‘The Grim Sleeper”—South L.A. Serial Killer and the Women Who Were His Victims

Grim Sleeper

Lonnie D. Franklin Jr., The ‘Grim Sleeper,’ at his sentencing in 2016. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Grim Sleeper,” Christine Pelisek’s painfully relevant new book about the notorious South Central serial killer of perhaps 25 or more women, comes at a time when true crime has been made great again. The agents of that greatness have not been books but, rather, podcasts and television series, of the kind frequently appended with the “prestige” label, lest anyone mistake them for unserious entertainment on par with slasher flicks or the kinds of lurid quasi-documentaries that play on cable late at night.

Given that recent trend, it is my duty to warn you that “The Grim Sleeper” is not preceded by a quirky MailChimp ad, à la the first season of the “Serial” podcast. Nor is it a hothouse of Reddit investigative fervor (Netflix series “Making a Murderer”) or a foray into the politics of Providence so involved that it will have you talking in a Rhode Island accent (the podcast “Crimetown”).

grim sleeper

Victims of the Grim Sleeper in the 1980s. Top row, from left: Debra Jackson, Henrietta Wright and Mary Lowe. Bottom row, from left: Barbara Ware, Lachrica Jefferson and Alicia Alexander. (L.A.P.D.)

Instead, “The Grim Sleeper” is the frill-free work of a veteran LA Weekly journalist who gave the subject of this book, Lonnie D. Franklin Jr., his name in a 2008 cover story for that alternative weekly, just as he seemed to be concluding his second killing spree. Pelisek doesn’t tout the fact that she and her editor came up with that morbidly catchy moniker, which is a sign of her broader approach to the business of journalism, a welcome departure from the look-at-me school of reportage that the discipline “narrative nonfiction” too eagerly encourages. This isn’t her story, and Pelisek knows it. Paradoxically, that’s what makes her story so good.

Franklin, a local sanitation worker and mechanic who’d once held a job in an LAPD shop, started preying on prostitutes in South Central in the mid-1980s. Even longtime Angelenos who remember the crack years will be surprised to learn, I suspect, that there were six separate serial killers prowling that “fifty-one-square-mile area,” according to Pelisek. “They were all hunting the same game. Poor black women desperate to score a next hit of the highly addictive crack cocaine that was ravaging the working-class neighborhood.”

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Alexander Nazaryan
Los Angeles Times