Grim Sleeper Returns: He's Murdering Angelenos, as Cops Hunt his DNA
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
UPDATE: A Lifetime movie featuring LA Weekly reporter Christine Pelisek explores the DNA-based manhunt for the alleged Grim Sleeper. Suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. is now on trial in L.A., mounting an aggressive defense against charges that he murdered 10 women. Before his capture, the sole survivor to be attacked and escape with her life courageously told her story to LA Weekly. After his dramatic arrest, the Weekly learned Franklin will collect a city disability pension of about $1,700 monthly for life, even if he goes to Death Row. The serial killer's existence and string of murders were first unveiled by LA Weekly, which dubbed him the Grim Sleeper because he killed many women in the 1980s, then stopped for 13 years before resuming.
See also: A summary of the Grim Sleeper's victims
There’s a small room at LAPD headquarters where the public isn’t allowed, where the door is quickly shut to the hall, where arguments erupt and frustrations fester. It’s off-limits to most other detectives, no press allowed. Lest anyone forget, a memo on the wall says so.
The six men inside call themselves the “800 Task Force” even though they no longer occupy Room 800, having moved to a lower floor of Parker Center to make room for a sex-crimes team. Their new room is cramped, the desks piled with mounds of paperwork. What is striking about their space is its main wall, heavily papered with photographs of dead young women.
The 800 Task Force was assembled in 2007 under Chief Bill Bratton to solve 11 perplexing murders in Los Angeles dating from 1985. Police have followed several trails, made a few arrests, and endlessly theorized about the killer or killers responsible. Homicide detectives have retired, new ones have joined the investigation. Each group thought they detected patterns, each group thought they had solid leads. Each was proved wrong.
For four years, police have known that a single madman is out there, a man whose audacity and sick good luck have made him the most enduring serial killer in California history and the longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi. In 1988, he stopped the slaughter for more than 13 years, then killed again in 2002 and 2003. L.A. Weekly has learned that he is actively murdering Angelenos again — and the single best clue to his identity may hinge on whether Attorney General Jerry Brown allows a controversial DNA probe of the California felon database.
“He could be some computer nerd out there for all we know,” says Detective Dennis Kilcoyne, a friendly yet hardened man in his early 50s, as he sips a coffee at a Starbucks one morning in late summer. It was Kilcoyne who urged the LAPD brass to set up the 800 Task Force. “It could be anybody.... In this case, it has gone on so long — we have to be open to any possibility.”
The killing began on a warm August evening in 1985 at a desperate point in U.S. urban history, a time filled with PCP rages and crack wars. Los Angeles’ murder rate — and that of most big cities — had soared to an all-time high. Amid the bloodshed, during a three-year period, seven young women and one man were killed and left in alleyways and Dumpsters, almost exclusively along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles. Ballistics matches showed the same gun was used in each case.
Then, slayings committed with the .25 caliber gun abruptly halted. The crack and PCP era faded. Los Angeles became the second-safest big city in America, and DNA matching became the hot new crime-solving tool. Under orders from Chief Bernard Parks, in 2001 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. The LAPD’s lab workers in 2004 and 2005 hit pay dirt. Like a long-delayed tripwire, the tests found matches between new killings in 2002 and 2003 and old human traces left at the eight Western Avenue shootings in the ’80s.
A monstrous Phoenix, the 1980s killer, had re-emerged. “I thought, ‘Holy Shit,’” says 800 Task Force detective Cliff Shepard. “This guy is out there working. I was not expecting that.”
Despite the discovery of an old serial killer back in business, detectives were spread thin on cases like that of killer Chester Turner, whose DNA was linked to 14 deaths by strangulation. Chief Parks was forced out of his post by Mayor James Hahn, and newcomer Bill Bratton did not make the South L.A. serial murders a priority. In fact, detectives tell the Weekly that in 2004, one of Bratton’s captains decided, in the wake of the two new murders in 2002 and 2003, that a task force wasn’t even needed. Nor were elected officials paying any attention. The killings weren’t going down in Silver Lake or Westwood, and the year was 2004: City Hall’s leaders were transfixed by a three-way race for mayor between Hahn and challengers Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa.
