True Crime Files: The Grim Sleeper

When investigators searched Lonnie Franklin Jr.'s home, they found 180 photos of women -- some have been identified and others have not. 

Detectives also found the ID cards of women who were reported missing.

"When he was finally arrested and he was interrogated, what did he say?" asked FOX 11's Gina Silva.

"Denials. 'Oh, I had sex with a lot of women,'" retired LAPD detective Cliff Shepard recalled. "He never admitted to murdering anybody or hurting anybody."

Debra Jackson, Henrietta Wright, Barbara Ware, Bernita Sparks, Mary Lowe, Letrika Jefferson, Alicia Alexander, Princes Berthalemeuw, Valorie McCorvey and Jenisha Peters, all of whom were murdered by Franklin, known by many as the "Grim Sleeper."

"He would shoot his victims one to three times, usually in the chest, left of center," Shepard said.

Shepard says all the victims were young, Black women from South Central Los Angeles. They were raped, most were shot, some were strangled and their photographs were taken with a Polaroid.

"We had a series of murders that were occurring in South Los Angeles, and nobody had a clue who was doing this," Shepard added.

"The LAPD took a lot of heat because it took so long to solve this case. And you were accused of not caring because they were black women," Silva told the retired detective.

"Yes," Shepard responded. "There were a few activists that were there, accusing us of doing nothing. That was not true."

Shepard says the LAPD didn’t have the manpower nor the technology at the time to solve the multiple murders. Franklin began killing women in 1985 and the murders continued through 1988, then stopped.

It would take 25 years for the LAPD to finally identify Franklin as the Grim Sleeper.

"With familial DNA, although his name wasn't encoded as a convicted offender, a relative was a male relative and that's what we need it," Shepard said.

The Familial search turned up Franklin’s son. Detectives then discovered Franklin was living in this lime green house on the 1700 block of 81st Street, not far from where murders had been taking place. Now, all detectives needed was to obtain Franklin’s DNA to make sure he was the right person.

"He was watched 24 hours a day," Shepard said. "Until we could get a sample."

When Franklin came to a pizza shop in Buena Park, detectives picked up his half-eaten slice of pizza and immediately took it to DNA lab.

"What we found out about two-and-a-half days later, is that DNA from the pizza was Lonnie’s, which match the murder. So now we have him," Shepard said.

This was the first time in California history that familial DNA was successfully used in solving a case. 

As for the photos of the women found in Franklin's house, Shepard said he isn't sure what ended up happening to the women who weren't identified.

"To this day, we don't know where they are. We're certain they're dead. I'm sorry to say, but we found no evidence on where the bodies could be," he said.

Decades of terror came to an end on March 28, 2020, when Franklin died at the age of 67 while on death row in San Quentin Prison. While Franklin was convicted of 10 murders and one attempted murder, detectives believe he killed many more women.

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