LOS ANGELES — Regina Morris’s sister had been missing for four years before she saw her again—in a photo taken from the home of an accused serial killer.
In 2009, LAPD homicide detectives showed her one of the hundreds of Polaroids from Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s home in South Los Angeles. Police arrested him on July 7, 2010, accusing him of murdering 10 people and attempting to murder of one survivor.
“The picture they showed me was my sister RoRo,” Morris told The Daily Beast, referring to the nickname she used for her older sister, Rolenia Morris, who was 29 when she disappeared on Sept. 10, 2005.
One detail stuck out from the photograph.
“I looked really close and my sister had a tear in her eye,” she remembered crystally. “That’s the part that I’m really like, I really don’t like talking about this man.”
Franklin, a 63-year-old former LAPD mechanic, is on trial for the murder of 10 women and attempted murder of another. Most of them were black and under the age of 35. Franklin earned the moniker “The Grim Sleeper” after he allegedly took a break from killing in 1988 before he resumed in 2002. (Franklin has pleaded not guilty.)
Morris has no doubt that her sister is one of Franklin’s victims, though RoRo’s body has never been found.
“Without her remains they can’t give him counts for that,” Morris said. “And I feel like that’s wrong. She should be counted for.”
No body also means no real closure.
“So many got to bury their people but I can’t bury my sister,” she said of RoRo, who she thought of as more of a mother than a sister.
“She was the shoulder I leaned on. She took care of me and took me shopping… Her kids are taking it hard. But she also has three grandbabies she’s never seen.”
Then she directed her rage toward Franklin himself.
“I want to put her away the way she would want, not the way you left her.”
It’s unclear just how many victims Franklin might have killed. Based on some survivors who have come forward and photos released by the LAPD from Franklin’s home, the expanded death toll could range from 30 to nearly 200.
In other words, the Grim Sleeper may never have slept.
As the trial began, prosecutor Beth Silverman of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said the accused murderer had an advantage by striking in South Central L.A., which was overrun by gangs and crack cocaine in the 1980s and ’90s.
“Someone who knew where the drug-addicted women and perhaps prostitutes would congregate and who knew how to lure potential victims into the darkness and the isolation of a vehicle through the promise of crack,” Silverman said.
Then she showed what happened next:
A series of gory crime scene photos of some of Franklin’s alleged 10 murder victims, most of whom were stripped, pulverized, raped, and killed by strangulation, gunshot, or both.
The visuals proved too overwhelming for one father.
Despite four eye surgeries and admittedly “blurry” vision, Porter Alexander removed himself from the courtroom as the images were splashed on a monitor.
“Just looking at some of the photos I couldn’t stomach all of them; I couldn’t sit there for all of them—I had to leave out,” the 75-year-old property manager told The Daily Beast. “But just to see how something like that could end up happening to some of those girls is unbelievable.”
Understandably, Alexander went on to say that no matter how hard he tried to prepare for this day in court—more than 25 years—he couldn’t bear to see what happened to women like his daughter.
“Every day I say to myself: I’m going to be able to endure and be able to take it. But when they showed these images I just could not handle it.”
Monique Alexander was 18 when she was taken from her family. The youngest of five children, she was Porter’s baby. His wife of 52 years, Mary Alexander, nicknamed her “Moo” for short.
Alexander said his daughter was “an outgoing person” with a magnetic spirit.
There was the time when Porter and Monique had stopped at a gas station en route to Chino, California, where they had been raising a horse.
“I remember so vividly we stopped at a service station and I’m pumping gas and an elderly gentleman, a white guy, tells me ‘Mister, can I take a picture with your daughter?’ and I laughed.
“Monique put her arm around him and smiled for the picture,” he said. “We still have it. She was just that kind of person.”
A gifted student from early on, Monique attended a magnet school a good distance away from South Central in the Valley and would have had a bright future if not for getting hooked on drugs.
“There was some things in the community that were going on,” he said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
Refusing to feel trapped in their tough neighborhood, Alexander encouraged Monique to spread her wings.
“I wanted my kids to have as much openness and not be confined to just South Central Los Angeles,” he said. “I was never stuck there and I wanted them to be curious and change their overall view of the world.”
