July 12, 2020

23° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Close this


Advertise With Us

Few heroes in story of L.A. serial killer

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2017 (1009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is likely no Canadian reader of this book, a look at one of Los Angeles’ most notorious murder sprees, who won’t think of the bungled Robert Pickton investigation or the ongoing inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

No one will likely ever know how many South Central women of colour were murdered and abused by Lonnie Franklin Jr. during his decades-long criminal career, but if there are any heroes in the book, few came from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Author Christine Pelisek, a senior writer with People magazine, deserves credit for covering this case with passion, giving victims’ families and the crimes national attention.

Pelisek was the one who gave Franklin his nickname. "Jill Stewart, a brash intelligent no-nonsense editor (at L.A. Weekly), insisted we name him," she says. "Keeping the story in the public consciousness by giving him a name seemed the best way to do that. Everyone remembered BTK, Zodiac and Son of Sam. We wanted the serial killer to be remembered long after the initial shock and news coverage ran its pace."

The other killers mentioned in the quote named themselves. Part of their pathology was the cat-and-mouse game they played with police. This is why, despite the horrifying nature of their crimes, these heartless killers make compelling subjects for non-fiction books.

The "Grim Sleeper," now on death row for 10 murders, is a mystery. No reason is given for his heinous crimes; to his neighbours he was an affable, average person. His nickname comes not from what he did, but rather refers to the 14 years from 1988 to 2002 when he committed no murders.

With the absence of the killer as a main character, there are lesser villains to fill the void. With the victims being black, many of them sex workers and often addicts, the LAPD’s response to solving the crimes was underwhelming. When Franklin was finally identified by a familial DNA match and arrested in 2010, the back-patting and credit-taking by the LAPD, decades after the first crime was committed, is borderline nauseating.

Franklin’s crimes are framed within the wider context of the Night Stalker, a killer targeting white victims in suburban homes, as well as a serial killer operating at the time in South Central. Alongside these cases, which took up significant manpower and money, was the almost pathological corruption and racism that plagued the LAPD. Pelisek introduces some good detectives along the way, but as Nick Broomfield exposes in his documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper, many of the murders were informally filed by LAPD beat cops as "NHI" — No Human Involved.

The author’s pedigree with People magazine shines through, both good and bad. Anyone who has read a true crime piece in the magazine will recognize the tone. The book is victim-focused and redemptive, with an eye towards finding heroes in the chaos.

One never really gets a sense of what it was like to live in South Central during those violent years, what conditions made Franklin the beast he became, or how a major city could get so dysfunctional as to allow perhaps dozens of women to die in the most terrifying way and have no one seem to care.

Were there answers, we might bring them to the table to help with the unanswered questions of Indigenous families on this side of the border.

Lara Rae is a comedian and longtime fan of the true crime genre.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us