EXCLUSIVE: The case of Los Angeles’ notorious “Grim Sleeper” serial killer is getting a TV movie treatment with Lifetime‘s The Grim Sleeper starring Dreama Walker (Don’t Trust The B—-) and co-starring actress-singer Macy Gray (Training Day), Ernie Hudson (Call Me Crazy), and Michael O’Neill (Dallas Buyers Club). It will be directed by Stanley M. Brooks in the veteran TV movie producer’s return to the genre. In 2010, Brooks left the TV movie business after 21 years when he filed for bankruptcy as a result of a dispute with AFTRA, WGA and DGA over residuals from the Logo series Sordid Lives. Since then, he quietly took on a new career as a director with horror indie Perfect Sisters, which is awaiting release. It is fitting that Brooks’ return to the TV movie business is via Lifetime where he was a top telefilm supplier until severing ties with the network in 2010 amid his guild troubles. (Brooks is married to Lifetime’s head of TV movies Tanya Lopez.)
The Grim Sleeper, written by Robert Nathan (Law & Order) and Teena Booth (The Drew Peterson Story), is inspired by the true stories of the victims and survivor of the alleged serial killer dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” — referring to the apparent 14-year hiatus between his alleged murders. He targeted women in the Los Angeles area between 1985-2009. The plot will center on LA Weekly investigative reporter Christine Pelisek (Walker), who broke the story of the serial killer and coined the nickname. LAPD had quietly formed a seven-detective task force after the 2007 murder of Janecia Peters was linked through DNA analysis to a dozen unsolved murders in the 1980s and the 2000s, but the public was left unaware of the existence of a serial killer until Pelisek’s story. She also did an extensive interview with Enietra “Margette” Washington (Gray), the only known surviving victim of the Grim Sleeper, who provided a detailed account of the killer and his MO. It was Pelisek’s work, with support from the relatives of the victims, that put pressure on the LAPD to make the case a priority. Hudson and O’Neill will play police officers investigating the case with Pelisek. A suspect, Lonnie David Franklin, was arrested in 2010, some 25 years after the first murder, using a novel approach called “familial DNA,” with DNA from the serial killer’s victims ran against the California prison population, getting a familial match to a young man. After a lengthy surveillance operation on the man’s father, DNA on a pizza discarded by him proved a perfect match. Three years later, Franklin is yet to stand trial, with the case going through a number of delays, most recently his defense attorney’s request this week to photograph all 900 pieces of evidence in the case.
The Grim Sleeper is executive produced by longform veteran Michael Jaffe and Joe Pichirallo, chair of the undergraduate film and TV department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, former executive at Searchlight and Focus Features and originally a reporter for The Washington Post. Richard Bullock and Christian Bruyere will serve as producers. The deal comes on the heels of Lifetime greenlighting another movie about a serial killer, Keith Hunter Jesperson, known as the “Happy Face Killer,” who is being played by David Arquette. Lifetime has had success with movies about accused/convicted killers like The Craiglist Killer, The Drew Peterson Story and Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy.