Many of the South Los Angeles women disappeared over a span of three decades. The first woman went missing in 1982. She hadn’t been seen or heard from in 29 years. Another is an unsolved-murder victim. Three additional women vanished in the ‘90s. In 2005, two more women disappeared without a trace. The final woman is a real mystery. Police have no idea who she is. The only clue to her identity is a single photo. The women didn’t know each other but Los Angeles Police Department detectives say they may have one thing in common: Alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr.
“We have a strong suspicion that these eight people crossed paths with Mr. Franklin,” said LAPD detective Dennis Kilcoyne. “In my opinion most of these girls went to landfills years ago.”
Police have long thought that Franklin, a mechanic with a history of car thefts, was involved in additional slayings. According to authorities, seven of the eight women had histories of prostitution and drug abuse and were last seen around a sleazy stretch of Western Avenue in South Los Angeles known for cheap motels, liquor stores and storefront churches. The missing women, who ranged in age from 18 to 37 years old, otherwise seemed to have little in common except that they disappeared at a time when one of L.A.’s most prolific serial killers was on the loose. Their stomping ground was in the epicenter of the killings.
Investigators are releasing the photos of the eight women at a press conference scheduled at 4.p.m. Tuesday at LAPD’s downtown headquarters in hopes that the public will provide them with additional clues as to what happened to them.
The press conference comes a week after 58-year-old Franklin was indicted by a secret grand jury for the murders of 10 women and the attempted murder of another. Most of his alleged victims, who ranged in age from 14 to 35 years old, were shot with a .25-caliber pistol. Others were strangled. The majority of the women were sexually assaulted. Their bodies were discovered under filthy rugs and mattresses in dumpsters and alleyways.
“In my opinion most of these girls went to landfills years ago.”
The families of four of the missing women contacted police when news of Franklin’s arrest broke last July. The women had not previously been connected to the investigation. The missing women are Cathern
Two more of Franklin’s possible victims, Ayellah Marshall, 18, and Rolenia Morris, 29, disappeared in February and September 2005, respectively. They were last seen in the vicinity of Franklin’s home on 81st Street and Western Avenue. The identities of the two women came to light in July 2010, when detectives seized hundreds of photos and videotape from Franklin’s home. Some of the pictures, which were taken by Franklin before his arrest, showed women who range from teenagers to their 60s, exposing their breasts or fully nude.
Marshall’s school identification card and Morris’ Nevada driver’s license were discovered in an envelope hidden inside Franklin’s freezer in his garage. Police ran the women’s identification and they came up missing. Inside the same envelope, detectives also discovered a photo of Franklin’s last-known alleged victim Janecia Peters. Peters’ body was discovered in a dumpster by a homeless man on Jan. 1, 2007, and her photo was released in December along with 180 other women.
“They were tucked away from the rest of them,” said Kilcoyne. “It is like he had his own private hiding spot.”
Kilcoyne said it wasn’t the first time the alleged killer made off with a “trophy.”
“Girls he attacked he often took their ID,” he said. Sole survivor Enietra Washington told police that a man, driving an orange-colored Pinto, picked her up one night in November 1988. The man shot her in the chest, then sexually assaulted her, took a photo of her using a Polaroid camera, and stole her driver’s license, before pushing her out of his car.
Another possible missing woman is an unidentified person, previously listed as #117 in the photos released by the police department. Her photo was also found in Franklin’s freezer with those of Marshall, Morris, and Peters. “We have no idea who she is,” said Kilcoyne.
Police said the unsolved murder victim is 28-year-old Inez Warren. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies discovered Warren’s body in an alleyway off Western Avenue on Aug.15, 1988. She was shot once in the upper torso with a small-caliber pistol.
Franklin was arrested in July 2010 as he walked out of his modest green home in South Los Angeles. 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.
Franklin, a pensioner who collected $1,658 monthly 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.
Police said Franklin, a former Army cook, was a lifetime crook with a history of run-ins with the law. In 1981, he became a garage attendant at the Los Angeles Police Department. The following year, he drove a garbage truck for the Department of Sanitation. While working as a garbage-truck driver, he was arrested for carrying a loaded firearm by the Los Angeles County Sheriff in 1984 and for stealing a car in 1989.
The Grim Sleeper serial killer was thought to have operated only in the 1980s, but struck again in 2002, 2003 and 2007. He is considered to be the longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi.
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.