Lonnie Franklin Jr. might still be on his South Central Los Angeles killing spree if not for an unfinished slice of pizza in Buena Park. Dubbed the "Grim Sleeper," Franklin stands accused of ten murders–mostly black women–and another attempted slaying stretching all the way back to 1985.
The Grim Sleeper avoided arrest, an easy feat given law enforcement's lackluster interest in the case. But when activists turned up the pressure five years ago, it led police to John's Incredible Pizza Co. at the Buena Park Mall.
A new documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper by Nick Broomfield is set to premiere early next week and rehashes the story of black women victimized while law enforcement shrugged, viewing them as disposable.
It's not like the Los Angeles Police Department never came close before the pizza crust caper. Enietra Washington survived a slug to the chest in 1988 from the Grim Sleeper's gun. The bullet matched the ones linked in other murders. Better yet, Washington provided an eyewitness sketch, a make of the killer's vehicle and the block he lived on.
Police staked out the area for a month, fixated on a bungalow home three houses down from where Franklin lived but missed him. The lost opportunity turned out to be deadly. The Grim Sleeper, as the LA Weekly first dubbed him, killed at least three more black women last decade.
By 2009, activists revived the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders group started in the 80's by current KPFK radio host Margaret Prescod. With renewed pressure, police caught a break in the cold case by scanning a statewide DNA database and netted a partial profile to Franklin's son who had a weapons arrest on his record.
They focused in on the father when Franklin attended a family birthday party on July 5, 2010. An undercover officer dressed as a busboy at John's Incredible Pizza Co., a sensory overload pizzeria that's like Chuck E. Cheese on speed. The man alleged to be the Grim Sleeper left a plate of unfinished pizza behind. Police swooped it up, tested samples and matched the DNA to different crime scenes.
Party time was over and an arrest came two days after. Franklin called foul with lawyers pathetically arguing that the pizza scraps were illegally seized. He will stand trial for the murders this summer.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper premieres on HBO Monday at 9 p.m.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2