By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Aside from the incredible eyewitness account from Margette, “it was kind of hard to get witnesses at the time of the night” that many victims were believed to have been abducted, Haro told the Weekly last year. “We put a composite [sketch] out. We handed out fliers to the patrol guys. ... We generated a lot of clues that involved the arrest of other people — but not our killer.”
Long before he tried to kill Margette, LAPD detectives had wrongly theorized that the Grim Sleeper was a man they dubbed the Southside Slayer, a mythical, evil force whom they suspected of at least 20 other slayings. Police pursued but ultimately discarded many suspects, and investigated numerous possible getaway cars.
They cast a wide net that went nowhere. A black man between 28 and 35 with a pockmarked face and a Caribbean or East Coast accent. A dark-colored 1984 Buick Regal with a baby seat. A late-model Plymouth station wagon. A 1960 Ford pickup with gray primer.
So many “body dumps” were occurring that angry South Central and South L.A. residents lashed out at police, and in 1986, two years before Margette was raped, shot and left for dead, community members launched the Black Coalition Fighting Black Serial Murders. The coalition bitterly complained that “the low-profile media coverage and problems with the investigation are all examples of women’s lives not counting and black prostitute women counting least of all.”
Chief Daryl Gates formed a 49-member task force to find the killer, or killers. In 1987, they got a major break when ballistics tests clearly showed that among the many bodies piling up, eight of those murdered were killed by the same .25-caliber handgun. But they kept the discovery under wraps. The fact that several of the killings were the work of one man was leaked by police sources to KABC-TV on February 16, 1989, the year after Margette was attacked, when KABC reported that a murderer was targeting “prostitutes.” But in fact, some of them were just young women who, like Margette, got in the wrong car.
Although it seems almost unthinkable, LAPD did not clue Margette in that she was the living victim of an active serial murderer. She read stories about a man killing prostitutes, but never connected the dots. She was trying to put her life back together, staying at her mother’s house and planning to take a two-year college course in medical assisting.
She was also suffering from nightmares — and dating was out of the question. She wouldn’t date a man again until 1992. “I believe in God and kept going,” she says today. “I really owe him for restoring my faith.”
In reaction to the leaked news that a new killer, someone other than the supposed Southside Slayer, was at work, the Black Coalition Fighting Black Serial Murders stormed a police-commission meeting, carrying placards saying, “No more police cover-up” and “Every life is of value,” and criticizing Gates for failing to warn residents about the murders.
Ironically, because LAPD had all but ceased contact with Margette, she did not know her case was part of the Black Coalition’s protests, and the group did not know she existed. The coalition demanded a list of all the women slain in the South Central area since 1983. An LAPD spokesman denied allegations of a cover-up, saying instead: “The mere publicity in this investigation would hinder our efforts.”
That reasoning didn’t fly with Black Coalition founder Margaret Prescod, who shot back, in an interview with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1989, “The claim it would hamper the investigation is like playing Russian roulette with the lives of women. It’s a deadly calculation.”
It was Prescod, and not the LAPD, who would be proved right over time. They never cracked the case, yet successive chiefs, from Daryl Gates to Willie Brown to William Bratton, decided to keep the probe into the serial killings under wraps.
Prescod recalls today how, in reaction to the information vacuum, rumors flew through South Central and South L.A. Many people — including her — came to believe the killer was a cop. “Outside my bedroom window there was a dead bird” tied on a string, recalls Prescod, who now hosts KPFK’s “Sojourner Truth” talk show. “It was left hanging from a tree. Of course, the police referred to women as ‘birds.’?”
She remembers being called to a gathering of “black church hot shots” who said they would be glad to organize a private meeting with Gates — if the Black Coalition called off its weekly vigils.
“We said, ‘No thank you very much,’?” she said. “Daryl Gates singled me out and said, I was ‘a hysterical woman bent on bringing down the LAPD.’ We thought that was pretty outrageous. We definitely felt the heat to back off and shut up.”
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