Nobody with any pull — no homeowners association, no local chamber of commerce — was demanding answers to 10 murders by the same guy in a poor section of town.
Last year, the disinterested Bratton got a wake-up call — of sorts. On January 1 of 2007, a homeless man collecting cans from a Dumpster off Western Avenue discovered the lifeless body of 25-year-old Janecia Peters near a discarded Christmas tree. She’d been placed in a black garbage bag wrapped tightly with a twist tie. She was nude but for her gold heart pendant. Her shooting barely registered with the Los Angeles media, which misreported it, calling it a stabbing.
Janecia’s mother, Laverne Peters, heard a news report that a black teenager had been found dead along Western Avenue. She never dreamed it was her own Janecia. She was in Inglewood with Janecia’s 4-year-old son, visiting other family members. “Her son had a Christmas present for Janecia,” Peters recalls. “He wrapped it himself, in aluminum foil and red rope.”
The day before, Janecia had telephoned her mom. “She just said, ‘I got a place.’ She was really excited .... Whoever she was going to stay with, she felt she was safe.”
She wasn’t. Janecia died at the hands of the Grim Sleeper. Yet Peters and dozens of other mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers were never told their loved ones had been killed by the same psychopath.
There has been no big press conference by Bratton, who recently weighed in on Lindsay Lohan’s love life. The camera-loving Villaraigosa recently beseeched the public to eat nutritiously. Unlike city leaders who decried the “BTK Killer” near Kansas City and the “Green River Killer” who terrorized Seattle, Los Angeles’ City Hall is either unaware, or has kept news of California’s longest-operating killer under wraps. Local journalists haven’t even assigned him a creepy nickname, like Night Stalker (Grim Sleeper was chosen by the Weekly to mark his 13 years of inactivity before killing again).
Two key City Council members, who learned of the Grim Sleeper's existence for the first time this week from the Weekly, had strong reactions.
Bernard Parks’ chief of staff and son, Bernard C. Parks Jr., whose district is ground zero in the killings, accused Chief Bratton of purposely keeping former Chief Parks in the dark. "Leaving us out of the loop about something so important boggles the mind," Parks Jr. said. Councilman Jack Weiss, who has repeatedly called for DNA testing of human traces stored in the cold-case files, vowed to seek weekly LAPD updates on cases that are being linked to known serial killers and serial rapists.
Thanks to the extraordinarily poor diplomacy extended by the Villaraigosa administration and the LAPD brass to the victims’ mostly working-class black families, the Weekly was also the first to inform some families this month that the murders are known to be the work of one sick man.
Laverne Peters had long suspected that Janecia’s death was part of something bigger. Her daughter’s murder case was transferred from 77th Division to the specialized detectives “downtown” in 2007, and she knew that one easily forgotten young woman would not merit such an elite investigative crew.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to figure it out,” she says. But when LAPD detectives paid Peters a visit, they didn’t come clean with her. The city’s failure to involve the families, she believes, stems from the fact that “they are poor little black girls.”
A deeply frustrated Porter Alexander, who learned from this newspaper that his daughter Monique’s death in 1988 was the work of the Grim Sleeper, says, “We should have some awareness that it is going on again. Nobody came to us.”
Urban hunt: Detective Dennis Kilcoyne and five other cops are tracking the Grim Sleeper's DNA.
Detective Kilcoyne’s small unit has tried to let people know that a madman is afoot. Task force detectives working the 11 murders have informed Vice and Homicide detectives, as well as local prostitutes. “This is a pretty small area in South Los Angeles. We have been talking to the prostitutes for years.... The word is out that the police are out there.”
But neither Villaraigosa nor Bratton tried to alert the city. If they ever had, one woman who would be hyperaware of it is Minister Pat Jones of the First Church of God in Inglewood. Jones, who is also co-chairwoman of the Southeast area neighborhood council and the Southwest area neighborhood council, was stunned to hear from the newspaper about the existence of the Grim Sleeper. “How come [they] haven’t involved the community? There are no fliers or nothing. In order for us to work on it to stop it, we have to be all-inclusive and involve everybody. We have to flood the neighborhood. This is serious. ... We need to have a press conference to talk about it.”
