Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Casting JonBenet

The case of JonBenet Ramsey has been a life-long interest of mine. I was nine years old at the time of her death, December 25, 1996. In my memory we were the same age, but that's not true. JonBenet was six years old when she lost her life. Nine and six can feel like miles apart, but even then I knew we were just little children. No matter what age it was a terrifying prospect that not even I could be guaranteed safety.

Throughout the years the case has come in and out of the spotlight. It flared up again in 2006 when John Mark Karr falsely claimed to have sexually assaulted and murdered JonBenet, most likely to be extradited from Thailand - a country where he was facing criminal charges for other sex crimes.

John Mark Karr

Within the past year the case got new life again when CBS aired the docu-series The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey, basically pinning the crime on her older brother Burke. The response to this program was the infamous Dr. Phil interview with Burke Ramsey, denying the allegations that he killed his little sister, but managed to meet everyone's expectations of him being a bit creepy.

Burke Ramsey

Hot off the heals of The Case of... is the Netflix documentary Casting JonBenet. Anything JonBenet is going to be a must see for almost anyone. Millennials and Gen-Xers alike are hungry for answers, and in a creepy way, nostalgia. Younger viewers who had not yet been born or were just babies in 1996 (not Millennials, but I don't know what their generation is labeled yet) will be drawn in by the bizarre nature of the crime, and the current fad of true crime programming.

John and Patsy Ramsey 

Actors playing John and Patsy Ramsey 

My first impressions of Casting were that the cinematography was top notch, and the lack of a common voice as narration was creative. My preferences for documentary tend to lean toward the non-narration style; documentaries that only use audio from news clips, or that use interviews without the interviewer's voice. In this case the narration was facilitated by groups of auditioning actors, giving their impressions of the roles they were cast to play as well as reading their scripts of classic dialog from the case.

We have a group of Patsy Ramseys, the brunette southern belle, former beauty pageant winner and distraught mother. There is a group of grey-haired John Ramseys, the sometimes suspicious and also tragic father. A handful of young boys with a wide range of acting abilities are poised to represent Burke Ramsey, and some others set to play detectives, John Mark Karr, and an unnerving Santa impersonator (who looks mighty suspicious, though he did have an alibi).

Of course there is the parade of JonBenets. We have a limited view on who JonBenet was. There are some rare home videos, mostly of her pageants were she primarily smiles and poses. The photographs of her hardly differ from the moving images. They don't tell us who she is really is, and we know that there must be more to this little girl than the hair and makeup. There must be. At the same time she had so little time on Earth, it makes one wonder who she would have become if she had the opportunity. In this particular story, JonBenet plays a smaller role than the other characters.

One of the little girls playing JonBenet, the first one we see, wielding the clapperboard and acting precocious, asks the question, "Do you know who killed JonBenet?" It's a jarring opening line. First of all, it's coming out of the mouth of a little girl. She appears to be asking the casting director off screen, but she could also be directing the question rhetorically toward the audience. Is she asking because she wants to know the fate of her character, or is she asking us to consider in our own minds who we suspect. Second of all, one can't help but feel a need to protect this little girl. If she were in front of you asking, do you want to tell her the truth - that we don't know? It feels like a failure to her and other little girls of any generation that we have not solved this murder. She asks and I wish I could tell her, and I wish that she didn't have to ask.

The rest of the cast narrates this legendary crime in a multitude of ways. They act out the lines that are given to them; crying over a blanket in the basement as we can imagine John did, or screaming over the phone to 911 as Patsy did. They explain to the camera how they feel about their "character"; the impression of their personality from research and from knowing the case from the media. They tell anecdotes about where they were when the crime happened, some of them being native to Boulder, CO. They reveal if they believe their own character did the crime or not. They also explain why they relate to the case, from being victims of abuse, to having family members who were murdered. Through their own pain in unrelated incidents, we gain a better understanding of how complicated this case truly is.

A la The Nightmare, another documentary from Netflix that I quite enjoyed, the concept of a documentary reenactment is laid bare; exposing the set dressing, walls, and lights. It exposes the actors - every single one auditioning; their flaws and opinions. Some don't look a thing like Jon or Patsy, making comments about how they can wear a wig if they have to. You can't help but judge them the entire time, trying to decide who's going to get the part. But in the end it's never settled to just one actor. This isn't actually an audition. By the end of this documentary we don't end up casting the roles and we definitely don't come close to solving the murder. The physiological effect this case has on these actors and the public in general is the real subject matter.

