Gallery of the Grim Sleeper - police fear pictures show killer's victims

A SERIAL killer who conducted a 22-year reign of terror in Los Angeles may have murdered dozens more women than first feared, according to police who have published a vast gallery of photographs in a desperate attempt to identify them.

• Photographs found in the possession of Lonnie David Franklin Jr are shown before a news conference in Los Angeles Picture: AP

In a highly unusual and controversial move, detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department made the "agonising" decision to release 180 pictures found at the home of Lonnie David Franklin Jr, who is believed to be the so-called Grim Sleeper linked to 11 killings.

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The images, and hours of grainy homemade video footage, show the faces of at least 160 different women who were snapped "partly or completely nude and striking sexually graphic poses", detectives said.

Police have pored over them since Franklin was arrested in July, but their efforts to identify the women proved fruitless.

"We are very concerned for everyone in these photographs," said Dennis Kilcoyne, chief detective of the LAPD's Grim Sleeper task force.

"Some people will be upset that we are putting their picture in the paper, but as a police department we have an obligation to account for the welfare of these women."

The photographs released publicly were closely cropped so only the women's faces were visible.

"We are just trying to do what is right and decent. We are very cognisant of not causing embarrassment or anguish to the people depicted in the photographs," Detective Kilcoyne said.

He added that his detectives were also mindful of the impact the gallery would have on the families of the victims of the murders Franklin was charged with. Family members were invited to police headquarters to see the images before they were released.

"We're trying to fill in the life and times of Lonnie Franklin over the past 30 years, and talking to people is a big part of that. These are obviously women who had a conversation or two with this guy," he said.

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Journalists from a Los Angeles magazine gave the killer the nickname of 'Grim Sleeper' because of the 14-year lull between his first seven murders, from 1985-88, and four from 2002-7.

All but one of the victims, who were all shot or strangled, were African-American females, several were prostitutes, and all the bodies were dumped in open-air locations close to Franklin's home in South Los Angeles, one of the most deprived areas of the city.

Franklin, a 57-year-old retired mechanic, was linked to the murders earlier this year by a ground-breaking forensic procedure known as a "familial" DNA search.Samples taken from his son after his arrest for an unrelated crime were found to be a partial match to those found on the victims.

Police later confirmed the DNA match by testing a cup Franklin used at a restaurant. Until then, police were unable to link the victims to a single person, and believed they might have been murdered by any of four or five serial killers known to have been operating in the Los Angeles area at the time.

In July, Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles district attorney, charged Franklin with ten of the murders, and one attempted murder, with the 11th killing still under investigation. Under California law, an additional "special circumstance" charge of multiple murder leaves Franklin exposed to the death penalty.

A judge ordered the suspect to be held in custody until a preliminary court appearance on 31 January. He has been held in solitary confinement after another inmate, convicted child killer Antonio Rodriguez, attacked him at the Los Angeles county jail shortly after his arrest. Franklin suffered non-life-threatening head and facial injuries.