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Woman is fourth killed in Tampa neighborhood

Just before 6 a.m. Thursday, cafeteria worker Lilly Franklin was killed next to the overgrown field she had called a breeding ground for crime and a hiding place for criminals.

She became the fourth stabbing victim since September to die in West Tampa. Like the first three, Franklin was a black woman. But she was older, 62, and didn't frequent bars as two of the victims did.

One other thing set her apart: Lilly Franklin was working to fight crime near her home. For almost four years she tried to force city officials to clear the debris, dead oak trees and tall weeds from the lot beside her home. Officials told her they didn't have enough money.

When the killings began, with the Sept. 24 death of Denise Clark just 50 yards from Franklin's Grace Street home, friends said it was Franklin who again pleaded with police and city officials, this time at a Beulah Baptist Church meeting.

So there was small comfort at 10:20 a.m. Thursday, four hours after Franklin's body was found, when cleaning the lot became a city priority. At least 30 city workers descended on West Tampa to bulldoze the lot and clear debris from 18 others.

"We had been calling the mayor, the city. Nobody did nothing until she got killed. Then they came out this morning," said her mother, Jedia Cain, 81, who lives next door.

Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, who four years ago had pushed to have a condemned building razed at the lot, returned to comfort the grieving mother.

"She was nice, and I was nice to her. There was nothing she could do about it," Cain said.

This latest killing left Tampa police detectives scrambling to determine if there was any link to the previous three.

Last month, investigators told residents they do not believe Clark's death is connected to the Dec. 18 killing of Latrenda Marion, 25, and the Dec. 28 death of Faye Wilson, 40.

They think a different person is responsible for Marion's and Wilson's killings and have a suspect whose name is being withheld because he has not been charged in connection with the deaths. Police say he is a convicted rapist serving a 15-year violation of probation sentence in a Florida prison.

Tampa police Maj. Ken Taylor said detectives are awaiting laboratory tests on evidence taken from the suspect and the scene of Wilson's killing.

"We are proceeding on the assumption that there may be more than one killer," Taylor said.

Police also are searching for a motive in the latest killing.

Franklin, known as Miss Lilly after 25 years of service in the Carver Elementary School cafeteria, had no children but was like a mother to many. She monitored their homework, kept them in line with spankings and watched over them when their parents were at work.

She loved bowling, basketball and cheering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from her reserved seat. On vacations, she often traveled with her mother, taking trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans. On one of those trips, she bought a thick gold herringbone necklace that she was wearing when she died.

At 5 a.m. Thursday, a neighbor in the adjoining duplex apartment heard the usual sounds of Franklin moving about. At about 5:45, she walked 25 feet through the thick fog to her yellow Plymouth Reliant.

She wore her crisp white kitchen uniform, white shoes, and her jewelry: two diamond cocktail rings, a bracelet, and the necklace with a heavy gold "LTD" pendant.

Police said someone confronted her, stabbed her more than once and stole her black shoulder bag. The attacker left the jewelry behind. Neighbors said they did not hear anything unusual.

Inside her car, untouched, was her choir music, NCNB bank deposit slips for $277.47, and a Bible opened to a passage from Genesis: "And the lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life."

Her friends gathered outside her mother's home Thursday afternoon, watching the city crews, and spoke above the buzz of the chainsaws.

"What will happen now is the police will patrol the area," said Harold Rodriquez, a friend for 20 years. "The publicity will die down, and then it will happen again."

_ Correspondent Mark Bourgeois contributed to this report.

1. Denise Clark, 28: Died Sept. 24 after being stabbed 16 times in the upper torso around 11 p.m.

2. Latrenda S. Marion, 25: Was found dead Dec. 18 beside a vacant building. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed and her throat cut.

3. Faye Lorraine Wilson, 40: Was found dead Dec. 28 in an abandoned cigar company shed. She had multiple stab wounds and cuts to the throat.

4. Lilly Franklin, 62: She was found outside her home, near the spot where Denise Clark died, at 6 a.m. Thursday. She had been stabbed repeatedly.