NPR logo Son, Pizza Lead LAPD To Alleged 'Grim Sleeper' Killer

Son, Pizza Lead LAPD To Alleged 'Grim Sleeper' Killer

Los Angeles police arrested a suspected serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper who was wanted for long unsolved murders that occurred in the 1980s.

The LAPD said Wednesday they took into custody Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, who lived quietly in South Los Angeles and was known to his neighbors as a helpful man always willing to lend a hand.

What's especially fascinating about the case is how police were led to Franklin. It was through a still uncommon practice using DNA called a familial search.

Homicide detectives ran the DNA of California prisoners looking for a family match to DNA found at the crime scenes. In other words, they were hoping to find not the killer necessarily but a relative of the murderer and work backwards from there.

They found what they were looking for. DNA from Franklin's incarcerated son showed a linkage to DNA found at the crime scenes.

It was an inversion of the biblical curse, a case where the sins of the son were visited on the father.

An excerpt from the Los Angeles Times:

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

Working through the Fourth of July weekend, LAPD detectives drew up a family tree of the prisoner, then began analyzing all the men on it. Were they the right age? Did they live near the murder scenes? 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, the prisoner's father emerged as a likely suspect. An undercover team was sent to follow him; they retrieved a discarded slice of pizza to analyze his DNA. On Tuesday, they confirmed that it matched the DNA of the suspect in the killings.

Article continues after sponsorship

Again, an extraordinary true-crime tale. The LAT story adds that only two states have an established process for such genetic familial searches, California and Colorado.

Given the success of the approach in this instance, it wouldn't be a surprise if other states soon followed suit.