In a final culminating scene that moved me to tears, every actor is on set and acts out a scene at the same time. It's as if time has folded in on itself. They argue in the bedroom, cry alone on stairs, or in the bathroom. It's the whole drama of life and what this family - particularly the parents - were possibly going through before and after the murder. We see a failing marriage, we see a grieving family, we see confusion, turmoil, and numbness. I admit I doubted some of these actor's abilities at first, but this scene with all of them working in tandem on top of each other was brilliant, and showed how they could be so focused in their craft. It was a really beautifully engineered moment. No single actor could portray their lives alone.

Then JonBenet has her moment, not completely based in reality. The film closes with her in full pageant regalia. Dramatically lit and angelic, she sashays to the Miss America theme down the hallway of her home. We do not know exactly how she died that night, but we remember her the way we want to.

Friday, April 7, 2017

2001 Musings

I just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the third time. This time it was in a real theater (the Alamo Drafthouse !!!) with the sound and visuals the way it was meant to be viewed. Touted as a weird and boring movie, Matt and I were excited to see it again with full enthusiasm. We were ready, willing, and able to absorb what Kubrick was dishing out.

As I said to Matt: "I was fully 'woke' for this one." So I have a some observations to make:

Deserving Knowledge

Everyone* in this film is either withholding or in desperate need of knowing information. The first moment where this is explicitly shown is at Space Station V with Dr. Heywood Floyd. He is asked by a group of scientist friends if he could please tell them the truth behind the rumors at Clavius Base. They heard there was an epidemic, and that was the reason for no one being allowed to land there. Fellow scientist Dr. Andrei Smyslov clearly believes the group has a right to know because of their stature in the scientific community, especially since they are peers of Floyd. When asking several times for answers and getting nothing but dodging and denial, Smyslov changes his tone and tries to level with Floyd. He might be worried about everyone's general safety, but at the bottom of it, Smyslov simply can't stand not knowing.

Smyslov : "We should be given all the facts."
Floyd : "I know... As I said, I'm not at liberty to discuss it."

When Dave and Frank realize the AE-35 unit was not broken like Hal had indicated, they start to question Hal. Hal refuses to answer their questions directly, causing Dave and Frank to have a moment alone - only to be lipread by Hal and their plans dashed. 

Dave and Frank obviously believe they are superior to Hal. Hal may be able to do things that they can't, but at the end of the day, Hal is not human. The idea that Hal would hold classified information is not only dangerous in Frank and Dave's eyes, but insulting and irritating. These astronauts are losing control of the ship. Therefore, Hal must be stopped.

Hal: Just what do you think you're doing, Dave? 
Dave, I really think I'm entitled to an answer to that question.

Ha ha! How the tables have turned. Hal knows full well that Dave is marching through the ship toward the core to shut him down. Hal uses the language of bargaining with Dave. I believe this is Hal trying to gain some sympathy from Dave in order to stop him from (essentially) killing him. Hal wants to make it clear that he too deserves to know. The only problem is, Hal wouldn't reciprocate this earlier. And he killed Frank! Dave doesn't say a single word during this scene.


The act of a birthday celebration seems trivial in comparison to these character's space travel and their missions, but it's a recurring theme.

Dr. Floyd's daughter's has a birthday coming up. They talk about this while having a video conversation about it. She will celebrate with her family without her father while he is on the Moon.  It's a futuristic version of "Daddy's on a business trip so he'll have to miss your recital ... again."

Astronaut Frank's birthday is celebrated by his parents on Earth without him. They send him a recorded video message while he's traveling to Jupiter.

Frank watches his parent's transmission from a tanning bed. He watches them blankly with little mirth, asking Hal to move the headrest so he could see better. Frank won't waste a bit of energy on this. Frank's parents get more joy out of his own birthday than he seems to.

With just these two examples, we have birthdays that are celebrated apart from family with the distance of outer-space in between. 

