The Grim Sleeper serial killer story continues

christine-pelisek-weekly.jpgLonnie Franklin was arrested in 2010 and charged with being a serial killer of women in South Los Angeles. The LAPD got onto him because of relentless reporting in LA Weekly by Christine Peilisek. She left the Weekly a while back but returns to its pages with an update on why Franklin — the paper dubbed the killer the Grim Sleeper before the focus turned on Franklin — has not yet come to trial. The killing spree spanned 23 years but appeared to stop during a mysterious 13-year gap, before resuming.

From the Weekly piece posted Friday:

Alleged killer Lonnie Franklin Jr., 61, a married father of two and former LAPD mechanic and sanitation worker for the city of Los Angeles, was finally caught in July 2010 — tripped up by his decision to grab a pizza in Buena Park, where an undercover officer, masquerading as a busboy, waited for LAPD's No. 1 suspect to leave behind food particles or a used glass for DNA testing. The officer came away with a slice of pizza Franklin had chewed on and utensils he'd used. After years of dead-end failures, investigators matched the saliva to the semen and saliva found on 10 murder victims.

In March 2011, a grand jury indicted Franklin, who initially was charged with the murder of Monique Alexander and nine more women found in dumpsters, parks and alleyways along and around a sleazy stretch of Western Avenue. A map of the crime scenes later showed that Franklin's home, where he and his wife raised their son and daughter, was nearly dead-center in the middle of the killing field.

The grand jury indictment was supposed to speed the time to trial. It hasn't.

Instead, from his solitary cell at Men's Central Jail, Franklin has mounted an aggressive defense heavy on delaying tactics. He has managed to draw his loyal wife, Sylvia Franklin — a school employee in Inglewood — into his life behind bars and has attracted visits from a blonde bombshell actress/author who befriends serial killers. He has continued to draw his lifelong L.A. city medical pension of about $1,700 a month, and pushed the buttons of the dead women's appalled families.

Critics say the Lonnie Franklin murder trial is fast becoming L.A.'s serial-killer circus.

Lifetime on Saturday aired a TV movie, "The Grim Sleeper," that dramatized Pelisek's reporting and the LAPD's hunt for the killer and eventual arrest of Franklin. Pelisek is played in the movie by Dreama Walker. Later the same night, Lifetime also aired a documentary on the case in which Pelisek is featured. LA Weekly managing editor Jill Stewart wrote for the paper about the case, and about Pelisek returning to the subject. Excerpt:

Pelisek is portrayed in both films as a relentless newshound whose conscience would not rest until South L.A. residents were made fully aware of the existence of the unidentified serial killer and he was found by police.

During the four years Pelisek reported the case for the Weekly, women began to contact her, asking if she would act as an intermediary by delivering a piece of cutlery or facial tissues - used by their husbands or boyfriends - to the cops for DNA testing.

These women feared they might be living with the Grim Sleeper. Pelisek indeed took their items to LAPD homicide detectives for testing, but nothing turned up.

"The whole thing was an unbelievable experience," says Pelisek, whose Grim Sleeper coverage was also the subject of a 2009 Newsweek cover story, "Eleven and Counting."

"Everybody pays attention to serial killers when the victims are white women," she says, "and this story focuses on the injustices inflicted on the families of the poor, young black women who died at the hands of a madman."

Here's a take on the ongoing Grim Sleeper story and the Lifetime feature by Carla Hall, the LA Times editorial writer.

As much as it’s great to see terrific journalism praised and cheered (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Pelisek, and one of the executive producers, Joe Pichirallo, is a longtime friend) what’s really interesting and heartening is to see a movie that focuses a good portion of the time on black people in Los Angeles living a variety of lives, some affluent, some working class, one a police detective, all intersecting with each other -- and Pelisek -- because of these tragic events.

The real breakout performance is by the singer Macy Gray who portrays the sole survivor of a brutal attack by the Grim Sleeper -- she's called "Margette" in the movie -- with a quirky mix of toughness and girlish humor. At the end of a screening of the movie at the American Film Institute on Thursday night, it wasn’t surprising that the packed theater gave a robust round of applause to Gray who shyly stuck her head out from behind a wall when director Stanley M. Brooks introduced her. But the true testament to the power of Gray’s performance -- and the story, itself -- came when the director introduced the real survivor, Enietra Washington, sitting in the theater, and the entire audience rose to its feet to give her a standing ovation.

I’m not saying “The Grim Sleeper” is “12 Years a Slave.” But it is evidence that Hollywood can make movies about interesting, non-white parts of L.A. that get short shrift in most films and TV shows. Just like Christine Pelisek wrote stories about a part of L.A. that was often neglected.

Photo of Pelisek: LA Weekly

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