The father who spent so much of his life teaching his daughter to “not trust every smile” was trying to wrest her from the jaws of addiction.
“As God is my witness I tried… She was led in some way down this path,” he said. “We were sitting there and she told me, ‘Dad, I’m not doing anything now. I had. I don’t deny that.’”
In late August 1988, Monique headed out to run an errand.
“‘I’m going to the store, Dad, do you want anything?’” Porter recalls her saying.
“I said ‘No, I don’t want anything, baby. All I want is for you to come back home.’
“She said, ‘Yes, I will.’
“And that’s the last time I spoke to my daughter,” he said.
After Monique went missing, Porter organized search parties.
“That’s my neighborhood. That’s my people out there,” he said of the outpouring of support he had from so many willing to look for Monique.
He kept praying for her return.
“You’re scared and hopeful, hoping that nothing traumatic would happen. That she would come back,” he said.
But she never turned up and the father had to face facts. “After a period of time you begin to develop things in your head that you don’t want to believe—that something else could have happened,” he said.
Monique had wandered off before.
There was the time she and her friend skipped town to drive up to Sacramento for a jaunt, but she returned the following day. “It was only one time,” he said.
She never came home this time. Cops discovered her dumped in an alley, having bled to death from a gunshot wound.
Alexander was told that his daughter’s death was like any other run-of-the-mill murder in town. For the next 20 years, they didn’t know there was a serial killer murdering women like Monique until a neighbor mentioned she’d read about it in the news.
“No one told us anything like that,” he said. “The only time we knew that this was serial-type killing taking place was when a neighbor told us she saw it in the paper. That’s how we found out.”
For years, the police had been sitting on evidence connecting the murders: composite sketches, ballistic findings, even a 911 call from 1987 made at one of the crime scenes where a man calling from a phone booth described seeing a man dump a body in an alleyway and rattled off a description of a blue-and-white van and its license plate.
Margaret Prescod thought it looked like police were giving serial killers free rein to murder black women, so in 1986 she started the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders. It wasn’t just the Grim Sleeper: Chester Taylor, John Floyd Thomas Jr., and others were hunting women.
Prescod started speaking for the voiceless victims and their families who had no idea their daughters’ deaths were not random.
“The family members were never informed by law enforcement that their children were the victims of a serial killer,” Prescod said. “They found out on television or from reading an article.”
There was no good reason to shield this information, she said.
“Why the hell are you holding on to that stuff for so long? If they had released the 911 phone call maybe someone would have recognized the voice, the description of the vehicle.”
Prescod’s contends that nobody paid much mind because the victims were black and labeled as junkies, crackheads, and whores.
Thirty years before the Black Lives Matter movement, Prescod pioneered a similar call to arms theme in “Black women lives count.”
“We said at the time every life has a value, because to us the stereotyping was a devaluation of their lives,” she said.
Today they count, at least on paper.
The indictment against Franklin lists each of his alleged victims by name, followed simply by, “a human being.”
“Debra Jackson, a human being.”
“Henrietta Wright, a human being.”
“Babara Ware, a human being.”
“Bernita Sparks, a human being.”
“Mary Lowe, a human being.”
“Lachica Jefferson, a human being.”
“Alicia Alexander, a human being.”
“Enietra Washington, a human being.”
“Princess Berthomieux, a human being.”
“Valerie McCorvey, a human being.”
“Janecia Peters, a human being.”
Prescod says the prosecutor is still treating these women as less than human beings.
“She said the victims were ready to sell their bodies and their souls just to get a hit. How you gonna talk about somebody’s soul? What do you know about the souls of these victims? How dare you disrespect them that way,” Prescod inveighed.
But nobody else will say that.
“The family members are forced to sit there and hear their family members described in these racist, stereotypical terms, and right now so much is in her hands so they won’t say anything to her.”
That feeling of neglect came to a head when one of Franklin’s alleged victims led police almost to his doorstep.
That was the only “official survivor,” Enietra Washington who was 30 when she was attacked by the serial killer.
On Nov. 20, 1988, Washington accepted a ride in an orange Ford Pinto she believes was being driven by Franklin.
