Lonnie David Franklin Jr., the Los Angeles native who has been nicknamed the Grim Sleeper and referred to as one of the most elusive serial killers of recent times, must face the death penalty, a jury has recommended.
He has been found guilty of killing nine women and a teenage girl in a murderous spree that spanned three decades. The jury's recommendation, which came out on Monday, has all but sealed his fate. However, a judge has to give final sentencing in August.
Franklin, an African American, stalked his prey in the back alleys of South L.A. from 1985 onwards, picking up prostitutes and destitute women hooked on to cocaine. He killed most of them with a .25 calibre handgun and left their naked bodies in narrow lanes and trash bins.
He has been dubbed the Grim Sleeper for the apparent gap in his killings between 1988 and 2002, but evidence brought up during the trial and other information which has surfaced over the years suggests he might have killed many more.
While the 63-year-old former garbage truck driver, who even worked for L.A. Police as a mechanic, has been called prolific and elusive – he was far from any of that.
Neighbours remember him as the next-door-type of a man. He was the sort of person everyone knew. He would help anyone with a broken car or stop them for small chit chat. He was also the richest on his street. Someone who always seemed to have money and smalltime jobs to offer.
The case highlighted the weaknesses in the American policing system, which take reports of missing people lightly, as well as discrimination faced by the black community.
Franklin was caught by police accidently. Even though he was arrested before, it was only after his son got into trouble with police over a felony weapon's charge that he became a subject of suspicion.
Police found out that his son's DNA almost matched the samples taken from some of the murdered women. Since the son was too young to have committed the previous murders, police started monitoring Franklin. Finally a DNA sample from his leftover pizza confirmed his involvement in the murders. He was arrested in July 2010.
When police entered his rundown house where he had lived since childhood they found pictures of hundreds of women including those of his victims. Many of the girls are still missing and presumed dead.
Among the litter in his garage were dozens of pornographic videos and explicit pictures of women he had brought home.
How he was able to resist arrest for such a long time has raised a lot of questions.
A non-profit Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders says it raised its voice against the rising number of killings as far back as 1987 but the police wasn't interested in investigating the cases.
Ballistic tests had also shown that at least two of the women killed in the 1980s were murdered using the same weapon. But this information, which indicated that a serial killer was on the loose, was never released to the public.
South L.A. was going through turmoil in the 1980s, with the increase in crime along with unemployment. It was also the time cocaine started to become popular on the streets and criminal gangs were doing business in drugs.
The boiling point of tension was the 1992 L.A. riots, which started after policemen were caught on camera beating a black man.
Franklin was not the only serial killer who was terrorising people on the street. The socio-economic problems have been cited as the key reason that allowed killers to commit crimes and remain undetected.
There have been other serial killers as well. Chester DeWayne murdered 10 women in South L.A. Loise Crane and Michael Huges killed eight women between themselves. Daniel Lee Siebert murdered two women in the same area.
Former prostitutes interviewed by HBO for a documentary on Franklin said they were willing to carry out some of his wild demands because of their addiction to cocaine.
Interestingly, Franklin started his assaults on women even before the 1980s. According to trial documents, while working as a US serviceman in Germany in 1974, he kidnapped and raped a 17-year-old along with two other men. He was sentenced to over three years in a German prison.