By Jef Dinsmore on May 1, 2015 to Documentaries

Doc-logoOverview: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 Doc_GrimSleeperPosterpossible 20 victims. The documentary 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. The film underscores the community’s turbulent relationship with law enforcement and how the police’s lack of progress in the case has raised the question of whether law enforcement thought the people victimized were worth value or just an insignificant loss.  


Expectations: I believe the Overview above is just the simple gist of a more detailed explanation. This documentary is going to open up a lot of issues, especially in light of situations in places Like Ferguson, MO and now Baltimore, MD. This film appears not to be about the crimes themselves but the lack of proper investigations into them and the aftermath of finding a apparent scapegoat for those crimes. Is this another form of backlash to the way law enforcement is handling some of the citizenry out there? Does this documentary put the police force of south L. A. in the role of villain? It will be interesting how this documentary is laid out and the tone of the piece. Is this an outcry for justice?


Gut Reaction: This is a well timed documentary with all that has been going on lately. Instead, however, of cops roughing up people they just out and out appeared to ignore the Grim Sleeper crimes for twenty-plus years. The question raised over the matter then was did the police not mind or care that ‘crackheads, whores and poor black women’ were getting killed. It is a shameful disregard for life that police would feel that way just as much as it is a shame that people have to live that rough lifestyle.People_LonnieFranklin

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER, therefore, took a wise and interesting approach. It could have been just another crime story of how a murderer carried out his evil deeds and how the neighborhood came to terms with it. Instead this film and those interviewed in it tell of a community, tell of its lifestyle and problems, it tells of its neglect and injustices. It tells of how it looks after its own and all of this pivots around the life and consequent treatment of one – Lonnie Franklin(pictured).

There are a few details that made this documentary quite interesting for me. First, there was Broomfield, the filmmaker, who was shouted at on the streets of the block because he was a strange white man talking to the ladies. Those hecklers later became interviewees who revealed quite a bit about Lonnie. In broad daylight there were gunshot fire around the corner from a taped interview; there was a person lost in a crack pipe and there were was a hooker strutting her stuff in a short dress and no panties. South L. A. clearly looks like a neck of the woods that is pretty damn lawless. And then there was Pam Brooks, a sassy broad who aided the film by offering access to her relationship with Lonnie and easing access to the street and the denizens thereof.

Finally we can say that this film was not about a series of murders. It was about the community of South L. A. not the one seen in the movies, but the real one and the sadness that looms because no one gives a damn in when a murderer of many lives takes place in its streets.          


Nick Broomfield and Pam Brooks

In Conclusion: I hope I conveyed the intent of this film well. It says so much about society and the law enforcement establishment in addition to the clashes we see in the news these days. Society is not perfect and neither are the “men in blue.”Something needs done. It is kind of a shame that the victims of the Grim Sleeper did not get there story here, but so much of the details are a mystery anyway, but the story that did get out was an important one just as the story  of Furguson, MO. & Baltimore MD.

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER debuted MONDAY, APRIL 27 at 9:00pm. It can still be seen on HBO on 05.05 at 12:30am; on 05.13 at 2:20am and 05.28 at 4:25am) It also airs on HBO2 and on HBOGo/HBONow.


Next Week: On MONDAY, MAY 4 at 9:00pm it is the documentary many have been waiting for. It is the HBO debut of KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK.  



  • Eleonora Iafano

    Although this is going to be a difficult documentary for me to watch (given that the killings were done to women and I hate this kind of stuff), I am going to watch it, with the hopes that our society can hopefully learn from tragic examples like this. Hopefully, if something horrible like this happens again – with all the forensics technology that is available, then justice can be swift and no lives need to be lost. I can’t even imagine what living in Southern LA must be like: the generational poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse that runs rampant doesn’t give hope to those there who are just trying to survive and get by. This one is gonna be tough to watch and not dwell on how life for the people of this doc is about survival, day in and day out.

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