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Suspect in four killings had newspaper with article about 'Grim Sleeper' serial killer in his car, detectives say

November 5, 2010 |  1:02 pm

L.A. sheriff’s deputies found a copy of a newspaper announcing the arrest of the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer inside the car of a Harbor Gateway handyman charged with killing four people during three home-invasion robberies.

The newspaper was one of the clues detectives are studying in the case of John Wesley Ewell.

“It was really the only paper we found inside his car,” Det. Peter Hecht said. “The subject is certainly telling.”

Lonnie Franklin, the alleged Grim sleeper, was arrested July 7 on suspicion of at least 10 murders since 1985 across South L.A.

The killings with which Ewell is charged began Sept. 24 with the death of an 80-year-old man, soon was followed by the death of woman who lives on the same block as Ewell and concluded with the strangulation of a couple inside their Hawthorne home.

Detectives are not investigating Ewell, who faces capital murder charges, in connection with any other killings, said Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Coleman.

Other than the newspaper, there are few clues to Ewell's alleged deadly disposition after a life as a career criminal. “We don’t [know] what caused him to snap,” Coleman said. “He was brazen. He used the ATM card from the couple several times. He didn’t make an effort to hide his face from the camera.”

Detectives said Ewell allegedly has also tried to make it look like a killer is still on the loose. A man who had contact with Ewell while he was in jail continued to make purchases with one of the one victim’s debit cards, according to investigators.

Coleman said that man is now cooperating with detectives. Sheriff Lee Baca said detectives are still seeking more evidence that connects Ewell to the “terrifying spree of murders.” He said detectives seized items from Ewell's home connecting him to the victims’ robberies but they believe Ewell may have pawned, sold or given away some of the items he allegedly stole from the four victims.

While Ewell's neighbors on 12600 block of Hoover Street describe him as a popular and likable local handyman, investigators characterized him as a "career criminal" with two strikes and convictions for forgery, robbery and burglary dating back to the 1980s.

Before the slayings, Ewell was charged in September with an unrelated felony on suspicion of burglarizing a Hawthorne Home Depot store.

-- Richard Winton