UPDATE: Listen to the 911 call here.
Shortly after midnight, January 10, 1987, a Los Angeles Police Department dispatcher received a call from a man who said he was phoning from a pay booth. The mystery caller told the female operator that he wanted to report a murder. He claimed to have seen a man dump a woman's body out of a blue and white van — covering the body with a discarded gas tank in an alleyway near 1346 East 56th Street. He even gave the license plate number: 1PZP746.
Grim Sleeper Victim Barbara Ware
“Is that T like Tom?” asked the dispatcher.
“No, P like in puppy,” said the deep-voiced man, somewhat casually.
When the dispatcher asked him for the killer's description, the man, after offering all these details, responded: “I didn't see him.”
The dispatcher asked the caller for his name. He laughed nervously before responding: “I know too many people. OK then. Bye Bye.”
The dead woman was later identified as 23-year-old Barbara Ware, the fourth victim of L.A.'s elusive Grim Sleeper, the longest operating serial killer west of the Mississippi. Ware was shot once in the chest and was found covered in trash. A plastic bag was draped over her upper torso and head.
The chilling recording of the conversation between the dispatcher and the mystery caller was played back at a morning press conference today at the LAPD's Metropolitan Dispatch Center, along with details about the 1976 Dodge van and the nearby church that, in a startlilng turn of events, later proved to be the registered owner of the suspect vehicle.
Today's press conference marked the first formal public appearance of Police Chief Bill Bratton regarding the Grim Sleeper. Bratton has taken hits from both the public and local media, including the L.A. Weekly — which broke the story revealing that the LAPD had not not informed residents that a serial killer has been murdering women in South Los Angeles since 1985.
Police for the first time today also repeatedly referred to the serial killer as the Grim Sleeper, a name chosen by the Weekly last August before it broke the story. The Los Angeles Times has published several stories on the serial killer since that time, but has steadfastly refused to use this now-widely used nickname.
Pronouncing him the “Grim Sleepa” because of his Boston accent, Bratton said the killer is “the only still-outstanding serial murderer working in the city currently.”
Bratton told a swarm of TV, radio and newspaper reporters that the suspect van was still “warm” to the touch when the cops found it less than 40 minutes after the 1987 call, sitting in the parking lot of the now-defunct Cosmopolitan Church on South Normandie Avenue.
The Cosmopolitan Church
That same night 22 years ago, the Cosmopolitan Church was having a sleepover for mothers and their kids. Church members told detectives that the van with the license plate matching the anonymous tip was used to shuttle people around until 11:20 p.m. Ware's body was found in the alley (four miles away from the church) one hour later, and Detective Kilcoyne explained that police think Ware was killed at least three or four hours before her body was actually dumped.
Kilcoyne said that the LAPD's scientific investigations division
looked over the van, but because of the state of technology 22 years
ago its members only took photographs, fingerprints and vacuumed fibers
off the seat. That evidence, now considered far too basic, lead to no
Thus the release of the dispatch call to the public. “We are
presenting a mystery to the public,” said Kilcoyne. “Personally, I
think the answer is there.”
DNA and ballistics have linked the Grim Sleeper to 10 women and one
man who were murdered almost exclusively along a section of Western
Photos by Christine Pelisek