His first victim was cocktail waitress Debra Jackson, 29. She disappeared after taking a bus home from visiting a friend. Her body was found three days later, dumped in an alleyway under an old carpet. She’d been shot three times in the chest.
It was August 1985 and, at the time, the city of LA was struggling to cope with an epidemic of crime and drug addiction. Senseless killings were common and remained unsolved, especially if the victim was like Debra.
She was from a deprived area and had drugs in her system. People with that kind of background weren’t a priority for an already overstretched police force, and the Grim Sleeper took full advantage.
It would take years before anyone realised that Debra was the first victim of the most prolific serial killer California has ever seen, and three decades before he was caught and sentenced to death.
Lonnie Franklin Jr picked victims that society had forgotten about, and stalked the streets at his leisure. He was eventually convicted of murdering 10 women but a disturbing collection of photos means the case is far from closed. Just how many more women did he kill?
After Debra’s murder, more bodies were found dumped in alleyways, wrapped in old carpet, or stuffed in trash bags either partially dressed or naked. None had ID, but they’d all been choked or shot, and sexually assaulted.
Soon after Debra came Henrietta Wright, 35. She’d been shot twice and left in an alleyway under a mattress.
In January 1987, Barbara Ware, 23, was shot in the chest and dumped under a pile of rubbish.
In April, Bernita Sparks, 26, went to the shops and never came back. She was dumped in a bin after being strangled, beaten and shot.
Then the winter saw Mary Lowe, 26, killed on her way to a party.
In January 1988, Lachrica Jefferson, 22, was found dead with a napkin over her face with the word AIDS written on it. Alicia Alexander, 18, was killed on her way to the shops.
All the victims were African-American and from poor backgrounds. Some were prostitutes with addictions, while others were simply women out late at night, which made them easy targets.
It took years before the murders were even linked and, by then, the Grim Sleeper was well into his stride. His name was Lonnie David Franklin Jr and he was a city trash collector. The married dad-of-two had even worked as a garage attendant for the LA Police Department for a while.
Neighbours say he was friendly and always happy to help out. When he offered his victims a lift, they’d have been grateful. In November 1988, Enietra Washington climbed into a car with Lonnie. He shot her in the chest, raped her and pushed her out of the car. Incredibly, she survived.
Police knew they had a serial killer on their hands, but, from 1988, there appeared to be no more victims for almost 14 years which is what earned Lonnie the nickname the Grim Sleeper.
In March 2002, the body of 14-year-old Princess Berthomieux was found. DNA matched the previous victims and the Grim Sleeper was officially ‘awake’.
Valerie McCorvey, 35, was found dead in July 2003, and in 2007 Janecia Peters, 25, was shot in the back and thrown in a dumpster.
By now, police had the technology they needed to link the victims with DNA evidence. A task force was created and the public were finally made aware of the serial killer’s reign over the city. There was outrage. How many lives could have been saved if the public had known?
A breakthrough came in 2010. DNA from the crime scenes was linked with DNA on the system. It belonged to Lonnie’s son, who was on record for weapon charges. All the bodies were found in a five-mile radius of Lonnie’s home, they just needed his DNA.
Investigators found out Lonnie was attending a party at a pizza restaurant. An undercover officer acted as a waiter and collected Lonnie’s leftover pizza crust and the cutlery he used. His DNA
was a match.
In July 2010, Lonnie, then 57, was arrested. His wife Sylvia stood by him.
Police released 180 photos of women that had been found in Lonnie’s home, hidden behind a wall.
Women were awake, while others looked unconscious or dead. It suggested there were far more victims than they knew about.
In February this year, Lonnie faced a jury. The defence tried to say there was reasonable doubt because of a potential second set of DNA found on some of the victims, but the evidence was overwhelming.
Enietra, who had survived the attack in 1988, took the stand and described being shot and sexually assaulted.
"That’s the person who shot me," Enietra said, pointing at Lonnie.
The jury were put through 11 weeks of gruesome evidence. Images of women’s half-naked bodies dumped in piles of rubbish women Lonnie knew society had neglected.
In the closing arguments, the prosecution made a powerful statement about the victims: "They suffered from the same frailties and the same imperfections that all humans do, and they had the same hopes and the same dreams for their futures that we all have."
In May this year, Lonnie, 63, was found guilty of murdering nine women and one teenage girl from 1985 to 2007. He was also convicted for the attempted murder of Enietra Washington.
A month later, the jury recommended the death sentence – a decision that will be formerly upheld by a judge. Lonnie had no reaction. As he left the courtroom, someone shouted "dead man walking".
Source: UK Mirror