Crime & Justice

Grim Sleeper's first known victim testifies in sentencing trial

Lonnie David Franklin Jr. appears for arraignment on multiple charges as the alleged
Lonnie David Franklin Jr. appears for arraignment on multiple charges as the alleged "Grim Sleeper" killer, in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday, July 8, 2010.
Al Seib/AP

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Long before he began murdering women in South Los Angeles in the 1980s, convicted serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. committed a crime that may have been a harbinger of the mayhem to come.

On Thursday, his first known victim took the stand in the penalty phase of his trial, recounting the horrific events of April 17, 1974. That was 11 years before the first murder for which he was convicted earlier this month.

Prosecutors are urging the jury give Franklin, 63, the death penalty for his convictions on 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. In an unusual move, prosecutors are raising other crimes Franklin allegedly committed to help convince jurors he deserves capital punishment.

Franklin’s defense attorney he wants life in prison. All along, Franklin has denied killing anyone.

In one case from the early 1970s, a 17-year-old German girl identified as Ingrid W. was living with her parents in Asperg, Germany, near Stuttgart. Prosecutors refuse to release her last name citing the nature of the crime and her age at the time. She came all the way from Germany to testify.

Franklin was stationed at a nearby U.S. Army base, where he had recently taken on the job of cook. He had an E-4 ranking at the time.

In court Thursday, Deputy District Atty. Beth Silverman carefully asked Ingrid W. to recount the events of a night more than four decades ago. Ingrid was waiting outside of a train station for a ride home after visiting a friend.

Suddenly, a car full of three men, one of them Franklin, pulled up to her.

“They were asking me for an address or directions,” recalled Ingrid.

Her husband stood in the witness box to offer support.

What happened next, asked Silverman. “Somebody grabbed me and pulled me into vehicle,” Ingrid recalled. One man had a knife and held it to her throat.

She recalled driving to a remote area.

“I was raped by all three men,” Ingrid testified.  The prosecutor pressed for details. Ingrid wiped her forehead of sweat. Her husband whispered to her. She touched his hand.

“How long did it go?,” Silverman asked.

“The rest of the night.,” Ingrid said. After it was over, she moved to the front seat of the car and “tried to play nice” with her attackers – hoping just to get home, she said

The next day, she went to the police. Police tracked down the three American servicemen in part because she had given one of the men her telephone number when she was playing nice. Police say they tracked down Franklin after he called her.

Franklin’s defense attorney, Seymour Amster, sought to discredit the accounts.

He argued the jury never should have heard from Ingrid because she could not personally identify Franklin. Judge Kathleen Kennedy quashed his motion to keep her and others associated with the German case from testifying.

At trial, the men tried to convince the German court that it was all consensual. All three were convicted. Franklin was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. He was also discharged from the army.

Former U.S. Army Captain Frank Pile was assigned to monitor the 1974 German trial of Lonnie Franklin Jr. In that case, Franklin, Jr. and two other men were convicted of kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old German girl. She and Captain Pile both took the stand on Thursday, May 26, 2016 in the penalty phase of the trial of Franklin, Jr., who was convicted of murdering multiple women in Los Angeles over several decades.
Former U.S. Army Captain Frank Pile was assigned to monitor the 1974 German trial of Lonnie Franklin Jr. In that case, Franklin, Jr. and two other men were convicted of kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old German girl. She and Captain Pile both took the stand on Thursday, May 26, 2016 in the penalty phase of the trial of Franklin, Jr., who was convicted of murdering multiple women in Los Angeles over several decades.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Ingrid never identified Franklin in court. That was left to former U.S. Army Captain Frank Pyle. He was a military attorney assigned to monitor the trial. He recalled taking Franklin’s mother to the trial just about every day.

Pyle believed Franklin was guilty and agreed with German court’s decision. But he didn't recall seeing Franklin as monster.

“He appeared mild mannered and didn’t appear to be a bad guy at the time,” Pyle said. “The court felt like he was probably influenced by the other two servicemen.”

But it is Franklin who went on to become one of L.A.’s most prolific serial killers. While he’s been convicted of murdering 10 women, police believe he is responsible for perhaps as many as 25 between 1984 and 2007.

For some victims’ families, questions linger about whether Franklin could have been stopped earlier – maybe even identified as a serious threat after the rapes.

“Somewhere down the line, he could have been held up,” said Porter Alexander, whose daughter Alice Monique Alexander was murdered in 1988. She was 18-years-old.