burglary from a motor vehicle. In 1980, the Vernon Police Department arrested him for grand theft of property. The following year, he became a garage attendant at the L.A.P.D., and in July of 1982, got a job as a truck operator with the Department of Sanitation. While working as a truck operator, he was arrested for carrying a loaded firearm by the Los Angeles County Sheriff in 1984 and for stealing a car in 1989.
The Grim Sleeper serial killer was thought to have operated only in the 1980s, but struck again in 2002, 2003, and 2007 -- the long gap in time between killings earned the murderer his notorious nickname. Most of the victims were sexually assaulted and shot with a .25 caliber pistol, their bodies discarded like trash. He is considered to be the longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi.
Christine Pelisek is staff reporter for The Daily Beast, covering crime. She previously was a reporter at the LA Weekly, where she covered crime for the last five years. In 2008, she won three Los Angeles Press Club awards, one for her investigative story on the Grim Sleeper.