The Weekly attempted to reach elected city officials and top Villaraigosa political appointees, but many were out of town, attending the Democratic National Convention, including the mayor, City Council President Eric Garcetti and Police Commission Vice President John Mack. Spokeswoman Eva Vega said Mack couldn’t weigh in on the Grim Sleeper case. “He doesn’t have the time,” she said. “He’s too busy right now.” The Weekly got a nearly identical response from Bratton’s office.
Such responses from City Hall feed the view held by Laverne Peters, that if 11 troubled young women had been killed in Westwood or Mount Washington by a single nut case operating over 23 years, it would be big news at City Hall. Instead, “It is almost hush-hush. ... [The authorities] act like the parents of those kids don’t exist.”
Whether through ineptness or disinterest, the silence from Bratton and Villaraigosa on the Grim Sleeper murders is welcomed by some detectives, who are happy to work without the help of Joe Citizen, because they fear that the killer could bolt or change his MO. No fliers are up in hard-hit areas. The six cops on Task Force 800 have few leads, one surviving eyewitness, stacks of “murder books” crackling with age — and a killer who leaves no fingerprints.
Betty Lowe, whose daughter Mary was killed by the Grim Sleeper in late 1987, is getting on in years. She doesn’t want to hear stories about why police can’t find her child’s killer. She learned for the first time in 2006 that Mary was the victim of a serial murderer, and her anger came quickly. “We are not going to let this go,” Lowe says. “I have wanted this case solved so I can get on with my life.... I want to know who killed my baby!”
There is one possibility Los Angeles cops have not yet pursued: The killer has left a trail of his own DNA. Crime-scene analysts have discovered traces of his dried saliva on victims’ breasts. But to the surprise of many homicide investigators, his DNA profile doesn’t match anything in the state offender or federal crime database.
So Los Angeles police are hoping the Grim Sleeper has a brother, father or cousin in prison. Experts believe that roughly 40 percent of violent criminals have close relatives in jail. If the Grim Sleeper’s “familial” DNA popped up in a survey of the state offender’s database of more than 1 million DNA profiles, the L.A. killer might finally be identified by family name.
“They are doing research on familial DNA” at the LAPD to prepare for such a search, confirms Inglewood detective Loyd Waters, who is informally part of the 800 Task Force because the Grim Sleeper’s 2002 victim, teenager Princess Berthomieux, was found dead in Inglewood. “That’s powerful stuff,” says former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary of the usefulness of familial DNA studies.
But those clues are currently locked up in an obscure government crime lab 376 miles north of Los Angeles, controlled by the mercurial attorney general, Jerry Brown, who wants to be the next governor of California. In familial DNA testing, a match of at least 16 “markers” could indicate a close relative. Brown’s spokesman, Gareth Lacy, says, ”It is not something that will all of a sudden crack thousands of cases.” But, “if it is a lead, if you have a killer at large, if it can help, we want to work with the agency.”
Or maybe not. Although Kilcoyne denies it, Inglewood detective Waters says Bratton and his underlings have requested that Brown allow a familial DNA survey — but Brown’s aide stonily rebuffed the Weekly’s queries, saying any such DNA comparisons wouldn’t occur for months. Some civil rights groups view looking for relatives by probing the state felon DNA archive as an invasion of privacy. They also criticize such comparisons because of “false positives” that could wrongly identify somebody who is not actually a family member.
Last May, Brown publicly announced that he would allow “familial” DNA surveys of the California prisoner database — but only if all other leads had been exhausted and the criminal being sought posed a threat, a description that fits the Grim Sleeper to a T.
Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Kansas City Royals
TicketsThu., Jun. 15, 7:07pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. Kansas City Royals
TicketsThu., Jun. 15, 7:07pm
Kilcoyne, meanwhile, fears that the Grim Sleeper has slaughtered, and might still be slaughtering, far more people than police have turned up. “We are at number 11,” he says, “and I would venture to say that this is probably half of what he has done.”