HAL 9000 mentions his birthday in the last moment's of his consciousness. "I became operational at the HAL Plant, in Urbana, Illinois, on the 12th of January 1992." Much of what Hal says to Dave is self-preservational. He's bargaining, trying to prevent Dave from turning him off. Then it seems as though Hal is left only with his most basic, and charming functions, like his ability to sing a song and remember the name of his "instructor." It's reminiscent of a child reciting information about what they learned in school to a parent. Either Hal is becoming less intelligent, or he's hoping his pathetic state will convince Dave to stop removing cartridges. It's as if Hal's hinting, "You know, I have a birthday too. Isn't that something you humans care about?" Considering how impaired Hal is during this process, I admit that's probably not what's actually happening. However, I have an instinct as a viewer of movies, to expect Dave to stop when Hal get's too pathetic. The viewer is at least supposed to feel sympathy from these words.

Then of course are the womb-like images when Dave goes through the star gate.

Finally we have Dave's own rebirth, with the iconic imagery of a floating fetus in space. It's iconic imagery that was entirely confusing to me before I saw the film for the first time. Out of context it's like, "What kind of movie is this? Space Baby?" Well, actually yeah it is space baby. Even after watching it, it's still hard to say what that fetus truly meant.

Images of HAL 9000 By Way of The Monolith

This is an image of Hal - in case you didn't know. The parallels of Hal to the Monolith are pretty obvious, but through out the film, visual hints are made if you can find them. 

Check out that red lens flare landing right on the monolith.

This was the best shot I could find online, but if you can imagine Dave in his red space suit a few seconds earlier, then you would see just the top of his helmet surrounded by the black interior and the rectangular door frame. 

It is widely speculated that the monolith is a movie screen, as it is black and has the same proportions. If you take the movie screen at these moments and turn them 90 degrees, it will look like an organic and off-center Hal. This imagery appears while Dave is going through the Star Gate

Now I'm putting on my tin foil hat. If you look closely at the above image, the goggles Frank wears while he's passively watching his parent's birthday message, looks like the red eye of Hal. Matt made a good point to me when he said Frank looks like he's laying on a bed which looks like the monolith. On it's own the bed matches the color and shape of the monolith, but it's also made of several different sized monoliths. Together, it all looks like a visual representation of Hal just like the previous examples. 

When dealing with Kubrick you can't write off anything. If you thought you saw something, you did. And then there will still be cinematic cues he intentionally put in there, and you only know about them now because someone just as insane realized they existed. Don't worry, you're probably never reaching too far when it comes to a Kubrick theory....

Another Easter Egg?

I found a message in the three letter acronyms that appear on the Discovery One dashboard. Several different acronyms appear like HIB, FLX, MEM, LIF, DMG, and COM, among others. At some point COM and LIF appear together on screen, and I was like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.

COM LIF....Com Life.... Computer Life!!! 

This will be my new obsession for a while.

*None of my observations are going to involve the Dawn of Man portion of the film. If you think there's something there that I just missed let me know in the comments.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer: Definitely With Spoilers

If a movie doesn't live up to your expectations, if it goes in a direction you didn't want it to go, is it the film's fault or your own? If this movie were based on a book that you had never read and never heard of, but it just didn't follow a plot that you imagined it would use, then do you have the right to be crestfallen? Or should you just accept it for what it is?

I saw the trailer for I Am Not A Serial Killer during the height of my listening to true crime podcasts, most notably My Favorite Murder and Sword and Scale. While grappling with my own thoughts of why I love hearing stories about murder, while harboring a blood phobia, the trailer for this 2016 film made me smile widely upon watching it.

In the trailer scenes are edited together that paint the picture of a typical teenage outcast who's family owns a funeral home, but he's been clinically diagnosed as a psychopath. This throws a wrench into the once familiar equation. In the movies being a straight up psychopath makes you the bad guy, or at best, a tragic figure. This film might actually be making the psychopath the hero.

The teen in question, named John, played by Max Records of Where the Wild Things Are, looks like a Wiley Wiggins, Kieran Culkin, or Rory Culkin type. John goes through life saying morbid stuff to people, and being easy breezy in the family morgue, but when a string of unsolved murders plagues his Midwestern town he takes keen interest. John notices someone lurking about and tries to investigate. Maybe it takes one to know one?

This concept was really intriguing to me. I thought of all the dramatic possibilities; that a young kid, who is dangerously close to being a killer himself, will use his know-how to figure out the crime. Maybe he's even suspected of the murder since he's the town weirdo. Maybe his own lack of emotional attachment will get in the way of solving the crime, or maybe it will be to his advantage.

