LOS ANGELES — For well over two decades, the killer had eluded police. His victims, most of them prostitutes in South Los Angeles, had lived on the margins of society, and their deaths left few useful clues, aside from the DNA of the man who had sexually assaulted them in the moments before their death.

A sweep of state prisons in 2008 failed to come up with the suspect or anyone related to him. Then, last Wednesday, came startling news: A second “familial search” of prisons had come up with the identity of a convict whose DNA indicated that he was a close relative of the serial killer suspected of killing at least 10 women and one man.

Working through the July 4 weekend, Los Angeles Police Department detectives drew up a family tree of the man, then began analyzing all the men on it. Were they the right age? Did they live near the murders? Was there anything in their background to explain why the serial killer had apparently stopped killing for 13 years, then resumed in 2003?

From that painstaking process, according to LAPD officials who requested anonymity, one man, the prisoner’s father, emerged as a likely suspect. A team of undercover officers was sent to follow him, and they came up with evidence, in the form of a discarded slice of pizza, by which to analyze his DNA. On Tuesday, they confirmed that the DNA matched that of the suspect in the serial killing spree.

On Wednesday morning, one week after the DNA match of the state prisoner, police turned up at the South L.A. home of Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, and arrested him without incident, authorities said.

Prosecutors later charged him with 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, apparently stemming from the assault on the only victim who is known to have survived.

As word of the arrest spread across South Los Angeles, a contradictory picture of Franklin emerged.
Franklin was a garage attendant at the LAPD’s 77th Street Divison station in the early 1980s, according to sources.

He worked as a garbage collector for the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation during the years that the first spate of eight killings took place, beginning with the death of Debra Jackson, 29, on Aug. 10, 1985, and ending with the death of Alicia “Monique” Alexander, 18, on Sept. 11, 1988.

Franklin has at least three prior convictions, two for felony possession of stolen property in 1993 and 2003, one for misdemeanor battery in 1997, and one for misdemeanor assault in 1999, according to court records. He was sentenced to a year in jail for the first stolen property charge and 270 days for the second one.

On a tidy street of single-family homes in South Los Angeles where Franklin lived for decades, residents described him as a kind and compassionate neighbor who volunteered in the community, helped the elderly residents of the block and fixed their cars for free.

“A very good man. His daughter just graduated from college, I believe,” said Eric Robinson, 47. “He’s a good mechanic, worked out of his garage. I’ve been here since 1976 – that’s how long I’ve known him. I’m not pretty shocked, I’m all the way shocked.”

Just last week, Dante Combs, 27, said he visited Franklin to ask him to install a timing belt on his car. “You needed your car fixed, he’d do it dirt cheap. He’d help you out however he could, cut your grass, put up your Christmas lights,” Combs said as he stood behind the yellow crime tape that sealed off Franklin’s block. “He helped all the elderly on the block.”

“As far as I know, he couldn’t be this man,” Combs added. “Then again, you never really know a man.”

But in the afternoon, family members of the Grim Sleeper’s victims began arriving on the block. The serial killer apparently got the Grim Sleeper nickname because of his dormant period during the 1990s. Many of the killings occurred not far from Franklin’s home, and the family members said they needed to come to his home to bear witness.

“She was found on Western and 92nd, in a dumpster,” said Diane McQueen, 55, as she stood behind the crime tape, clutching a funeral program for Janecia Peters, the last victim attributed to the serial killer. “It hit my family real hard. I had lost hope this day would come. I feel a lot of joy it did at last.”

“I wanted to see what his house looked like, what his neighborhood looked like, the place where he grew up,” Donnell

Alexander, 47, brother of victim Alicia Monique Alexander. “It was curiosity. What I found was that it wasn’t far from where I grew up. His neighbors looked like the people I see every day. They weren’t aliens. And he wasn’t hiding in the community.”

In announcing the arrests, District Attorney Steve Cooley praised the LAPD and the California Department of Justice, which carried out the DNA “familial search” after Attorney General Jerry Brown approved the use of the relatively new tool.

Only California and Colorado have formal policies that permit the use of software to troll for DNA profiles of possible relatives of a suspect.

After years of futility, the LAPD stepped up its investigation of the serial killing case in 2007 when Police Chief Charlie Beck’s predecessor, William J. Bratton, formed a task force to work exclusively on the case.

“We never gave up on this investigation, not for one minute,” Beck said.