Police face an almost total mystery — such as why the suspect started up again, and why he kills quietly, unlike the notoriously media-hungry BTK Killer or California’s boastful Zodiac Killer. The BTK Killer bragged in letters about his murders between 1974 and 1991. His writings resumed in 2004, after the Wichita Eagle published a story on the 30th anniversary of his first murders, of the Otero family.
“It prompted this guy to come back to us,” recalls Richard LaMunyon, then chief of the Wichita Police Department. “If we didn’t catch him, he would have called his own news conference.... He wanted to be in the hall of fame of serial killers.”
BTK turned out to be an unassuming Boy Scout leader named Dennis Rader, caught after police traced a floppy disk he’d sent them to the church where he was a deacon. “[Rader] would go for a year or two without killing,” LaMunyon says. “Then he would go dormant again for almost 10 years.”
Could L.A.’s killer be a family man, like Rader, whose own wife and kids are unaware of his murder spree? Or perhaps California’s most enduring serial killer is closer in nature to the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, a prostitute-hater who led police on a cat-and-mouse hunt in King County, Washington, for almost 20 years until his DNA linked him to three of his 48 victims.
Is the Grim Sleeper also getting revenge on women he sees as harlots, by killing so many messed up, young, black women? Or does he merely live just down the block, like Chester Turner, who killed almost exclusively near his mother’s South-Los Angeles home?
Victims Mary Lowe (left) and Monique Alexander (right)
What police do know is that in August 1985, Debra Jackson was found shot to death. A year later, on August 12, 1986, Henrietta Wright was found dead. Two days later, the body of Thomas Steele was discovered in the middle of an intersection. Barbara Ware was found in a trash bag in January 1987. Bernita Sparks told her mother she was going to buy cigarettes but was found shot to death on April 16, 1987. Mary Lowe told her mother she was going to a Halloween party, and was discovered shot, on November 1, 1987. Lachrica Jefferson was found shot in January 1988. In September 1988, Alicia “Monique” Alexander asked her father if he wanted anything from a liquor store and never returned.
Monique Alexander’s father, Porter, was immediately discouraged by the investigation into her death, remembering it as “a big mess. ... They didn’t put forth any effort. [The detectives] didn’t show no aggressiveness about it.”
Even so, eyewitnesses had seen her vanish into a car, and had given a vehicle description that was to come up yet again. “She got in a car with somebody on Normandie,” recalls her brother Donnell. “That was what was told to us. She supposedly got into a rust or orange-colored hatchback. ... She was tough. It was possible she might have not known him.”
By the mid-’80s, detectives had begun to suspect the killings might be the work of the Southside Slayer, a mythical, evil, single force who at one point was suspected in at least 20 other slayings in the county. Victims were found in parks, alleys, roadsides and school yards. Most were black prostitutes working in South L.A. Many had been sexually assaulted. In one recurring clue, cat hair was found on some of the victims.
Police pursued, but ultimately discarded, many suspects, and investigated numerous alleged getaway cars. They sought a black man between 28 and 35, with a pockmarked face and a Caribbean or East Coast accent. A 1984 dark-colored Buick Regal with a baby seat. A late-model Plymouth station wagon. A 1960 Ford pickup with gray primer. A two-door red Ford Pinto with tinted rear-window glass.
So many “body dumps” were occurring during that ugly era that angry residents lashed out at police, and in 1986 launched the Black Coalition Fighting Black Serial Murders. The coalition declared 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.”
That same year, cops formed a huge 49-member task force to find the killer or killers. In 1987 they got a major break when ballistics tests clearly showed that amid the bodies piling up, eight involved the same .25 caliber handgun.
Then the LAPD got its biggest break of all, in the form of Victim No. 9. She was the sole survivor, attacked just before the Grim Sleeper vanished for 13 years. Victim No. 9, who still lives in Los Angeles (and who the Weekly is not identifying to ensure her safety), provided police the first eyewitness description of the attacker and his car. She said he was a 30-ish black man with short hair, driving a rust, red or orange Ford Pinto — the very car victims Monique Alexander and Mary Lowe were reportedly last seen riding in.