Right now you can watch I Am Not a Serial Killer on Netflix. I just watched it, and I am sadly underwhelmed. The main reason for this is the supernatural twist.

Here is where it gets really really spoiler-y:

Christopher Lloyd plays an old man named Crowley (is that name old-man-y enough for you?) who lives with his beloved wife next door to the funeral home that John lives in. In the trailer there are some indicators that Crowley's the killer, but there are more indicators that he is in danger (like saying how it's a great day to be alive while suspenseful music plays).

In the trailer the potential killer is presented as a man in a blue parka lurking about. In the film this idea comes to fruition. John thinks he's on to the killer because he keeps seeing that blue parka guy wondering around looking shady as hell. When John spies the guy awkwardly talking to Crowley, inviting himself ice fishing with him, John follows the pair to see what will happen. Later, the blue parka guy misses a good opportunity to chainsaw Crowley as he cuts a hole in the ice for him. He puts the chainsaw down, and then brandishes a knife while Crowley's back is turned. We all think this nice old man is toast, until Crowley spins around and somehow spears his own arm through the guy's chest! At first I'm thinking, ".....great... self... defense?" But we see from afar that Crowley rips the lungs out of him and possibly eats them. It's not clear exactly how it goes down, but it is definitely supernatural.

The truth is that Crowley is the killer! BUT he is some kind of supernatural alien beast who needs to feed on the organs and body parts of living people to repair aging parts of himself. Isn't that like Tooms from the X-Files?

This revelation, which happens pretty quickly in the film, was disappointing. I would have LOVED it if Crowley were just this freaky old serial killer - completely human - and John had to deal with realizing he A) bonded with this old man because they are alike in their psychopathy, further making him question his own potential to kill B) stop this old man from killing everyone in the neighborhood, and C) has to make sure the crimes aren't pinned on himself since he's so outwardly strange, unlike the kindly old man.

However, that is not exactly how it goes.

The rest of the film involves John following Crowley, unable to stop him from killing anyone because he's a frekin alien. John also has an absent father, a cynical sister, a nervous mother, a pretty girl who likes him, a bully who is unnecessarily menacing, and a therapist who is unrealistically cool. John has to deal with all of this while trying to outwit an alien being, and save the town.

What kills me is that at the start of the film, people are talking about how the victims looked like they were attacked by some kind of terrifying animal. John makes an astute comment that stories of werewolves and vampires were created because of serial killers. I have also heard this theory, and to elaborate more on the topic, people back in the Middle Ages couldn't conceive that a human could wreck so much havoc on random innocent people, therefore unseen mythical monsters were blamed, and the people who committed the heinous crimes were never stopped. The concept of a serial killer didn't exist until the 19th century. That being said, I hate that the killer ended up being a literal mythical beast. A cool reference to how depraved humanity can be was actually a telegraphed foreshadowing.

I wish I could say it was a tale of two psychopaths with one beating him at his own game. Instead one of them was an alien body-snatcher who fell in love with a human woman and would kill to stay alive for her. The other, a boy who's been convinced by his family, school, and doctor that he's a ticking time bomb, only to find out that despite his pervasive violent thoughts and the constitution to work in the morgue, he doesn't like hurting people at all. John ultimately learned that he has way more compassion for people than his diagnosis made him and others believe.

And I won't completely spoil the ending for you.

It's an interesting story. I can't get too mad at the director since the film is an adaptation from a novel of the same name. Then I just feel silly getting sore with the author of the book too. You can write whatever you want. It is what it is, it's just not what I expected.

If the movie I just pitched exists out there, let me know!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Snowflake Obsidian Story

I was walking up a packed stair case out of the Wall Street stop, when I heard a chink ... chink ... chink sound. We were all trudging out of the subway as usual. I would describe it as cattle moving in a herd. It pains me to say that because it sounds so cliche, but it's exactly accurate. The sound of something small falling down the stairs made my New York City public life instincts kick in. It's the kind of instincts that help you and other around you get through your day.

Someone just lost an earring, or their lip gloss, or the charm off a necklace. They're going to spin around and run against the crowd to catch it despite the odds of it being crushed in the stampede, kicked off the hilariously narrow platform, or the disapproval of the commuters. The sound was coming right at me. I kept an eye out for this thing. It would be better to find it, pick it up quickly and hand it to the owner, than deal with him or her running at me in a blind panic. No need for panic.

