What You Didn't Know About The Grim Sleeper

The stories of serial killers are horrifying. But few serial killers' tales match that of Lonnie David Franklin Jr. Branded the Grim Sleeper, Franklin was responsible for the deaths of at least 10 people, as well as at least one other attempted murder. Franklin earned the nickname "Grim Sleeper" due to what appears to have been a 14-year "break" in his murdering spree (via All That's Interesting).

Born in August 1952 in South Central Los Angeles, Lonnie Franklin Jr. served in the United States Army as a young adult. Holding the rank of private while stationed in Germany in 1974, Franklin and two other servicemen were convicted of the sexual assault of a 17-year-old (via Los Angeles Times). Franklin was sentenced to over three years in German jail for the crime (via Southern California Public Radio). After his release, he was dishonorably discharged from the military. Franklin returned to Los Angeles, married a woman named Sylvia, and together they had two children. For the next 30 years, Franklin appeared to be living a quiet, normal existence.

A string of brutal murders

With a string of murdered sex workers occurring in Los Angeles circa 1985, the Los Angeles Police Department (according to Ebony) became aware of someone killing Black women who were either heavy drug users or sex workers. Dubbed the "Southside Slayer" (via Criminal Minds), the LAPD at the time estimated that the individual was responsible for the strangulation and stabbing of 13 women between the years of 1983 and 1985. By the following year, the police had linked two more murders to the Southside Slayer, causing them to assemble a task force to head the investigation.

By 1987, the LAPD had revised their original theory of a single killer. Law enforcement now suspected up to four individuals could have been responsible for the killing of multiple sex workers, due to the use of different weapons for the murders. With the lack of evidence, combined with limited resources, however, the LAPD shut down the case late in 1987, but not before a pattern would emerge in the murders. Law enforcement was able to ascertain that one set of murders in particular was committed with the use of a .25 caliber gun (via Murderpedia). By the end of the investigation, LAPD had tied seven of the 15 murders that occurred between '83 and '85 to the .25 handgun. These murders, in time, would be linked to the Grim Sleeper.

A killer on the loose

A former mechanic for the LA sanitation department, Lonnie Franklin spent three decades living life as a small offender, stealing and selling car parts out of his garage (via Los Angeles Times). Even though Franklin had his share of run-ins with the law, neighbors still saw him "as something of a gem — a good neighbor, quick with a helping hand." That is, until his arrest on July 7, 2010, for the death of Janecia Peters.

In January of 2007, 25-year-old Janecia Peters was found shot and covered with a garbage bag in Los Angeles (via LA Times). DNA testing on the body linked Janecia Peters' murderer to the Grim Sleeper of the 1980s. LAPD had a problem on its hands. After 20 years, had the Grim Sleeper returned to killing? According to History Daily, even though the LAPD was able to link Peters' killer to the Grim Sleeper, they still couldn't find an exact match for the DNA found on her body. Choosing a different route, investigators instead searched the DNA database for "familial" patterns in the DNA. That meant that if the LAPD couldn't find an exact match, perhaps they could find someone whose DNA was similar to the Grim Sleeper's.

A match was found. LAPD discovered links in the DNA of Christopher Franklin, Lonnie Franklin's son, that was acquired from a weapons charge in 2008, to the DNA of the Grim Sleeper.

Pizza provides a clue

LAPD knew that it was impossible for Christopher Franklin to have been the Grim Sleeper — he was too young to have been murdering women in the 1980s. His father, however, soon became the prime suspect in the string of murders. According to History Daily, at this point in the investigation, the LAPD began following Lonnie Franklin in earnest. The agency went as far as to send an officer undercover to pose as a worker at a local pizza shop Franklin frequented.

After one visit, the undercover officer was able to dig out of the trash some leftover pizza and utensils Franklin had left behind. Law enforcement was able to collect Franklin's DNA from saliva on the various materials, and analysis showed that Franklin's matched that of the Grim Sleeper. On July 7, 2010, Lonnie Franklin was arrested, charged and held without bail for 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The victims

Franklin went on trial in February 2016. With the onset of the trial, bounds of lurid information found its way to the public. LAPD determined that Franklin purposefully targeted women who the police didn't care about: Black women who were either sex workers or heavy drug users. Shortly after his arrest, the LAPD released 180 photos of women that were found in Franklin's property (above). The photos were just a small sampling of the nearly 500 photographs law enforcement confiscated from his place. According to People, Franklin loved collecting souvenirs from his victims; LAPD also found a collection of women's jewelry at the killer's place, alongside the photographs.

Franklin's trial lasted three months. Closing arguments took place on May 2, 2016. The jury only deliberated for a day-and-a-half before they found Franklin guilty on all counts. On June 6, 2016, Franklin was sentenced to death. However, in 2014, California's death penalty was declared unconstitutional (via Business Insider), thereby staying all the executions in the state, including Franklin's. Proving no one can escape destiny, however, Lonnie David Franklin Jr was found dead in his cell on March 28, 2020. He was 63.

Justice for his victims

While many of the murders committed during the 1980s have been attributed to other serial killers, experts still believe Franklin was a prolific murderer. Even though it couldn't be proved in a court of law, detectives believe Franklin was responsible for the deaths of at least 25 more women.

Out of all this horror, something positive managed to emerge: Because of Franklin's murdering spree of Black women during the mid 1980s, activist Margaret Prescod (above) got involved. Early on into the investigation, Prescod insisted the LAPD was doing nothing to protect the targets of these serial killers.

Through the 1980s, Prescod continued to pressure the LAPD, going as far as to form the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders (via Rolling Stone). By organizing protests and holding regular press conferences through the late 1980s, Prescod and the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders were able to pressure the LAPD to provide the community with the information it needed to protect black women. The coalition is still running today, still trying to identify the women Lonnie Franklin murdered.

According to Decider, Discovery+ is streaming a documentary devoted to the case, "The Grim Sleeper: Mind of a Monster," beginning April 23.