By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But after she was shot, the killings with the .25-caliber gun abruptly halted, with eight dead. And Enietra Margette became the all-but-forgotten eyewitness to a serial killer, her name deep inside a thick file at LAPD.
Things might have remained that way, but in 2001, under orders from then Chief Bernard Parks, the LAPD began delving into a backlog of unsolved cases from the violent 1990s, ’80s and earlier, testing bits of hair and skin saved from cold crimes, using the rapidly spreading new technology of DNA testing.
Los Angeles cops were stunned when the tests linked bits of human detritus from murders committed in 2002 and 2003 to old saliva and skin gathered by police from several of the cold-case serial-killer shootings committed decades earlier with the .25-caliber gun.
Suddenly, the cops had a very real, still-active serial killer on their hands, a man operating over such a long stretch of time that even experts on serial killing found it bizarre. “Whoever is living with him is scared of him,” Margette says today of his long period of quiet before killing again. “Someone is scared of him, but I ain’t.”
But the killer was not done. On January 1, 2007, a homeless man collecting cans from a Dumpster off Western Avenue in South Los Angeles discovered the lifeless body of Janecia Peters, an angel-faced 25-year-old left near a discarded Christmas tree. She’d been placed in a black garbage bag and was nude, but for her gold heart pendant. Traces of saliva on items found with Peters’ body matched the saliva and other DNA found at the crime scenes of the previously linked series of old and new killings.
The Grim Sleeper had struck again, for the eleventh time.
For murky reasons still unexplained by Chief William F. Bratton, until three years ago, Margette was left utterly in the dark about the real nature of the horror she faced in 1988. Moreover, most families of the 10 women and one man murdered by the Grim Sleeper were unaware — until finally informed by L.A. Weekly late last year — that their dead loved ones are forever linked by the evil acts of a single man.
Last fall, only after the Weekly revealed both the existence of the Grim Sleeper and the hush-hush LAPD task force investigating the killer, Bratton went public. Uncertain after all these years whether Margette’s stark memories of her attacker from back then were accurate, the stumped police are casting a surprisingly wide net, even collecting and testing the DNA of dark-skinned Latino men in South L.A. They are finally asking for the public’s help. They can only hope that the once-forgotten sole survivor, Enietra Margette, is not the only person who can look him in the eye and remember.
The night she was shot, Margette was still smarting from a breakup with her husband, her Inglewood High School sweetheart. She had just returned from a trip to Louisiana to visit cousins, and was helping out an elderly man in her neighborhood whose wife had recently passed away. As evening approached, she got ready to go to a party with her best friend, Lynda Lewis.
Around dusk, she walked toward her friend’s house, dressed in her favorite blue-and-cream peasant blouse and tight cream-colored Calvin Klein denim mini. She was passing D & S Market in South L.A. when she noticed an orange Ford Pinto with a white racing stripe on the hood. She remembers the parked car because “it looked like a Hot Wheels car,” she says, pointing to the run-down market on West 91st Street and Normandie Avenue where the car sat that day.
From inside, the driver, a black man in his early 30s, asked her if she wanted a ride. He looked neat. Tidy. Kind of geeky. He wore a black polo shirt tucked into khaki trousers. She declined the offer. He kept asking her. She refused again, thinking, “I like chocolate milk, but he wasn’t my type.”
“He told me, ‘That is what is wrong with you black women. You think you are all that,” she says. The two traded friendly barbs back and forth. But his comment, which she took as a playful diss, prompted her to change her mind. Just 30, she enjoyed hitchhiking in those days, and accepted his offer of a ride for a few blocks to her friend’s house. Despite the drug violence raging in neighborhoods around her, it wasn’t neat-looking strangers who had her concerned. “It wasn’t a worry,” she recalls.
Once inside, Margette was impressed by the car’s interior. The gear-shift handle was memorable, pimped out with a ping-pong-sized marble ball. The inside was all-white, with white diamond-patterned upholstery. She liked what she saw, and when he invited himself to the party, she said he was welcome to come.
He merely needed to make a quick stop at his uncle’s house to pick up some money, or so he said.