Grim Sleeper, Accused of Killing 11 Since 1985, Arrested in L.A.

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An arrest has been made in the case of the so-called “Grim Sleeper”serial killer, whom police believe is responsible for approximately a dozen deaths over the last several decades.

Lonnie David Franklin, Jr., 51, was arrested in South Los Angeles yesterday. He faces 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, for a string of brutal attacks which took place between 1985 and 2007. Nicknamed the Grim Sleeper because he took long breaks between the murders, he is believed by authorities to have killed at least 11 people by strangling, shooting or both. All but one were black women who were either prostitutes or drug addicts. They were also sexually assaulted. The lone male victim, Thomas Steele, may have been either another victim’s friend or a witness to one of the slayings.

At one point, as many as 30 detectives were working on the case, but quickly exhausted all leads in the 1980s. Tape of a 911 call made in 1987, in which the caller reported having seen a man hauling a woman’s body from a van, was released last year in the hopes that someone would be able to identify the caller’s voice. Billboards featuring a composite sketch—created by information that had been provided to authorities by the lone survivor, a woman who was sexually assaulted and shot by the Grim Sleeper before being pushed from his car—also went up in the greater Los Angeles area.

The Los Angeles Police Department offered a $500,000 reward, the city’s largest in history, for information leading to the capture of the serial killer.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said that the familial DNA search program, enacted in 2008, helped lead investigators to Franklin. This program involves the use of DNA of a suspect’s family member—in this case, a relative of Franklin’s who had been convicted of a felony weapons charge—to establish a link to DNA collected at the crime scene.

“This arrest provides proof positive that familial DNA searches must be part of law enforcement’s crime-fighting arsenal. Although the adoption of this new state policy was unprecedented and controversial, in certain cases, it is the only way to bring a dangerous killer to justice,” Brown said. Civil liberties groups had opposed the passage of the familial DNA program.

If Franklin, a retired mechanic, is convicted on all the counts he faces, he could be eligible for either the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

 

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