Left in limbo: Holding Monique's portrait, Mary and Porter Alexander, with sons Donnell, Keevin and Darin
In nightmarish detail, the survivor told police she was picked up by a male motorist on November 20, 1988, on the corner of 81st Street and Western Avenue. But he then wielded a gun, shot her in the chest and then raped her. Seriously wounded, she persuaded the killer to let her jump out of the car.
“She was really lucky,” says retired detective Rich Haro, who investigated the killings, which police at one point dubbed the “Strawberry Murders” — a street term for troubled women who casually trade sex for drugs. Surmises Haro: “It was something she said that convinced him, and he dropped her off.”
And Victim No. 9 provided another solid clue: The bullets removed from her chest turned out to matched the gun used on the eight previous victims.
Haro and his partner caught another break in February 1989 — or so they believed. In a case that would make headlines, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Rickey Ross, a black narcotics detective (not to be confused with Freeway Ricky Ross, a kingpin drug dealer) was arrested in his car in the Strawberry Murders “kill area.” Allegedly, he was smoking coke with a prostitute. LAPD patrol cops said Deputy Ross pulled away in an “erratic” manner as they approached his car. They stopped him, and during a search found a 9 mm gun in Ross’ trunk.
The next day, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates held a press conference and claimed that Ross had been high on cocaine. Amidst intense controversy, Deputy Ross was charged with murdering three prostitutes who’d been slain with a 9 mm gun. But in a development that riveted the city, Ross was released after independent experts determined that the LAPD had botched the ballistics tests on his gun. Moreover, despite Chief Gates’ public claim, Ross had tested negative for cocaine.
Even so, Ross was fired from his job by Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block for allegedly abusing alcohol and drugs and soliciting a prostitute. In 1989, Ross filed a $400 million federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that ballistics tests of his gun “were deliberately falsified” by LAPD, but a federal jury ruled against him. He reached a private settlement with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department over his firing.
When he died in 2003, Deputy Ross was still under a cloud. Until recently, the retired Haro was convinced that Ross was the elusive killer in South L.A. “After he was arrested, it stopped — there weren’t any killings anymore,” Haro recently told the Weekly.
Had Haro only known what the LAPD was about to unearth, stored for years in its evidence rooms at Piper Technological Center downtown, Ross might have died a vindicated man. Under Chief Bernard Parks and Mayor James Hahn, a cold-case unit had been created to investigate more than 9,000 unsolved killings dating to 1960. It was a formidable task, made tougher because much of the trace evidence kept at overcrowded “Piper Tech” had been pointlessly destroyed thanks to bureaucratic buffoonery. Even so, in 2001, cold-case detectives began sifting through homicide “books” — filled with arrest reports, witness interviews, investigative leads and possible suspects — to see if physical evidence had survived from the eight killings committed by the perpetrator that Haro and others believed to be Rickey Ross.
Laboriously digging through homicide books, Detective Cliff Shepard discovered that some physical evidence had indeed survived, awaiting the day the outside world would develop the know-how to test minute scraps of DNA. Shepard asked the police lab to compare the surviving saliva samples and other DNA to samples from more recent crimes.
"You would think that somebody involved in those activities would have been arrested and had a [DNA] sample taken,” Shepard says.
In 2004, his efforts resulted in a stunning, positive hit. Saliva found on 1987 victim Mary Lowe matched DNA found on the two women murdered in 2002 and 2003. The long-accused Rickey Ross had died a month before the 2003 murder, and he clearly wasn’t killing from the grave.
"She didnt deserve this": Mary Lowe's mom, Betty, and sister, Kenneitha
The cops’ hunches had been wrong, the spectacular Rickey Ross story line of 1989 a red herring.
The real murderer of seven women and one man was still out there — and now had killed twice more. His first victim after his 13-year hiatus was a habitual teenage runaway turned prostitute, 14-year-old Princess Berthomieux. Reported missing by her foster-care mother on December 21, 2001, her body was found four months later in an alley in Inglewood. Fifteen months later, in July 2003, a month after the wrongfully accused Ross died, a crossing guard discovered the body of 35-year-old Valerie McCorvey in an alley.
