Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
August 30, 1952
|Died||March 28, 2020 (aged 67)|
|Other names||Grim Sleeper|
25 Auto Killer
|Victims||10–25+ victims, 1 survivor (known)|
Span of crimes
|1984–2007 (known murders)|
|July 7, 2010|
Lonnie David Franklin Jr. (August 30, 1952 – March 28, 2020), better known by the nickname Grim Sleeper, was an American serial killer who was responsible for at least 10 murders and one attempted murder in Los Angeles, California from 1984 to 2007. He was also convicted for rape and sexual violence. Franklin earned his nickname when he appeared to have taken a 14-year break from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002.
In July 2010, Franklin was arrested as a suspect, and, after many delays, his trial began in February 2016. On May 5, 2016, the jury convicted him of killing nine women and one teenage girl. On June 6, 2016, the jury recommended the death penalty, and on August 10, 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court sentenced him to death for each of the ten victims named in the verdict. On March 28, 2020, Franklin was found dead in his cell at San Quentin State Prison.
He was given a dishonorable discharge from the United States Army on July 24, 1975, after being released from prison for his conviction of gang-raping a 17-year-old girl in Stuttgart, West Germany, in April 1974. Franklin and two other servicemen stationed in Stuttgart stopped to ask directions from the teen then offered her a ride home. When she accepted, they put a knife to her throat, drove her to a field, and repeatedly raped her. She was able to feign interest in Franklin and asked for his phone number, by which police identified him. During the gang rape, photographs were taken by one of the rapists – as Franklin did later of the women he raped and murdered.
Original 1980s investigation
In the mid-1980s, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) became aware of an apparent serial killer targeting black women who were chronic drug users and street sex workers. The killer, dubbed the "Southside Slayer," was believed to be responsible for stabbing and strangling at least 13 sex workers between 1983 and late 1985. At one point, the murders were colloquially known as the "Strawberry Murders" ("strawberry" being slang for a woman who exchanges sex for drugs).
In September 1985, the LAPD described the case at a press conference and asked for tips from the public. Following the press conference, the LAPD was heavily criticized for their failure to alert the South Central community to the possibility of a serial killer earlier. Barbadian-American activist Margaret Prescod and other community activists held weekly protests outside of the LAPD's headquarters in an effort to pressure the department into forming a task force to investigate the murders. Prescod contrasted the apparent lack of police interest in the South Central murders with the significant attention given to the investigation of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, a serial killer who targeted women in upscale areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. She accused the LAPD of indifference to the deaths of women who were poor, black, drug users, and sex workers, which the LAPD denied.
By January 1986, 15 murders had been linked to the case. More detectives were added to the joint LAPD-Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigation, which had become known as the Southside Slayer Task Force, but by 1986 the case was still under investigation. Prescod formalized her group of activists as a community group called the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders and in March 1986 pressured the Los Angeles City Council to increase the reward money they were offering for information on the killings from $10,000 to $25,000.
By late 1986, conflicting modus operandi and suspect descriptions caused the investigators to doubt their original theory of a single killer responsible for all of the murders. Evidence suggested that several serial killers – possibly four or more – were murdering women in South Los Angeles. The Southside Slayer Task Force began to be wound down in 1987 because of the lack of results relative to the expense and manpower being used. Task-force commander Lt. John Zorn told the Los Angeles Times in December 1987 that "the flow of clues is almost non-existent at this point."
Multiple serial killers
Over the following years, it was found that serial killer Louis Craine committed at least two of the so-called "Southside Slayer" murders, and serial killers Michael Hughes, Daniel Lee Siebert, Chester Turner, and Ivan Hill committed at least one each. In addition, some of the murders may have been committed individually by the women's pimps or clients, unrelated to any serial killer.
The murders of Judith Simpson, Cynthia Walker, and Latanya Johnson, all committed with a 9 mm caliber pistol in late 1988, were also investigated by the Southside Slayer Task Force. Sheriff's Detective Rickey Ross was arrested for the murders after being found with drugs and a sex worker in a vehicle that had a rusted 9 mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol in the trunk. Ross was charged with the murders after his gun was forensically linked by the LAPD to the bullets from the murders. He was released after independent forensic analysis found it unlikely that Ross' gun was the murder weapon. All three of those murders remain unsolved.
One particular group of killings, which were linked by common elements including the use of a .25 caliber firearm, remained unsolved and unaccounted for by any other known serial killer. The first known murder in this series was the murder of Debra Jackson in August 1985, which was linked to the August 1986 murder of Henrietta Wright by forensic firearm examination. By 1987, there were seven victims linked to the same gun, all of whom had been shot in the chest at close range. Two decades later, the perpetrator of these crimes was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" due to the long period of apparent inactivity between murders.
In May 2007, the slaying of Janecia Peters, 25, was linked through DNA analysis to at least 11 unsolved murders in Los Angeles, the first of which occurred in 1985. That same year, in secrecy, the LAPD formed the "800 Task Force," composed of six detectives and overseen by the Robbery-Homicide Unit. After a four-month investigation, LA Weekly investigative reporter Christine Pelisek broke the news of the task force's existence, the link between Peters' killing and the earlier murders, and the silence of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton regarding the killer's existence. Villaraigosa and Bratton neither issued a press release nor warned the community. In some cases, LA Weekly was the first to inform the families that their daughters had long been confirmed as victims of a serial killer.
