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L.A. “Grim Sleeper” serial killer suspect arrested

The serial killer was named the “Grim Sleeper” by the L.A. Weekly for taking long breaks between attacks, but he is believed responsible for at least 11 murders and one attempted murder in South Los Angeles since 1985.

The police had the DNA of the killer from the sexual assaults that preceded the murders. The killer targeted black women, some who worked as prostitutes, and killed them with the same small-caliber weapon, but police could find nobody who matched the DNA. A sweep of state prisons in 2008 failed to come up with a match for the DNA. Last Wednesday, results of a second DNA search of prisons came up with a familial match. California’s familial DNA search program led authorities to the suspect, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., aged 57, who made his first appearance today in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges of murder and attempted murder. Only California and Colorado have formal polices that permit the use of software to look at DNA profiles of possible relatives of a suspect. The use in this case was approved by Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The familial DNA program, which uses the DNA of family members to find suspects in cases of great risk to the public, was enacted in 2008, against the opposition of civil rights groups. DNA from one of Franklin’s family members who had been arrested on a felony weapons charge, was a familial match.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, detectives drew a family tree of the prisoner with the familial match and looked at all of the men on the tree. Were they the right age? Did they live close to the murder scenes? Was there anything to explain why the serial killer stopped killing for 13 years and then started again in 2003? The prisoner’s father became a likely suspect. An undercover team followed the man and retrieved DNA from a piece of discarded pizza. On Tuesday, investigators confirmed that Franklin’s DNA matched DNA of the suspect in the murders. On Wednesday, police arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr. at his South L.A. home, without incident.

According to the LATimes online:

“Franklin is charged with 10 counts of murder in the deaths of Debra Jackson, 29, Henrietta Wright, 35, Barbara Ware, 23, Bernita Sparks, age unknown, Mary Lowe, 26, Lachrica Jefferson, 22, Alicia Alexander, 18, Princess Berthomieux, 15, Valerie McCorvey, 35, and Janecia Peters, 25. He is also charged with one count of attempted murder, apparently stemming from the assault on the only victim who is known to have survived.”

The LATimes online provides the following history and description of Franklin:

“Franklin was a garage attendant at the LAPD’s 77th Street Division station in the early 1980s, according to city and police sources. He worked as a garbage collector for the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation during the years that the first eight killings occurred, beginning with the death of Jackson on Aug. 10, 1985, and ending with the death of Alexander on Sept. 11, 1988.

Franklin has at least four prior convictions, two for felony possession of stolen property in 1993 and 2003, one for misdemeanor battery in 1997, and one for misdemeanor assault in 1999, according to court records. He was sentenced to a year in jail for the first stolen property charge and 270 days for the second one.

On a tidy street of single-family homes in South Los Angeles where Franklin lived for decades, residents described him as a kind and compassionate neighbor who volunteered in the community, helped elderly residents of the block and fixed their cars for free.”

The LATimes online has an interactive map of the Grim Sleeper killings 1985-2007.

(Note added July 16, 2010: The Grim Sleeper suspect, Lonnie D. Franklin, 57, was attacked by fellow inmate Antonio Rodriguez today, who struck Franklin in the head twice, in an attorney waiting room, in an unprovoked attack.)

-Bill at

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