LA's "Grim Sleeper" serial killer suspect nabbed by DNA and pizza; was he snapped on Google Street View?

sleeper.jpgHere in Los Angeles, the big story today is the capture of a suspect in the "Grim Sleeper" serial killer case, so named because the killer apparently went dormant for a decade before resuming his murderous behavior.

The suspect, Lonnie David Franklin Jr. (photo below), once worked for the LAPD. He was nabbed with "familial DNA". His son's DNA was a close, but not precise, match with DNA found at the scene of murders, and Franklin's DNA was later reportedly confirmed as a match when investigators swabbed traces left behind after he ate at a local pizza parlor.

There's an internet rumor floating around that this Google Street View link shows the suspect, who worked as a sort of freelance car repair guy around the neighborhood. Authorities have not confirmed that the address is Franklin's, but local TV and papers have reported it as such (after eavesdropping on LAPD scanner radio). The Street View link does snow a shot of someone in front of a green house working on a car at that address, but we don't know who that person is.sleeper2.jpg

The killer is said to have focused primarily on black women, specifically prostitutes and "party girls."

As far as I know, this is the first "familial DNA" arrest in California. There are some concerning privacy implications, particularly when one combines physical data-gathering (collecting DNA not just from the suspect but from relatives or others in the suspect's social network) with the sort of ambient, online data-gathering manifest in services like Google Street View. No one will argue that a serial killer should roam free, or that all available technology shouldn't be used to solve violent crimes, particularly a case involving as many deaths over as many decades as this one does. But how might these technologies be mis-used in the future? Guess we'll find out.

(thanks, Andrea James)

Update: The address shown in the Street View link (screengrab below) certainly does appear to be confirmed as belonging to the suspect jailed today. A public records property search shows: 1728 W. 81st St N/A Lonnie D Franklin Jr and Y Sylvia South Los Angeles.

grim sleeper suspect house.JPG


  1. The killer is said to have focused primarily on black women, specifically prostitutes and “party girls.”

    I may be showing my naivete here, but what’s a “party girl”? I’d have thought “party girl,” in quotation marks, was a winking euphemism for “prostitute,” but the sentence structure suggests that they’re two different things.

    1. I suspect “party girl” is in quotes because they’re quoting the police. Here it probably refers to young single women who dress provocatively and go out a lot. It might be euphemistic for “loose women” or “sluts,” referring to amateurs, not pros.

  2. You won’t hear me complaining when they go all out to the edge of the “gray area” to catch someone like this guy.
    I WILL complain if this level of persistence is used to pursue petty offenses.
    Yes, its clearly comfortable position, but its an obvious one that should also guide the law enforcement folk: no-one will care if you tase the crap out of a serial killer, but you will get dumped on if you tase grandma.

    1. “no-one will care if you tase the crap out of a serial killer”

      Until you later realize that your suspect was actually innocent and has had a heart attack.

      Also, I don’t approve of cops torturing anyone, even psychos.

      And it’s utterly foolish to believe that cops will move away from the “gray area” once they have been given new powers.

      Cops are not judge and jury, unless you are fond of black/brownshirts running things.

      1. Yup. If that had been me as a kid, pretty much any adult member of my family would’ve told me “get your feet out of the street before they get run over by a car” and then walked away with a “when you’re done, I’ll be over here”.

  3. It’s been fully established in court that evidence found (both physical and DNA)in trash with the intent of it being discarded will stand. Obtaining DNA from a pizza crust should not raise any concerns on privacy issues.

  4. Swabbing a discarded pizza crust isn’t illegal or a privacy violation. As soon as you discard something in a public trash can or roll your garbage can to the curb that trash becomes property of the city. You don’t need a warrant for that.

  5. Obtaining DNA from a pizza crust should not raise any concerns on privacy issues.

    Because that’s what you’ve been taught to believe. In the Watergate case, going through people’s trash was regarded as horrifying. In the intervening years, Americans (and others) have learned to simply accept these methods ‘because that’s just the way it is’.

  6. Since Jerry Brown was the one who gave the go ahead for familial DNA in this case, I wonder how it’ll play in the CA governor race?