LAPD’s Kilcoyne says there could be “100 different reasons” why the Grim Sleeper took a 13-year break from 1988 to 2002. “It could be we aren’t connecting the cases.... I am sure we don’t have a lab report for everything he has done. There [could be] other cases that he has done that could drastically eliminate the gap,” and perhaps solve more murders.
Former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary says serial killers who take long breaks from carnage are “the exception to the rule,” and that makes L.A.’s sociopath tougher to figure out. Authors David Canter and Laurence Alison in their 1997 book, Criminal Detection and the Psychology of Crime, studied 101 American serial murderers and found that the average “offending period” lasts 3.75 years. A “significant percentage” spent about a year killing. The longest active period was 17 years.
Since that book was published, Altemio Sanchez, dubbed the “Bike Path Killer,” a family man loved by his neighbors, has shattered that record. Sanchez took long breaks during 25 years of raping and killing before being captured in 2006. During his breaks, he hung out with prostitutes. “They liked the guy,” McCrary says.
Los Angeles serial killer Chester Turner, who was given the death penalty in May 2007, killed women after he got into fights with his girlfriends, who remained relatively safe — and unaware. Says McCrary, “The stress can be a motivator. A bad day at work, or a fight with your wife.”
The fact that a long-lived serial killer is operating in Los Angeles got its only headlines in 2006, when L.A. Weekly broke the news that Inglewood Detective Jeffrey Steinhoff was hot on the trail of a man he thought had killed teenage runaway Princess Berthomieux. Steinhoff believed the killer of the then-10 victims was Roger Hausmann, a repo man from Fresno. But Hausmann was white. The LAPD’s sole survivor and eyewitness, Victim No. 9, said she had been shot by a black man with short hair, driving an orange car.
Even so, Detective Steinhoff discovered that Hausmann had been picked up for kidnapping two black teens, who told Fresno detectives Hausmann had bragged about killing prostitutes in L.A. Steinhoff also learned that Hausmann was the sole suspect in a series of prostitute murders in Fresno, and one prostitute told detectives that while beating her, he had exclaimed, “You’re harder to kill than the other ones!”
Steinhoff also found that Hausmann had been issued a parking ticket in Inglewood around the time of Berthomieux’s death. So in June 2006, a judge issued a search warrant to obtain Hausmann’s DNA. From his lockup in Fresno County Jail, he denied his involvement to the Weekly. DNA tests proved he was telling the truth.
Short-lived media coverage at the time explained that Los Angeles had a serial killer afoot, one who had murdered 10 people. But, last year, he killed again — and Shepard and Kilcoyne don’t believe his gruesome work is done. “Somehow, he has slipped through the cracks,” Shepard says. “I have to think the worst, that he is going to continue. It has been going on for 23 years — at least.”
What stands out most starkly today is how few resources the LAPD’s top man, Bratton, and his City Hall boss, Villaraigosa, have applied to catching the most persistent serial killer in California history. It is shocking to the victims’ families, and to the few who know about it in the community, that an active serial killer continues to operate without political outcry.
“It really hurts my heart,” says Minister Pat Jones. “Come on, 23 years? That’s a lifetime. We need to stop this person.”
Laverne Peters bitterly recalls how, “[The police] went all the way to Aruba,” for the widely covered Natalee Holloway murder investigation. Picking at a salad at a Denny’s in Fontana, the fed-up mother of victim Janecia Peters adds, “You don’t just get into your car and drive to Aruba. ... I am really starting to have a problem with it. ... Why wouldn’t you offer rewards? I guess no council member is really interested. I am just a mother who wishes they would say something about my daughter, like they say about every other kid.”
A little more than a year ago, Bratton finally formed the secret 800 Task Force. Kilcoyne says it was initially kept under wraps because “my instructions from the prior captain” of the Robbery-Homicide Unit, which oversees it, were, “We aren’t talking to the media, and that is that.”