In early September 2008, Los Angeles officials announced that they were offering a $500,000 reward to help catch the killer. On November 1, the case was featured on the Fox program America's Most Wanted. On February 25, 2009, Bratton addressed the press for the first time regarding the case, at which time the police formally gave the killer the "Grim Sleeper" nickname chosen by LA Weekly. Bratton also released a 9-1-1 call from the 1980s in which a man reported seeing a body being dumped by Franklin, giving a detailed description and license plate number of a van connected with the now-closed Cosmopolitan Church.
In March 2009, Pelisek conducted an extensive interview with Enietra Washington, the sole survivor of Franklin's attacks. Washington described him as "a black man in his early 30s [ . . . ] He looked neat. Tidy. Kind of geeky. He wore a black polo shirt tucked into khaki trousers." She also described the interior and exterior of his vehicle.
Arrest and further investigation
On July 7, 2010, Franklin was arrested. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged him with 10 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders in the case. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley identified the suspect as 57-year-old Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a mechanic who worked between 1981 and 1988 for the City of Los Angeles in the sanitation department and briefly for the LAPD. Franklin was identified for arrest, at least in part, on familial DNA analysis.
Police had found no exact match between DNA found at the crime scenes and any of the profiles in California's DNA profile database, so they searched the database for stored profiles that demonstrated sufficient similarity to allow police to infer a familial relationship. They found similar DNA belonging to Franklin's son, Christopher, who had been convicted of a felony weapons charge in 2008. Christopher was too young to have committed the murders, but the familial DNA match led investigators to look at his father, Lonnie, as the likely perpetrator. According to Cooley, detectives then used a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin's DNA to make the link.
One undercover police officer pretended to be a waiter at a restaurant where Franklin ate, collecting dishes, silverware, glasses, and pizza crusts to obtain DNA. The identification was used to arrest Franklin after his DNA was obtained and deemed a match. Saliva found on the victims established a DNA match linking Franklin to the deaths.
Law enforcement missed an opportunity to catch Franklin because his DNA was not previously collected. In 2003, Franklin was convicted of a felony and was serving three years of supervised probation. In 2004, voters passed Proposition 69, which requires that DNA must be collected from all felons and everyone arrested on some specified charges. It also requires the expansion of the DNA database. Authorities collected and sorted through thousands of DNA samples. While he was on probation, Franklin's DNA was supposed to be entered in the system but was not as probation officers did not collect samples from people who were on unsupervised probation between November 2004 and August 2005. The probation department did not have the resources to collect samples until August 2005.
On December 16, 2010, the LAPD released 180 photos of women, found in Franklin's home after unsuccessful attempts to identify the individuals, possibly additional victims. "These people are not suspects, we don't even know if they are victims, but we do know this: Lonnie Franklin's reign of terror in the city of Los Angeles, which spanned well over two decades, culminating with almost a dozen murder victims, certainly needs to be investigated further," said Police Chief Charlie Beck.
In all, investigators found over 1,000 photos and several hundred hours of video in his home. The images show mainly black women of a wide age range, from teenagers to middle-aged and older, often nude. Police believe Franklin took many of the pictures, which show both conscious and unconscious individuals, dating back 30 years. The photos were released to the public in an effort to identify the women.
On November 3, 2011, Reuters reported that the police were considering Franklin as a suspect in six more slayings of additional female victims. The police were investigating two of the six as potential victims killed during a 14-year lapse between an initial spate of Grim Sleeper murders that ended in 1988 and several more that began in 2002. Of the remaining four victims, two bodies were discovered in the 1980s and two were reported missing in 2005 but the remains of the other two were never found, police said. Detectives said they linked Franklin to the six additional killings after reviewing hundreds of old case files and seeking the public's help in identifying a collection of 180 photographs of women and girls that were found in his possession.
Franklin was charged with ten murders and one attempted murder and held without bail. He was never charged in the death of a suspected eleventh victim, a black man, a crime for which DNA evidence was not found. After a lengthy pretrial discovery and several delays, the trial opened on February 16, 2016. Closing arguments began May 2, 2016 and the jury began deliberating May 4, 2016. On May 5, 2016, after nearly three months of trial and a day and a half of jury deliberation, Franklin was convicted of all counts.
His sentencing hearing began a week later, on May 12, 2016. At the hearing, prosecutors presented evidence relating to four other victims they believed had been killed by Franklin. The four victims were not among the original set identified by DNA and ballistic evidence as Grim Sleeper victims, and had only been identified as such after his arrest. Three victims, Sharon Alicia Dismuke, Inez Warren, and Georgia Mae Thompson, were identified as likely Grim Sleeper victims by task force officers investigating unsolved missing persons and homicide reports dating back to 1976. The fourth, Rolenia Morris, was identified from evidence found at Franklin's garage after his arrest. Her body has never been found. Prosecutors did not charge Franklin with these murders for fear of delaying the trial even further.
