Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s reign of terror began in South Los Angeles in the mid- ‘80s and would span decades before he was finally caught with the help of groundbreaking DNA technology. Better known as the Grim Sleeper because of a supposed “break” he took from killing (although cops later disputed this theory), Franklin was convicted last year for murdering 10 women and attempting to murder one more. However, police say he may have killed upwards of 25 women in total. The Grim Sleeper is the subject of this week's Martinis & Murder.
A neighborhood mechanic who was 57 when he arrested, Franklin lived in a quaint bungalow with his wife of more than 30 years, all the while preying on vulnerable women who lived in or worked in his vicinity. He committed many of the murders at the height of the crack craze, when the deadly drug had ensnared many in what Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman called a “lethal epidemic.” Crack was cheap, packed a powerful high and was extremely addictive, and all but one of Franklin’s victims had cocaine in their system at the time of autopsy, Silverman said during the serial killer’s trial in 2016. Many of Franklin’s victims were prostitutes who sold their bodies to pay for their drug habit, and Franklin preyed on this vulnerability, she added.
All of Franklin’s victims were shot, strangled, or often times, both. In fact, some were shot at such close range that the gun left burn marks on their bodies and clothing. One, 35-year-old Valerie McCorvey, appeared to have been strangled with her own necklace. She was found dumped in an alley with a bite mark on her breast, according to The Grim Sleeper, a new nonfiction book out by the reporter who broke the story, Christine Pelisek.
Nearly all of Franklin’s victims were disposed of like they were trash, and were typically found in alleys, by dumpsters or half hidden by bushes on the side of the road. Barbara Ware, 23, was found in an alley with her head inside a black garbage bag, according to Pelisek’s book, and she had been shot with a .25 caliber gun, Franklin’s firearm of choice. Bernita Sparks, another one of Franklin’s victims, was found inside a dumpster with blood on her face, a bullet hole near her breast and signs of strangulation.
Then there was 22-year-old Lachrica Jefferson, found shot dead and half-hidden under a mattress in an alley with a napkin placed across her face that had the word “AIDS” written on it. Franklin’s other victims include Janecia Peters, 25; Mary Lowe, 26; Debra Jackson, 29; Henrietta Wright, 34; Alicia “Monique” Alexander, 18; and his youngest known victim, Princess Berthomieux, 15.
One of Franklin’s victims, Enietra Washington, managed to survive his attack and gave her first-hand testimony during Franklin’s trial in Los Angeles last year. Washington recalled walking over to a friend’s house when a man in an orange Pinto pulled up beside her and asked her if she wanted a ride. Washington got in the car and after a brief stop at what Franklin said was a family member’s home, he turned and shot Washington in the chest while she was sitting in his passenger seat. When Washington tried to exit the car, Franklin threatened to shoot her again and then climbed on top of he and took pictures as she drifted in and out of consciousness, the Los Angeles Times reported. Franklin eventually pushed her out of the car and drove off.
There were many confounding factors that made it difficult for police to catch Franklin, they’ve said. For one, DNA evidence wasn’t what it is now, so they relied largely on ballistics and witness testimony. There was also a surge in violent crime as well as multiple active serial killers. These factors, combined with the fatal fallout of the crack epidemic, resulted in such a large number of deaths in South L.A. that it was difficult for police to decipher the different MOs (Modus Operandi), said LAPD Det. Daryn Dupree.
The Los Angeles Police Department finally arrested Lonnie Franklin Jr. in 2010, after a new form of DNA testing - called a familial DNA search - pointed to Franklin, and cops were able to confirm the match by confiscating some of the serial killer’s trash at a pizza restaurant. When police searched his house, they discovered a stash of guns, jewelry, homemade porn and hundreds of photos of women, some appearing either dead or unconscious. Police posted many of these images in an online gallery in the hope that loved ones could help identify and locate the mysterious women. Some were still unidentified as recently as last year.
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