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Neighbors say 'Grim Sleeper' was a 'nice guy'

July 7, 2010 12:14:33 AM PDT
Police arrested a 57-year-old man on Wednesday in connection with the "Grim Sleeper" serial killings that left 10 people dead in Los Angeles since 1985. LAPD Det. Gus Villanueva confirmed that Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was taken into police custody Wednesday.

Franklin was charged Wednesday with 10 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, according to the L.A. County District Attorney's Office. Franklin would be eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Franklin is expected to be arraigned Thursday.

The "Grim Sleeper" was given the moniker because he took a 14-year hiatus in his crimes after 1988. The suspect killed again in 2002 and 2003, and he last struck on New Year's Day in 2007.

The victims were shot, strangled or both, usually after some kind of sexual contact. Ten victims were women and several were prostitutes. One victim was male. Their bodies were dumped in alleys and trash bins. The victims range in age from 14 to 36 years old. All resided within Los Angeles County.

Janecia Peters was the last known victim of the so-called Grim Sleeper serial killer.

Diane McQueen says she had lost hope that her niece's murder would ever be solved.

The 25-year-old woman in a crumpled photo held by McQueen was found shot to death in an alley back in 2007.

"We miss her a whole lot and we're so glad that this day finally came," said an emotional McQueen. "It didn't seem like this day would ever come, but it did."

McQueen was among the other victim's relatives and neighbors who gathered around this house on the 1700 block of West 81st Street where police arrested the man they say is responsible for at least 10 murders.

Crime scene investigators spent all day at the house, where Franklin ran an auto repair business out of his backyard.

Franklin stands accused of killing 10 people, mostly young black women. Almost all of them had been shot and sexually assaulted, their bodies often found dumped along the Western Avenue corridor in South L.A..

The string of unsolved murders started in 1985 and only years later did police realize they were connected.

"This is a case that's been going on for 25 years, 25 years worth of evidence," said LAPD Capt. Kevin McClure.

The brutal nature of the crimes stands in stark contrasts to everyone's opinion of the suspect. "He was nice," said a stunned Barbara Huggins, who knows Franklin. "He gave me good deals on my car. I've been to his house, I've met his grandkids and everything."

Glenn Williams runs an auto parts store on Western Avenue. He said Franklin was a good customer.

"He seemed like a very nice guy and he was a very helpful guy," Williams said. "It's amazing. He came to me every day, he knows all my children and everything else. It never dawned to me that he's that kind of person."

According to the district attorney's office, police used DNA obtained from Franklin's son to trace the crimes back to the father. The familial DNA search happened after Franklin's son was arrested and swabbed for DNA, leading police to investigate his relatives.

Los Angeles city personnel director Maggie Whalen said Franklin was hired in 1981 as an attendant at a Los Angeles Police Department garage, where he helped work on cars.

Authorities in May put up six billboards in South L.A. and two digital billboards on the 91 Freeway in Compton in their renewed efforts to catch the suspect. The Los Angeles City Council offered a $500,000 reward for the capture and conviction of the suspect.

The one suspect description came from a woman who was sexually assaulted then shot and survived.

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley said investigators used a tool known as familial searching that allows them to look for close DNA matches through relatives. Critics have said the approach violates the privacy of family members and can place them under lifetime surveillance.

A large group of detectives was seen outside a home on 81st Street between Western Avenue and Harvard Boulevard early Wednesday afternoon.

Neighbors described the man who lives there as friendly and quiet. They said he was often seen working on cars in his front yard and would sometimes stop to chat with passers-by.

Neighbor Brenda Locker, a retired city employee, said the man used to work for the city as a mechanic at the 77th Street police station and had retired.

"He's a very good guy. I don't believe it," said Andre Wynn, an area resident.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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