After three chinks it fell right at arms length in front of me. Without a break in my movement it was in my hand, a black polished stone. I looked up trying to find a person searching frantically. Everyone's heads were turned away from me. There was no way to know who lost it.

Walking up the stairs and out into the street I wondered about the value of this amorphous black polished stone. How did it get lost? Who (very recently) used to own it? Why? It didn't seem to come from a necklace. It stood alone. It was valued as an object and not an adornment.

In the office, I tried to identify the stone online. It was black with grey spots. Pretty simple to find: it was Snowflake Obsidian. I'm not one to believe in the healing power of crystals and stones, but I'm not completely ignorant to the fact that many people do, and there's a whole ideology behind it. I was curious. A quick Google search revealed 535,000 results. The experts agree: Snowflake Obsidian is a stone that brings balance.

Result number one, says,

A stone of purity, Snowflake Obsidian brings about a balance to body, mind and spirit. Snowflake Obsidian helps to keep centered and focused when any type of chaotic situation (office, commute, home, etc.) presents itself....Obsidian is often used for healing and releasing energy blockages, and has a tendency to work quickly to move truths to the surface to be resolved.

Maybe this was something a fellow subway rider used to stay centered during inevitably rough commutes - or the chaos of Wall Street. I hope they didn't really need it. It's mine now.

Some might say the stone wanted to find me and heal me of my stress. Some others might say it was a sign from a higher power; the stones don't really work, but it did inspire you look up the metaphysical properties and reflect on how it applies to your life. That's gotta be sign of something, right? Some might say it was all complete coincidence, and I should wash my hands - it is a subway rock after all.

I overthink everything. If I actively use the rock, maybe there will be a positive placebo effect on me. The only problem is my awareness of the possibility of a placebo effect would never allow me to experience the placebo effect. Stones can't actually heal anyone, right? God forbid I start believing in it, then I'll spend all my money on crystals. I just can't afford it.

Maybe I'll carry it around with me anyway, and attribute all the good things in my life to it. Then one tragic day I'll realize it's gone, have a moment of panic, but then realize everything is still fine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Blue Lobster

Browsing through articles on the internet, something just hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a story about a blue lobster caught off the coast of Plymouth, MA on Monday, August 8, 2016. Blue lobsters are a neat phenomenon, caused by an over production of protein. The lobster will likely be brought to an aquarium for observation.

What stunned me about the news was so much more personal and complicated than the lobster story itself. The memories that rushed back to me were from twenty five years ago. Strangely enough they involved my first experiences with unfairness, lying, shame, and my interests in strange trivia.

In 1991 I was four years old and my parents took me to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. There are only two things I can remember: it poured rain so hard my little shoes got soaking wet and shrank the next day, and I saw a blue lobster in a tank. My dad told me it was a very rare thing to see and I was really impressed by that. I had seen something truly amazing that day.

At this time I was also going to preschool, which I didn't enjoy very much. I didn't speak above a whisper and interacting with the kids was challenging for me. I never really liked the teachers either. Since it was summer, we all spent a lot of time playing outside in the playground in front of the school. Knowing me I probably didn't have any pressing play dates.

Sometimes the teachers had their older daughters or sons help out when they were on summer vacation. Those kids must have been between thirteen and sixteen, but they always seemed like adults to me. I don't remember anyone's names, but one of the teacher's teen daughters was helping that day and she was nice to me. Let's call her Jen and her mother Ms. Sandy.

All the teachers were sitting on the stairs leading up to the school, surveying the kids in the playground as they did. Jen was talking to me. I don't know who ignited the conversation but I remember telling her with excitement about my trip to the aquarium and seeing the blue lobster. I was so excited I almost broke from my whisper. Jen was excited too, she seemed engaged with my story. It felt great sharing my interests with someone else. Then we were interrupted. "Laura! Go to time out."

Ms. Sandy pointed across the playground to the picknick tables. Jen and I were both confused. There was a rule that the students weren't allowed to be on the stairs during recess. I was on the second or third step trying to talk with Jen; not horsing around. Jen protested, "But I wanted to hear more about Laura's trip to see the blue lobster!" It didn't matter. I broke a rule, I needed to be punished.

