Grim Sleeper case: Releasing women's photos called agonizing decision for LAPD detectives
Los Angeles Police Department detectives said releasing the photos of scores of women found in the possession of the Grim Sleeper serial killer suspect was an agonizing decision. But they concluded it was ultimately the only way to determine whether they had been harmed.
The photos and video images were apparently collected by Lonnie David Franklin Jr. over the years, and detectives said they needed to know who these women were as they try to determine whether Franklin was responsible for more than the 10 homicides for which he was charged earlier this year.
Detectives said they were concerned about how those images should be presented to the public given that the women depicted were almost all partly or completely nude and striking sexually graphic poses.
PHOTO GALLERY: Grim Sleeper photos
"We are just trying to do what is right and decent," said LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who heads the task force that arrested Franklin. "We are very cognizant of not causing embarrassment or anguish to the people depicted in the photographs."
Before they were ready to release the images, detectives first set about trying to identify as many different women as possible by distilling the mass of material, including video and digital camera images, Polaroids, conventional prints and even undeveloped film.
Investigators reviewed images in missing-person databases and coroner records looking for matches. Unable to find their subjects, police decided to go public with the images at a Thursday news conference.
Detectives said they thought hard about how making the photos public would affect the women.
The photo release could force most, if not all of the women, to revisit a chapter in their lives they would sooner forget and reveal an association with Franklin, who has pleaded not guilty in the killings. Some of the photos may have been taken years ago -- and some of the women might be living significantly different lives now.
Detectives also wanted to be sensitive to the families of the 10 victims Franklin is alleged to have killed.
In the end, the LAPD opted to release closely cropped versions of the images that show the women's faces, hoping the women themselves, their family members or acquaintances will recognize them and contact investigators.
Before the announcement, they invited families of Grim Sleeper victims to come to LAPD headquarters to view the images they would be releasing to the public.
In the press conference Thursday, LAPD officials declined to get into the backgrounds of the women, saying that it could hinder the reason for holding the press conference, which was determining the whereabouts of those pictured.
Kilcoyne acknowledged that some might be offended by the decision to go public with the pictures and video stills. But he said the LAPD needs the public's help to determine who the women are and whether some might have been additional Grim Sleeper victims.
"We are not the ones who took it and kept it," Kilcoyne said of the images. "We can thank Mr. Franklin for that."
-- Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin
Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, and Councilman Bernard C. Parks walk by the array of photos after the Thursday news conference at LAPD headquarters. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times