Joseph Paul Franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin (born April 13, 1950) is an American serial killer. He has been convicted of several murders, and has confessed to the attempted assassinations of two prominent people — the 1978 shooting of magazine publisher Larry Flynt and Flynt’s attorney, and the 1980 shooting of Vernon Jordan, Jr. Franklin has not been convicted in either of those cases. Because Franklin has changed his story about some cases, the full extent of his crimes is uncertain, although both Larry Flynt and the law enforcement agents actively investigating the attempt on Flynt’s life all seem to agree on Franklin as the shooter in that case.
He was born James Clayton Vaughn in Mobile, Alabama, to a poor family. In 1976 he changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin. He selected Joseph Paul in honor of Paul Joseph Goebbels and Franklin after Benjamin Franklin.
As early as high school he had become very interested first in Evangelical Christianity, then Nazism and later held memberships in both the National Socialist White People’s Party and the Ku Klux Klan. He also has one daughter from a 1979 marriage.
Franklin was a drifter, roaming up and down the East Coast, always looking for chances to “cleanse the world” of people he considered inferior, especially blacks and Jews. He sustained himself by robbing banks and often sold or traded the guns he used to kill others. Despite being partially blind in his left eye and completely blind in his right eye, Franklin was a proficient marksman, and killed most of his victims from over 100 feet (30 m) away. He did not touch or try to contact the majority of victims, instead assassinating them from a distance; thereby falling into the category of a mission oriented serial killer. He was a highly organized killer, who would plan in advance several escape routes and techniques in which to leave no evidence.
Franklin’s level of violence continuously escalated; before he committed his first known murder, he fire-bombed a synagogue and sprayed mace at a racially mixed couple. Starting in 1977, he went on a continual murder spree, supporting himself by robbing banks. He admitted his racist ideology; God, he said, wanted him to start a race war.
His target of choice for murders were mixed-race couples, which he called “MRCs.” In interviews, he explained that he planned the murders and his exit in advance, often changing his hair style and color, as well as changing clothes and vehicles often. He would listen to a police scanner during his escapes.
On one occasion, he threatened to kill President Jimmy Carter for his pro-civil rights views. He had also intended to shoot Jesse Jackson, but Jackson’s security detail made an assassination attempt impossible; he changed his target to Vernon Jordan. An escape artist, he eluded law enforcement for years. He was eventually caught, however, when a nurse in Florida taking the blood he was selling recognized a bald eagle tattoo on his arm.
Franklin has been linked by either indictment or confession to 20 murders, six aggravated assaults, 16 bank robberies and two bombings. He has confessed to eight murders, and has received several life sentences or death sentences for others. He made several confessions in the late 1990s on the condition that he confessed to “an attractive white female investigator.”
- September 6, 1976: Franklin followed an interracial couple down an alley and sprayed mace at them.
- July 29, 1977: Beth Sholom synagogue in Chattanooga is firebombed.
- August 7, 1977: dressed in cowboy regalia, Franklin fatally shot a black man and a white woman, Alphonse Manning and Toni Schwenn, while driving away from a bank robbery in Madison, Wisconsin. He had been wanting to drive faster, but was frustrated with the speed of Manning’s driving. Manning stopped his car and got out, Franklin picked up a stolen handgun and shot him, then walked over to his car and shot his friend. On February 14, 1986, he received two life sentences for these murders.
- October 8, 1977: Franklin hid in long grass behind a telegraph pole at Brith Shalom, a synagogue parking lot in Richmond Heights, Missouri and used a Remington 700 hunting rifle to kill one man, Gerald Gordon, and injure two others. Earlier in the day he purchased some ten inch nails, a bicycle and a guitar case. In anticipation of the shooting he scratched the serial number from his gun. Upon arriving at the hiding location he hammered the ten-inch nails into the telephone pole to use as makeshift gun rests. After setting his plans in motion, he took the rifle out of the case and fired five shots, cleaned off his fingerprints and placed it in the guitar case. After killing Gordon and wounding Steven Goldman and William Ash, he used the bicycle to quickly get out of the area and to reach his car. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection in the Potosi Correctional Center in Potosi, Missouri.
