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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Grim Sleeper Revisited -- January 1987

Barbara Ware, killed at the age of 23, whose body was found Jan. 10, 1987.

I thought it would be interesting to examine the 1987 LAPD tape of the call reporting the death of Barbara Ware, one of 11 homicides attributed to the "Grim Sleeper."

The recording is fairly noisy, so I cleaned it up a bit. The first thing I noticed is that there are a variety of background noises. There's Morse code, which I assume was picked up by the dispatcher's microphone/headset from the radios at LAPD communications. There's also what appears to be the sound of accelerating vehicles, which makes me think the caller was at an outdoor phone. At the very beginning of the recording, there's a slight bit of what sounds like background music, but it's too brief for me to identify.

One thing that I particularly noted was the way the caller said "phone." I had to play the recording several times to figure it out. It's almost as if he were talking like Forrest Gump when he said "fa-ohne."

Then I got to wondering about the speed of the tape as reflected by the recurring "beeps" every 10 seconds. It turns out that they are about 11.3 seconds apart. I tried speeding up the recording, assuming that the tape had stretched slightly but the result was too fast and showed the error of my reasoning. Then I stretched out the recording but maintained the same pitch, which makes it easier to understand.

Here are the two enhanced versions, and my transcription. I wonder why the LAPD didn't at least bump up the volume before it released this recording, but maybe that's just me.

Initial speed, as released by the LAPD.

Stretched for better comprehension.

Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

The alley where Barbara Ware's body was found. Notice how narrow it appears.

View Larger Map

Here's my transcription:

1987 LAPD photo

Blue and white Dodge van, possibly a 1977, license plate 1PZP746.


Detail of the plate.
Here's what I find to be the most interesting about this call.

Our fellow contacts the LAPD at 12:19 a.m., Jan. 10, 1987. He reports seeing a man throw a body out of a vehicle. It's a little before midnight in an alley that is narrow and presumably dark. But he can tell us the make and color of the van. He can tell us that the driver threw a gas tank on top of her. He can tell us the plate number--letter perfect--even though the rear plate is partially blocked by this ladder. He seemingly has fabulous eyesight. Maybe X-ray vision. And yet he can't describe the driver. Isn't that amazing? 

You're thinking maybe he saw the front plate. Of course, it's possible, but that means he would have to be looking into the glare of the headlights, where the driver could have seen him. Do you think a driver who's dumping a body is going to let a witness get away? And who would be hanging out in this alley in this part of L.A. about midnight?


Nice parking job. Over the concrete bumper and into the wall. I wonder if the driver was a little rattled.


Think anybody heard that?

... Central

Dispatcher: [Unintelligible] city police EIGHT THREE ONE. (music in background)

Caller: Yes. I'd like to report uh, uh murder or a dead body or something.

Dispatcher: Where at?

Caller: The address is 1346 East 56th Street ... in the alley ... and the guy that dropped her off was driving a white and blue Dodge van ONE PEE ZEE PEE SEVEN FOUR SIX [There's Morse code in the background, probably picked up by dispatcher's microphone/headset].

Dispatcher: OK are you saying TEE like in Tom?

Caller: PEE like in puppy.

Dispatcher: PEE what?


Dispatcher: Like in zebra?

Caller: Uh-huh. PEE

Dispatcher: Like in Tom? (Background noise, possibly a siren or a vehicle accelerating).

Caller: No, PEE ... like in pup.

Dispatcher: Two PEEs...

Caller: Uh-hu

Dispatcher: in pup.

Caller: Right.

Dispatcher: Uh-huh.

Caller: SEVEN FOUR SIX (Morse code in background, probably picked up by dispatcher's microphone/headset).

Dispatcher: What color van was it?

Caller: Blue and white. (More background noise, possibly of passing vehicles).

Dispatcher: Did you get a look at him?

Caller: Un-unh I didn't see him.

