Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lonnie David Franklin Jr: The Grim Sleeper

A hidden killer

Sketch of suspect
Sketch of suspect

The victims were found covered by dirty mattresses or carpets in dirtier alleys, or dumped in trash bags, discarded like garbage. Except for one man, they were all women, and they were all black. Some had drug problems, many had been prostitutes. Most had been shot at close range with a small caliber handgun, but a few were strangled to death. Many had been raped before they were killed.

Back then, the streets of South Los Angeles, better known to the greater universe as South Central, were littered with the dead and the forgotten. The people were jaded; used to being ignored by the police, and were living with an even worse enemy: the crack epidemic.

The murders blended in—there were nearly 800 in 1985 in the city, according a Nightline report. In South L.A., over a four-year period, 52 prostitutes were killed—garnering them the nickname, the "strawberry murders," after a street term for women who traded sex for drugs. According to The Vancouver Sun, a number people were convicted for some of the killings—but 34 of the 52 murders remained unsolved. The police told ABC News at the time, they believed the murders were the work of four or five different men. One of the killers, Michael Hughes, was caught. Another, Chester Turner was sentenced to death. Another, Louis Crane was convicted of strangling four prostitutes and later died in prison.

Sketch of suspect with age progression
Sketch of suspect with age progression

But, it wasn't until relatively recently that the Los Angeles Police Department realized that there was still a serial killer in their midst.

Nicknamed "the Grim Sleeper" by Christine Pelisek, the reporter for LA Weekly who broke the case, the unknown man was still at large on the streets of South L.A., looking for his next victim.

Until July 2010.

Lonnie David Franklin Jr. in 1988
Lonnie David Franklin Jr. in 1988

A suspect was identified by a "familial" DNA search of one million samples and ordered by Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown—the DNA of the son of the suspect served as the initial clue for the LAPD. On Wednesday, July 7, they were issued a search warrant, by Thursday morning, the green house at 1728 West 81st Street in Los Angeles, had been turned into a crime scene and media circus. One Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested and charged with ten counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

But for years—even just last week—it seemed the case might never be solved.


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