Review: ‘Tales of the Grim Sleeper’



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Posted March 8, 2016 by

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Documentaries are some of my favorite films to watch. They take something that’s actually happening around us that we may have missed, may have been lied about, or maybe didn’t fully understand what was/is going on. One of those stories a lot of us may have missed was that of serial killer Lonnie David Franklin — a man living in South Central L.A. that was mild-mannered yet hid a dark secret. For twenty plus years, Franklin was kidnapping prostitutes by luring them back to his house with drugs, and often times killing them. Sometimes he would leave the bodies in alleyways around the area in which he lived, and other times he disposed of the bodies entirely. For someone that often boasted about brandishing a gun, hating drug addicts, and had a crippling addiction to porn, you would assume the police would quickly be all over him. Unfortunately for a lot of the women that lost their lives, the police did absolutely nothing about what was going on and in the words of Franklin’s son, loved Lonnie and thought he was doing great work in helping them clean up their streets.

Documentarian Nick Broomfield (“Kurt and Courtney“, “Biggie and Tupac“, and “Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of A Serial Killer“) goes right into the area where Franklin lived and killed despite being met by hostility from the locals and the threat that Franklin’s son, Chris Franklin, would do bodily harm to him if they ever met in the street (this proves to not be true as Chris sits down with Nick and delivers his side of the story for what happened when his father got caught and how he doesn’t feel his father owes him an apology for the childhood he was forced to live through). We meet everyone from prostitutes still wandering the streets (sometimes completely pantsless) to the founder of Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, Margaret Prescod, who at one point in the film interrupts a speech from the mayor of L.A. to tell the true story of how the police ignored the situation. We also meet addicts who helped Lonnie get these women back to his house (these men were also promised drugs if they helped him out) and how they turned a blind eye to what he was doing to these helpless women.

The story itself is crazy and hard to wrap your mind around how he was allowed to kill so many people without being arrested — especially when they show how he was arrested for GTA, battery, and petty theft throughout his life — but even harder to understand how got away with it for so long and how the police didn’t inform the general public until the mid to late 2000’s. I’m not entirely sure how Broomfield was able to get Franklin’s friends to speak so candidly about him and his actions (since they were the ones yelling Nazi insults at him upon his arrival) — maybe it was the promise of being in a movie, maybe it was monetary — but they shed a light on what may have driven this man to do what he did and bring up interesting questions about how his wife and young son couldn’t have seen what was going on.

One of the more disturbing parts, for me at least, was how women were telling Broomfield that Lonnie’s son, Chris, was following in his father’s footsteps. They claim he considers himself a pretty threatening guy in the neighborhood, how he often takes prostitutes back to his house and they’re never seen again, and about how he actually cut a woman’s throat after raping her (this woman manages to live and escape with her life but declines, out of fear, to be a part of the documentary). You hear all of these terrible things about him and then, when he ends up sitting down with Broomfield, he comes off as a well-spoken young man that would be likable if you didn’t know anything about his past or who his father is. It’s terrifying to think that people that are able to hurt, kill, and sexually assault women are also able to sit down and make you sympathize with them.

“Tales of the Grim Sleeper” is a gritty documentary that shows you a disgusting and horrific side of reality. It shows that if someone would have just said something a lot of lives could have been saved, but “snitching” was not a part of this community’s vernacular so he continued killing people without consequence. Broomfield also suggests that the race and profession of the women being killed may have been the reason the police didn’t take any action against a known serial killer; that had the victims been a rich white woman Franklin would have been in prison long before he could get his murder count into the 100’s.

The documentary can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.





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