Lonnie Franklin, the serial killer known as the "Grim Sleeper," died in his prison cell on Saturday

By Christine Pelisek and Greg Hanlon
March 30, 2020 11:54 AM
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty

The victims were all young vulnerable black women who lived in south Los Angeles and struggled with drug addiction. Their naked or partially clothed bodies were all dumped in the filthy neighborhood alleyways, left to rot under garbage and debris. They were shot at close range with a .25-caliber pistol, or strangled, or both.

For years, their cases lacked justice — or even an arrest.

But in May of 2016, following three months of testimony in Los Angeles Superior Court, Lonnie Franklin Jr., the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer who prosecutors say stalked L.A. for more than 20 years, was found guilty of murdering nine women and one teenager.

(PEOPLE senior writer Christine Pelisek, who broke the story of the Grim Sleeper, chronicled the case in her 2017 book, The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central.)

After being sentenced to the death penalty, Franklin, 67, died in his prison cell at San Quentin Prison on Saturday evening. His cause of death has not been released but he had no signs of trauma on his body, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton told PEOPLE.

Here are seven things to know about his terrifying murder spree, which began in 1984.

1. He Was Married — and a Former Army Corporal

Franklin was a former corporal in the United States Army who also worked as a Los Angeles city trash collector and as a garage attendant at a LAPD station.

At the time of his arrest, he had been married for 32 years.

He was arrested in 2010 as he walked out of the mint green home he shared with his wife.

2. He Was a Sexual Predator, ‘About Power and Control’

At his murder trial, prosecutors painted him as a sexual predator who killed women who “weren’t submissive enough.” “These crimes were about power and control,” prosecutor Beth Silverman told the jury during her closing arguments.

“It is clear the defendant got pleasure from killing these young women because that’s how they all ended up,” Silverman said. “He definitely wanted to degrade these women by dumping their bodies like trash. He got off on that too and that is why he did it over and over. It gave him gratification.”

AP Pool/Nick Ut,Pool

Franklin’s longtime friend Ray Davis testified that Franklin’s conquests were a common topic of conversation between them. Franklin took photos of various women and joked that he had names for all the girls in the photos depending on what their breasts looked like, Davis told the jury.

He also said that even though Franklin didn’t smoke marijuana, he kept a supply on hand for his various girlfriends.

3. He Was Convicted of Murdering 10 People, Attempting to Murder Another

Franklin was convicted in 2016 of the murder of 10 women — Debra Jackson, Henrietta Wright, Mary Lowe, Bernita Sparks, Barbara Ware, Lachrica Jefferson, Monique Alexander, Princess Berthomieux, Valerie McCorvey and Janecia Peters and one teen, Princess Berthomieux.

His spree lasted from 1984 to 2007, but the apparent gap in his violent slayings — from the late 1980s to early 2000s — gave him his nickname: The Grim Sleeper.

He was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Enietra Washington, who testified that Franklin shot her, sexually assaulted her and took a Polaroid picture of her before pushing her out of his car in 1988.

4. Police Believe He Murdered at Least 6 More Women

After Franklin’s arrest, detectives found more than 1,000 photos and videotapes of women and teenage girls in the former sanitation worker’s garage and backyard camper.

In 2011, prosecutors announced their belief that Franklin allegedly killed at least six more women in addition to the 10 women he was convicted of murdering.

5. DNA Cracked the Case After Son’s Arrest

The murder spree stumped detectives for more than two decades, and it wasn’t until the Los Angeles Police Department started its cold case unit that authorities realized the killer of seven women in the ’80s was linked through DNA and ballistics to deaths in 2002, 2003 and 2007.

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However, the killer’s DNA profile was not in CODIS, the national database for DNA. Franklin was finally caught in 2010 through familial DNA testing after his 28-year-old son, Christopher, was arrested for carrying a weapon in the summer of 2009 and had to give up a DNA swab.

Once it was determined that Christopher was related to the killer, detectives followed the elder Franklin to a pizza place in Buena Park. As Franklin finished his meal, a detective who posed as a busboy collected a fork, two plastic cups, a plate and a pizza slice left by Franklin.

A few days later, DNA taken from the pizza slice came back as a match to DNA found on one of Franklin’s victims.

6. He Kept ‘Souvenirs’ of Victims

During the three-day search of Franklin’s property, investigators allegedly found women’s necklaces, rings, earrings and watches as well as more than 500 photographs of various women — many of them naked or engaged in sex acts.

In one of Franklin’s bedrooms, criminalist Rafael Garcia discovered a F.I.E Titan .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun, otherwise known as a “pocket pistol.” It was later determined to be the gun used to kill Janecia Peters.

In a backyard garage, an LAPD firearms examiner found a Polaroid photograph of survivor Enietra Washington, who later testified against Franklin at his trial.

Also found was a photo of Peters. In the same envelope, they also found the school identification card of 18-year-old Ayellah Marshall and the Nevada driver’s license of Rolenia Morris, 29. Both women had been reported missing in February and September 2005, respectively. Both women were last seen in the vicinity of Franklin’s home at 81st and Western Avenues.

Their bodies were never found.

7. ‘We Can Now Be at Peace,’ Says Victim’s Stepmom

Franklin was found unresponsive in his prison cell at 7:20 p.m. Saturday evening March 28. Prison medical staff rendered aid and summoned an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at 7:43 p.m.

He had no signs of trauma on his body and Thornton, the prison spokeswoman, told PEOPLE authorities “don’t know why he died” and that an autopsy is scheduled.

After Franklin’s death, Diana Ware, stepmother of victim Barbara Ware, told PEOPLE, “I won’t say I’m pleased he died but at the end there was justice for all the bad things he did in his life. We can now be at peace.”