At that time, detectives still needed to “get up to speed on the case,” he says. “A year ago, we weren’t sure if there was going to be a flurry of murders again.” Although not his decision to make, Kilcoyne, pressed by the Weekly as to why the LAPD brass and City Hall have not warned the public, says, “I don’t think it will harm us to acknowledge this. I don’t think we are hiding a secret that there is a ‘Night Stalker’ out there.”
Quietly, during the past year, the 800 Task Force has chased leads as far as Florida and Texas, tailed suspects for weeks who turned out to be dead-ends, and abruptly materialized at autopsies and crime scenes involving at least a dozen newly dumped bodies. Last fall, they arrested a guy who preyed on prostitutes; his DNA wasn’t right. They are combing through evidence gathered from 30 body dumps dating to the ’80s, with a crime analyst inputting each clue into a giant “automated filing cabinet.”
But the detectives’ palpable sense of urgency — their fear that he is killing even now — doesn’t seem to extend to Bratton. Last May, the 800 Task Force’s six detectives were required to move, giving up their space to a cold-case sexual-assault unit. That ate up several days, as the 800 Task Force detectives transported their fat murder books, files and documents to a cramped space five floors below. Inglewood detective Loyd Waters says that unwelcome disruption “threw them off.”
Lately, Kilcoyne says Bratton has grown concerned about the secrecy of the task force, concluding that LAPD has an “obligation to make the public aware.” But if that’s true, Chief Bratton has yet to do anything about it. Bratton has never mentioned the serial killer in a press release.
Kilcoyne says, “I have briefed Bratton four or five times. He is fully aware of what we are going through. He thinks we have our work cut out for us. Every time he sees us he says, ‘Good luck.’”
A Bratton press aide on August 26 told the Weekly the chief was “too busy” to discuss the Grim Sleeper murders, and offered to provide comment from lower LAPD brass. On the same day, although Bratton could not set aside time to discuss the 11 murders in South Los Angeles, he got big media play at a Parker Center press conference — touting the arrest of the Westside’s “Silverware Bandit,” a man who had been stealing cutlery and china.
Meanwhile, the miffed Bernie Parks Jr., speaking to the Weekly from the Denver convention, said with obvious irritation: “We are trying to get answers from them, and hopefully get the right answer soon.”
Some of those answers may come from much further north, where Attorney General Brown earned a few headlines in May by publicly backing the use of familial DNA testing. However, his spokesman, Gareth Lacy, tells the Weekly that Brown is still months away from allowing any comparisons to the existing 1 million profiles in the state felon DNA archives. Brown, who is almost certainly running for governor in 2010, has been walking a political tightrope, trying to look like a law-and-order guy when he was mayor of crime-riddled Oakland, but more recently trying to woo liberal voters as the state attorney general who most hates global warming.
Until Brown gives the go-ahead to his lab, allowing state Department of Justice scientists in Richmond to compare prisoners’ DNA with saliva and other DNA taken from Grim Sleeper murder scenes, Kilcoyne says: “It will take old-fashioned police work. We just can’t wait for [Brown] to give us a link.” If the killer “is a family man or goes home to his wife or kids ... we might never find him.”
Victims’ families are demanding more transparency — and they have words of caution for Angelenos. Mary Taylor, the aunt of Valerie McCorvey, suggests that if the 11 known victims had been relatives of a City Hall politician or police officer, authorities would have cracked these cases long ago. But her niece Valerie lived a wild life, and that, Taylor believes, damned her — first with the killer, and then with the powers that be. “Hers,” Taylor says, “is going to be one of those cold cases they never solve.”
Monique Alexander’s father, Porter, sits in a chair in his quiet, hospitable home in South Los Angeles, wondering if the killer will strike while Brown, Bratton and Villaraigosa hide behind their bureaucracies. “He’s a guy who has the area mapped,” Alexander says. “He’s a guy with a mindset, who is smart enough to back off and wait. I don’t think he has left. He ... can start this mess all over again.”
Gina Pollack contributed research assistance.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.