Dispatcher: How long ago did this happen?

Caller: It happened 'bout ... 'bout 30 minutes ago 'cause I'm down the street at the phone ... so it happened about 30 minutes ago. And, uh. You know, he like ... he threw her out ... the only thing that's hanging out of 'dis ... like he threw a gas tank on top of her and, uh ... and, uh only thing you can see out is her feet.

Dispatcher: OK, what's your name?

Caller: Huh?

Dispatcher: What's your name?

Caller: Oh, I'm stayin' (starts to laugh) anonymous. I know too many people. OK den bye-bye.

Dispatcher: All right. (hangs up).

LAPD blog entry on the "Grim Sleeper" call.

View Larger Map

Notice that although the LAPD revealed the location of the body (B. 1346 E. 56th) and the church that owned the van (A. 6075 S. Normandie) there's nothing about where the call was made.

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Comments (10)

i'd be inclined to say the caller is decidedly not the person responsible for this murder. while it is peculiar that he was able to discern the plate number, the tone of his voice and pacing of his speech do not indicate any stress or discomfort. also he was obviously taking his time, waiting for any questions from the dispatcher. from the few examples of perpetrators calling to report their own crimes that i have experienced, they generally pre-compose what they're going to say, get the message out and then hang up. this sounds ultimately like a concerned citizen who is not particularly shocked at what he's seen but feels compelled to report it.

That's a NARROW alley. Checked it on MIcrosoft Live search, bird's eye view. Just wide enough for one vehicle to go through. Given the close proximity of the houses and properties (and lights) to the alley, it is very possible for someone to get a good close look and remain undetected. Looks like a couple of houses directly back on the alley. The caller could have just peeked outside his back window and gotten a clear view of the van and body dump.

My guess is he went out to check what got dumped after a safe interval of time and found the body. Another guess is that he had reason to be very observant of what went on in that alley. Which is why he got the license number and a description of the vehicle. Why? I can only speculate.

He wanted to tell the authorities, and he did but he didn't want to get personally involved. I think he got a good look at the guy. He did said "he" once. To bad he didn't tell everything he saw.

My question is why would anybody dump a body in a place like that? He was begging to get caught. He should have been. He wasn't.

The only things we can be reasonably sure of is that he didn't have a gun pointed at his head as he talked on the phone and the information he gave was wrong.

It seems like the caller had called from a pay phone. The caller repeats the license plate and address in a manner that seems like it was written down. He must of been watching from the main road and the killer had no idea someone was witnessing him dump the body. The caller must have walked back around to the front of the actual house and took down the address. Why not knock on the door and tell the home owner to call police? If the caller isn't the killer he had to have been hiding til the van came out of the alley to take down the license plate number because of the latter blocking part of the license plate. My real question is when the police went to the church at 1-2 a.m. what were the people doing there on a saturday night before sunday mass?

I wanted to bring up a point about the blue, and white Van that matches the description of the anonymous caller. How did they not push into looking more into that church? That van WAS used because how did the caller identify the exact same description/license plate matching the van!. Even if it's not the grim sleeper, a murder took place, and someone need's to be arrested for the murder of that woman. Church members said the van had only been used for church activity, ok so what time was it used? Where was it taken? Who was driving? Is there a log book of who checked it out? All these questions should of been asked to the church members who attend that church. It needs to be pressed again, maybe a search warrant needs to be issued to get some answers answered. Barbara ware, was murdered clearly, she needs justice done even if the Grim Sleeper did not kill her. Another question I thought 911 could locate where a call was made from! what about the anonymous caller? does records show where his call was made from? Even if he can't identified, the man clearly saw that van and gave a plate number to the van by that church.

