Marguerite Rizzo, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office
In January of 2007, a homeless man collecting cans from a dumpster in South Los Angeles came upon a black trash bag containing the nude, lifeless body of 25-year old Janecia Peters. DNA evidence collected from the zip-tie which secured the black trash bag matched the DNA from two earlier slayings, one in 2002, and one in 2003. A LAPD Task Force was established to identify a suspected serial killer because of these case-to-case DNA matches, as well as several other DNA matches to murder cases from the late 1980s.
From 1985 through 1988, an unknown killer had stalked the streets of South Los Angeles, murdering seven women, and attempting to murder an eighth victim. The murdered women had been shot with a .25 caliber handgun or strangled. The women ranged in age from 18 to 35 years old. The killer preyed on troubled and vulnerable women. A number of the women worked as prostitutes, and most struggled with drug addiction. All of the murdered bodies were found naked or partially undressed, abandoned in back alleys or dumpsters covered with garbage, around Western Avenue in South Los Angeles.
One victim survived and provided a blueprint for the killer’s murderous schemes. On November 20, 1988, 30-year old Enietra Washington was walking northbound on Normandie Ave. in South Los Angeles when the suspect, who was driving an orange Pinto, stopped and asked her if she wanted a ride. Washington was hesitant to get in the car at first but soon relented. Washington entered the suspect’s car and sat in the front passenger seat. While driving, the suspect turned and shot victim Washington in the chest. The suspect then stopped the car, and took Polaroid photographs of her as she was fading in and out of consciousness. The suspect subsequently pushed the victim out of his car. Washington eventually made her way to a nearby house belonging to her friend, who called 911. An ambulance arrived and transported victim Washington to Harbor-UCLA Hospital where she underwent surgery. Doctors removed one expended .25 caliber bullet from Washington’s body.
A common DNA profile was developed from seven of the victims. Local, state, and national DNA database searches yielded negative results. The same unrecovered .25 caliber firearm used to shoot surviving victim Enietra Washington was also used to kill seven of the murder victims.
In 2007, when the LAPD Task Force took a fresh look at the murders and the attempted murder of Enietra Washington, they discovered a decade’s long gap between the killings. This hiatus led a LA Weekly reporter in 2008 to nickname the serial killer the “Grim Sleeper.” The name stuck, leading to a public media campaign and a $500,000 reward for information leading to the “Grim Sleeper’s” arrest.
In 2008, the LAPD requested the California Department of Justice to perform a Familial Search of the state convicted offender DNA database. No relatives were identified in that first search. LAPD made another request in 2010. On July 2, 2010, DOJ revealed that the recent search identified a possible relative in the convicted offender database . . . 28 year old Christopher Franklin, who was convicted on a felony weapons charge that had been added to the state database in 2009.
Investigators focused on Franklin’s father, Lonnie David Franklin Jr. as a possible suspect. The LAPD Task Force launched an intensive surveillance operation, following Franklin’s every move in an attempt to collect a biological sample they could use to compare Franklin’s DNA directly to the DNA profiles developed from the evidence.
Members of the Task force got their break on the afternoon of July 5, 2010 when Lonnie Franklin attended a child’s birthday celebration at John’s Incredible Pizza. An undercover LAPD officer served as a busboy clearing plates and discarded food from Franklin’s table. Soiled napkins, cups, and a discarded piece of pizza were collected. These items were submitted to the LAPD Crime Lab for DNA analysis. A few days later, the DNA results confirmed the Task Force’s suspicions . . . DNA from the piece of pizza, the cups, and napkins was matched to the DNA profiles from the evidence.
On July 7, 2010, LAPD arrested Lonnie Franklin Jr. at his home in South Los Angeles. Investigators found and collected hundreds of items during the execution of a three day search warrant at his home. Among the items they found was a .25 semiautomatic handgun used to shoot Janecia Peters. Behind a wall in Franklin’s garage, investigators found a Polaroid photograph of victim Enietra Washington. The photograph portrays Washington sitting in the front seat of a vehicle with her blouse ripped open, bleeding, and possibly unconscious.
On May 5, 2016 a jury found the defendant guilty of ten murders and one attempted murder. One month later, the jury voted to impose the death penalty.