  7. This is really rather disturbing.

    How far would one have to go to have an expectation of privacy over their DNA? This says you can never eat at a restaurant. Are you save even if you become a total shut in? Can they take your old toothbrush from the trash?

    1. if you want total DNA privacy, just carry a spray bottle of bleach or ammonia everywhere you go, spritz all silverware/flatware you use in the restaurant, and be sure to eat every bite of the food. Burn your trash at home. It may look suspicious, but that in and of itself shouldn’t be enough to get a warrant to collect your DNA directly.

  8. Maybe it´s just me, but I don’t quite grokk Xenis take on this.

    The Google Street Wiew picture is a blurry shot of someone, could be anyone, standing on a street corner.

    It’s not any kind of evidence, and I don’t think anyone has claimed that either. It doesn’t place a suspect near a crime scene or anything like that. It really only holds some mild anecdotal value, as in “ZOMG, is that OUR handyman on the news???” Cops didn’t find him on Google, the gossipers did.

    And, of course, by publicing the link here you´re giving out the home adress of someone who might still turn out to be found innocent.
    But you can do the same thing using just a plain ol’ phone book.

    So frankly I don’t really see how Google Street Wiew enters into it – unless they somehow acessed the guy’s DNA-map via Google, wich you all gotta admit would be pretty cool all in itself.

  9. My takeaway, “serial killers” should endeavour to raise law-abiding children, reducing the risk of familial DNA matches.

  10. “(after eavesdropping on LAPD scanner radio)”
    Huh? Eavesdropping?
    No no my friends those are public airwaves and therefore all the traffic that is there is available for public consumption. I for one enjoy the fact that I am allowed to own and use a police scanner to listen in on what is going down around me and to keep an ear on those that claim to police me and my fellow citizens. That is not eavesdropping, it is in fact a way for me to watch the watchers. Now listening in on someone else’s private phone conversations with out a court order, that is eavesdropping. Funny that things are getting to be the wrong way round these days, the govt can snoop all they want with less and less oversight while we citizens are being told that to listen in on the govt is less and less legal. This backward concept also applies to photos and video of law-enforcement.

    As to the DNA issue. I have to put myself squarely in the “hand’s off of my DNA” camp with one proviso… if your DNA is collected and catalogued in CODIS (prior conviction, open cases, etc.) and you get busted for something else and law enforcement connects you to another crime you committed then so be it. Digging through my trash or tricking me into giving a sample should be right out.

    1. Well said. It’s slightly ironic that a site so gung ho about open source media and guarding against corporate and government misappropriation of public resources would apply that word to conversations on the public airwaves.

      That said, the days of being able to listen in on police communications may be numbered, as the 2013 narrow band mandate will force many public safety radio systems to replace their equipment, and much of the new gear will have the capability to encrypt voice transmissions. Police radio will become, essentially, a limited-purpose government-access cell phone system.

  11. As long as the DNA is sampled with the intent to erase the data after it has been compared to the relevant database, i do not care.
    It’s not as if they hung out in a pizza joint, screening every customer – they knew it was some relative of the guy with the partial fit, so they screened them.

    As to how DNA sampling was connected to Google street View in this case: Through blogs. Thanks Xeni for that self-fulfilling scariness.

  12. It’s not California’s first familial DNA arrest. A couple of years ago, brothers of Christopher Holland in San Jose gave DNA samples to cops to see if their DNA was close to the DNA found at the scene of a murder committed decades earlier (Holland had been a suspect in that crime). One of the brothers’ samples matched DNA from the unsolved rape and beating of an elderly woman many years earlier. Holland was arrested for the murder, and Holland’s brother was arrested for the rape and assault.

  13. Where’s the physical evidence?
    What’s the motive?

    A DNA match based on an extrapolated profile from a relative is not evidence of a crime.
    a) matches like this can be synthesized in the lab
    b) any direct male relative (brother, son) is equally guilty (read: innocent)

  14. the bottom line here…is that if he raped and killed YOUR party girl sister or mother….you would want the police to do whatever it took to get the needed evidence to get him off the street. OR…we know he killed, but we protect his “RIGHTS “….ie…no pizza crust…none of his son’s DNA to prequalify the loser….then he kills YOUR family member… what ?

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