I haven’t done one of these for a while but i’ve found myself watching a lot of crime programmes and documentaries in the evenings since Uni is done for easter. My family really likes them too so I often walk in to find them all hooked on some melodramatic american reenactment. I thought i’d bring this back with one of those interesting historical cases where the murderer gets away with it for years, until modern science catches up with them.
Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was born on August 30th 1952 in southern Los Angeles, and is convicted for a string of murders occurring in the 1980’s. Little is known about his life, most sources skip over his life before he was arrested, but he was married to Sylvia, a Belizean woman with whom he had 2 children with. At one point in his life he served in the U.S Army, being discharged in 1975. During his killing spree, he was a rubbish collector for the L.A Department of Sanitation. He was described by unsuspecting neighbours as a “happy-go-lucky guy” and often helped them with small household jobs and car repairs as he was also a mechanic at another stage in his life. Despite this, he had a previous criminal record dating from when he was 16 consisting of auto-theft, possession of stolen property, misdemeanour assault an battery, burglary and firearm offences. Some neighbours still don’t believe he was capable of committing such heinous crimes. He wasn’t caught for such a long time because his DNA was never taken for any of these crimes. He also escaped having his DNA put into the database some years later when on probation, when a law had passed stating that all felons must have their DNA input into this database.
His first victim was a young waitress called Deborah Jackson (pictured left). She was found August 15th 1985. Over the next 3 years there were 8 more women attacked, which coincided with the slayings of prostitutes in the same area. Initially, police believed the two were committed by separate people, however his last victim in those 3 years, Enietra Washington survived his attack (pictured middle), and was therefore able to give an accurate description of Lonnie and his car, “a black man in his early 30s…He looked neat. Tidy. Kind of geeky. He wore a black polo shirt tucked into khaki trousers.” She said how he offered her a ride and she eventually accepted as she felt sorry for him after he commented “that’s what wrong with you black women. People can’t be nice to you”. He told her he shot her because she disrespected him, before sexually assaulting her and pushing her from the vehicle. This account is thought to be the reason he stopped his killings for a while. This is also how he earned his nickname, because he disappeared for 14 years after this. He seemed to target African-American women, ages ranging from early teens to mid-thirties. A large number of them were prostitutes, which he would solicit, take photos of, then shoot in the chest. He aimed to target women he deemed society didn’t care about, perhaps he was somewhat right due to the length of time it took the police to catch him. Most of his victims that weren’t prostitutes were taken by force. His first victim after his “break” was a 14/15 year old girl (pictured right) who had run away and become a prostitute. Unlike all of his previous victims, she was strangled rather than being shot. She was found dead in March 2002. In 2009, it was DNA from her body that linked Lonnie to the crimes. Despite this, he carried on killing girls right up to 2009 when he was publicly labelled as the “Grim Sleeper Killer” because they could ascertain that DNA found on different bodies came from the same person. His victims’ bodies were usually found in dumpsters or alleyways, roughly covered with rubbish.
In 2009, police did a database wide search of familial DNA, and the DNA on one body linked his son Chris who also had a criminal record for weapon possession. Further and more advanced analysis found that it was his father Lonnie’s DNA. The LAPD set up a secret task force who tracked him for a while before arresting him, extracting his DNA from part of a pizza slice he left behind at a restaurant. He was arrested in July 2010 when he was 57, 25 years after he first began killing. In December that year, police released over 180 photos Lonnie had of his victims in his house, hoping to identify any of the victims after finding thousands he had taken, along with hours of recordings. They also found a selection of ID’s, credit cards and jewellery of the victims among his possessions as trophies, and the murder weapon in his bedside table drawer.
It is amazing that he wasn’t caught sooner, despite forensic science not being the best in the 1980’s. Forensic profilers created a profile of what kind of person they suspected would be the murderer, and they turned out to be exactly right. Male, killed within his own ethnic group, age 45-55 due to the large age range of victims, local, history of violence, low paid worker, low self esteem so his killings were trying to gain power. However, he was chatty and family-orientated, not the standard recluse/loner type of usual serial killers. He is still suspected of killing a lot more women than have been found, as there are still several young girls missing from the area and several unsolved rape cases.
Affects of the murders:
Sadly, many people at the time believed that these killings weren’t taken seriously or thought of as the workings of a serial killer because the victims were poor black women. This inspired a woman named Margaret Prescot to found the “Black Women Count” movement, similar to the current “Black Lives Matter” (how times change huh). Her aim was to pressure police into assembling a task force and taking these incidents seriously and realising that they were connected, as originally the LAPD had labelled them as “No Humans Involved” cases since many were prostitutes or drug users. For a time they also suspected one of their own as being the murderer since they couldn’t find any evidence to link anyone for such a long time. There were also a number of random killings by other men in this area, including that of a man thought to be Lonnie’s friend, (did he find out??) so it must have been a very harrowing place to live during this lengthy period. The movement managed to get the case featured on America’s Most Wanted, and raised a $500,000 reward to find the killer.
Arrest and Trial:
After his arrest and trial, he was convicted on 10 accounts of murder and one attempted murder in 2016 despite being suspected of hundreds more. The L.A County Jury sentenced him to death exactly 31 years after the death of his first victim, and he remains on death row to this day, last in a line of nearly 750 inmates. He was completely motionless throughout the entire trial which lasted 3 months with 1 day of deliberation, except for mouthing “I’ve never seen you before in my life,” to the sister of victim Georgia Mae Thomas. He remains one of the most prolific killers in modern history. Perhaps when he was “sleeping” he was actually committing more murders…