As to the suggestion that the caller might have walked around to the front of a house & asked the owner to call the police, you obviously have no idea how violent that area is. People won't open their doors to strangers as you suggest. And, strangers don't go up to doors at night without fear of getting shot by the homeowner. Every house in that area looks like a jail with bars on windows and doors. The caller isn't likely the suspect, though, because he sounds much older than the surviving victim described. The suspect was said to be in his 30's or so.... the caller sounded to be in his late 40's or 50's. My instinct says the caller was a renter or homeowner near the body dump, watched over the fence & was able to get a license number, and then to avoid being traced by the LAPD upon reporting a 'dead body,' he walked to a payphone some distance from the house. Notice the caller identifies the specific address where the body was to be found,,, "in the alley." If he just happened to walk by somehow without being seen by the killer, he would have called the LAPD and simply identified the address of the block as in " .... in the 15,000 block of..... you'll find a dead body." But the caller stated a specific address so my guess is he resided there close to the body dump.

This is very interesting. I also wonder why he gave such a detailed, exact address... I mean, he even gave a home address right? When using those numbers it sounded like an actual house. If he lived on that street, but wanted to remain anonymous, why would he have been that specific. I do think this guy was just a spectator, and I dont think he had anything to do with the crime (although you never know);

A few of you keep bringing up the comment that "even if this wasnt the grim sleeper, it was still a murder." But haven't they determined thru DNA that this WAS the grim sleeper? Just needed to have someone clarify that for me.

Unfortunately, given this area and the number of violent crimes that take place all the time, I was not surprised that the caller appeared sort of indifferent to this situation.. jsut wanted to get the facts out and go. If this had been seen in Beverly Hills, the caller would have most likely been hysterical.
The bottom line though, is that the cops should have done a MUCH better job figuring out the church situation, including, as someone mentioned, why there were people there so late and what the church activity was.
This appears to be a case where (remember the serial killer theory hadn't started yet) this was seen as just another random homocide of a poor black female, and the cops really didn't see it as a high priority.

I too can notunderstand why they didn't do any more concerning the church. I read that the engine was still warm and that the church members said the van has recently been used. Its too bad the church is no longer there. I imagine when it closed up, all their records were taken or destroyed.

(Didn't notice the parking job either until coming to this Blog. Thanks for pointing it out).

It is should not be said, " the caller is decidedly not the person responsible for this murder". While one may concider this idea, it can not be ruled out that the caller could be a sociopath. Sociopaths do not feel remorse, guilt, or anxiety even over a murder that may have been comitted only seconds before while still staring at the body. They do not feel stress. In speaking with a sociopath you might find them charming or distant, intelligent and or aloof, Nervousness and emotion will almost always be absent. Most crimes of the moment could be spoken of as you stated but if you are dealing with someone with a socia-disorder one must be prepare that you may be speaking or dealing with someone who lacks the capacity to feel and have compassion for another.

This is not as difficult as people make it seem. This case could have been solved years ago. There is no doubt the caller is the killer. For anyone to give a complete description of the color of the van, license plate, and make and model of van, knew a lot more than the average witness would under these circumstances. Key factors to consider between the caller and the dispatcher are the fact that the caller knew that the body being dumped was a female. How would someone know due to the narrow alley and the darkness at night? What determined this was a female when the caller said all he could see was her feet, and how he knew it was a gas can thrown on her without being directly there. The caller referred to the victim as “her” several times during the 911 call. The caller gave an address that would suggest he lived in that neighborhood or new someone that did. The police report said the victim had been dead several hours before the caller had called. My assumption is the caller who is the killer had committed the crime earlier and drove around town to find a van to throw off what he had already done using his own van. The killer probably thought that he was known to have a van and by randomly choosing a similar van that he had spotted earlier, would be ideal for him to get the license plate, and every other detail that you can only get by either seeing the van earlier in the day being driven by church goers and following the church van earlier in the day to get the precise info to cover up his crime. It is my understanding that serial killers will always involve themselves in the investigation to help them feel at ease of knowing that information may be directed somewhere else, therefore allowing him a free conscious to continue his killing spree.


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