South LA church displays photos of 10 'Grim Sleeper' victims

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Visitors and passersby write messages on photos of Grim Sleeper victims on display at Bethel AME Church in South Los Angeles

Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer claimed victim number one. In South Los Angeles, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is displaying photographs of 10 victims.

Cars passed on Western Avenue and sometimes the wind blew down the easels bearing the photos, but that hardly deterred a steady stream of visitors. Some arrived to honor a victim they knew; others came to honor all the victims. That what Debra Jackson did, but then she read one of the names.

"Oh my God. That was one my students," Jackson said, as she discovered the photo of fourteen-year-old Princess Berthomieux. Believed to be the Grim Sleeper’s 10th victim, Berthomieux was found strangled in an Inglewood alley in March of 2002.

Bethel AME church framed each photograph in blank card space where Jackson and other visitors could write messages.

"I kind of wrote on Debra Jackson because her name and mine is the same, but Princess was one of our students."

Police say Debra Jackson was the Grim Sleeper’s first victim in 1985. She was 29 years old. Amidst the many wishes to “rest in peace” written by her photo, someone scribbled: “It took a while, but justice will be served.”

Chris McNair saw the photos outside the church. The 52-year-old contractor stopped his van to write a message to victim Mary Lowe:

"May God have mercy on your soul, Mary - Chris."

McNair explained that he grew up in the same neighborhood as Lowe.

"I mean, you know, everybody in the neighborhood. You know different females, the females know the guys. And we are all one clique. And she went astray … and she never made it back."

McNair also met the man authorities believe killed Mary Lowe and nine others. Police arrested auto mechanic Lonnie Franklin, Jr. last month after investigating for decades.

"As soon as I heard 81st off of Western," said McNair, "I immediately called my friend, who’s a hairdresser. He said, 'Man, you know Lonnie. Remember? I took you over to his house to get a part for your car back in like ‘83 or something like that?'"

McNair finds it hard to believe Franklin is the Grim Sleeper, but he also says he really doesn’t know what to believe.

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