Joseph Paul Franklin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Joseph Paul Franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin.png
James Clayton Vaughn Jr.

(1950-04-13)April 13, 1950
DiedNovember 20, 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 63)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Other namesThe Racist Killer
MotiveDesire to incite a race war
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment x4 (March 23, 1981 & September 1986)
Death by lethal injection (July 17, 1984 & February 27, 1997)
Victims8 convictions; 20+ suspected[1]
Span of crimes
August 7, 1977–August 20, 1980
CountryUnited States
State(s)Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Utah
Date apprehended
October 28, 1980

Joseph Paul Franklin (born James Clayton Vaughn Jr.; April 13, 1950 – November 20, 2013) was an American white supremacist and serial killer who engaged in a murder spree spanning the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Franklin was convicted of several murders and received six life sentences, as well as two death sentences. He also confessed to the attempted murders of magazine publisher and pornographer Larry Flynt in 1978 and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan in 1980. Both survived their injuries, but Flynt was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Franklin was not convicted in either of those highly publicized cases, and he made his confessions years after the crimes had occurred.

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

Franklin was on Missouri's death row for 15 years awaiting execution for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon.[2][3] He was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.[4]

Early life[edit]

James Clayton Vaughn Jr. was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 13, 1950, the elder son of James Clayton Vaughn Sr. and Helen Rau Vaughn, and brother to Carolyn, Marilyn, and Gordon.[5] Vaughn's father was a World War II veteran and butcher who left the family when Vaughn was aged eight.[6] His sister Carolyn recalled, "Whenever [Vaughn Sr.] came to visit he'd beat us," and their mother had Vaughn Sr. jailed twice for public drunkenness. Vaughn's mother was described by a family friend as "a full-blooded German, a real strict, perfectionist lady. I never saw her beat any of [her children], but they told me stories."[6]

Vaughn later stated that he was rarely given enough to eat and suffered severe physical abuse as a child,[7] and that his mother "didn't care about [him and his siblings]".[8] He claimed that these factors stunted his emotional development, and said he had "always been least ten years or more behind other people in their maturity."[8]

As early as high school, Vaughn developed an interest in evangelical Christianity, then in Nazism, and later held memberships in both the National Socialist White People's Party and the Ku Klux Klan. He eventually changed his name to "Joseph Paul Franklin" in honor of Paul Joseph Goebbels and Benjamin Franklin.[9] In the 1960s, Franklin was inspired to start a race war after reading Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. "I've never felt that way about any other book that I read," he later reflected. "It was something weird about that book."[10]

In the early 1970s, Joseph Paul Franklin traveled on a road trip to an American Nazi Party conference in Virginia with David Duke (then a student) and Don Black.[11]


For much of his life, Franklin was a drifter, roaming the East Coast seeking chances to "cleanse the world" of people he considered inferior, especially blacks and Jews.[7] His primary source of financial support appears to have been bank robberies. Franklin supplemented his income from criminal acts with paid blood bank donations, which eventually led to his subsequent capture by the FBI.[12]


  • July 29, 1977: Franklin firebombed Beth Shalom Synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, destroying it. Loss of life was prevented because some of the worshippers left early that Friday evening and as a result, there were not enough worshippers for a minyan.[13][14]
  • August 7, 1977: Franklin shot and killed a young interracial couple, Alphonse Manning Jr. and Toni Schwenn, in a parking lot at East Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin.[15]
  • October 8, 1977: In suburban St. Louis, Missouri, Franklin hid in the bushes near Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue and fired on a group attending services. In this incident, Franklin killed 42-year-old Gerald Gordon.[7] He also wounded Steven Goldman and William Ash.[16]


  • March 6, 1978: Franklin, according to his later account, used a Ruger .44 caliber semi-automatic rifle[17] 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.[7] Neither Franklin nor anyone else was ever charged in that shooting.
  • July 29, 1978: Franklin hid near a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, Tennessee 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 later confessed and pleaded guilty, being given a life sentence, as well as a sentence for an unrelated armed robbery in 1977.[7]


  • July 12, 1979: Taco Bell manager Harold McIver, 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.[7]


  • May 29, 1980: Franklin (according to him) shot and seriously wounded civil rights activist and Urban League president Vernon Jordan 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.[7]
  • June 8, 1980: Franklin killed 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, a crime to which he later confessed. He was convicted in 1998 and received two life sentences for these murders.[18][19]
  • June 15, 1980: Franklin shot and killed Arthur Smothers (22) and Kathleen Mikula (16) with a high-powered rifle as the couple walked across the Washington Street Bridge in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Smothers was black; Mikula was white. On the day of the murder, Franklin took a concealed position on a wooded hillside overlooking downtown Johnstown and waited for potential targets to enter his line of sight. He was never arrested for these murders, but he confessed to them during a jailhouse interview after he was apprehended.[20]
  • 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.[18]
  • August 20, 1980: Franklin killed two black men, Ted Fields and David Martin, near Liberty Park located in Salt Lake City, Utah.[7] He was tried on federal civil rights charges as well as state first-degree murder charges.[21]

Apprehension, conviction, and imprisonment[edit]

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 car. Franklin fled from this interrogation, but authorities recovered sufficient evidence from the vehicle to point suspicions that potentially linked him to the sniper killings.[12] His conspicuous racist tattoos, coupled with his habit of visiting blood banks, led investigators to issue a nationwide alert to blood banks. In October 1980, the tattoos drew the attention of a Florida blood bank worker, who contacted the FBI. Franklin was arrested in Lakeland on October 28, 1980.[12]

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. Lewis noted his delusional thinking and a childhood history of severe abuse.[7] In October 2013, 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."[22]

