Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lonnie David Franklin Jr: The Grim Sleeper

A break in the case

In 2001, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks ordered that unsolved and cold case files be reopened and reexamined, particularly cases where there might be DNA evidence that could now be harnessed.

A few years later, in 2004, the LAPD caught a break, thanks to Detective Cliff Shephard. It was Shephard who was faced with the task of looking at the glut of South Los Angeles murder cases.

After a nearly 14-year period, the killer had struck again. This time, his method of murder was different: strangulation, instead of shooting. The victim was found three months after her disappearance on December 21, 2001, in March 2002.

Victims from left: Princess Berthomieux, Valerie McCorvey, Janica Peters
Victims from left: Princess Berthomieux,
Valerie McCorvey, Janica Peters

And the killers had made an unwise choice—a 14 year-old runaway, who had also been turning tricks, with an unusual name: Princess Berthomieux. It was evidence from her murder that turned the key for investigators and for the LA Weekly writer.

Shortly, thereafter, another woman was found in an alley—Valerie McCorvey had been strangled and raped. Her body was discovered on July 11, 2003.

Through a DNA sample, Shepard was able to match one of the oldest victims to the two newer murders. That, and the ballistics from Margette's 1988 incident, led the police to believe that they had a serial killer on their hands who had resurfaced after 14 years, one of the longest hiatuses on record.

The most recent—and hopefully final victim—was Janecia Peters. She was found in a dumpster, wrapped in a garbage bag on New Year's Day 2007. Unlike the others, she had been shot and strangled.

In 2006, LA Weekly published a story on the murder of Berthomieux and Detective Jeffrey Steinhoff, which connected her death to the others. According to Newsweek, the reporter for the LA Weekly had received a tip about a new batch of so-called dumping victims; it was Berthomieux's case that provided the "aha!" moment in the media.

A year later Janecia Peters was murdered. When DNA found on her connected the case to the older murders, APD Chief William Bratton decided enough was enough. The 800 Task Force was created—so named for the number on the room they were in. Detective Dennis Kilcoyne was put in charge of the investigation, which remained a secret until the LA Weekly reported the case.

The paper gave the killer a nickname, one that would stick in the media and cause a renewed interest in the case: they dubbed him the "Grim Sleeper," because he had been dormant for so many years. A headline was born.

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