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12.17.10

New Clue in Grim Sleeper Case: Victim's Photo Identified

After L.A. cops released a trove of photographers from the alleged serial killer’s home, the first image has been positively identified. Christine Pelisek talks to the police and victim’s family.

 After L.A. cops released a trove of photographs from the alleged serial killer’s home, the first image has been positively identified. Christine Pelisek talks to the police and victim’s family.

One of the hundreds of photos seized from the home of alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. was identified today by the Los Angeles Police Department as Janecia Peters—one of the killer’s known victims.

“We marked her as identified so she was taken off the website,” says Los Angeles Police Department detective Dennis Kilcoyne. “The family was contacted to attend the previewing and they couldn’t make it. We asked them to view it and when they did, they got a hold of us and we took it down… I am not happy we had it on there but I feel bad for the family but obviously it adds to her connection to Lonnie certainly.”

The photo of 25-year-old Peters, who is the last known victim of the Grim Sleeper, was one of hundreds of photographs taken from Franklin’s home in July. Franklin is charged with 10 murders, including that of Peters, and one attempted murder in South Los Angeles dating back to 1985. Franklin has pleaded not guilty; on Friday, his lawyer declined to comment.

Police believe those in the color photographs, most of which are pictures of women and teenage girls, may be even more victims of the alleged killer. Some of the pictures, which were taken by the 58-year-old Franklin before his arrest, show women who range from teenagers to women in their sixties, exposing their breasts or fully nude. Some photographs show women who look like they may be asleep, unconscious, or dead. The photographs were taken in cars, in Franklin's motor home, and in his backyard garage.

The image of Peters depicts a young African-American woman with her head tilted upward. She is wearing earrings and a gold necklace. It is unclear where the photo was taken.

“Peters is the first one that has been identified and taken off the website,” says Kilcoyne. “She is the first one we are confident with.”

Peters’ sister Shamika Smith confirmed to The Daily Beast that photo number 119 is that of her sister.

“119 is her,” says Smith. “I recognize her face. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind he killed her.”

A homeless man collecting cans from a dumpster off Western Avenue discovered the lifeless nude body of Peters near a discarded Christmas tree on January 1, 2007. She’d been stuffed in a black garbage bag wrapped tightly with a twist tie. Peters’ murder case was transferred from LAPD’s 77th Division to the elite Robbery/Homicide unit downtown in 2007 when DNA found on the twist tie positively matched the human detritus found on victims in 2002, 2003, and in the '80s.

Gallery: Photos Found in Grim Sleeper Suspect’s Home

Last July, Franklin, a mechanic with a history of car theft, was arrested as he walked out of his modest mint-green home, which he shared with his wife of 32 years. Investigators had found that DNA taken from a slice of pizza he had been eating earlier positively matched DNA taken from semen and saliva found on the victims. Franklin was tracked down through familial DNA testing after his 28-year-old son was arrested on a weapons charge in the summer of 2009, and had to give up a DNA swab.  

“119 is her,” says Smith. “I recognize her face. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind he killed her.”

Franklin, a pensioner who collected a $1,658 monthly pension from the city, had been living in the epicenter of the killings since the early '80s when he was working as a trash collector for the city's Department of Sanitation. Many of the Grim Sleeper killings occurred during the same years Franklin claimed he was injured on duty.

The Grim Sleeper serial killer was thought to have operated only in the 1980s, but struck again in 2002, 2003 and 2007. Most of the victims were shot with a .25 caliber pistol, and their bodies were found along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles, discarded like trash. Most had been sexually assaulted.

Christine Pelisek is staff reporter for The Daily Beast, covering crime. She previously was a reporter at the LA Weekly, where she covered crime for the last five years. In 2008, she won three Los Angeles Press Club awards, one for her investigative story on the Grim Sleeper.