In 2008, reporter Christine Pelisek broke the story of a terrifying serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles for decades.
In her article for LA Weekly, Christine dubbed him “The Grim Sleeper” because of his long break between murders (she and her editor had rejected the monikers “Western Avenue Killer” and “Ripper Van Winkle“).In her new book, The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women Of South Central, the award-winning investigative journalist details the years she spent obsessed with shadowing the killer, who was later revealed to be Lonnie Franklin, Jr.
Pelisek, who is currently the crime reporter for People Magazine, has been covering crime for almost 15 years.
She told CrimeFeed that she got a culture shock after relocating from Ottawa, Canada, to Los Angeles when she found a high murder rate in a town that “wasn’t all beaches and palm trees.”
Pelisek wrote that shortly after she was hired at LA Weekly in 2003, she went to see Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter. She convinced Winter to give her a list of 38 cases, all of which involved women of color whose bodies had been dumped in South Central, for similarities. In each of those cases, all of the victims’ bodies had been dumped in dirty back alleys, hidden under mattresses and trash. All were Black.
The police were not cooperative at first, but after they realized that Pelisek was refusing to give up, she began to make some headway with certain members of the LAPD.
Eventually, Pelisek found a detective who told her that there were DNA and ballistic links between two of the cases on the list — a foster-care runaway and a 35-year-old mother — and seven unsolved slayings from the 1980s.
During her investigation, she began befriending the victims’ families, and conducted over 100 interviews.
One of the women Pelisek spoke with was Enietra Washington, who survived being shot by Franklin after he offered her a ride to a friend’s house in 1988. Franklin sexually assaulted her and took Polaroid pictures of her bleeding body before pushing her out of a moving car.
At first, Pelisek said that Washington was resistant to speaking with her. In one of the book’s scariest scenes, Pelisek recounts how she and Washington drove around the neighborhood looking for Franklin’s house.
“That made me a little nervous because as she pointed out where the house was, she was really feisty, and really angry about what happened to her,” Pelisek told CrimeFeed. “She would have been happy to confront him.”
Another thing that Pelisek said she was not prepared for was calls from tipsters who believed that their boyfriend or husband could be the Grim Sleeper. Some went further than just making calls: Pelisek said that one tipster insisted on meeting Pelisek in person to hand over evidence she thought would implicate her partner — which turned out to be a semen-covered napkin in a bag.
Pelisek ended up storing the evidence before handing it over to police. “I actually put it in my fridge next to my ketchup and mustard,” she wrote. After all that, needless to say, the DNA did not match that of the Grim Sleeper.Eventually, police were able to crack the case after a familial DNA search produced a match to Christopher John Franklin, Lonnie Franklin’s son.
Christopher had been in the state DNA database of felons since the summer of 2009 after he pleaded guilty to a felony firearms charge.
His dad, Lonnie Franklin, was known around the neighborhood as being a normal, nice guy who had worked as a city trash collector and, at one point, a garage attendant for Los Angeles police.
But in July 2010, undercover detectives began surveillance of Franklin, and an officer dressed as a waiter was eventually able to collect an unfinished piece of pizza that Franklin discarded, and therefore capture his DNA to test. They had found their match.
The book also shines a light on the a wider story about the victims who are often forgotten, and the cycle of poverty, gang violence, and despair that many of them were living in.
Pelisek said that one thing that continues to haunt her is the fact that Franklin has never revealed what motivated him. “My only regret — one I am sure I share with the victims’ family members — is never finding out what drove Franklin to commit such heinous crimes,” she wrote.
She said that Franklin appeared emotionally flat throughout the trial, only becoming visibly upset when he was asked about having a girlfriend. “He never got upset when they were asking him about the horrible things he did to all these women,” she said, “but when they asked about his girlfriend, he was really angry that people might think he cheated.”
Franklin was sentenced to death in 2016.
However over 30 of Franklin’s victims are still unidentified — and authorities believe that more bodies could still be out there. You can look through the photos here — maybe you’ll recognize someone. The LAPD asks people to call (877) 527-3247. Callers may remain anonymous by phoning CrimeStoppers at (800) 222-8477. Tipsters also may contact CrimeStoppers by texting the number 274637 on a cellphone. All text messages should begin with “LAPD.” They may also go to LAPDonline.org and click the “webtips” link.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s “The Grim Sleeper” episode of People Magazine Investigates on ID GO now!
Main photo: Lonnie Franklin, Jr. [Wikimedia Commons]