"Tales of the Grim Sleeper" Explores the Chilling Case of a Serial Killer who Murdered Women Over 25 Years

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23 April 2015
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Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Photo credit: Barney Bloomfield/Courtesy of HBO
"Tales of the Grim Sleeper"
Monday, April 27 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT, exclusively on HBO

            On July 7, 2010, Lonnie Franklin was arrested as a suspect in the “Grim Sleeper” murders, which took place in South Central Los Angeles from 1985 to 2007. His arrest was not the product of painstaking detective work, but the accidental result of a computer DNA match linking him to a possible 20 victims.

            An official selection of the 2014 Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, "Tales of the Grim Sleeper" visits the neighborhood where the crimes occurred, following director Nick Broomfield (HBO’s “Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer”) as he explores how these killings could go unsolved for so many years. Conveying a sense of grave injustice that extends far beyond the case, the chilling documentary debuts Monday, April 27 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

            "Tales of the Grim Sleeper" gives voice to a neglected community that has survived despite the odds, featuring candid interviews with people who knew Franklin and his alleged victims, including Pam Brooks, a recovered addict and former prostitute. Guiding the filmmakers around the neighborhood, she helps them find women who managed to escape from him, but were never interviewed by police.

            Lonnie Franklin had a churchgoing wife and a son, and was friendly and well-liked. At first, many in this impoverished but tightly bound neighborhood could not believe he might have been involved. When Broomfield arrives in South Central, some residents are suspicious, shouting “peckerwood” at him from down the street. As Franklin’s friend, Gary, says to Broomfield, “Lonnie was a good guy to me. And this is a close-knit block.” However, after their initial interviews, each friend reaches out to Broomfield individually to talk about Franklin’s darker side.

            Broomfield’s journey leads him to Brooks, who connects him with many women who say they were assaulted by Franklin and plays an integral role in getting his son, Chris Franklin, to discuss his father on camera.

            "Tales of the Grim Sleeper" also includes interviews with neighborhood activists Margaret Prescod and Nana Gyamfi of the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, who have been working for years to sound the alarm, pointing out that the case would have received far more attention in an affluent community. Prescod explains that police used a slang term, “NHI” (“no human involved”), when a victim was a prostitute, drug addict or gang member. Even after Franklin’s arrest, Prescod has been leading the charge for justice, exclaiming, “We’re here to say, loud and clear, that every life is of value. Could you imagine if these murders had happened in Beverly Hills?”

            The film underscores the community’s turbulent relationship with law enforcement. As Gyamfi, who is an attorney, says, “I tell my own son, you know, he’s 16 years old, if something terrible happens and your mother’s not home, here are the numbers of people to call. But whatever you do, don’t call 911. No, literally. For what? So you come answer the door and they come pull you away?”

            Though 100 women are believed to have been murdered by the Grim Sleeper, Lonnie Franklin has been charged on just ten counts. Five years after his arrest, with the case tied up in pretrial hearings, he has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail, awaiting trial.


            Noted for his investigative and experimental style, Nick Broomfield has directed such acclaimed documentaries as “Driving Me Crazy,” “Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer,” CINEMAX’s “Kurt & Courtney” and “Biggie and Tupac.” Together with Joan Churchill, he produced and directed “Juvenile Liaison,” “Tattooed Tears,” “Soldier Girls,” “Lily Tomlin” and HBO’s “Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer,” among others. Broomfield’s numerous accolades include a BAFTA Award, Prix Italia Award, DuPont-Columbia Award, Peabody Award and Hague Peace Prize. "Tales of the Grim Sleeper" is the first documentary collaboration between Broomfield and his son, cinematographer Barney Broomfield.

            Other HBO playdates: April 27 (3:10 a.m.) and May 5 (12:30 a.m.), 13 (2:20 a.m.) and 28 (4:25 a.m.)
            HBO2 playdates: May 4 (3:00 p.m.), 7 (10:00 p.m.), 11 (12:10 a.m.) and 23 (9:30 a.m.)
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