The trial of the man authorities believe is the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer began today in Los Angeles — a case involving scores of mysterious photos and videotapes of women and a police sting to gather DNA from a pizza parlor.
Prosecutors say Lonnie Franklin Jr., a 63-year-old former police mechanic from Los Angeles, is the perverted maniac who killed at least 10 women between 1985 and 2007 — taking a break between the years 1988 and 2002 that would earn him the nickname Grim Sleeper.
Franklin denies killing anyone, but when cops raided his home they found more than 1,000 photographs and hundreds of hours of video of unknown women. Two of those women were later identified as murder victims and now police suspect as many as 180 of the photographed women may have been killed by the Grim Sleeper.
The prosecution is looking to pin the first 10 of those killings on Franklin. Meanwhile detectives are reopening cold cases and trying to tie Franklin to previously unsolved murders as far back as the 1970s.
Most of the 10 victims had been shot and sexually assaulted. Their bodies were dumped in alleys, garbage bins or hidden under a mattress and even a discarded Christmas tree. All but one had cocaine in their systems.
Franklin was arrested in 2010 after an elaborate scheme to get his DNA to compare with genetic material found at the crime scenes.
Detectives had first tried matching the trace DNA against samples of arrested people in police databases. They found a partial match with a man named Christopher Franklin — which suggested a relative may be an exact match. Christopher is Lonnie’s son, so cops became very interested in his DNA.
A police officer posed as a waiter in a pizza parlor and served the elder Franklin. When he was finished, the officer bagged Franklin’s leftover pizza crusts, his dishes and utensils for DNA testing. Prosecutors say they got a match.
While authorities have a suspect, they are unsure how many murders the Grim Sleeper may have committed. One of the Grim Sleeper’s would-be victims survived an attack in 1988, and some cops believe that frightened the killer into stopping his spree — until 2002, when he began again.
Others believe no serial killer would take a break — and insist his victims from those years just haven’t been identified yet.
Franklin’s trial is expected to take about four months.