July 7, 2010— -- The "Grim Sleeper" serial killer who has eluded Los Angeles police for more than two decades may have finally been nabbed.
Los Angeles County District Attorney's office announced that the suspect was 57-year-old Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
Franklin will be charged with 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, making him eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.
The high-profile case had languished unsolved and haunted the files of the LAPD cold-case unit.
"This was accomplished by the LAPD's hard work with great assistance from the California Department of Justice Division of Law Enforcement personnel," said District Attorney Steve Cooley in a statement.
The killings of 10 young black women and one man, beginning in 1985, have all been blamed on the "Grim Sleeper."
The cluster of killings stopped in 1988, but then, 14 years later, police say they linked new murders to the same man, nicknamed the "Grim Sleeper" for the long lull between slayings. The most recent murder happened in January 2007.
Police closed off the block on 81st Street in South Los Angeles where Franklin lived and the arrest was made. Residents were shocked.
Neighbor Donna Harris, who's known Franklin for nearly 20 years ago, said the retired mechanic was supposed to fix her car this morning.
"Everybody on the block, we all knew if anything was happening with anybody's cars, he was always there for us. Especially the ladies," Harris said. "Even if we weren't at home, instead of calling Triple AAA, he would help."
Though she counted Franklin as a friend, Harris said the news was frightening.
"It frightens me to know that somebody like that was that close," Harris said. "I don't want to believe it's true, [but] if he did what he's been accused of, God judged him for that."
A handful of detectives, headed by Detective Dennis Kilcoyne, have been working full time on the case for years, determined to find the "Grim Sleeper."
Eleven people have died so far, and there was one confirmed attempt and near killing, in the same South Los Angeles neighborhood.
"We have 12 individuals, starting in 1985. Our third victim, Thomas Steele, was the only male involved in this," said Kilcoyne.
All the slayings have been connected to the same 25-caliber handgun, and matched to the same DNA, usually saliva taken from the victims' breasts.
"The commonality is that they're all from the same general area of the city in south Los Angeles," Kilcoyne said. "I don't think I would label them all as prostitutes per se, but they certainly have troubled lifestyles. They're broken people and easy targets."
Searching for a Los Angeles Serial Killer
In February, LAPD offered a $500,000 reward -- the city's biggest ever -- advertised on billboards near where the victims were found. Investigators also released a 20-year-old 911 call in which a witness says he saw a van pull up in a dark alley and dump a body, which was identified as Barbara Ware.
The caller tells the dispatcher several details, everything from the license plate number of the van -- which was a dead-end lead -- to the way the body was discarded. But he refused to tell the 911 operator his name, saying he didn't see the killer.
It is not known if the 911 call led to the police's reported arrest.
Police say they wouldn't have known there was a serial killer on the loose if he hadn't starting killing again.
"We became aware of it right around April of 2007," LAPD Detective Bill Fallon told "Nightline" in March 2009. "And we realized there was a serial killer because of DNA hits we started getting. So when we get those hits, we're like, 'whoa.' That's when we started digging it."
But the police didn't notify the community until Christine Pelisek, a reporter from LA Weekly, began investigating.
"I was the one who told some of the family members that their daughters were victims of a serial killer," Pelisek said. "I mean, they didn't even know. The public safety committee, they had no idea. I mean, the police commission, I spoke to the police commission [to whom the police chief reports]. They didn't even know. So there were a lot of people very upset that the police didn't let the community know."
Fallon says investigators didn't want to alert the killer that they were searching for him.
"We wanted to get a a step ahead of the killer himself," he said. "I don't want you to know I'm coming for you until I find out who you are, where you are and what you are doing."