Updated: Now with photos.
Larina Corlew needed to be in Church Sunday.
“Church is a good place to be because it reinforces the need to forgive,” she said. “But it's hard.”
Corlew's beloved step-sister Barbara Ware was murdered in 1987 by the so-called Grim Sleeper, who police say is Lonnie Franklin, Jr. He was arrested last week and charged with 10 murders while detectives work through cold case files to determine if there were others.
Corlew and Barbara Ware's step-mom Diana Ware and other family were at St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, a well-appointed, predominantly African-American church they attend regularly.
The Rev. Anthony Dockery, the pastor, asked at the beginning of the service that parishioners pray for “sister Ware,” and that “God's will be done” and “justice served.”
Without naming Franklin, he asked the congregants to pray for his soul.
“We pray for sister Ware and all those families during this difficult time,” that they would have “peace in the midst of the storm,” he said.
The storm, of course, has two fronts: There's the voracious media coverage of the murder of their daughters, sisters and nieces, and the prospect for a legal process that could drag on as long as two years.
Diana Ware, dressed in her Sunday best, seemed composed, relieved finally to know that Barbara's alleged killer has been found. When the call came last week, the detective asked if she was sitting down. “After all those years, and nothing. And now this,” she said.
She hopes that the weight of the evidence will convince this man — about whom she expresses not so much anger as curiosity — to take a plea agreement and spare the families more suffering with an ugly trial in which defense attorneys might attack the young victims.
There has certainly been enough suffering — and not just in the unspeakable pain of losing a child to a violent death. For years the investigation was bungled, and many of the families only became aware that their children were the victims of a serial murderer when informed by Weekly reporter Christine Pelisek before a 2008 story. Families of victims wonder if the location of the killings — a working class neighborhood of South L.A. — gave them less priority.
“A lot of things that should have been done 23 years ago were not done,” Ware said.
For instance, only last year did police release a 911 call from 1987 in which an anonymous male tipster called in the murder of Barbara Ware. 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.
Former LAPD Chief William Bratton told reporters — again, only last year — 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.
Police acknowledge the investigation was mishandled at the time, with little evidence taken from the van and church members left un-interviewed.
“I just have to wonder if it'd been a different part of town, would these things have been done?” Ware asks. But she also effusively praised investigators and added, “But the big thing is that they caught him.” She only wishes her husband had lived to see this day.
Ware said her faith sustained her during the worst times and has helped her fend off the urge to be angry. At the service Sunday, she gave and received many hugs and sometimes stood and swayed to St. Stephen's accomplished choir.
Corlew said she struggles more with anger, knowing the details of the crime as she does. And then there's the portrayal of the victims — he seemed to prey on the defenseless, including, in a few cases, prostitutes.
“They were people with lives and families,” she said. “They were daughters. They were sisters. They had mommas. People who cared about them. They might have had difficulties. Who hasn't? These were real people with real lives.”