The “Grim Sleeper” serial murder case took another turn Thursday. Trying to identify more victims, Los Angeles police released 180 photos found at the home of alleged killer Lonnie David Franklin Junior. Franklin’s charged with killing 10 people, but police believe he murdered more.
After police arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr. outside his South Los Angeles home in July, they conducted what one detective calls one of the most thorough searches in the department’s history.
“We spent three days in an exhaustive search of his house," Detective Dennis Kilcoyne said. "Our primary concern over the past number of months has been evidence we took from the house.”
No one knows the “Grim Sleeper” case more intimately than Kilcoyne. The veteran homicide detective leads the investigation into Franklin, 57, a neighborhood car mechanic who once worked for the city fixing LAPD cruisers. He’s also got a long rap sheet that includes stealing cars.
Kilcoyne said police found hundreds of photos and VHS tapes at Franklin’s home.
“We’ve reviewed film and cameras from 20, 30 years ago – conventional film to digital stuff," the detective said. "It’s a long period of time that he’s been taking pictures.”
Prosecutors have used DNA evidence to charge Franklin with 10 murders. They say the first was in 1985. The last happened three years ago. But there was an apparent 14-year gap in the killing starting in 1989, hence the moniker “Grim Sleeper.”
But Chief Charlie Beck says police believe Franklin never stopped killing, and that some of the photos – some of them lifted from VHS tapes – may be of unknown victims.
“There is somebody’s photo among these 180 who is a victim," Beck said. "There is some family in this city that goes without justice. And you will help us in achieving that for them.”
The photos depict a few men and white women. The vast majority, row after row after row, are of African-American women. Police say they were Franklin’s favorite target. Most are headshots. Many of the women are smiling. The LAPD has posted them on its website.
The Grim Sleeper did most of his work in City Councilman Bernard Parks’ South L.A. district.
“They’ve always had a concern as to ‘is this all?'" Parks said of the initial 10 murder charges against Franklin.
Parks, a former police chief who spent 40 years with the LAPD, recalled the bloody period during which Franklin allegedly did his killing.
“I think if you go back and look at the late '80s, early '90s, the city averaged well over a thousand to 1,100 murders a year," Parks said. "I actually as chief of Central Bureau closed down the Rampart homicide unit. We would not allow them to take any other cases.”
He says homicide detectives were overwhelmed then.
LAPD critics have said the department paid too little attention to the murders of these African-American women, a few of whom were prostitutes. The department’s denied the accusation.
Detective Kilcoyne says the LAPD’s committed to tracking down all of Franklin’s victims, and key to that is identifying the women in the photos found at his home.
“Our best wish is that we get a phone call from each and every one of them that everything is OK," Kilcoyne said.
But the detective working one of the worst serial murder cases in L.A. history indicated he doesn’t believe that’s the way it’ll turn out.