Pizza helps US cold case police catch ‘Grim Sleeper’

A STRING of murders of young black women had south Los Angeles on edge in the mid-1980s, then the killings suddenly stopped, only to resume again 14 years later.

That mysterious hiatus in 10 known serial killings troubled detectives for years and earned the suspect the nickname the ‘Grim Sleeper’. Now, investigators say they have solved the 25-year-old case with the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr., 57, and possibly uncovered the reason the killings stopped for more than a dozen years:

He may have been spooked by a near miss by police in 1988.

Franklin was arrested this week at his house, which is just three doors down from a home that was searched extensively by police 22 years ago after the killer’s only known survivor led police there.

Police Chief Charlie Beck also noted that billboards plastered with a $500,000 (€395,570) reward and the suspect’s police sketch were posted just eight blocks from Franklin’s house and he drove by them every day.

“We think that impacted the suspect’s behaviour in one of two ways: either he became more careful or he stopped his behaviour for a number of years. That’s an evolving theory,” Beck said. “It’s going to be difficult to be absolutely certain absent his confession.”

Law enforcement said despite more than two decades of old-fashioned police work, they were eventually able to crack the case using a brand new – and controversial – technique of “familial DNA.”

In early June the LAPD submitted DNA evidence found on victims to the state Department of Justice, where geneticists ran it through a database of 1.5 million samples.

The database found no identical matches, but did find a “familial” match to a convicted felon whose DNA indicated he was either a brother or the son of the killer. An earlier search in 2008 had found no familial matches, but Franklin’s son was added to the database in recent months for a felony weapons conviction.

State investigators alerted the LAPD of Franklin’s identity on June 30 after verifying the match through birth certificates, incarceration records and comparing Franklin’s address to locations where the victims were found.

But police still needed a sample of Franklin’s DNA to definitively match it to the genetic material found on the victims.

An undercover officer pretending to be a waiter in Los Angeles collected tableware, napkins, glasses and pizza crust at a restaurant where the suspect ate, allowing detectives to obtain a DNA match.

Franklin made a first court appearance on Thursday on the murder counts as well as one count of attempted murder and special-circumstance allegations of multiple murder that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

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