‘Grim Sleeper’ 911 Call

Barbara Ware, killed at the age of 23, whose body was found Jan. 10, 1987.

Note: Since the “Grim Sleeper’s”  911 call is back in the news, here’s a post I wrote about it in 2009.

I thought it would be interesting to examine the 1987 LAPD tape of the call reporting the death of Barbara Ware, one of 11 homicides attributed to the “Grim Sleeper.”The recording is fairly noisy, so I cleaned it up a bit. The first thing I noticed is that there are a variety of background noises. There’s Morse code, which I assume was picked up by the dispatcher’s microphone/headset from the radios at LAPD communications. There’s also what appears to be the sound of accelerating vehicles, which makes me think the caller was at an outdoor phone. At the very beginning of the recording, there’s a slight bit of what sounds like background music, but it’s too brief for me to identify.

One thing that I particularly noted was the way the caller said “phone.” I had to play the recording several times to figure it out. It’s almost as if he were talking like Forrest Gump when he said “fa-ohne.”

Then I got to wondering about the speed of the tape as reflected by the recurring “beeps” every 10 seconds. It turns out that they are about 11.3 seconds apart. I tried speeding up the recording, assuming that the tape had stretched slightly but the result was too fast and showed the error of my reasoning. Then I stretched out the recording but maintained the same pitch, which makes it easier to understand.

Here are the two enhanced versions, and my transcription. I wonder why the LAPD didn’t at least bump up the volume before it released this recording, but maybe that’s just me.

Initial speed, as released by the LAPD.

Stretched for better comprehension.

Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

The alley where Barbara Ware’s body was found. Notice how narrow it appears.

View Larger Map

Here’s my transcription:

1987 LAPD photo
Blue and white Dodge van, possibly a 1977, license plate 1PZP746.

Detail of the plate.

Here’s what I find to be the most interesting about this call.Our fellow contacts the LAPD at 12:19 a.m., Jan. 10, 1987. He reports seeing a man throw a body out of a vehicle. It’s a little before midnight in an alley that is narrow and presumably dark. But he can tell us the make and color of the van. He can tell us that the driver threw a gas tank on top of her. He can tell us the plate number–letter perfect–even though the rear plate is partially blocked by this ladder. He seemingly has fabulous eyesight. Maybe X-ray vision. And yet he can’t describe the driver. Isn’t that amazing?You’re thinking maybe he saw the front plate. Of course, it’s possible, but that means he would have to be looking into the glare of the headlights, where the driver could have seen him. Do you think a driver who’s dumping a body is going to let a witness get away? And who would be hanging out in this alley in this part of L.A. about midnight?

Nice parking job. Over the concrete bumper and into the wall. I wonder if the driver was a little rattled.

Think anybody heard that?

… Central

Dispatcher: [Unintelligible] city police EIGHT THREE ONE. (music in background)

Caller: Yes. I’d like to report uh, uh murder or a dead body or something.

Dispatcher: Where at?

Caller: The address is 1346 East 56th Street … in the alley … and the guy that dropped her off was driving a white and blue Dodge van ONE PEE ZEE PEE SEVEN FOUR SIX [There’s Morse code in the background, probably picked up by dispatcher’s microphone/headset].

Dispatcher: OK are you saying TEE like in Tom?

Caller: PEE like in puppy.

Dispatcher: PEE what?


Dispatcher: Like in zebra?

Caller: Uh-huh. PEE

Dispatcher: Like in Tom? (Background noise, possibly a siren or a vehicle accelerating).

Caller: No, PEE … like in pup.

Dispatcher: Two PEEs…

Caller: Uh-hu

Dispatcher: …like in pup.

Caller: Right.

Dispatcher: Uh-huh.

Caller: SEVEN FOUR SIX (Morse code in background, probably picked up by dispatcher’s microphone/headset).

Dispatcher: What color van was it?

Caller: Blue and white. (More background noise, possibly of passing vehicles).

Dispatcher: Did you get a look at him?

Caller: Un-unh I didn’t see him.

Dispatcher: How long ago did this happen?

Caller: It happened ’bout … ’bout 30 minutes ago ’cause I’m down the street at the phone … so it happened about 30 minutes ago. And, uh. You know, he like … he threw her out … the only thing that’s hanging out of ‘dis … like he threw a gas tank on top of her and, uh … and, uh only thing you can see out is her feet.

Dispatcher: OK, what’s your name?

Caller: Huh?

Dispatcher: What’s your name?

Caller: Oh, I’m stayin’ (starts to laugh) anonymous. I know too many people. OK den bye-bye.

Dispatcher: All right. (hangs up).

LAPD blog entry on the “Grim Sleeper” call.

View Larger Map
Notice that although the LAPD revealed the location of the body (B. 1346 E. 56th) and the church that owned the van (A. 6075 S. Normandie) there’s nothing about where the call was made.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1987, Grim Sleeper, LAPD and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ‘Grim Sleeper’ 911 Call

  1. juliemerholz says:

    It’s just heartbreaking the way the police and the neighborhood just ignored these murders.


  2. jaded says:

    It’s a common misconception that police ignore murders when the victims are prostitutes or otherwise on the fringes of society. Often cases like these are difficult if not impossible to solve because of the lack of motive, lack of physical evidence, and, most importantly, the inability to identify a suspect who has no known relationship to the victim (that is, the serial killer who is a total stranger to his victim and the victim’s family and friends). In truth, there are plenty of “decent” victims whose murders go unsolved for years or decades for the very same reasons.

    By and large, homicide investigators are dedicated professionals who want to solve their cases and take murderers off the street. Just because TV cops solve random crimes in an hour with unassailable certainty doesn’t mean it happens in real life.


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