Crime & Justice

LAPD to release more details on 'Grim Sleeper' arrest

Police and local residents gather near the house of Lonnie Franklin Jr., 57, in South Los Angeles.
Police and local residents gather near the house of Lonnie Franklin Jr., 57, in South Los Angeles.
Bianca Ramirez/KPCC

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The LAPD has scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference Thursday to provide more details on the arrest of a former police mechanic on charges that he’s the infamous “Grim Sleeper” serial killer. Police arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, outside his South L.A. home, where many neighbors described him as “friendly” and “sweet.”

Police say Franklin killed at least 10 women – seven in the late 1980s and three more from 2002 to 2007. They say he might be responsible for one more death in 2001. That gap of more than a decade between murders is what earned the killer the moniker “Grim Sleeper.”

All of the victims were African-American, all but one was a woman and several were prostitutes. Investigators say Franklin sexually assaulted most of the victims and often dumped their bodies in alleys just south of downtown.

The arrest came as a relief to Diane McQueen, whose niece Janecia Peters was the last known victim three years ago.

“Well it was an overwhelming feeling. But it was mostly joy," McQueen said. "I feel justice, I feel like something is really being done today. I thank God for it. And I’ve been talking to Jesus all day. And I appreciate the L.A. Police Department.”

Franklin reportedly worked for LAPD at one time. The L.A. Weekly’s Christine Pelisek, who’s reported extensively on the case, said he fixed police cars at the 77th Street Division.

“That is very significant because the 77tth Division detectives were the ones handling most of the cases back in the '80s," Pelisek said. "So he would have been working with the guys that were searching for the killer."

Police said they identified Franklin as the killer using a rare “familial” DNA search. That’s when investigators only partially match DNA collected at crime scenes with someone in the state database.

Pelisek says in this case, it led them to Franklin’s son, who’s doing time in state prison.

“They were skeptical because of the fact that he was too young during the killings in the '80s," she said. Pelisek said sources told her that detectives spoke with the son. "I’m not sure whether he just said – 'Ya know, my father lives on Western Avenue, or near Western Avenue.’ I’m not sure how it played out."

District Attorney Steve Cooley told the Los Angeles Times that investigators obtained a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin’s DNA to positively identify him as the “Grim Sleeper.”

Outside Franklin’s home, neighbors expressed shock at his arrest. Many described him to Channel 9 as a friendly and helpful local car mechanic.

“Just worked on cars. He appeared to be such a nice guy... every time you see him, he is always minding his own business," said one neighbor.

Pelisek, of the L.A. Weekly, said the arrest of Franklin may put to rest a case that’s long bothered LAPD detectives.

“This is huge for the LAPD."

She said many victims' families long complained about the department's handling of the case.

"Family members were very angry at them because they didn’t tell anybody that there was a serial killer hunting their daughters along Western Avenue.”

Franklin faces a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, which makes him eligible for the death penalty.