South Los Angeles is no stranger to homicide, a place with so many homicides, there is a weekly homicide report, The Homicide Report – from the Los Angeles Coroners office. According to the Los Angeles Times, The Homicide Report; latimes.com, Los Angeles County has over 1,100 homicides per year. Yet, when homicides start to tie into each other and it becomes the obvious work of a serial killer, new emphasis is put on the solving of these crimes. Victims finally get entire task forces assigned to finding their killers. Many of these cases span decades and often the killer is given a “name” by the news media. The “Grim Sleeper” is one of these unknown killers who has once again surfaced into the public eye through an effort by the L.A.P.D. to find witnesses or information. Detective Dennis Kilcoyne heads a squad of homicide detectives assigned to the case of a killer who first struck in 1985 and most recently in 2007.
It became obvious in 2007 that a serial killer was loose in South Los Angeles, and had been for many years, when murders from 1985 through 2007 were tied together by DNA analysis. Nicknamed the Grim Sleeper by the L.A. Weekly, this killer seems to have simply “gone to sleep” for almost a decade. Christine Peslisek, writing for the L.A. Weekly, reported that L.A.P.D. had started looking into unsolved cases in 2002. In 2004-2005 connections were made through more recent killings and unsolved cases from the 1980’s.
Most of the “Grim Sleepers” victims were young, pretty black women, and one man, 36 year old Thomas Steele from San Diego. Many of the women had been sexually abused by their killer. In September of 2008, the Associated Press reported that investigators were reviewing at least 30 unsolved homicides as possible victims of the Grim Sleeper. Police have DNA samples, one surviving victim, and are looking for a possible witness. In an effort to further the investigation of the “Grim Sleeper” case, Investigators have only recently released a tape of a 911 call from a man reporting the dumping of a body…a call they received in 1987.
Living in Southern California, serial killers seemed to be as common as the landscape. Some of the most notable I remember were The Hillside Strangler, The Freeway Killer, and the one most vivid to me was the Midnight Stalker, who’s victims included close neighbors of ours. I remember the fear Richard Ramirez caused so many of us to live with, a killer, who stalked and broke into homes while people lay sleeping was even more frightening than one who preyed on victims walking the streets. Living in the midst of the horror these killers wrought, definitely shaped many Californians habits and vigilance for our families safety. But serial killings are not unique to Southern California or even the United States.
In Mexico, as reported by the Associated Press in 2004, at SignonSandiego.com; out of over 307 murders since 1993 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, 100 cases were “similar”. Just as in the Grim Sleeper case, the victims were sexually abused, mostly women, but unlike the Grim Sleeper case, these victims were all strangled. According to L.A.P.D., reported in the L.A. Weekly, the Grim Sleeper uses various methods to kill the victims which could have led to police originally not putting the cases together as the work of one killer. In both cases, police were accused of not putting enough emphasis on the killings and not letting the public know they may have a serial killer on the loose, although I remember local reports throughout 1985 -1987 that suggested the murders may be related.
One of the most infamous serial murderers of all time is the Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac Killer is suspected of operating for decades in much the same way as the Grim Sleeper. The Zodiac killer also had different methods of killing, some of his victims were shot, and some were stabbed. Torture did seem to be important to the Zodiac Killer which would bring one to believe there were sexual reasons for the killings just as with the Grim Sleeper.
Also, like the Grim Sleeper, the Zodiac Killer had periods of time when the killer simply seemed to have “gone to sleep”….to have stopped murdering. Serial killers might actually quit killing during these lulls, or it simply could mean there may be more victims who have not been and may never be tied to the same killer.
It is easy to think of serial killers as brilliant, twisted strategists who go through all these elaborate schemes to avoid detection. Cases like the Zodiac Killer and subsequent books and movies concerning the mystery surrounding the unknown killer, seem to support this idea. Unlike Richard Ramirez who was openly bizarre, and whose crimes were obviously escalating and becoming more out of control, killers like the Grim Sleeper and the Zodiac appear to leave no trace and to disappear flawlessly back into the fabric of our society.
Just as Jack the Ripper has fascinated and horrified people for over 100 years – these killers fascinate through their elusiveness itself. Their elusiveness is usually an indication of their very ordinariness – not due to any brilliance of a mad twisted mind – plain, ordinary, unremarkable enough creatures that they can continue in the flow of life without drawing any undue attention to themselves.
New Times, True Crime Report,The Grim Sleeper
Associated Press, MSNBC,Cops Look For Grim Sleeper Links
Will Weissert, Associated Press, San Diego News, Juarez Slayings Report
Christine Pelisek, L.A. Weekly, LAPD asks For Publics Help