Tales of the Grim Sleeper
When Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested in South Central Los Angeles in 2010 as the suspected murderer of a string of young black women, police hailed it as the culmination of 20 years of investigations. Four years later documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield took his camera to the alleged killer’s neighborhood for another view.
See more films
★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
Thoroughly crushing look at an entire community of people fully aware that most of society sees them as valueless.
★★★★½ review by The Spork Guy on Letterboxd
Now this is how you make a detective story. This step by step documentation of one of LA's creepiest serial killer cases offers a new look into what some still consider an unsolved case. When he was arrested in 2010, Lonnie Franklin Jr. was charged with two decades worth of slayings in South Central Los Angeles. Although there was enough evidence to convict him, too many questions remained. The director of the film asks as a bit of a journalist, by going back to Franklin's stomping grounds and interviewing as many people as possible on the topic. Creepy, threatening and intriguing to a visceral extent, Tales of the Grim Sleeper plays out like a version of "The Thin Blue Line" if it hadn't been comprised of reenactments to tell its narrative. An amazing documentary that I had been waiting to see for some time now that I'm happy to say lived up to its full potential.
★★★½ review by Mark Cunliffe on Letterboxd
Tales of the Grim Sleeper was an impulse watch. I saw it on Sky Atlantic last night and decided to record to watch later today because it was a Nick Broomfield documentary about what sounded like an interesting subject matter; a serial killer in South Central LA. I knew nothing of the particular case - Lonnie Franklin, aka 'The Grim Sleeper'
On July 7, 2010 Franklin was arrested at his South Los Angeles home for the 'Grim Sleeper' murders - murders ranging from at least ten, but potentially several more from the years 1985 to 1988 and 2002 to 2007. The hiatus being the reason for he killer's nickname. Investigating officers found a vast collection of unsavoury photographs of women posing naked in his home and believed DNA evidence connected Franklin to the murders. The neighbourhood reaction seems to have initially been one of incredible surprise, whilst local campaigners - dismayed by the 25 year police investigation - believe Franklin could have killed in excess of 100 women, largely drug users and street walkers, dating back to the early '80s and continuing during the perceived hiatus.
Last year, when Broomfield made his film, Franklin has been imprisoned without bail and awaiting trial for four years. As Broomfield researches his subject matter he begins to slowly break down the shock among Franklin's friends and neighbours to reveal they almost all had some suspicion or experience of him that seemed to flag up the events we now know to be the likely truth. Neatly avoiding the usual starting point of crime documentaries; 'what drives someone to kill?' Broomfield prefers to focus on the people who have been overlooked in the community, people that the police have ignored or refused to interview regarding the case. It's a jawdropping error but is sadly disgustingly understandable when you consider the police have previously termed the murders of drug users as NHI - No Human Involved. The real question at the heart of Broomfield's film is a deeply compelling and sobering one - just why was this crime spree allowed to go on for so long and what does it say about our society as a whole?
Engrossing and uncomfortable stuff, even though Broomfield - capable documentary film maker though he is - continues to be an occasionally irritating screen or v/o presence, Tales of the Grim Sleeper is commendable film making.
★★★★ review by Ken Coffelt on Letterboxd
I swore I would never watch another Nick Broomfield documentary after witnessing the atrocity of Kurt & Courtney (1998). But there’s a reason they say “Never say never.”
Broomfield’s films about Aileen Wournos were actually quite thoughtful and provocative, a sympathetic background and reality of the notorious female serial killer.
In 2016, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., dubbed “the Grim Sleeper” by the media, was convicted of several murders is South Central Los Angeles. In Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Broomfield doesn’t get to know Franklin as he did Wournos, but rather gets to know Frankin’s friends and the world in which he stalked and murdered for over three decades.
Broomfield, always present in his films, goes to Franklin’s neighborhood, asking to speak to those who knew him. And this is to his credit. The reason that Franklin got away with untold numbers of murders for so long was because his prey were poor and black, not even considered significant enough for the LAPD.
He speaks with Margaret Prescod, an eloquent local activist, who had been petitioning and trying to get action taken throughout the entire span of Franklin’s thirty year span of death, is an excellent voice here. Broomfield also speaks to Franklin’s good friends, who at the beginning of the film are still disputing his guilt and defending his qualities. The tale of the Grim Sleeper is one about black community of Los Angeles, the loss of jobs and industry, the introduction of crack cocaine, the inherent racism that built the world in which Franklin lived and operated.
Franklin was only “caught”, his crimes only finally truly assessed, as a result of DNA technology and journalism from the LA Weekly that realized that a single individual had been killing so many women, not through active investigation.
Broomfield’s style of film-making is typically annoying, but here it winds up working. Everyone in the film and on the streets is aware of him for his race, a constant reminder that he is an outsider, suspect of police affiliation or other untrusted background. It’s not a world that he inherently understands (at one point someone calls him a “peckerwood” and he thinks it’s a term of endearment).
But he goes in to the community and he talks to the people. He learns about South Central and Lonnie Franklin, Jr. from the people who lived through it all, the people whose voices are not usually recorded for history or perspective. And it gives this film more weight and value than I had anticipated.
★★★½ review by Armando Maggi on Letterboxd
This is not The Jinx. It won't shock you with an unexpected finale. But it is shocking.
This HBO documentary is not even very original from a stylistic point of view. The director is not particularly gifted. His questions to his interviewees are at times dumb and flat. He suggests what their answers should be.
For more than 20 years the LA police did nothing to stop a serial killer who murdered more than 100 black women in an indigent area of the city.
Broomfield interviews mostly former prostitutes who because of their drug addictions allowed the murderer, whose sexual perversions were known to acquaintances and friends, to bring young women to his house, where he lived with his wife and son, tortured them, humiliated them, and killed them in his garage. This is what is shocking in this documentary.
As a former prostitute says, if the victims had been white women, the police and the news channels would have been interested in publicizing the murders and pursuing a serious investigation. Being poor black prostitutes, the victims remained unnoticed, often disappeared without leaving a trace and no one to mourn them. Their death was unreported and not even mentioned in the news.
This documentary compels us to face the shameful conditions of our society. In the US, in one of its greatest and most affluent cities, for more than 20 years innumerable women were tortured and murdered. The culprit was found out by sheer chance, because his son was arrested and his DNA was very close to the serial killer's.
In one of the most touching moments of this film, we see the LA mayor brag about the capture of the alleged murderer, only to be interrupted and scolded by a black woman who had formed a coalition several years before to put an end to the killing of innocent women.
- See all reviews