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Franklin is potentially the most prolific serial killer in history, so Tales of the Grim Sleeper looks into how it was possible for all this to happen.
Interestingly, Lonnie Franklin Jr’s arrest was not due to a decade-long investigation, but in fact completely accidental – the result of a computer DNA match that linked him to a possible 20 victims. While I’m writing this, Franklin is still awaiting trial, despite being arrested back in 2010.
Image Source: The Guardian
The murders all took place in the South Central area of Los Angeles, the poor part of the city with the worst schools, the worst hospitals, and no jobs. The Lonnie Franklin case has become very political in Los Angeles amidst accusations that the reason the killings were able to go on for so long was because the victims were all black African-American women. The murders were all reported as being the killings of prostitutes, even though it now appears many were not.
Nick Broomfield said about the documentary: “When Ronald Reagan came into power and cut all the federal funding, the relationship between South Central Los Angeles and the rest of LA completely ceased. It’s like two cities. It’s really an apartheid system based on race, with completely different life expectancy, different obesity rates, death rates, expectations and everything.”
In this film we meet all those people the police never talked to – and there seem to be quite a lot. Like a detective story, we are introduced to Lonnie’s world. To do this, Broomfield uses everything from Google Street View images, to media archive footage through to images from the court case.
We meet Franklin’s friends, Richard, Gary, and Steve, who slowly reveal the extent of their knowledge; Jerry, Lonnie’s night time companion when he picked up women, and Chris, Lonnie’s son, who paint a complicated portrait of a contradictory man; The survivors who narrowly escaped death at Lonnie’s hands but would never dream of sharing their experiences with the police. I was gobsmacked how many people thought he was a good guy, despite knowing some pretty chilling details, including that of one guy who burnt one of his cars as a ‘job’ and found blood soaked women’s clothing, but didn’t think anything of it through to the guy who saw him physically abuse women, but thought he was just ‘having fun’. This alone shows that it’s a completely different world and unfortunately some things go on that go undetected for far too long.
When I asked Nick Broomfield about why he chose to produce a documentary about this, he came back and said: “When I heard this story about all these murders over such a long time I thought this is the only part of LA where this could have happened. This would have never happened in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. This could have only happened South Central because no one really cares about the people.”
Interestingly, he also mentioned that, “initially, I thought it was going to be a film much more to do with Lonnie Franklin but then the police and the authorities were so defensive and embarrassed about the situation that I made a film which is really a portrait of that community.”
We meet the women of the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, who for over 30 years have fought tirelessly to see justice for the Victims families. Through characters like Pam, who used to work the streets, we are taken on a tour of Lonnie’s haunts – the Mustang Motel, The Snooty Fox, the woman who’s throat he tried to cut, and the people of South Central LA. We find wit, humour, and humanity in the most unexpected places, and a people who have been dealt a grave injustice that extends far beyond this case.
I have to say the documentary could have been cut down somewhat as it ended up being quite long, however, I did very much enjoy the way it was documented and the way Tales of the Grim Sleeper introduced us to the different characters in Franklin’s life as well as what goes on in what of the biggest cities of the world.
To be honest, it doesn’t seem quite real that something like this could actually happen this day and age, so for that reason alone I’d recommend watching this if you get a chance.
The nationwide theatrical release began on Friday 30 Jan and runs until the end of February across cities including London, Bristol, Norwich, Liverpool, Oxford, Canterbury, Glasgow and Ipswich at cinemas including Curzon and Picturehouse branches.