- Franklin claims that, on March 6, 1978, he used a .44 caliber rifle to ambush pornographer Larry Flynt and his lawyer Gene Reeves in Lawrenceville, Georgia. In his confession, Franklin said this was in retaliation for an edition of Hustler displaying interracial sex. Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down. Flynt believes in Franklin’s confession, but there have been no charges in the case. The confession came years after the shooting, and after the confession, and further investigation, many (but not all) of the law enforcement agents investigating the shooting have stated that they now believe the strong possibility that Franklin actually was the shooter of Flynt.
- July 29, 1978: Franklin hid in the long grass around a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, jumping out to kill Bryant Tatum with a 12 gauge shotgun. Tatum, a black man, was shot once, as was his white girlfriend Nancy Hilton (who survived). Franklin confessed and pleaded guilty, being given a life sentence, as well as a sentence for an unrelated armed robbery in 1977.
- July 12, 1979: Taco Bell manager Harold McIver (27), a black man, was fatally shot through a window from 150 yards (140 m) in Doraville, Georgia. Franklin confessed but was not tried or sentenced for this crime. Franklin asserted that McIver was in close contact with white women, and the murder prevented him from having sex with any of them.
- August 18, 1979: Franklin shot and killed a black man seated in a Burger King in Falls Church, Virginia. Franklin confessed to the murder on videotape.
- October 21, 1979: Franklin used a rifle to kill a mixed race couple in Oklahoma City. He has not yet been tried for this murder. He fired five shots from 100 yards (91 m) away, hitting Jesse Taylor, who was black, three times and Marian Bresette, who was white, once.
- December 5, 1979: Franklin killed 15-year-old prostitute Mercedes Lynn Masters, with whom he had previously lived with in Dekalb County, Georgia, with a shotgun. Her fatal mistake was telling Franklin that she had black customers.
- January 8 or January 11, 1980: Franklin murdered a 19-year-old black man in a long-distance rifle attack in Indianapolis. Franklin awaits trial for aggravated murder.
- January 16 or January 17, 1980: Franklin shot a black man with the same rifle from 150 yards (140 m) in Indianapolis. He awaits trial for aggravated murder.
- May 2, 1980: Franklin shot hitchhiker Rebecca Bergstrom with a handgun in Monroe County, Wisconsin. He confessed to this murder in 1984.
- May 29, 1980: Franklin says he shot and seriously wounded civil rights activist and Urban League president Vernon Jordan, Jr. after seeing him with a white woman in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Franklin initially denied any part in the crime and was acquitted, but later confessed.
- June 8, 1980: Franklin has confessed to killing cousins Darrel Lane (14) and Donte Evans Brown (13) in Bond Hill, Cincinnati. He was waiting on an overpass for hours to shoot a racially mixed couple, but grew impatient and shot the boys instead. He received two life sentences for these murders. During the trial, he taunted the Judge and claimed that the sheriff and his deputies were homosexuals.
- June 15, 1980: Franklin shot and killed an interracial couple, Arthur Smothers (22) and Kathleen Mikula (16), from a woodland area in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Franklin has confessed, although Pennsylvania has not extradited and tried him.
- June 25, 1980: Franklin used a .44 Ruger pistol to kill two hitchhikers, Nancy Santomero (19) and Vicki Durian (26), in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. He confessed to the crime years before another man, Jacob Beard of Florida, was imprisoned in 1993 on these charges. He picked up the white girls, but decided to kill them after one of them admitted having a black boyfriend. He later said, “They told me they were into race-mixing, I just decided to waste ‘em.”
- August 20, 1980: Franklin killed two black men from 40 yards (37 m) with a Marlin Firearms lever action rifle as they jogged with white women at Liberty Park located in Salt Lake City Utah. Franklin received two life sentences for this crime. The victims, Ted Fields and David Martin, died at the scene.
- September 1980: Franklin escaped from police custody, but was recaptured in Florida.
Conviction and imprisonment
Franklin claimed after trial (for the murder of Gerald Gordon) that his only regret was that killing Jews was not legal. He made an escape attempt during a judgment. He made a reference to his escape attempts during the trial, thanking the jury for a fair trial and commending them on their verdict, claiming that if he had not been given the death penalty, he would probably escape again. Franklin is held on death row at the Potosi Correctional Center near Mineral Point, Missouri.