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Pizza slice helped link suspect to Grim Sleeper serial killings, sources say [Updated]

July 7, 2010 |  2:59 pm


Los Angeles police detectives used a piece of discarded pizza to help build their case against a man accused of being the Grim Sleeper serial killer, sources told The Times.

Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57, was arrested at his home in South Los Angeles on Wednesday morning after police said they made DNA matches linking him to the killings of 11 people over the last three decades. Prosecutors said they have charged Franklin with 10 counts of murder, noting that he is eligible for the death penalty.

Franklin is a former city trash collector who at one time worked as a vehicle mechanic at an LAPD station, sources said.

“He’s the neighborhood mechanic" said neighbor Eric Robinson, 47. “He volunteers at the park. A very good man. His daughter just graduated from college, I believe. He’s a good mechanic, worked out of his garage. I’ve been here since 1976; that’s how long I’ve known him. I’m not pretty shocked, I’m all the way shocked."

In recent days, the LAPD received the results of what is known as a familial DNA search, which trolls through state felon databases for partial DNA matches that would indicate a match to a relative, a source said.

The suspect in the killings had left DNA evidence at several of the crime scenes. The LAPD learned that a man in state prison showed a strong familial match. Detectives questioned the man, who was too young to have committed several of the older murders, and he led detectives to his father, Franklin, the source said. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said detectives got a piece of discarded pizza with Franklin's DNA to make the link.

LAPD sketch of suspect. Credit: LAPD series of killingsincluded victims, mostly female, in the city of Los Angeles, in unincorporated areas of L.A. County and in Inglewood since the 1980s. A survivor in 1988 described her attacker as black, in his 20s, 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10, about 160 pounds, soft-spoken and articulate, with neatly trimmed hair and a pockmarked face.

DNA and ballistics evidence have connected the killings of 10 women and one man from 1985 to 2007, police said. After 1988, the killer did not commit any known homicides until 2002 and last struck on Jan. 1, 2007.

The victims the killer targeted were all black, and most were apparently prostitutes or drug addicts who were sexually assaulted. A 12th victim escaped after being shot and raped.

[Corrected at 8:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Eric Robinson has twice been convicted of felonies. Lonnie David Franklin, a neighbor of Robinson, has twice been convicted of felonies.]

Franklin has twice been convicted of felonies, according to court records, both for receiving stolen property. One was in 1993 and the other was 2003. He served a year in jail for the first conviction and was sentenced to 270 days in jail in the 2003 case.

In 1997, he pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor battery. As part of a plea deal, a charge of false imprisonment was dropped, according to court records. In 1999, he was convicted of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Details of that case were not immediately available.

Neighbors said they were shocked by the arrest.

Dante Combs, 27, said he visited Franklin just last week to ask him to install a timing belt on his car.

Franklin was a kind of do-everything neighborhood handyman, he said.

"You needed your car fixed, he'd do it dirt cheap. He'd help you out however he could, cut your grass, put up your Christmas lights," Combs said as he stood behind the yellow crime-scene tape cordoning off Franklin's house near Western Avenue and 81st Street. "He helped all the elderly on the block. I grew up with his daughter and his son. As far as I know, he couldn't be this man," he said. "Then again, you never really know a man."

Combs said Franklin wasn't a troublemaker, but he added that Franklin told him he was arrested years ago for running a stolen-car chop shop out of his yard.

-- Maura Dolan, Joel Rubin, Hector Becerra, Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Robert Faturechi

Photos: (top) Items are removed from the home of Lonnie David Franklin Jr. on Wednesday. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

(botom) A sketch of the Grim Sleeper suspect. Credit: LAPD

Click to learn more about the Grim Sleeper's victims
Learn more about the Grim Sleeper's victims on The Times interactive Homicide Report map