How to Catch A Criminal: The Proof is in The Crust

Dec. 13, 2022
This month, one of many serial killers to terrorize 1980's Los Angeles, unknown, until he left behind an unlikely clue.

I bring you this column out of my pure fascination with police work, cold cases, forensics, interrogation, and all things criminal and mysterious. As an active-duty police officer, I hold an interest in all cases especially those that bring justice to light in the end. The purpose of this column is to tell the story of cases which were solved by technological advancements, unconventional tactics, dumb luck, and any other manner outside the norm. I hope you find these cases as intriguing and motivating as I do. This month, one of many serial killers to terrorize 1980's Los Angeles, unknown, until he left behind an unlikely clue.

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to view the digital edition. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

Drugs, gangs, prostitutes, murder and hardboiled detectives. Is this the intro to a film noir classic, or a description of Los Angeles in the 1980s? Both, surely, but the the reality is a story told far too often. Los Angeles became the perfect place for serial killers to flourish. There was more crime than the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department could keep up with as it was with the Night Stalker, Sunset Strip Killer and Freeway Killer leaving a trail of bodies across Southern California. Eventually, each of these killers were caught and sentenced to death or life in prison, but they were far from the only killers to plague Tinseltown. Millions of potential victims, vast highways to quickly cross the state and large areas of forest and desert to hide bodies and evidence, the greater Los Angeles area was perfect for killing and getting away with it. Additionally, there were so many murderers, and so many copycats, it was easy to attribute deaths to the wrong killer, allowing the actual perpetrator to carry on uninterrupted. It was also a major hindrance that high-risk victims, such as sex workers, runaways, juveniles and homeless people, were targets for several different killers. When people overlooked by society disappear, the leads are few and far between.

The crack-cocaine explosion of the 70s and 80s had a firm grip on Los Angeles, especially in low-income and minority neighborhoods. In order to keep up with the cost of addiction, droves of young black women were turning to prostitution. As is a common occurrence among serial killers as far back as Jack the Ripper, prostitutes were frequent targets by L.A.’s amateur executioners. It was argued by the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders that due to the race and low social standing of these women, law enforcement wasn’t diligently working to find the man responsible for the deaths of black sex workers during the early to mid-1980s. By 1985, over a dozen such women had been strangled, stabbed, or shot to death. The person responsible was eventually designated the “Southside Slayer” and the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department formed a task force to catch the killer. As the investigation progressed, differences in the murders and descriptions of the killer from eye witnesses, made it apparent the killer was not one man.

As it turned out, the Southside Slayer was several killers. Multiple men, all acting independently of one another, were choosing the same targets and killing as they pleased. The task force would eventually identify and charge Louis Crane, Michael Hughes, Daniel Lee Seibert, Chester Turner and Ivan Hill with their respective murders in the “Southside Slayer” case. There was even a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who was investigated for the murders of three prostitutes. Detective Rickey Ross was found in his unmarked patrol car, allegedly smoking crack with a prostitute, while in possession of a 9mm pistol, which was eventually linked to the murders. However, additional forensic testing eliminated Ross’ pistol as the murder weapon. Ross was cleared of the murders and would go on to purchase 22 pounds of cocaine from an undercover DEA agent in 1992, leading to his arrest.

With all of these men arrested, the Southside Slayer(s) could no longer harm the black, female populace. However, on Nov. 20, 1988, an orange Ford Pinto pulled up along side 30-year-old Enietra Washington as she walked to a friend’s house. The driver offered her a ride, but she initially refused. After he persisted, she conceded, stating she was headed to a party and he could tag along. After making a brief stop at what he said was his uncle’s house, the man suddenly pulled a gun and shot Enietra in the chest. She soon passed out, but was awakened by the flash of a camera. The man sexually assaulted her as she drifted in and out of consciousness, eventually pushing her out of the car, leaving her for dead. Enietra was apparently tough as nails, because she was able to get back to her feet, orient herself and stagger to a friend’s house several blocks away. Enietra’s friend called 911 and police and EMS responded. Enietra survived the attack and provided a description of both the Pinto and the driver. She informed police her attacker was a black male in his 30s, thin and well groomed. The bullet was removed from her chest and determined to be a .25 caliber bullet. Forensic analysis matched this bullet to seven of the Southside Slayer victims who had been shot in the mid 80s. It was evident that one of the suspected slayers was still at large, and still active, with seven murders and one known attempted murder under his belt. The information uncovered in Enietra Washington’s case unfortunately was not enough to determine who the final Slayer was, and this case would go cold for almost 20 years.

