The “Grim Sleeper” murders, accounting for at least a portion of the 1980s “Southside Slayer” murders, will finally come to trial. Proceedings began today, Tuesday, February 16, against Lonnie Franklin Jr. for the murder of 10 women and the attempted murder of another victim, who intends to testify at the trial. It is suspected that Franklin killed more women, but less is known about the recently discovered cases. As such, it would be easier to prove the 10 with certainty than prolong the process with more investigation. It is estimated that the trial will take approximately three months. The defendant has been in jail, awaiting trial, for five years, and the first murder occurred just over 30 years ago.
Police linked Grim Sleeper murder suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. to six more cases, according to the Los Angeles Times. Even though these cases will not be part of the trial, the prosecution will ask for the death penalty for the 10 counts of murder he is already charged with. There is some pretty convincing evidence to present. CNN reports that photos and videos of some 180 different women were found in the defendant’s South Los Angeles home. Most of these women have been located, but the identity and whereabouts of 30 of them remain unknown.
The Grim Sleeper website reveals that Lonnie Franklin’s freezer contained an envelope full of more photos, a drivers license, and a school ID belonging to two women who had gone missing in Franklin’s community. A photo of the Grim Sleeper’s most recent victim, Jessica Peters, was also in that envelope.
Then there is the circumstantial evidence that all the bodies were found within a few blocks of Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s home. Firearm and ballistic evidence in the Grim Sleeper murder case are also apparently conclusive. The greatest evidence, though, is DNA evidence revealing that all 10 victims had sex with the defendant right before their deaths.
The Grim Sleeper murders were so named because it was initially believed that the perpetrator took 13-year breaks between killing sprees. However, recent evidence may show there were no breaks, with six other murders linked to the case, and other victims may be discovered later as well. It now seems likely that the killer continued to kill, but the bodies were not found. It has not yet been proven that Lonnie Franklin Jr. was the perpetrator of these murders, but that is what prosecutors seek to establish.
Reviewing the Grim Sleeper murder case, on August 10, 1985, 29-year-old Debra Jackson was found in an alley stripped nearly naked and shot in the chest. One year later, on August 12, 1986, Henrietta Wright, 37, was found dead in a dumpster after authorities received an autonomous tip. In 1987, three more women’s bodies were found, then two more in 1988. After 1988, the killing seemed to have stopped until 2002, when a 15-year-old girl was found dead. The two more recent victims will also be part of the trial: Valerie McCorey, who died in 2003, and Janecia Peters, who was the last victim, killed in 2007.
The Grim Sleeper murder investigation was among the most unsuccessful in the history of serial killers. Authorities at the time elected to keep the murders quiet, not causing too much publicity. Police connected the early murders to the work of several other serial rapists and murderers and believed them all to be the work of one man, whom they called the South Side Slayer. It was only after 20 years that the murders were labeled Grim Sleeper, because police believed, probably erroneously, that the killer took long breaks between sprees. Since the 1980s, DNA crime-solving technology identified other killers who have been convicted of at least some of those Southside Slayer murders. Among them are Louis Crane, Michael Hughes, Daniel Lee Siebert, and Ivan Hill. The trial will determine if Lonnie Franklin Jr. will be added to that list.
The Grim Sleeper murder investigation may have been solved, but we cannot be sure until after the trial. The evidence on both sides should be compelling.
[Photo by Nick Ut/Pool/AP]