News of the horrific alleged crimes of "Grim Sleeper" Lonnie Franklin Jr. undercuts the persistent myth that there are no black serial killers. Below are snapshots of six of the nation's most prolific serial killers of African descent.
Jake Bird (1901-1949), a transient, might have been one of the most prolific serial killers in the nation, although the case failed to capture the attention of the national press, according to HistoryLink.org. Bird was caught in Tacoma on October 30, 1947, after breaking in the home of Bertha Kludt and her daughter Beverly June Kludt and hacking them to death with an ax. He confessed to the killings, reportedly saying it was a burglary gone awry. On Nov. 26, 1947, following a three-day trial, he was convicted of first-degree murder. While on death row, he confessed to committing or being involved in 44 murders during his travels across the country. He was hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla on July 15, 1949.
Anthony Sowell, 50, was arrested in 2009 after a woman complained she had been raped at his Cleveland home. Soon after the police went to his house to question him, they discovered 11 bodies buried in his backyard. The unemployed former U.S. Marine, who neighbors say sold scrap metal, reportedly lured his victims — all of them black — to his home with promises of alcohol and drugs, the police said. He then strangled and left their bodies in the house or buried them in the backyard, reports say.
Andre Crawford, 47, a Navy veteran who was accused of raping and killing women during the 1990s, was found guilty in 2009 of committing a series of rapes on Chicago's South Side. Crawford, who was dubbed the Englewood-area serial killer, was accused of stabbing, strangling and bludgeoning 11 drug addicts and prostitutes, and brutally assaulting a 12th victim who escaped after pretending to be dead. He reportedly killed the victims, smoked crack cocaine and returned to have sex with their corpses in the same abandoned buildings where some of their decayed bodies were found months later.
Lorenzo Gilyard reportedly murdered more women than Jack the Ripper during his time as s serial killer — about 13 — and no one paid attention. He began strangling prostitutes in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., in 1977 at the age of 26, according to TruTV. He retired in 1993 at the age of 42, reports say. The only reason he was caught was that DNA evidence fell into the "lap of the city's homicide detectives.'' Three years later, he was convicted and sentenced to life prison without the possibility of parole.
Wayne Williams was believed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in the 1970s and 1980s. He is suspected of killing 27 black youths in the Atlanta area, mostly boys between the ages of 7 and 14, from October 1979 to May 1981. However, he was convicted only in the murders of two adults. The cases shook the local community at the time because of fears that racism diminished the strength and speed of law enforcement's response to the killings.
For more about how and why serial killing defies racial profiling, read, "Of Course There Are Black Serial Killers."