I was lead to the other end of the playground and told to sit at the picnick table and not speak to anyone. Not exactly a challenge for me. Ms. Sandy could have given me a warning; told me to get off the stairs. I definitely didn't notice what I was doing. I was four. I was also well aware of the rule, but more along the lines of "don't go on the stairs because you'll start acting like fool and fall down them." That's understandable. However, Ms. Sandy was trying to make a point. The concept of having rules in order to keep kids safe in this instance was twisted. It was about rules for rules sake. A "no tolerance policy." - a phrase that would become familiar to me in post-Columbine middle school. This day was one of the first times I wrestled with the idea of unfairness; the idea that a rule imposed on me could be flawed.

The other imposing feeling that washed over me was the shame. Shame that I maybe had done something wrong, and that other people would think I did something wrong by seeing me in time out. Another young teacher's aid - let's call her Ashley - came up to the table and asked me if I was sitting at the picknick table because I was in trouble. I shook my head "no" afraid she would ostracize me or punish me more if she knew the truth. It was the first time I lied to a teacher. Ashley sat with me in silence for a while, keeping me company, which was nice. Then she asked me if I just wanted to sit there by myself, and I nodded "yes." Ashley walked away.

Maybe ten minutes later everyone came rushing to the table for lunch. I sat dejected, with my coffee milk* questioning everything in my short life so far. It's the first time I get in trouble at school and it's over seemingly nothing - and while I'm trying to be social for once. I didn't feel guilt for getting in trouble, I felt shame at my situation and betrayal. I knew in my heart this was an over-reaction on Ms. Sandy's part, but I didn't know how to reconcile this quite yet.

Ashley comes over and confronts me gently. "Laura, I heard that you were in time out. Why did you lie to me?" I shrugged my shoulders. I lied out of shame, then the lie came back to haunt me. So many lessons learned on this day!

The issue was dropped, I was released from my time out due to lunch, and we all moved on with our lives. Ten years later the school would turn into a food pantry.

In the thirty minutes or so this all took place, I reflect back and see how it shaped me into who I am today. The "because I said so" mentality of authority figures does not sit well with me. I am a reasonable person who respects rules and assignments in general, but if someone asks me to do something that defies logic, or I have a better way to do it, I'm going to tell you. I don't suffer fools and I don't like people with blind power trips. Of course no one does, but I believe I have a stronger nose and less of a tolerance for people like that. I'm lucky it hasn't gotten me in more trouble in my life.

I can see now that the blue lobster represents my love of the strange, and my desire to share that knowledge with others. That has been with me longer than I ever thought. I do it in my artwork and this blog. If you have ever hung out with me, you know that I always have a weird story to interject. Either a fact I read about, or just an odd thing that happened to me - because odd things seem to always happen to me. Or maybe these things stick to me in a way it wouldn't stick with another person (e.g. I have this story about blue lobsters and my first "time out" at school, when someone else might not remember that happening to them at all). Lucky me.

But yes, lucky me. Though I shed some tears writing this - because feelings come back strong and unpredictably - I'm grateful that I can look back at a brush with powerlessness and unfairness, and see how I was becoming myself.

* In this Providence, RI preschool we always had a choice between three milks: regular, chocolate, and strawberry or coffee flavored milk.
**crude blue lobster illustrations by Laura Miner

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Grim Sleeper : Gripping South LA for a Reign of 25 years

We can be thankful that Lonnie Franklin is in prison for murder. On May 5, 2016 a jury found the so called "Grim Sleeper" guilty of the murders of ten women over the course of 14 years. This was relevant news to me since I was captivated by the HBO documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper nearly a year before this conviction. At the outset of the film, directed by in 2014, we are made aware that the Grim Sleeper had been captured in 2010 and was awaiting the conclusion of his trial. The evidence was damning and he had little to prove innocence in court. But for over two decades Lonnie Franklin seemingly lived without fear of being caught for coldblooded serial murder.

Lonnie didn't hide, he just lived in a world where someone like him can rule the streets.    

At the start of the film, Broomfield enters Lonnie Franklin's South Los Angeles, CA neighborhood, and is treated with hostility by his former neighbors. They are in the mindset that Lonnie is innocent, that he was of good character, and it was all simply unbelievable. Maybe he was framed. Maybe it was lazy detective work. After spending more time in this neighborhood, and interviewing women - who did not have positive interactions with Lonnie - these same friends started requesting private interviews.

