By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Last month, the national media swarmed over the Grim Sleeper case when Bratton released an eerie audio tape-recording from 1987 in which an anonymous male tipster can clearly be heard reporting a murder to a police dispatcher. He calmly describes watching a man pull a woman’s body out of a blue-and-white van and hide it under a discarded gas tank in an alley in the 1300 block of East 56th Street in South L.A. He clearly states the license-plate number: 1PZP746.
“Is that ‘T’ like Tom?” asks the dispatcher.
“No, ‘P’ like in puppy,” says the deep-voiced man, somewhat casually.
When the dispatcher asks for the killer’s description, the man, after offering all these details, suddenly has no information: “I didn’t see him.” The dispatcher asks the caller for his name. He laughs nervously before responding: “I know too many people. Okay, then. Bye bye.”
The dead woman was 23-year-old Barbara Ware, now known to be the fourth victim of the Grim Sleeper, killed almost two years before Margette was shot. Ware, like many of the victims, was also shot once in the chest.
In large part in reaction to the Weekly’s exposé last fall, LAPD detectives are taking a new tack. They are seeking the public’s help — something they chose not to do for most of the past 24 years. Bratton now publicly calls the killer the Grim Sleeper (with his Boston accent, he pronounces it Grim Sleepah).
Bratton told the swarm of TV, radio and newspaper reporters that the suspect van was still “warm” to the touch in 1987 when the cops found it less than 40 minutes after the anonymous call, parked at the now-defunct Cosmopolitan Church on South Normandie Avenue. Kilcoyne said that the LAPD’s scientific-investigations division inspected the van at that time, but because of the state of technology then they only, as was routine, photographed it, took fingerprints and vacuumed fibers off the seat. The evidence, now considered far too simplistic, produced no good leads.
Today Kilcoyne says the police response to the anonymous call was bungled, but it’s too late to turn back the clock. “Everyone who belonged at that church should have been documented and interviewed and I don’t think they spent a lot of time on it,” he says. “This clue appeared to be shelved. I don’t understand that.” Now, he says, “We are 22 years behind the phone call.”
Task-force detectives have tracked down about 10 men associated with the victims, and have taken DNA samples from them to test against the killer’s DNA. They have checked hundreds of clues, many of which got tossed into the reject pile. One tipster insisted that Kramer from Seinfeld should get a close look, because the 13-year gap in the Grim Sleeper’s activity coincides with the years Seinfeld aired, the killings resuming after the comedy went off the air.
The Weekly has received dozens of tips as well. A “psychic” claims that the Catholic Saint Germain has quietly helped guide the Weekly’s coverage, and that the killer has murdered 33 people. The “psychic” writes that the killer’s name is “Michael” and “when he was young ... his face is a cross between Tiger Woods and O.J. Simpson ... sort of a cute bad boy ... and very articulate.”
Kilcoyne, with his lifetime of detective work to rely upon, also tries to imagine the killer out there. He believes the killer “will probably be an employed individual with a family life,” because “if he was one of our regular customers, we would have had him identified a long time ago.”
Enietra Margette has her own theories. “He is after women who look like his mother,” she says as she drives along Normandie Avenue one afternoon. “He was probably neglected and took abuse at home.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, the 5-foot-8-inch tall Margette arrives fashionably late at the Free Will Missionary Baptist Church on South Figueroa Street, where she doubles as choir member and secretary of the choir. Dressed in a gold-and-brown jacket and skirt, with gold high-heeled sandals, she rushes inside.
The youthful 50-year-old was up at 6 a.m., baking a cheesecake for a Super Bowl party she plans to attend at a relative’s house after church services. She takes a few minutes to sit down and talk while she multitasks, sitting on a mint-green velvet couch, surrounded by gold paintings, a Persian carpet and a vase of fake roses. She opens envelopes filled with $5 and $10 bills — donations for the church.
She talks about her life, her deceased father, who was a football player with the Los Angeles Rams before he became a carpenter, and about her love of cooking. She has an extensive knowledge of American history and grills a visitor on the subject. The topic quickly changes to ribs. She likes the Rib Nest. “Don’t slow-cook beef,” she says. “It’s a fallacy. Cook quickly.”
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city