In addition to the .25 caliber bullet linking the victims, male DNA was also found on many of the victims bodies. However, no matches were found in the DNA databases available at the time. Between the matching bullets, the DNA and the description given by Enietra Washington, the culprit was so close, but still so far away. In 2007 the body of 25-year-old Janeica Peters was found stuffed in a trash bag, tied with a cable tie and thrown in a dumpster in South Los Angeles. She had been shot with the same .25 caliber handgun as the 80s victims, and the same DNA was found on her body and the trash bag. A team of LAPD detectives, called the “800 Task Force” was then assembled to look into the unsolved murders which Janeica was now linked to. The killer was back, although he hadn’t been gone as long as the detectives initially thought. DNA found on Peters was linked to the bodies of Princess Cheyanne Berthomieux, a 14-year-old girl, found in March of 2002, and 35-year-old Valerie McCorvey, found in July 2003. Both women had been strangled to death and dumped in alleys. This brought the total number of murders attributed to the unknown man to 11. After the announcement of Janeica Peter’s murder, the killer earned the name “The Grim Sleeper,” because of his propensity to lie dormant for years at a time before killing again.

The 800 Task Force needed to act quickly, as there was no way to tell if The Grim Sleeper would strike again in a day, or in 10 years. It is common practice in cold case investigation to re-test DNA and fingerprints collected during initial investigations, because improvements in testing and additional databases provide a higher chance of a match. Plus, there’s the added likelihood that a suspect’s identifiers have been added into the system thanks to an unrelated arrest. In the case of The Grim Sleeper, the DNA did not come back with an exact match, however familial DNA testing provided a match to a close relative. Christopher Franklin had been convicted of a weapons charge in 2008, resulting in his his DNA being entered into California’s felony offender database. While Christopher was not the killer, his age indicated his father, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., was a likely suspect. In order to incriminate or eliminate Lonnie Franklin, a sample of his DNA would be needed for comparison.

Detectives tailed Lonnie, day and night, waiting for an opportunity to pilfer something with his DNA on it. In a move straight out of a buddy cop comedy, an undercover officer posed as a busboy at a pizza parlor where Lonnie was enjoying a slice. Detective Busboy got his hands on Franklin’s napkin and silverware, as well as the discarded crust from a slice of pizza. Often times serial killers are caught because they get sloppy and leave behind evidence. The Grim Sleeper would meet the same fate, but his case may be the first to be solved because someone didn’t eat their crust.

Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was born August 30, 1958, in South Central Los Angeles. He enlisted in the Army as a young man, but was dishonorably discharged in July 1975 after serving nearly a year in year in prison. Franklin and several other soldiers stationed in Germany had offered a ride to a 17-year-old German girl. Similar to what Franklin would later do to Enietra Washington, once the girl accepted the ride the soldiers held her at knife point, gang raped and photographed her. She later identified them, which resulted in Franklin’s prosecution. In his adult life, Franklin worked as a trash collector for the city, and even as a garage attendant for the LAPD. He was right under their noses, and their patrol cars. After the detectives pulled off the great crust caper and matched Franklin’s sample to the trail of victims, he was arrested in July of 2010. A search of Franklin’s home uncovered the .25 caliber murder weapon, as well as nearly 1,000 photos of women in graphic nude poses, several of them identified as the murdered women. During interrogation, Franklin insisted he was innocent, and when confronted with the photos, he stated he did not know any of the women.

In 2016, his trial finally went ahead, and Lonnie Franklin was convicted of 10 murders and one attempted murder. He was sentenced to death and passed away in his prison cell from natural causes in March of 2020. Though he did not face his execution, Franklin was thankfully caught and convicted, eliminating many of the questions surrounding The Grim Sleeper and the Southside Slayer. However, some questions still remain. To date, many of the photographed women have not been identified, and it is feared a number of them are dead and were never reported missing. LAPD released some of the photos and is still asking for the public’s help to identify the women in the photos to determine if they’re additional victims.

About the Author

Brendan Rodela is a Deputy for the Lincoln County (NM) Sheriff’s Office. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice and is a certified instructor with specialized training in Domestic Violence and Interactions with Persons with Mental Impairments.

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine.

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