Prosecutors suspect that Lonnie Franklin's first victim was Sharon Alicia Dismuke, who was killed on January 15, 1984. His first confirmed victim was Debra Jackson, whose murder occurred in August 1985. Franklin apparently took a 14-year hiatus after his last known crime in 1988, and his next confirmed murder occurred in 2002. As a result of this apparent dormancy, he was nicknamed the "Grim Sleeper". Investigators have stated they believe it is likely that there were other as-yet-unidentified victims during that time frame. The last confirmed murder was in January 2007.
All but one of his victims were black women. One of his suspected victims was a black man. Many of his victims were sex workers, and Franklin was known to have had frequent contact with sex workers. All of his victims were found outdoors, often in alleys a short distance from downtown Los Angeles. He shot all of his victims with a .25 caliber gun. Franklin took many photographs of nude women and kept the records in his garage.
|1||Sharon Alicia Dismuke||F||21||January 15, 1984||South Park, Los Angeles||Presumed||Dismuke was not considered a Grim Sleeper victim until after Franklin's arrest. Evidence linking the modus operandi of Dismuke's murder to Franklin's other murders was presented at Franklin's sentencing.|
|2||Debra Ronette Jackson||F||29||August 10, 1985||Vermont-Slauson, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|3||Henrietta Wright||F||34||August 12, 1986||Hyde Park, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|4||Thomas Sylvester Steele||M||36||August 14, 1986||Harvard Park, Los Angeles||Suspected||Franklin was not charged due to lack of evidence. Police said that the male victim, Thomas Steele, possibly was a friend of another victim or had discovered the killer's identity.|
|5||Barbara Bethune Ware||F||23||January 10, 1987||Central-Alameda, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|6||Bernita Rochelle Sparks||F||26||April 15, 1987||Gramercy Park, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|7||Mary Katherine Lowe||F||26||November 1, 1987||Gramercy Park, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|8||Lachrica Denise Jefferson||F||22||January 30, 1988||Westmont, Los Angeles County||Convicted|
|9||Inez Elizabeth Warren||F||28||August 15, 1988||Gramercy Park, Los Angeles||Presumed||Warren was not considered a Grim Sleeper victim until after Franklin's arrest. Evidence linking the modus operandi of Warren's murder to Franklin's other murders was presented at Franklin's sentencing.|
|10||Alicia Monique Alexander||F||18||September 11, 1988||Vermont Square, Los Angeles||Convicted|
|11||Enietra Margette Washington||F||30||Survived||Gramercy Park, Los Angeles||Convicted||Attacked on November 20, 1988, she is the only confirmed survivor.|
|12||Georgia May Thomas||F||43||December 28, 2000||South Park, Los Angeles||Presumed||Thomas was not considered a Grim Sleeper victim until after Franklin's arrest. Evidence linking the modus operandi of Thomas's murder to Franklin's other murders was presented at Franklin's sentencing.|
|13||Princess Cheyanne Berthomieux||F||15||March 19, 2002||Inglewood, California||Convicted|
|14||Valerie Louise McCorvey||F||35||July 11, 2003||Westmont, Los Angeles County||Convicted|
|15||Ayellah Gbodzata Marshall||F||18||Never found||—||Suspected||Marshall was last seen in February 2005. Her body has never been found. Her school identification card was found in Franklin's garage. Evidence linking Franklin to Marshall was not sufficient to pursue.|
|16||Rolenia Morris||F||31||Never found||—||Presumed||Morris was last seen on September 5, 2005. Her body has never been found. Her Nevada driver's license and two sexually explicit pictures of her were found in Franklin's garage. Prosecutors presented this evidence at Franklin's sentencing.|
|17||Janecia Lavette Peters||F||25||January 1, 2007||Gramercy Park, Los Angeles||Convicted|
On March 28, 2020, Franklin was found dead in his cell. His cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy as reported; however, there were no signs of trauma. As of 2021, his cause of death and the results of the autopsy have not been publicly released.
Film and television
- In 2014, British filmmaker Nick Broomfield created a documentary film about Franklin, Tales of the Grim Sleeper.
- In 2014, Lifetime premiered a movie, The Grim Sleeper, based on the case. It was produced by Michael Jaffe Films Ltd. and stars Dreama Walker, Macy Gray, Ernie Hudson, and Michael O’Neill.
- In 2017, journalist Christine Pelisek published The Grim Sleeper, an account of the investigation into the case.
- The story was covered during season 1 of the Investigation Discovery show The Face of Evil in episode 4 titled, "The Grim Sleeper", which premiered on May 9, 2019.
- The story was also referenced in season 1 of the show Ghosts in the Hood. 
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- Los Angeles Police Department "Grim Sleeper" page – features photographs of unidentified potential victims
- CNN.com – Grim Sleeper CNN Special Report; includes list of victims, connections, evidence, suspects, theories, and key persons involved
- GoogleMaps locations Google map of Grim Sleeper locations