Franklin was held on death row at the Potosi Correctional Center near Mineral Point, Missouri. In August 2013, the Missouri Supreme Court announced that Franklin would be executed on November 20.[23] 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".[24]


Franklin's execution was affected by the European Union export ban when the German drug manufacturer Fresenius Kabi was obliged to refuse having their drugs used for lethal injections.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27] A second stay was granted that evening by US 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,[28] and the Supreme Court subsequently rejected his final appeals.[29][30]

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper published on 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."[10][31]

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.[28] His execution was the first lethal injection in Missouri to use pentobarbital alone instead of the conventional three drug cocktail.[29] An Associated Press agency report said that 5 grams (0.18 oz) of the barbiturate pentobarbital was administered.[32]

Three media witnesses said Franklin did not seem to show 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.[33]

Representation in other media[edit]

Hunter (1989), a novel by the white supremacist William L. Pierce, chronicles the story of serial killer Oscar Yeager, a fictional racist who commits the murders of numerous interracial couples.[34] Pierce, founder of the National Alliance and author of a similarly themed novel, The Turner Diaries, dedicated the book to Joseph Paul Franklin,[35] and said of Franklin that "he saw his duty as a white man and did what a responsible son of his race must do."[36][37] In the 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt, Franklin was portrayed by Czech actor Jan Tříska. In 2009, Franklin appeared in the MSNBC TV show Criminal Mindscape.[38]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Perry, Kimball (November 30, 2018). "Mo. executes white supremacist serial killer Franklin". USA Today. The Cincinnati Enquirer.
  2. ^ "Judge stays serial killer's execution". CNN. November 20, 2013.
  3. ^ "High court denies execution stay for racist serial killer". USA Today. November 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013.
  5. ^ "Life of hate and killing began in '50". Deseret News. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Publishing Company. June 19, 1995. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Gaines, James R. (November 24, 1980). "On the trail of a murderous sniper suspect: The tangled life of Joseph Paul Franklin". People. New York, NY: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gladwell, Malcolm (February 24, 1997). "Damaged". The New Yorker. New York, NY: Condé Nast. pp. 132–47. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin prepares to die". CNN. November 18, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  9. ^ "Racist rifleman". Time. New York, NY: Meredith Corporation. November 10, 1980. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". British Broadcasting Corporation. November 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Josh Levin (June 10, 2020). "Robe and ritual". Slow Burn (Podcast). Season 4 Episode 2. Slate. Archived from the original on June 10, 2020. As a student at LSU, [David] Duke wrote letters to the National Socialist White People’s Party, the group formerly known as the American Nazi Party. These Nazis invited Duke to their annual conference in Virginia and suggested that he carpool with two other white supremacists. Here’s the author, Eli Saslow. One of them was about his age. A guy named Joseph Paul Franklin. The other was about two or three years younger. A guy named Don Black. And they piled into this car and started driving, you know, at 800 miles up the highway. And over the course of those hours, these three kids became really close.
  12. ^ a b c "FBI - Serial Killers, Part 4: Joseph Paul Franklin". Federal Bureau of Investigation. March 7, 2017.
  13. ^ Explosion Demolishes Synagogue in Tennessee; Wires Found Leading from Synagogue to Motel 100 Yards a - Jewish Telegraphic Agency
  14. ^ Severo, Richard (March 8, 1984). "Former Klansman Indicted in Bombing of a Synagogue". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  15. ^ "Man Is Convicted of Killing Interracial Couple in Wisconsin in 1977". The New York Times. New York City. The Associated Press. February 14, 1986. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  16. ^ Hollington, Kris (2008). Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. London, England: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1429986809.
  17. ^ Ayton, Mel (2011). Dark Soul of the South: The Life and Crimes of Racist Killer Joseph Paul Franklin. Lincoln, Nebraska: Potomac Books, Inc. pp. 1745–. ISBN 978-1-59797-574-2.
  18. ^ a b Dan Horn, "Franklin's confession frees man: Judge grants new trial in W.Va. slayings, Cincinnati Enquirer, January 30, 1999. Retrieved May 7, 2012
  19. ^ "Ohio v. Joseph Paul Franklin Updates". Court TV Online. Archived from the original on October 23, 2003. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  20. ^ Sutor, Dave (November 18, 2013). "Death nears for couple's killer". The Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  21. ^ "AROUND THE NATION; Judge Denies Trial Request For Suspect in Iowa Deaths". The New York Times. New York City. January 6, 1981. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  22. ^ "Larry Flynt: Don't execute man who shot me". BBC News. October 18, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  23. ^ "Execution Date Set for Infamous Racist Serial Killer". August 15, 2013. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  24. ^ Salter, Jim (August 16, 2013). "Concern over pending Mo. executions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  25. ^ "Cruel and unusable". The Economist. November 1, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  26. ^ "Missouri executes prisoner using single drug from secret pharmacy". The Guardian. November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  27. ^ "US serial killer Joseph Franklin granted stay of execution". BBC News. November 19, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  28. ^ a b Kohler, Joseph (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  29. ^ a b "Missouri executes serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin". Los Angeles Times. November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  30. ^ Mungin, Lateef (November 20, 2013). "Serial killer Joseph Franklin executed after hours of delay". CNN. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  31. ^ Kohler, Jeremy (November 19, 2013). "Condemned serial killer on Missouri death row says he has remorse, is no longer a racist". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  32. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  33. ^ Kohler, Jeremy (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  34. ^ Mills, David (May 16, 1993). "Don't Think Twice, It's All White". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  35. ^ "William Pierce, 69, Neo-Nazi Leader, Dies", The New York Times, July 24, 2002
  36. ^ Perry, Don. "MURDER'S PRICE". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  37. ^ Jenkins, Philip (2003). Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism. Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 76. ISBN 0202306798.
  38. ^ "Criminal Mindscape". IMDb.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]