Are these 180 women victims of the killer nicknamed the Grim Sleeper?
With a gunshot wound in her chest, the naked body of 18-year-old Alicia “Monique” Alexander was found under a mattress in a south Los Angeles alley.
In the weeks after the teenager’s murder on September 11, 1988, her father Porter hit out at police, accusing them of dragging their heels in the investigation of her death. His voice was not alone.
For in the three years before Alicia’s killing, seven other families had also seen their loved ones shot dead – all with chilling similarities.
At the time, police refused to link the murders publicly but locals knew they had aserial killer in their midst.
They believed that police were doing little to solve each murder and even accused them of racism. All but one of the victims were black women from poor areas and often had troubled lives.
But despite as many as 30 detectives investigating the cases, every lead soon dried up. There was no clue about who might have been attacking the women.
Then the killings stopped. And for 14 years the community slowly began to heal and move on.
Then in March 2002 the nightmare returned, and 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux became the murderer’s youngest victim yet.
The hiatus earned the killer the nickname of the Grim Sleeper.
It was to take another eight years before police finally arrested the man now accused of being the Grim Sleeper – Lonnie D Franklin Jr – thanks largely to a slice of pizza.
Police raiding his home unearthed a macabre catalogue of photos showing women asleep, unconscious, drugged or even dead, and suddenly it was feared that if Franklin was the Grim Sleeper he could have killed up to 180 women.
This week, 30 years after the first body was found, the ex-police mechanic, 63, has finally gone on trial following six years in custody.
Franklin, facing a possible death sentence, has pleaded not guilty to killing nine women and a 15-year-old girl between 1985 and 2007. It is a case that has gripped America.
At the opening of the trial on Tuesday, prosecutor Beth Silverman accused Franklin of preying on women at their most vulnerable, taking advantage of the crack cocaine epidemic in south LA.
She told how he targeted women “willing to sell their bodies and their souls in order to gratify their dependency on this powerful drug”.
Autopsies showed all but one victim had cocaine in their systems when they were killed. Some had turned to prostitution.
“This was the perfect opportunity for someone who preyed on women,” added Ms Silverman.
“Someone who knew the streets and dark alleys by heart, who lived there and was able to blend in, who knew where the drug-addicted women and perhaps prostitutes would congregate and who knew how to lure potential victims into the darkness and the isolation of a vehicle through the promise of crack.”
The hunt for the Grim Sleeper, which has been made into an Oscar-nominated film by British documentary-maker Nick Broomfield, hit problems from the start.
Police had a description by a survivor, had offered a reward of £350,000 and even had a sample of the killer’s DNA yet, due to a blunder, no database matches were found.
Detectives turned in frustration to the contentious method of trying to narrow the list of suspects by familial DNA analysis. This seeks near matches from convicted criminals who may be related. The crime lab located a swab belonging to Franklin’s son Christopher, who had been found guilty on a weapons charge.
A homeless man collecting cans from a skip had found her naked body discarded under a Christmas tree on January 1, 2007. She had been stuffed in a black bin bag.
Even after six years in custody, Franklin insists he is innocent. But if found guilty in the trial, expected to last four months, he will have been leading a convincing double life. For years, he was well known in his neighbourhood for aiding those in need and helping out with car repairs. He had been a bin man for nine years before an injury left him on a £1,000-a-month disability pension.
As victims’ relatives packed the court on Tuesday, Ms Silverman said the killings were all linked by firearms or DNA that matched Franklin’s.
She showed jurors photos he had in his home of two victims, including one who had just been shot in the chest when she was photographed.
Monique’s father Porter said as he arrived at court: “The day of reckoning is here. You can’t help but be excited that you lived to see an end to this madness. It has been a long road.”
Franklin has a criminal record dating to 1989 and has served time in jail.
Following his arrest for the murders it emerged that his DNA had been taken by police previously, after he was convicted of receiving stolen property and sentenced to three years’ probation.
His swab should have been on a database but probation chiefs say they did not have the resources to collect samples, letting Franklin’s slip through the net.