One of the longest operating serial killers in history, the Grim Sleeper murdered poor black women in the South Central Los Angeles area from 1985-1988. No one was apprehended by police for the crimes, yet, the killing stopped abruptly. The killer’s namesake comes from the fourteen year “sleep” that followed his initial slew of murders. Whether he actually lay dormant during this time, or merely hid his handiwork better, the Grim Sleeper reemerged in 2002 to kill again. It’s not until 2010 that advances DNA technology, the reopening of old cases and a little luck reveal the true identity of the Grim Sleeper.
No one suspected Lonnie David Franklin, Jr., a respected member of the community, to be a serial killer. But as the Grim Sleeper, he mostly preyed on women he thought wouldn’t be missed -- prostitutes, addicts and young runaways -- and then dumped their bodies as if they were trash.
Born: August 30, 1952, Los Angeles, California
Whereabouts: In prison awaiting the death penalty
M.O.: Targeted poor black women who he sexually assaulted, photographed and shot in the chest at close range with a .25 caliber gun. He left their bodies in grimy alleyways, amongst trash. During his resurgence, he changed his M.O. to strangulation for two out of three of his later victims. His final victim was both shot and strangled.
Motive: Vengeance against a female figure who wronged him in the past by hurting victims that resemble her in some way; sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on another.
Victim count: 10 confirmed, 1 attempted murder; possibly killed many more
Best known for: His collection of women’s jewelry and homemade pornographic polaroids of unconscious, possibly dead women; allegedly taking a fourteen year break between killings
On November 20, 1988, Enietra Washington was attacked by the Grim Sleeper and lived. She described him as neat, tidy, and kind of geeky, wearing a black polo and khakis. He drove a bright orange Ford Pinto that looked like a Hot Wheels car with it’s white racing stripe. Aside from his flashy car, the Grim Sleeper appeared to be an unassuming individual. Still, no one in the South Central community could believe it when police identified Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. as the Grim Sleeper. While Franklin had rep for reselling stolen cars and bragging about his extramarital affairs, he also worked for the city as a sanitation worker and helped out at the local police station as a garage attendant. With the exception of a few moral flaws, the community saw Franklin as a well-respected church-goer who could be counted on to help those in need.
The boy who would later become the Grim Sleeper grew up in South Central, a Los Angeles neighborhood known for it’s high crime-rate, gang violence and poor police relations. Nothing else is really known about his childhood. For a time, he served in the U.S. Army, but was discharged in 1975 for participating in the gang-rape of a girl while stationed in Germany -- an early sign of his hatred towards women and need to assert power over them. After leaving the army, Franklin served time for unrelated crimes, including possession of stolen property, misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor battery.
He began murdering women during the Cocaine Epidemic and took jewelry and photos as trophies of his killings to remind him of the power he felt when he overtook them. Franklin targeted prostitutes, addicts and runaways in South Central because little attention would be paid to them when the disappeared. In a high-crime community like South Central, either witnesses would to too afraid to come forward with information or police wouldn’t give them much credence if they did.
Given what we know of the killer’s past history, victim demographic and need to collect trophies, Franklin was probably both an “Anger-Retaliatory” and “Anger-Excitation” killer. He chose the victims that he did because they resembled a woman (or several women) that wronged him in the past. Violating his victims as if directly harming them was an act of vengeance. Franklin’s first wife was a drug addict, he had troubles with his second wife, and may have gotten an STD or had a bad experience with a girlfriend or prostitute. Franklin also experienced sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on his victims. Considering that he habitually acted on his urges for years, it seems unlikely that he truly went on a fourteen-year-long killing hiatus. Instead, he probably changed his M.O. In the 1980s, Franklin did nothing to hide the bodies of his victims. He dumped them amongst trash, because that was exactly how he viewed them. He also used a gun to kill them, probably thinking that their deaths would blend in with all the other gun violence victims in the area. But there were two other serial killers operating in the area at the time and the police were hard-pressed to catch them. Afraid of getting caught, Franklin may have began using his job as a sanitation worker as a means of disposing the women he murdered into landfills.
His “reemergence” came in 2002 when he began dumping the bodies in public again. Two out of his last three known victims were strangled by his bare hands, possibly out of fear of using a weapon that could be traced back to him. Police used ballistics evidence to connect his 1980s murders together. However, Franklin’s very last known victim was both shot and strangled, which suggests he liked both methods of killing and was willing to take the risk. This, and the police department’s mission to close old cases using DNA analysis (a fledgling science in the late 1980s), proved to be his downfall.
When police arrested and interrogated Franklin, they couldn’t get him to confess. The Grim Sleeper denied all charges brought against him, ignored the indisputable evidence and clung to his public-facing image, the camouflage he hid behind. But it didn’t change his fate. He is now in prison waiting for the death penalty.