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
The paranoia about who was behind the murders bled into the LAPD itself, when on February 25, 1989, veteran Los Angeles County Sheriff’s narcotics investigator Rickey Ross was arrested on suspicion of killing three prostitutes murdered in the fall of 1988.
Gates publicly announced that Ross, who was black, but who did not look a lot like the drawing based on Margette’s close-up account, had been spotted with a prostitute in an unmarked county-government car — and that a loaded 9mm gun found by police in his blue Ford Tempo had been tested and matched to “three murders of women involved in prostitution.”
According to breathless news reports of that era, Ross admitted that he picked up the prostitute, and was “unable to explain what he was doing with her.” With City Hall on tenterhooks over the rising fury in black neighborhoods, a media pile-on exploded against Ross. Police strongly suspected him not just of killing the three prostitutes in 1988, but of being the serial killer in the eight earlier murders — and of shooting Margette. Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block called his arrest “a very sad day for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” saying Ross had a “very fine record.”
Ross’ colleagues were blind-sided by the arrest of the born-again Christian who sometimes moonlighted as a security guard. DEA agent Warren Rivera, who worked with Ross for two years, recounts to the Weekly, “He had a great reputation ’til he got arrested.”
In fact, Ross was not the Grim Sleeper. The police theory was wrong — just like their earlier theory of a single Southside Slayer. Ross did not shoot Enietra Margette — who, incredibly, was never asked to ID Ross in a lineup after his arrest, and never knew that the headlines over Rickey Ross involved her and the telltale bullet from her chest. Margette remembers reading the coverage of Ross and thinking, “Wow. [But] I never associated it with me.”
Then, in a development that riveted Los Angeles, Ross was released from jail after independent experts determined the LAPD had wrongly claimed that the bullets used to kill the three prostitutes matched Ross’ gun. In fact, no evidence linked him to those three deaths or any of the eight Grim Sleeper slayings.
Even so, after Ross was released he was fired from his job by Sheriff Block for allegedly abusing alcohol and drugs, and soliciting a prostitute. He soon filed a $400 million federal civil-rights lawsuit, claiming that tests of his gun “were deliberately falsified” by LAPD. A federal jury ruled against him, but he received a private settlement from the Sheriff’s Department over his firing.
“I never thought that man was guilty,” says Rivera today — a hunch that proved true. As police would much later confirm, in fact, the Grim Sleeper continued to kill women even after the wrongly accused Rickey Ross had died.
Rivera says LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department “probably had already made their mind up that he was guilty.” But Dennis Kilcoyne, now the lead LAPD detective on the case, says in defense of the past theories the LAPD developed, “The guys back then wanted to catch the guys as badly as we do,” but they were trying to hunt him down long before the rise of sophisticated tools like DNA testing. “They had different tools than we have to work with today,” Kilcoyne says. “It was almost like the Stone Age.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, Margette is sitting at M & M Soul Food Restaurant on West Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, eating fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. She is facing the door. She likes to see who is coming in and going out.
She scans old newspaper clippings of the Southside Slayer coverage from the ’80s, periodically lifting her head up to see who is entering. She glances at a story about the late detective Rickey Ross’ arrest. His mug shot accompanies the piece. She shakes her head and says: “That is not him. [Ross] has a pig nose. I would have remembered that.”
After the Grim Sleeper’s encounter with the toughie who lectured him and refused to be his victim, the serial murders abruptly stopped for 13 years. Police did not realize the Grim Sleeper had returned until the LAPD started a cold-case unit under then Chief Bernard Parks to investigate unsolved killings, and crime-lab workers twice matched DNA taken from 1980s murder scenes to fresh murders — one in 2002 and another in 2003.
Police suspect the Grim Sleeper has kept a clean slate, not getting arrested for any crimes that would warrant a DNA swab being gathered and placed in any local, state or federal databases of felons.
“We have his [DNA] profile, we just don’t have a face or name to go with it,” says Detective Kilcoyne.
In the fall of 2006, Margette, by now a full-time student taking classes at a local college to become a pharmacy technician, was paid a visit by two Los Angeles County Sheriff cold-case homicide detectives who were investigating the shooting death of 22-year-old Lachrica Jefferson in 1988 — the same year Margette escaped her attacker.