According to the grand jury transcripts, the man that picked her up in the orange Ford Pinto referred to her as “Brenda” and kept probing her with the same question:
“You know me, don’t you? You know me.” When Washingon begged for the abductor to take her to a hospital he allegedly sneered, “Why you dogging me?”
The driver then sexually assaulted her, and as Washington fell in and out of consciousness the sicko snapped a photo of her.
Left for dead, Washington pulled herself to a friend’s home and was rushed to a hospital.
Once mended, Washington led homicide investigators back to where she was sexually assaulted, then shot and tossed to the pavement; two doors away from Lonnie Franklin Jr.’s front door. (Washington survived.)
“It was two doors down,” Prescod said. “What kind of stellar police work is that? You don’t go door-to-door in the neighborhood?”
Last week in court, Washington, now 57, testified that she was approached a year later by the accused near her Inglewood home.
He asked her, “Do you know me?” and she shot back “Am I supposed to?” before he paced away.
She pointed Franklin out in court, saying she was “100 percent” sure that he was the man who violated and shot her.
Soon after his daughter’s body was found, Porter Alexander joined Prescod in passing out flyers to warn as many as they could of the outstanding serial killer terrorizing South Central. He believes the cops at that time had no right to keep the community out of the loop.
“It gives you the sign that they care less about our neighborhood, that we were overlooked,” he said of the LAPD’s alleged covert tactics. “They only shared this information with themselves.”
But when Alexander and other bereaved and bushwhacked family members met with LAPD brass recently, he says Police Chief Charlie Beck and others made assurances that the past would not be repeated.
“They said they would be more open to come forward and that we needed to realize they were out here with us now and promised to give us more information than we have now,” he said.
The case jumped back to life on Jan. 1, 2007, when the naked corpse of Janecia Peters was found stuffed in a trash bag and chucked in a trash dumpster. It initially appeared the “Southside Slayer” murders (or “Strawberry murders,” so named because the victims were primarily prostitutes) had resumed.
This murder inspired the police and the City Council to offer six-figure sums for any tipsters who could give any leads to the capture the once-dormant serial killer.
Meanwhile, LAPD Chief Bill Bratton formed a special six-member squad called “the 800 task force” to covertly nab the serial killer ravaging a forsaken swath of Los Angeles.
The detectives made arrests (including a Fresno man named Roger Hausman and L.A. County Sheriff's deputy Rickey Ross), but the evidence in both busts proved flimsy and the real killer remained on the loose.
Investigators then leaned on an expansive DNA database to match samples taken from crime scenes to anybody (including relatives) who had been arrested for a felony in order to put heat under languishing cold cases.
They arrested Franklin after his 28-year-old son Christopher was pinched in 2009 for a felonious weapons conviction.
With his son’s DNA on file from his stint in prison, investigators used a little Hollywood screenplay scheme to scramble an undercover cop as a pizza parlor waiter to work a Franklin family birthday party. When Lonnie Franklin finished, the cop grabbed the pizza crust he had bitten, as well as silverware and glasses.
Investigators matched Franklin’s DNA to DNA from saliva recovered from some of the victims’ breasts.
Police might not have needed to wait for DNA had they paid more attention in the first place.
While he has learned to live with loss, for Alexander, there is an invisible gushing wound of mourning.
“It’s something I don’t wish on nobody to go through,” he said.
Each day in court Alexander, and his wife and their children, have been front-row fixtures.
And though only a few feet away sits the accused monster that may have killed and raped his daughter, the dad is resigned to remain restrained.
“I know I can lose it at any given time,” he said of the urge to go after an unshackled, uncuffed Franklin, who has shed his orange jumpsuit for a gray collared shirt, smart tie, and spectacles.
“That’s something I have to hold in,” he said, adding that he’s relied on newfound strength he didn’t know he had. “And I don’t want to corrupt the jury or the proceedings. I tell my kids to do the same thing.”
For Regina Morris, whose older sister would have turned 42 this month, going to court isn’t an option.
“I don’t want to go to the trial because I’m so upset I might do something crazy,” she said. “Just seeing his face in court I might throw a chair. I can’t see this man because I know I would be going back to jail.”