Lonnie Franklin is one of the most prolific serial killers to ever troll California, possibly one of the most prolific killers in recent American history. Still, he is not a household name like Ted Bundy or Dahmer. This killer was active in LA from the mid 80’s until 2010, and given his nickname of “the grim sleeper” because it appears that he took a 14 year break (or “cool down” period) from killing.
Lonnie had been a married man, a father, a backyard mechanic, and a trash collector. He was a felon with a penchant for stealing cars, sex workers, and drugs, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t well loved in his community. Though he had been a drug dealer, Lonnie had despised “crackheads”; his first wife had been an addict, and she’d broken his heart. He would tell his friends he wanted to “clean up the streets”, it is believed that this may have been what he was doing when he killed. Maybe this is how Lonnie justified these killings in his own mind.
There were signs that Lonnie was the killer: he hired a friend to set fire to a vehicle with bloody clothing inside, was spotted with a .25 firearm which matched the one wanted in connection to the murders, many recalled having seen multiple photos of women in degrading positions, and Lonnie was was known to keep handcuffs. Still, the man hadn’t really been suspected by those who knew him; even with a huge cash reward on his head, nobody ever thought to turn him in. Everyone knew that he was a freak, that Lonnie liked to party and that he hadn’t minded paying for a lady’s attentions, but that’s about as far as people thought it went.
When Lonnie went out searching looking for female companionship alone, he’d convince the women of his choosing to enter his vehicle with the promise of crack or money. Once inside either his van or pinto, the woman would’ve been a sitting duck. His victims were raped, then murdered by strangulation, their throats slit, or they were stabbed; afterwords the corpse would have been dumped in various alleys, trash cans, dumpsters, etcetera. Some of the missing women have yet to be found.
Lonnie had really enjoyed taking photos of women, including his victims. Many of these pictures had been very degrading: the women were often naked, tied up, handcuffed, wearing dog collars complete with leashes. Some were in the process of being whipped, being raped, and some of the women in these photos appear to be completely unaware of what was going on. They look wasted, drugged out of their minds, and some were out cold, unconscious – a few appeared to be dead. After Lonnie was arrested for the murder of 10 women and one attempted murder, during a search of his LA home police found more than 1,000 videos and photographs of his victims (including pictures of 180 missing women and a photo of his surviving victim, Enietra Washington, who we will speak of momentarily) a .25 caliber semiautomatic handgun, and various pieces of jewellery and lingerie which Lonnie had collected from his victims throughout the decades.
Now there’s no denying the fact that the police had dropped the ball over and over again in this case. In November of 1988, the afore mentioned victim, Enietra Washington, had been offered a ride to a friend’s party. Once she got inside the man’s pinto, Enietra was shot with a .25, raped, and left for dead. Somehow Enietra survived; the bullet taken from her body was matched to multiple other murders. At the hospital she supplied police with a composite sketch of her attacker, told them exactly what he had been driving, she even showed them the approximate place where she believed he lived; even with all of this evidence, nothing was done to stop Lonnie from killing.
Another example of this is when a witness called police in regards to the murder of 23 year old Barbara Ware; this witness had stated that he had just witnessed Barbara’s body being dumped. The caller, who sounds an awful lot like Lonnie himself, told police precisely where to go, what the white van looked like, and gave the license plate number on the vehicle: 1PZP746! Whoever this person was, he practically handed the serial killer over to the detectives on a silver platter. I’m wondering if it was Lonnie, maybe he was feeling guilty and wanted to be caught? Either way, absolutely nothing was done! It’s like law enforcement just didn’t give a damn, and for much of the time these young women had not even been aware that they were being hunted by a psychopath.
When Lonnie Franklin was finally stopped it was by a computer. The man was caught by chance, not because there was a huge sting or anything. When Lonnie’s son was arrested, his DNA was taken – it had been completely routine. That DNA was then entered into a computer program which matched the DNA from the Grim Sleeper’s victims – semen and saliva Lonnie had left on the bodies. Investigators had known that the man they had in custody was closely related to the killer so they found Lonnie, followed him to a pizza joint, and convinced his waitress to give them his leftover food and utensils. A DNA sample from the saliva left on a slice of pizza he’d thrown away was a match, and voilà! They had their killer. That DNA was matched to approximately 20 murders, about half of those had been shot with the same .25.
On July 7th of 2010, a 57 year old Lonnie Franklin was arrested for the murder of 10 women and one attempted murder, but there are many, many more for which he has not been prosecuted. Lonnie was found guilty and sentenced to death, and today he sits on death row at California’s San Quentin State Prison.
The award winning HBO documentary “Tales Of The Grim Sleeper” is available on YouTube. I can link you, if you like.