L.A. County has just unsealed over 1,000 pages of grand jury transcripts from the indictment in the Grim Sleep serial-killer case. Christine Pelisek on the chilling details buried inside.
A Polaroid of a bleeding victim. A fired gun. These are some of the keepsakes of a killer who terrorized Los Angeles for more than 20 years.
Just over a month after he was indicted for the murders of 10 women and the attempted murder of another, the grand jury transcripts related to Lonnie Franklin Jr., alleged to be the Grim Sleeper, were unsealed in recent weeks. The documents detail disturbing new evidence of the crimes, including the weapon used to kill a woman in 2007 and a photograph of another woman who was viciously attacked in 1988. The items were discovered inside Franklin’s home, according to the transcripts. (Franklin pleaded not guilty to the charges last year.)
The newly unsealed content is the latest in a growing mountain of evidence, and paints a picture of an overwhelmingly damning case against Franklin. In the transcripts, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney mentions that this will be a capital case, which may mean that Franklin will try to cop a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.
“That murder weapon was kept in his home like a trophy, perhaps to use again.”
Franklin, a mechanic with a history of car thefts, was indicted by a secret grand jury in March in the gruesome murders of the women and the attempted murder of another. The victims, who ranged in age from 14 to 35, were found in alleyways and dumpsters along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles, discarded like trash. Most had been sexually assaulted.
The transcripts reveal that more than 30 witnesses, including homicide detectives and coroner’s investigators, testified during the weeklong grand jury proceedings that took place in a downtown L.A. courtroom. A DNA expert who also testified in front of the grand jury said Franklin’s DNA matched the human detritus discovered on the bodies of seven of the 10 dead women.
The gun and Polaroid photograph were found during a three-day search of Franklin’s home after his arrest last July. 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. Over 150 law-enforcement personnel—which included six separate teams of firearm experts, crime-scene analysts, photographers, and homicide detectives—participated in the massive hunt, one of the largest searches in Los Angeles history.
According to the court transcripts, a Titan FIE .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol was discovered inside a black pouch along with a magazine and several loose round-nose bullets in a drawer in one of Franklin’s spare bedrooms. In January, the LAPD concluded that the same gun was used to shoot the last known victim, Janecia Peters.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said Franklin was a suspect who liked “to keep trophies belonging to his victims.”
“That murder weapon was kept in his home like a trophy, perhaps to use again,” she said.
A homeless man collecting cans from a dumpster off Western Avenue stumbled across the lifeless nude body of 25-year-old Peters near a discarded Christmas tree on January 1, 2007. She had been shot, and was stuffed in a black garbage bag wrapped tightly with a twist tie.
During their search, detectives also discovered a photo of Peters that was hidden in an envelope, along with the school identification and driver’s license of two missing women inside a mini fridge in Franklin’s garage. The photos were released by the Los Angeles Police Department in March. Near the fridge, detectives also came across a photo of Enietra Washington, the alleged killer’s only known survivor. The graphic photo depicted an “injured and bleeding” Washington laying inside a car.
Back in 1988, Washington told police that a man driving an orange-colored Pinto picked her up one night in November. The man shot her in the chest before sexually assaulting her, then took a photo of her using a Polaroid camera and pushed her out of the car.
During the grand jury hearing, Washington testified that her assailant called her “Brenda” and repeatedly said: “You know me, don’t you? You know me.” She said she begged her attacker to take her to the hospital, but all he said in response was, “Quit dogging me.”
After the assault, Washington said she walked and crawled to the house of a girlfriend who called an ambulance. She was transported to a Los Angeles hospital where she stayed for 13 days. “We know that he intended to kill her and likely he thought when he dumped her out of the car that she was going to be dead, much as the other victims,” said Silverman.
After the attack on Washington, the .25 caliber killings abruptly ended. “At that point in time, Enietra Washington seemed to be the last victim of this unknown serial killer and law enforcement was stymied, they were at a crossroads,” said Silverman. “They definitely had a serial killer on their hands, but law enforcement didn’t know what they were looking for. There were no eyewitnesses to any of the crimes, and to complicate matters… there were approximately two or three serial killers who were operating in the South Los Angeles area at the same time preying on the same type of victim.”
The attacks resumed again in 2002—a 13-year hiatus that spawned the moniker “the Grim Sleeper”—with the murder of 14-year-old foster-care runaway Princess Berthomieux, whose body was found in an alley in Inglewood, a city near Los Angeles International Airport. Detectives now suspect that Franklin, a former city employee who collects a $1,658 monthly pension, may have killed during the 13-year gap but they don’t have any evidence to prove it.
Franklin had been living at the epicenter of the killings since the early 1980s, 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 he claimed he was injured on duty. Police say Franklin, a former army cook, is a lifetime con with a perpetual history of run-ins with the law. In 1969, he was arrested twice for grand theft auto. The following year, he was arrested again, this time for burglary from a motor vehicle.
Also discovered inside Franklin’s home were hundreds of photographs and videotapes of naked women, thousands of dollars worth of stolen car parts, nine handguns, and a shotgun.
“He clearly harbored some serious hatred for women,” said Silverman. “There is some indication that this is an individual who gets some sort of sexual gratification from the way in which he murders his victims.”
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.