LOS ANGELES (AP) - They have a sample of his DNA, a description
from a survivor and a $500,000 reward, but detectives investigating
the city's most notorious serial killer have hit a wall.
On Wednesday, they released a recording of a 1987 emergency call
in hopes of tracking down the man dubbed the "Grim Sleeper," who
has killed at least 11 times in nearly a quarter century.
"It's a long shot, that's for sure," said Detective Dennis
Kilcoyne. "I am hoping a couple people call us. ... Maybe that
will lead us to something."
Kilcoyne heads a squad of seven of the Los Angeles Police
Department's top homicide detectives, who for nearly two years have
been assigned exclusively to the case. The killer most recently
struck Jan. 1, 2007, and his first known victim was in 1985.
Police have pored over investigative files from all the killings
and are now focusing on the January 1987 slaying of Barbara Ware, a
23-year-old with a history of prostitution who was found shot to
death in a South Los Angeles alley.
A man in the area saw a blue-and-white van dump her body. He
called police with his account and gave the license plates from the
van. Within about an hour, police had tracked the van to its
registered address at a church.
"The engine was still warm to the touch," Kilcoyne said.
Several congregants were inside the now-defunct Cosmopolitan
Cathedral but no one seemed to know anything.
"Then the trail stops there," said Kilcoyne. "It sounds like
it was a pretty good road map for the investigation at the time and
it just fizzled out."
Kilcoyne and his men hope to track down former churchgoers or
even the caller himself or someone who knows the voice on the
emergency call, made at a time before numbers were routinely
On the two-minute call, a man described to a dispatcher how he'd
seen someone drop the body off from the van, then throw a gas tank
on top of her. He said he didn't see the man driving the van.
"I'd like to report a murder - a dead body or something," the
caller said. "He threw her out ... the only thing you can see out
is her feet."
When asked for his name, the caller declined.
"I know too many people," he said, then hung up.
Kilcoyne is accustomed to promising leads turning cold.
Six victims were found with the killer's DNA on them but a
search of prisoner databases came up blank. Detectives went on to
ask the California Department of Justice to run a DNA search that
sought possible matches to the killer's relatives. It was the first
time the controversial search was carried out in the U.S., Kilcoyne
"It didn't produce an answer," Kilcoyne said. "Nothing."
The killer shoots or strangles, in some cases both, usually
after some kind of sexual contact. Ten victims were women, all were
black and several were prostitutes. Kilcoyne said it's possible the
male victim - Thomas Steele, shot to death in 1987 - was a friend
of one of the victims or had discovered the killer's identity.
The bodies were all found outside, usually in the dirty
alleyways tucked behind Western Avenue and Figueroa Street a few
miles south of downtown.
The $500,000 award offer is thought to be the biggest ever in
the city. Billboards announcing the offer loom over streets near
where the victims were found.
"We still have no idea who this guy is," Kilcoyne said.
"We've got a half-million-dollar reward out there on billboards
and no one calls."
The killings were featured on the television show "America's
Most Wanted" and dozens of tipsters called detectives after the
case was first made public last year, but leads went nowhere.
The first round of killings happened at a time parts of the city
were suffering from extreme violence and many young women fell prey
to newfound addictions of crack cocaine and other drugs.
Kilcoyne said as many as 30 detectives investigated a series of
deaths in the '80s but after several years passed and they
exhausted all leads, they moved on.
"You can't have the resources tied up for that many years, just
scratching your head," Kilcoyne said.
Police Chief William Bratton assembled Kilcoyne's squad in June
2007 after the death of the killer's most recent known victim,
25-year-old Janecia Peters, who was found shot to death in a trash
bin in a graffiti-tagged alley off Western.
"We realized we've got a serious problem," Kilcoyne said.
"This guy is still out there."
Because of the race of his victims, critics faulted the Police
Department for not investigating the killings sooner and said the
city was disinterested in the case.
Porter Alexander, 68, whose youngest daughter, Monique
Alexander, was killed in 1988, said police initially seemed
reluctant to investigate her death because there were signs she may
have been involved in prostitution.
"They didn't show any strong concern," he said. "If I didn't
call, I didn't get a call."
Police don't know why the killer took a 14-year hiatus but the
gap led the LA Weekly newspaper, which first wrote about him, to
dub him the "Grim Sleeper."
Investigators think the killer had other victims, but their
bodies either were never found or investigators failed to connect
"You start putting bodies in commercial Dumpsters in the
city," Kilcoyne said. "There's a lot of them in the landfill."
Kilcoyne thinks a woman found strangled in an alley in 1987 may
turn out to be the killer's 12th victim.
One description of the suspect exists - from a woman who
survived an attack in 1988. She recalled him driving an orange
Pinto and offering her a ride to her sister's house.
After exchanging some lighthearted banter, she agreed to the
driver's offer. He had chiseled features, a low afro and wore a
black polo shirt. He would now be in his late 40s to early 60s.
Shortly after she got in the car, she said, he shot her. The
woman said she didn't recognize the sound over the loud music he
was playing, then she looked down.
"There was a gunshot wound in my chest," the woman said. He
sexually assaulted her, pushed her from the car and left her for
dead. The woman, whose number was provided by police, asked not to
be named because she is the victim of a crime.
"I woke up in the dark, I was in the middle of the street,"
Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at
Northeastern University in Boston, said there are typically about
20 serial killers on the loose at any time in the U.S. and they
average about 10 kills each. Other serial killers have claimed many
more: Green River Killer Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty to killing 48
women in Washington.
Time could work in Kilcoyne's favor, as most serial killers are
ultimately captured, Levin said.
"But there's a very good chance the police will have to wait
for him to attack again," he said. "They have to wait until the
killer makes the fatal mistake."
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