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Story pick: How the Grim Sleeper got his name

Toward the end of a recent New York Times story about a serial killer in Southern California was this single line: “Christine Pelisek, a reporter for L.A. Weekly who coined the Grim Sleeper’s nickname, wrote about the case and the pressure was back on.”

For me, that’s when the story got interesting.

Ultimately, DNA led police to arrest Lonnie David Franklin Jr. earlier this month, a man who authorities believe had been killing women for decades. But no one would have known to look for him, or that his victims were not isolated cases, if Pelisek hadn’t started her own investigation four years earlier. Her hunt began, she explains in a first-person piece on The Daily Beast, with a “hush-hush list of 38 dead women:”

I had gone to the battered building on Mission Road many times before. But that day, in January 2006, was stranger than usual: my skin tingled and a light sweat broke out on my forehead as my source at the coroner’s office told me that his office was quietly launching a task force to investigate whether more than three dozen murders in the Los Angeles area were connected.

I knew I had stumbled onto something that no one else had reported: a serial killer on the loose in Southern California.

Here is the story she wrote in 2008 about the police task force assembled to look for the killer -- a man she and an editor nicknamed Grim Sleeper because of the 13-year gap between the murders.

It's not often that a reporter becomes so central to the story he or she is reporting -- spending years rooted in it -- and so there has understandably been as much interest in the story behind the story as in the case itself. The L.A. Times recently wrote this piece about Pelisek. And in it, is this great detail:

“One woman who thought her friend might be the killer brought a fork he used for dinner to the Weekly offices, asking Pelisek to pass it to police as a DNA sample. Another woman suspected her husband. She arranged to meet the reporter in a park and brought the semen-laden napkin. Pelisek turned the items over to police."

By Theresa Vargas  | July 27, 2010; 9:21 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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