Lonnie Franklin, the Los Angeles serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper,” has been found dead in prison while awaiting execution for the murders of 10 women between the years 1985 to 2007.
67-year-old Franklin was found unresponsive in his cell at San Quentin State Prison on Saturday evening, according to a statement from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of his death, even though officials say there were no signs of trauma.
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Franklin was arrested in 2010, but it took six years of waiting, three and a half months of trial, and a day of jury deliberation before he was sentenced to death on August 10, 2016.
His sentencing came exactly 31 years after the death of his first victim, Debra Jackson, in 1985.
Franklin had shot Jackson three times in the chest and would go on to use to the same .25 caliber gun in killing nine other women from 1985 to 2007 while keeping photos of them as trophies in his home.
Convicted of 10 counts of murder early on in 2016, the police believe he may have murdered as many as 25 women, which would make him one of the most prolific American killers.
In between his crimes, he took a break between 1988 and 2002, earning him the nickname “the Grim Sleeper,” as authorities thought he had gone dormant.
But they were wrong, as the Grim Sleeper awoke, and continued with a string of murders before DNA brought him down.
His targets were black women who were poor and vulnerable, many of whom were addicted to crack-cocaine and involved in prostitution.
During his trial, relatives of his victims kept asking him why he chose to attack members of his own community. Authorities believe that Franklin’s role in the rape of a German girl in his youthful years inspired his later crimes.
Born August 30, 1952, Franklin grew up in South Central Los Angeles, California. When he was 21, he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
On April 17, 1974, he and two other U.S. Army men kidnapped a 17-year-old girl who was walking to a train station and ended up raping her in turns at a remote location while taking photographs of the attack.
The girl reported the incident and Franklin was arrested and later sentenced to 40 months in prison for rape and kidnapping. But he didn’t even serve 12 months in prison and on July 24, 1975, he was given a general discharge from the U.S. Army.
Then in the mid-1980s, his murders began in parts of Los Angeles at a time when killings linked to crack cocaine were epidemic, according to LA Times.
Scores of killers were operating in the same areas as Franklin was, and his murders were given little attention by the police.
There were suspicions that a serial killer was out there targeting black women and dumping their bodies in the trash or alongside roads. Yet, the police were silent about these deaths, failed to alert communities of possible danger, and were hesitant in setting up a special task force to solve the issue.
Critics felt that such a decision was “irresponsible and racially motivated”, as Franklin’s victims were basically black women.
After his first killing of 29-year-old Jackson in 1985 while a sanitation worker, Franklin married and had two children. His neighbors described him as friendly and quiet, adding that he spent a lot of time working on cars in his driveways while chatting with neighbors.
Who would have thought that this same individual was a serial killer?
A year after the murder of Jackson, the body of a 34-year-old Henrietta Wright was found under a discarded mattress. Three other bodies were found the following year – Barbara Ware, aged 23, and 26-year-olds Bernita Sparks and Mary Lowe.
In 1988, the bodies of 22-year-old Lachrica Jefferson and 18-year-old Alicia “Monique” Alexander were found.
These seven women had all been shot with the .25-caliber handgun. Investigators could have used DNA at the time to track down Franklin, but that kind of technology was not yet at an advanced stage.
So Franklin continued with his heinous crimes, but in 1988, one of his victims who survived would in later years be his nemesis.
30-year-old Enietra Washington was walking to a friend’s house when Franklin, who was in an orange Ford Pinto, pulled up next to her and offered her a ride.
Initially, she refused but later accepted, got into the car, and soon after she was shot at in the chest. Washington, shocked, asked Franklin why he had shot her. He replied that she had disrespected him. He went ahead to rape her, took her photo, and pushed her out of the car.
But Washington survived and when doctors took out the bullet from her chest, authorities realized that it was from the same gun used in shooting the other seven women.
Washington also gave Franklin’s appearance to a police sketch artist but that was when the prolific serial killer decided to take a break.
He struck again after 14 years, attacking two other women in 2002, including a 15-year-old, both of whom he dumped in alleyways in South Central Los Angeles.
Then in 2007, police found the body of 25-year-old woman Janecia Peters dumped in a deserted alleyway.
Franklin shot her with the .25-caliber handgun, and DNA samples that were collected from her body matched those found at the crime scenes of the other women.
That same year, Los Angeles police finally set up a task force to solve the murders while DNA technology had also improved.
In 2010, the DNA from the crime scenes was entered into the state’s felon database and it produced a match – Christopher Franklin, son of Franklin who had been entered into the state database in 2008 after being arrested for felony weapons possession.
Officials now needed to obtain DNA samples of Franklin, so they followed him to a party in an L.A. restaurant, where an officer acted as a busboy and collected Franklin’s plate, cup, and pizza crust. The police then extracted Franklin’s DNA from these items and it matched the DNA found on the bodies of the murdered women.
When he was arrested in 2010, his home was searched, and detectives found hundreds of photos of unidentified women, including the 10 known victims and that of survivor Washington.
Franklin maintained innocence in all charges brought against him. He was considered the “longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi,” and was one of the over 700 inmates on death row in California. The last person to be executed in the state was in 2006.
Over the weekend, a stepmother of one of Franklin’s victims reacted to his death with People.
“I won’t say I’m pleased he died, but at the end, there was justice for all the bad things he did in his life,” Diana Ware, stepmother of Barbara Ware said.
“We can now be at peace.”