Still from Tales of the Grim Sleeper with one of Lonnie Franklin's friends and Nick Broomfield.

In these interviews friends would confess that they thought Lonnie was strange. He was kinky with women, he had his vices. He took photographs of women in precarious or violent positions. Lonnie had a gun. He wore it in his front pocket and showed it to people. It was the same gun the police would later identify as the murder weapon for seven out of the ten of his victims.

All of this was revealed and heavily padded with excuses and sheepish apologies. "I'm not proud of it." they would say. Lonnie's friends were well aware of his perversions, and they relished in it at the time. They swapped dirty photos, they shrugged and laughed when they saw hand cuffs in his car, and harbored the knowledge that Lonnie had a special van for putting women in bondage. But he was just "into women."

180 photos of women were found in Lonnie's house. Of the ten bodies found, all of the victims photos were in his collection.

When Lonnie asked some of these men to clean this van - on a fairly regular basis - no one thought twice when the rug had a dark substance in it. Then they convinced themselves it was oil, but looking back on it, it came up too easy to be oil. They can't quite picture it now. It could have been blood.

Later in the film other friends resurface to tell their tales, and they become more cavalier. Some of them are former crack addicts who admit they helped destroy evidence or even found women for him (who would most likely be his murder victims). These men did it for the crack he was supplying. It didn't matter that the car was filled with bloody clothes and God knows what else, these men needed to burn it to a crisp and get paid. It didn't matter that the woman they picked up was being tortured by Lonnie right in front of them, they needed to get high.

Forget about going to the cops. In this neighborhood the distrust for the police and the police's own disdain for this community helped facilitate a man like Lonnie. This was the perfect place to be a serial murderer. Women were being killed, and the cops weren't taking the time to investigate. These were crack addicts and prostitutes, or women who might fit the profile if you glance at the color of her skin and the street sign her body was found near.

The Grim Sleeper's ten identified victims

There are many survivors who were sexually assaulted and tortured. Women who tell the tale do not often have a section of the story where they report the crime to the police. At the time they were hooking and or high, and extremely vulnerable to arrest for their own crimes. All they could do was escape from his clutches, run for safety and learn their lesson never to sleep with him again. Lonnie knew this. That's why he got away with it for so long.

Near the end of the film, some of Lonnie's friends are laughing about him as they did at the very beginning. No longer are they hushed and concerned, ruminating over how someone they knew was very likely a serial murderer. Now they are quite sure he did it, and they gleefully approach Broomfield to share their anecdotes. All of their personal evidence has been compiled and outed among themselves.

Instead of laughing about how Lonnie would always be in his front yard chatting with the neighbors - truly painting an suburban ideal - they were laughing about how much Lonnie hated crackheads. They chuckled about how it was his first wife's fault that he hated crackheads, because she was one herself. They smiled about how he would openly tell them he was "cleaning up" the neighborhood. They all knew what it meant, and they were cool with it.

Lonnie was finally captured because his son Christopher was arrested. Lonnie had been arrested many times before for various crimes, but a new policy enforced by the LAPD to collect DNA from all arrested persons was only in existence since 2004. Lonnie narrowly escaped it after being convicted of a felony in 2003.

His son's DNA was a partial match to the DNA found on all of the bodies. Christopher could only be a relative of the Grime Sleeper. Besides, he was too young to have murdered the women who were killed in the 1980s. Lonnie Franklin's DNA was a perfect match.

Lonnie was sloppy. His DNA was all over the victims. The most vulnerable members of the community were too afraid to come forward. It was clear that the police didn't take it seriously anyway. Survivors that did come forward to the police went through the rigmarole of reporting, only to be filed away despite the multitude of evidence (descriptions of his appearance, the bright orange Pinto everyone knew he drove, bullets from the gun he consistently used, rape kits with his DNA). The key word here is consistent because Lonnie barely tried to hide, but it took 25 years for him to be stopped.

It's terrifying to think of the unreported crimes that occur in neighborhoods like this all of the country. Imagine a place the cops won't touch, the victims are doubly powerless, and a person like the Grim Sleeper will meet you in the middle.