Joseph Paul Franklin

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Joseph Paul Franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin mugshot.jpg
Mugshot of Franklin taken by the Missouri Department of Corrections, 2013
Born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr.
(1950-04-13)April 13, 1950
Mobile, Alabama
Died November 20, 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 63)
Bonne Terre, Missouri
Other names James Clayton Vaughn
The Racist Killer
Criminal penalty Death
Motive Racism, white supremacy
Victims 7–22
Span of killings
August 7, 1977–August 20, 1980
Country United States
State(s) Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Utah
Date apprehended
October 28, 1980

Joseph Paul Franklin (April 13, 1950 – November 20, 2013) was an American serial killer. He was convicted of several murders, and given six life sentences, as well as the death sentence. He confessed to the attempted murders of two prominent men: the magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978 and Vernon Jordan, Jr., the civil rights activist, in 1980. Both survived their injuries, but Flynt was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Franklin was not convicted in either of those cases.

Because Franklin repeatedly changed his accounts of some crimes, and was not charged in some cases in which he was suspected, officials cannot determine the full extent of his crimes. His claims of racial motivation were offset by a defense expert witness who testified in 1997 that Franklin was a paranoid schizophrenic who was not fit to stand trial.

Franklin was on death row for 15 years awaiting execution in the state of Missouri for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon.[1][2] He was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.[3]

Early life

Franklin was born James Clayton Vaughn in Mobile, Alabama, to a poor family.[4] He suffered severe physical abuse as a child.[5] As early as high school, he had become 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 and even changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin in honor of Paul Joseph Goebbels who was the Nazi propaganda minister under Adolf Hitler.[6] In the 1960s, Franklin was inspired to try to start a race war after reading Mein Kampf. "I've never felt that way about any other book that I read," he would reflect later. "It was something weird about that book."[7]


For much of his life, Franklin was a drifter, roaming up and down the East Coast looking for chances to "cleanse the world" of people he considered inferior, especially blacks and Jews.[5] His primary source of financial support appears to have come from bank robberies. He supplemented his bank robbery income with paid blood bank donations, which eventually led to his subsequent capture by the FBI.[8]


  • On August 7, 1977, Franklin shot a young interracial couple, Alphonse Manning, Jr. and Toni Schwenn, in a parking lot at East Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin. He was convicted in 1986 on two counts of first-degree murder and received two consecutive life sentences.[9]
  • In fall 1977, in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, Franklin hid in the bushes near a synagogue and fired on a group attending services. In this incident, Franklin killed forty-two-year-old Gerald Gordon.[5]


  • Franklin claimed that, on March 6, 1978, he used a Ruger .44 caliber semi-automatic rifle[10] to ambush Hustler publisher 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.[5]
  • July 29, 1978: Franklin hid near a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, and shot and killed Bryant Tatum, a black man, with a 12-gauge shotgun; he also shot Tatum's 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.[5]


  • 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 said that McIver was in close contact with white women, so he murdered him.[5]


  • May 29, 1980: Franklin said 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.[5]
  • June 8, 1980: Franklin confessed to killing cousins Darrell Lane (14) and Dante Evans Brown (13) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Waiting on an overpass to shoot a racially mixed couple, he shot the boys instead. He was convicted in 1998 and received two life sentences for these murders.[11][12]
  • 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 in 1997 to an Ohio assistant prosecutor in the course of investigation in another case; he said he picked up the white women and decided to kill them after one said she had a black boyfriend. Jacob Beard of Florida, was convicted and imprisoned in 1993 on these charges. He was freed in 1999 and a new trial was ordered based on Franklin's confession.[11]
  • August 20, 1980: Franklin killed two black men, Ted Fields and David Martin, near Liberty Park located in Salt Lake City, Utah.[5] He was tried on federal civil rights charges as well as state first-degree murder charges.[13]

Apprehension, conviction, and imprisonment

Following the two murders in Utah, Franklin returned to the midwestern U.S. Traveling through Kentucky, he was detained and questioned regarding a firearm that he was transporting in his automobile. Franklin fled from this interrogation, but authorities recovered sufficient evidence from the vehicle to point suspicions that potentially linked him to the sniper killings.[8]

Franklin's multiple distinctive racist tattoos, coupled with his habit of visiting blood banks, led investigators to issue a nationwide alert to blood banks. In October, 1980, the distinctive tattoos drew the attention of a Florida blood bank worker, who contacted the FBI. Franklin was arrested in Lakeland, Florida on October 28, 1980.[8]

Franklin tried to escape during the judgment of the 1997 Missouri trial on charges of murdering Gerald Gordon. He was convicted of the murder charge. The psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who had interviewed him at length, testified for the defense that she believed that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and unfit to stand trial. She noted his delusional thinking and a childhood history of severe abuse.[5]

In October 2013, Larry Flynt called for clemency for Franklin asserting "that a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself."[14]

