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Grim Sleeper killings: Suspect arrested by LAPD

Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. mug shots Credit: LAPD

Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a 57-year-old black man, was arrested Wednesday, July 7, on suspicion of murder in connection with a string of killings in South Los Angeles dating back nearly three decades. His arrest came after what authorities described as the landmark use of "familial DNA" to track down a suspect.

Map shows location of Franklin's home [purple marker] and locations where Grim Sleeper's victims were found [in red]. Click for more details.Franklin, a former LAPD mechanic and city trash collector, lived in the heart of the neighborhood where the killings had occurred, but was never detected.

Three weeks before the arrest, state justice officials made the initial DNA hit. Concerned about privacy violations and getting the results right, they then spent two weeks retesting results and going through the legal checks and balances.

On June 30, they made the call to Los Angeles Police Department headquarters – letting local officials know there was an urgent need to talk.

As LAPD officials realized the gravity of the news, Chief Charlie Beck kept the circle tight. No one was to know about the DNA hit until police had a game plan for how to proceed. No information would leak out, not even deputy chiefs were in the loop.

Within hours of meeting, undercover surveillance officers began watching Franklin. These were round-the-clock teams – 14- to 16-member teams from the Special Investigations Section and Narcotics Surveillance – monitoring every move.
Franklin spent most of his daylight hours indoors, sources said. He left his house on 81st Street only to run a few mundane errands -- to an auto parts store, nothing that would allow detectives to retrieve any DNA samples.

At night, Franklin became more active. But even those evenings proved fruitless. He would take long, seemingly pointless drives through the city. On some occasions, he drove along Western Avenue, an area known for prostitution. If Franklin picked up a prostitute, police planned to arrest him immediately, fearing that he could potentially strike again.

But he never did.

Their big break came Monday when Franklin stopped for pizza near Buena Park, discarding some crust, a fork, napkins and a drinking glass. Detectives moved in quickly, collecting eight items.

Authorities felt a surge of excitement – and apprehension. Was there enough saliva to extract usable DNA? What if this was another dead end?

The items were immediately taken to the LAPD's DNA lab, where analysts were put to work. The analysts were not told what case they were working on. But they were given explicit direction to rush the job without cutting any corners.

Then, authorities could only wait.

On Tuesday night, the analysts delivered their first news. They had extracted enough DNA to run a test.

At 7 a.m., the results were in. DNA matched evidence found at the crime scenes.

At 9:20 a.m., Franklin walked out of his house in the 1700 block of 81st Street in the Manchester Square neighborhood of South Los Angeles to move one of his cars. Two detectives approached him, identified themselves and quickly whisked Franklin away in an awaiting vehicle.

At 1:47 p.m., Franklin was booked at the downtown Los Angeles jail. He was charged with 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Franklin was a garage attendant at the LAPD's 77th Street Division station in the early 1980s, according to city and police sources. He worked as a garbage collector for the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation during the years that the first eight killings occurred. The string of slayings began with the death of Debra Jackson, a 29-year-old black woman, on Aug. 10, 1985, and ended with the death of Alicia "Monique" Alexander, an 18-year-old black woman, on Sept. 11, 1988.

Franklin has at least four prior convictions, two for felony possession of stolen property in 1993 and 2003, one for misdemeanor battery in 1997 and one for misdemeanor assault in 1999, according to court records. He was sentenced to a year in jail for the first stolen-property charge and 270 days for the second one.

-- Joel Rubin

Top photo: Mug shots of Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. over the years. Credit: LAPD Map: Shows location of Franklin's home and where Grim Sleeper's victims were found. Click for more details.

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