Sitting in the dock with a formal blue shirt and a pair of reading glasses, Lonnie Franklin Jr watches the big screen as the faces of ten women are shown to the jury.
The 63-year-old former police mechanic from Los Angeles is accused of killing the women over a period between 1985 and 2007, having taken a break between 1988 and 2002. The gap between the murders earned him the moniker ‘Grim Sleeper’.
Franklin denies the murders. But when detectives raided his house they found a bizarre collection of more than 1,000 photographs and several hundred hours of video. Police believe as many as 180 of those women have been killed by the Grim Sleeper.
Over the next four months, prosecutors will attempt to link Franklin to the first ten killings. The youngest victim was just 15. At the same time, detectives will interrogate cold case files to try and link Franklin to other unsolved cases, some of which date from the 1970s.
The bodies of all ten women were found within five miles of Franklin’s home in South Los Angeles.
Prosecutor Beth Sliverman set the scene. Many of the young women had been shot. Most had been subjected to some form of sexual assault. Their bodies were dumped in alleys, stuffed into garbage bins while some were covered with a mattress.
One, Janecia Peters, was found by a homeless man who was collecting cans. Her body was discovered on New Year’s Day, 2007, hidden under Christmas tree, approximately five miles south of Franklin’s home.
The 25-year-old victim had been shot in the back, but police at the time could not identify her. Her family were unaware of her murder until after Franklin’s arrest.
Officers discovered a bizarre collection of images in his house. They released 180 pictures to the public to see if they could identify anybody. At least one of those pictured was an unidentified murder victim. Peters was 191 on the list.
She is the final victim on the charge sheet, but police and prosecutors believe there are others.
Franklin insists he has not killed anyone.
Franklin, according to prosecutors, was invisible, able to blend in perfectly amid the chaos of a city which was blighted by crack cocaine.
For the families, the graphic details were too much. Photographs of each victim were shown to the court. Groups of family members wept openly. Some had to leave the court.
After 30 years, Franklin appeared in court, almost six years since his arrest in 2010.
Prosecutors claim that all the victims, bar one, had cocaine in their system.
The families claim that the LAPD was not interested in investigating the deaths of young black women, some of whom had turned to prostitution to pay for their addiction.
In the Grim Sleeper’s South Los Angeles of the mid 1980s, crack cocaine spread through the community destroying lives. The victims came mostly from poor backgrounds and had a multitude of problems.
Police are undecided over the Grim Sleeper’s true record of death. One victim survived an attack in 1988 which some believe scared the killer into taking a break until 2002 when the urge to murder became too strong.
Others say a serial killer will not take a break and there are more victims out there. Women who had disappeared and their bodies never found.
Read more: Daily Mail