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Arrest in Los Angeles serial killings

Police made an arrest Wednesday in the so-called "Grim Sleeper" serial killings in which a man is believed to have killed 11 people since 1985, a law enforcement official said.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and asked to remain anonymous, told The Associated Press the arrest was made but did not immediately provide a name or other details.

Detectives have spent years probing at least 11 slayings between 1985 and 2007 in which the killer targeted young black women and one man.

The killer was dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because he apparently took a 14-year hiatus in his crimes.

Dozens of police officials closed off a block around the 81st Street house where the arrest was made in South Los Angeles.

Neighbors described the man who lives there as friendly and quiet. They said he was often seen working on cars in his front yard and would sometimes stop to chat with passers-by.

Neighbor Brenda Locker, a retired city employee, said the man used to work for the city as a
mechanic at the 77th Street police station and had retired.

“He's a very good guy. I don't believe it,” said Andre Wynn, an area resident.

The “Grim Sleeper” case has dogged police even though they had the killer's DNA, a description from a survivor and offered a $500,000 reward.

The victims were shot or strangled, or both, usually after some kind of sexual contact. Ten victims were women and several were prostitutes.

Police have said it's possible the male victim, Thomas Steele, who was shot in 1987, was a friend of another victim or discovered the killer's identity.

All the bodies were found outdoors, often in alleys a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

The initial killings occurred during a time of extreme violence in parts of Los Angeles when many young women were falling prey to crack cocaine and other drug addictions. As many as 30 detectives investigated the slayings in the 1980s but exhausted leads within a few years.

A special squad of detectives was assembled after the most recent known “Grim Sleeper” killing, the June 2007 shooting of Janecia Peters, 25, whose body was found in a trash bin.

The detectives have been focusing on the January 1987 slaying of Barbara Ware, a 23-year-old with a history of prostitution who was found shot in a South Los Angeles alley.

A man called police to report seeing her body being dumped from a blue-and-white van.

Within an hour police had used the license plates to locate the van at its registered address at a church. The van's engine was still warm and there were several congregants in the church, but none seemed to know anything, and the trail stopped there.

In 2009, police released a recording of the emergency telephone call in hopes someone would know the voice of the man.

“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.” The caller then declined to identify himself, saying, “I know too many people.” He then hung up.

The one suspect description came from a woman who was sexually assaulted and then shot, but survived. She said a man with chiseled features and a black polo shirt who was driving an orange Ford Pinto offered her a ride to her sister's house.

She said they exchanged banter and shortly after getting into the car, he shot her in the chest, sexually assaulted her and pushed her out.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 7, 2010; 3:32 PM ET
Categories:  Around the Nation , Homicide , Unsolved  
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