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
LAPD Chief Daryl Gates "wanted us to call off the weekly vigils. We said, 'No thank you very much.'" (In fact, those killings turned out to be by several men in the area.)
The LAPD was a different animal in the late 1980s under the recently deceased Gates. Relations between officers and minority residents were bad and getting worse. The city was in a bloody low period, with more than 1,000 murders each year, many of them black-on-black killings.
And the general area surrounding and including 81st Street was a hellhole of crime, anger and unemployment. Mothers addicted to angel dust showed bizarre physical attributes, wandering bug-eyed in alleyways and leaving babies unattended in cribs. Men exhibiting superhuman strength broke out of hospital gurneys while overdosing. On Friday and Saturday nights, chaos reigned.
Just 11 blocks away from Lonnie Franklin's home, four years after police came knocking on White's door looking for possible leads to the serial killer who used the same .25 caliber gun on his victims, the Rodney King verdict set off the 1992 Los Angeles riots at the corner of Florence and Normandie.
Despite the bad relations between police and residents in Franklin's neighborhood, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and LAPD set up a Southside Slayer serial-killer task force because they were finding dozens of dead women in alleyways and Dumpsters. That task force later spun off some LAPD detectives to look solely into the crimes that became the Grim Sleeper case.
Eventually, LAPD and Sheriff's detectives realized that many men were killing women in South Los Angeles during the 1980s, '90s and 2000s, creating an impossible, multilayered, sinister chess game for detectives.
It is now known that besides the Grim Sleeper, the other serial killers of the era who overlapped in South L.A. were former pizza-delivery man Chester Turner, machinist and sailor Michael Hughes and Watts resident Louis Crane. All three were convicted.
In that atmosphere, determining that the Grim Sleeper's victims were all killed by one man was harder than looking for a needle in a haystack, says Cliff Shepard, a current LAPD cold-case detective who worked the case in recent years. "It was more like a needle in a hayfield," Shepard says.
"You couldn't separate things, and there was no technology at the time. A lot of them seemed to be related to each other."
Eleven of the killings turned out to be the work of the Grim Sleeper (and police are taking a closer look at the killing of the only man, to see if the bullet markings really do match).
In fact, police say that Lonnie Franklin Jr. quietly killed those around him: his neighbors, his acquaintances from favorite bars, the daughters of friends of friends.
Directly next-door to White's shade-protected Spanish bungalow, and four doors away from Franklin's home, is a 12-unit, drug-oriented, Animal House–style apartment building that in the 1980s was the spot to buy crack and pot. A murder went down inside one year, and nobody was that surprised. Lachrica Jefferson lived there, a troubled young women who abused crack.
Many of the victims were troubled, and used drugs. But it has been widely misreported by the media that many Grim Sleeper victims were prostitutes. In fact, few were working prostitutes, certainly no more so than white girls in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica who in those years poured into the Red Onion on the Westside to snort coke in the bathroom and go home with cute guys.
"Everyone knew my sister and she was well-loved," says Romy Lampkins, sister of Lachrica Jefferson. Lampkins recognized two of the other dead women because she saw their photos in the Weekly after it published its Grim Sleeper exposé in 2008.
Porter Alexander says of his daughter Monique, who died at age 18, that if she had a failing it was that she was too friendly and trusting. "She would pick up everyone — and bring them to our house. She would bring friends over.
"Something led her into it" the evening she disappeared, he says.
Porter Alexander has spent many nights awake in bed thinking about where the Grim Sleeper was, and how he went about mapping out his terror. Now that he knows Franklin lived only 11 blocks away from his family all those years, Alexander says he feels "satisfaction and peace, knowing he won't hurt anyone else."
One week after Jefferson moved out of the druggie apartment building four doors down from Franklin's tidy bungalow, police say, she returned to the building to visit a friend. After she left, she was never seen alive again. Her body was found several dozen blocks away, her chest shattered by the telltale scratched bullet from the same .25 caliber gun that killed the others.
Because police in those days saved saliva left on bodies as a way of performing blood-typing — saliva and blood share many of the same components — much of the Grim Sleeper's DNA evidence was inadvertently preserved by LAPD's Haro and others. Those cops of yore had no way of knowing that the science of DNA testing would soon become a key part of the prosecution's repertoire.