Franklin was held on death row at the Potosi Correctional Center near Mineral Point, Missouri. In August 2013 the Missouri State Supreme Court announced that Franklin would be executed later that year on November 20.[15] Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement that by setting execution dates, the state high court "has taken an important step to see that justice is finally done for the victims and their families".[16]


Franklin's execution was complicated because it took place during a period when various European drug manufacturers refused or objected on moral grounds to having their drugs used in a lethal injection.[17] In response Missouri announced that it would use for Franklin's execution a new method of lethal injection, which used a single drug provided by an unnamed compounding pharmacy.[18]

A day before his execution, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey (Jefferson City) granted a stay of execution over concerns raised about the new method of execution.[19] A second stay was granted that evening by U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson (St. Louis), based on Franklin’s claim that he was too mentally incompetent to be executed. An appeals court quickly overturned both stays,[20] and the Supreme Court subsequently rejected his final appeals.[21][22]

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper published on Monday, November 17, 2013, Franklin said he had renounced his racist views. He said his motivation had been "illogical" and was partly a consequence of an abusive upbringing. He said he had interacted with black people in prison, adding: "I saw they were people just like us."[7][23]

Franklin was executed at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri on November 20, 2013. The execution began at 6:07 AM CST and he was pronounced dead at 6:17 AM CST.[20] His execution was the first lethal injection in Missouri to use pentobarbital alone instead of the conventional three drug cocktail.[21]

An Associated Press news agency journalist said that 5g of the barbiturate pentobarbital was administered. It took him 10 minutes to be pronounced dead.[24]

Three media witnesses said Franklin did not seem to express pain. He did not make any final written statement and did not speak a word in the death chamber. After the injection, he blinked a few times, breathed heavily a few times, and swallowed hard, the witnesses said. The heaving of his chest slowed, and finally stopped, they said.[25]

Representation in other media

William L. Pierce wrote a novel, Hunter (1989), published under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald.[26] Pierce, founder of the National Alliance and author of another racist novel, The Turner Diaries, dedicated the book to Joseph Paul Franklin.[27] Joseph Paul Franklin was also the inspiration behind Salem Kapsaski's novella Nazi Sniper and features a fictionalized account of Franklin's synagogue attack.

Further reading

  • Mel Ayton, Dark Soul of the South: The Life and Crimes of Racist Killer Joseph Paul Franklin, Potomac Press, Inc., 2011
  • Ralph Kennedy Echols, Life Without Mercy: Jake Beard, Joseph Paul Franklin and the Rainbow Murders, Kennedy Books, Scottsdale, AZ, 2014

See also


  1. "Judge stays serial killer's execution". CNN. November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "High court denies execution stay for racist serial killer". USA Today. November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin prepares to die". CNN. November 18, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Gladwell, Malcolm (February 24, 1997). "Damaged". The New Yorker: 132–47. Retrieved November 17, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Racist Rifleman". Time. November 10, 1980. Retrieved May 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". British Broadcasting Corporation. 20 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "FBI - Serial Killers, Part 4: Joseph Paul Franklin". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. New York Times, "Man Is Convicted of Killing Interracial Couple in Wisconsin in 1977," February 14, 1986.
  10. Mel Ayton (2011). Dark Soul of the South: The Life and Crimes of Racist Killer Joseph Paul Franklin. Potomac Books, Inc. pp. 1745–. ISBN 978-1-59797-574-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Dan Horn, "Franklin's confession frees man: Judge grants new trial in W.Va. slayings, Cincinnati Enquirer, January 30, 1999. Retrieved May 7, 2012
  12. "Ohio v. Joseph Paul Franklin Updates". Court TV Online. Archived from the original on 2003-10-23. Retrieved November 22, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "AROUND THE NATION; Judge Denies Trial Request For Suspect in Iowa Deaths". The New York Times. January 6, 1981. Retrieved May 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Larry Flynt: Don't execute man who shot me". BBC News. October 18, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Execution Date Set for Infamous Racist Serial Killer". 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-01-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Salter, Jim (16 Aug 2013). "Concern over pending Mo. executions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Cruel and unusable". The Economist. November 1, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Missouri executes prisoner using single drug from secret pharmacy". The Guardian. 20 Nov 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "US serial killer Joseph Franklin granted stay of execution". BBC News. November 19, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Missouri executes serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin". Los Angeles Times. November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Mungin, Lateef (November 20, 2013). "Serial killer Joseph Franklin executed after hours of delay". CNN. Retrieved November 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Condemned serial killer on Missouri death row says he has remorse, is no longer a racist". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 19, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. 20 Nov 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Kohler, Jeremy (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 9 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Amazon Books. Hunter (paperback). Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  27. "William Pierce, 69, Neo-Nazi Leader, Dies", The New York Times, July 24, 2002

External links