Los Angeles Police Department detectives are trying to identify people who appear in 180 photos seized from the home of alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin, Jr., who is charged with 10 murders and one attempted murder in South Los Angeles dating back to 1985.
Just a few hours after the release of 180 photos of women and teenage girls seized from Franklin’s home, the Los Angeles Police Department began fielding calls.
One caller said one of the women in the collage of photos had died of cancer in the ’90s. Another person called to say that they recognized another woman, but only knew her first name.
So far, the LAPD has received more than 100 calls from anxious tipsters. “The call center is fielding lots and lots of calls,” says veteran LAPD homicide detective Dennis Kilcoyne. Along with the calls, people are flocking to the LAPD’s website, which posted the photos of the mystery women Thursday after a press conference at police headquarters.
“The website is so busy,” says LAPD Officer Bruce Borihanh, estimating that by noon Friday there will be well over a million hits. “We have been getting requests from bloggers, and this case is being watched worldwide,” Borihanh says.
Kilcoyne told The Daily Beast that task force detectives were asked to work Friday to assist in the high volume of calls. “I didn’t want the people calling the police department and no one answering the phone,” he says.
Porter Alexander, whose daughter Monique was killed by the alleged Grim Sleeper in the ’80s, said the number of possible victims was “mind-boggling.”
“Hopefully something will come out of it and will give us an insight about him,” Alexander said.
Police say they believe the color photographs, most of which are pictures of women and teenage girls, may be victims of the alleged killer. “I believe we are going to have probably a few additional victims identified,” says Kilcoyne.
Some of the pictures, which were taken by the 57-year-old Franklin before his arrest in July, show women who range from teenagers to women in their sixties, exposing their breasts or fully nude.
The LAPD asked the sole survivor of the alleged Grim Sleeper, Enietra Washington, as well as family members of other victims, to view the photos before their release at a press conference Thursday.
Family members of the victims as well as Washington, who spoke exclusively to The Daily Beast, also viewed what may be the alleged killer’s grisly trophies—bracelets, rings, earrings, watches, and necklaces confiscated from the Franklin home.
The photographs were taken in cars, in Franklin’s motor home and in his backyard garage.
“We have no idea who the women are, what their circumstances are,” or if they are still alive, says Kilcoyne.
Some photographs show women who look like they may be asleep, unconscious or dead.
“Some of them [are] in his car and their eyes are closed,” says Washington. “Some of them look dead, if you ask me.”
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.
“That is what woke me up,” she says. “I remember the flash.”
Police discovered more than 1,000 photos in Franklin’s home as well as undeveloped film, a video camera, and dozens of videotape. Kilcoyne says it took the department almost five months to process and develop the film and make still photographs of the hundreds of hours of video footage. Investigators then whittled the photographs and footage down to 180 images of people they couldn’t identify.
“It was a huge undertaking,” says Kilcoyne. “There are photos from modern-day photography to methods used 25 years ago. And multiple varieties of cameras.”
Diana Ware, the stepmother of Barbara Ware, a woman who was killed in the 1980s, said she and family members of other victims recognized a couple of women in the photographs but didn’t know their names.
Some photographs show women who look like they may be asleep, unconscious, or dead.
“Some family members were saying, ‘I have seen those people before,’” says Ware. “Some of those girls could be right from the neighborhood.”
Ware says she was under the impression that if detectives had photos of the known victims they are keeping them for evidence at his upcoming trial.
Last July, Franklin, a mechanic with a history of car theft, was arrested as he walked out of his modest mint-green home, which he shared with his wife of 32 years. 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, a pensioner who collected a $1,658 monthly pension from the city, 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.
The Grim Sleeper serial killer was thought to have operated only in the 1980s, but struck again in 2002, 2003, and 2007. Most of the victims were shot with a .25 caliber pistol, and their bodies were found along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles, discarded like trash. Most had been sexually assaulted.
Along with the photos and jewelry, detectives also discovered a number of guns in Franklin’s house, including several .25 caliber pistols, the same type of gun used to kill the majority of the victims.
“I don’t think there is a case where this many photos were displayed,” says Kilcoyne. “He has been collecting pictures for 25 and 30 years.”
The detective, who worked on the case for years, says that the police department hopes to be able to identify other victims and bring some closure to family members whose loved ones have disappeared over the years. But he suspects that not everybody will be happy with the publication of the photos.
“Some people will be upset that we are putting their picture in the paper,” he says. “What they need to realize is we are obligated to do this… We aren’t the ones who took the picture—he is.”
Franklin’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31.
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.