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A brutal but vital approach

Photos of possible 'Grim Sleeper' victims can provide answers

December 21, 2010|Sandy Banks

Is the public attention trained on these private lives a sign of disrespect, a reflection of the lack of dignity accorded poor black women? Or it is a make-up call, an overdue acknowledgement of the horrible toll of a murderous rampage ignored too long?

It's both to me. Det. Kilcoyne sees something else. This is less law enforcement tactic than moral mission, he told me.

"Quite honestly, I don't believe if we found another handful of victims in there we would even pursue prosecution of those cases," he told me. "But the families of these people would like to know an answer.

"I don't want to upset people, but weigh that against: that's your daughter, your sister, and you've been looking for her for 10 years." Kilcoyne admits that police have not always handled this case with sensitivity. "I've made some stupid mistakes along the way in the last couple of years," he said. And he'd worried about how the gallery would be perceived.

Hundreds of phone calls have come in, and police have heard from at least 20 families who have identified someone from the photos.

Kilcoyne told me, "One woman called and said 'I'm picture such-and-such. I let him take pictures and I'm so thankful and so lucky that I'm alive.' "

"She said 'It was a stupid thing I did. No one knew. I just want you to know I'm OK now.' "

Was she ashamed of her inclusion, of having to confront a low point from her past? I asked.

"I'm sure she was embarrassed," the detective said. "But she thanked us."

And he thanked her, for giving him one more name that won't wind up on what may be a growing victim list.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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