|“||Yeah, I actually believe that I deserve (to be executed). I ain't going to deny it||”|
Joseph Paul Franklin (born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr.), also known as "The Racist Killer", was an American white supremacist serial killer, attempted assassin, bomber and homegrown terrorist active in several states from 1977 to 1980. He is most famous for his assassination attempt on magazine publisher Larry Flynt, which left the latter permanently crippled. Franklin was eventually executed in 2013.
Franklin was born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr. in Mobile, Alabama, the eldest son of James Clayton Vaughn, Sr. and Helen Rau Vaughn. His father, a World War II veteran and butcher, was an alcoholic drifter who usually spent months, if not years, away from his family, then returned to physically abuse his children. Helen was described as a strict and abusive woman, and was said by Franklin himself to have never really cared about him or his siblings, who were given rarely enough to eat. Years later, Franklin would state that his dysfunctional childhood affected his emotional development so that he practically was "ten years or more behind other people in their maturity".
In his high school years, Franklin did poorly as a student, while developing an interest in evangelical Christianity. He later dropped out after an accident left his eyesight severely impaired, consequently exempting him from military conscription. He got married twice, first with Bobbie Lee Dorman, in 1968, and then with Anita Carden, in 1979. His first marriage lasted four months, while the second one lasted one year. He is known to have battered both of his wives. Bobbie Dorman said she would sometimes find him weeping for no apparent reason.
During his teens, he had come into contact with far right and neo-Nazism, eventually joining the National Socialist White People's Party (currently known as the American Nazi Party) and, after his mother's death in 1972, the segregationist movement. Moving to Atlanta, he also enlisted in the National States' Rights Party, along with the local Ku Klux Klan. Within those groups, Franklin came to dislike the fact that all most of his fellow members seemed to want to do was talking, while he was ready to take action. He began insulting interracial couples in public, in one instance spraying them with self-defense spray. In 1976, he wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, threatening to kill him for his pro-civil rights views. In the same year, he changed his name to "Joseph Paul Franklin", honoring both Nazi minister of propaganda Paul Joseph Goebbels and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin would later state that he decided to start a race war after reading a copy of Mein Kampf, while also claiming to have been inspired by Charles Manson's "Helter-Skelter".
Early Crimes and Sniper Shootings
Franklin spent the years 1977 to 1980 wandering across several states, primarily in the South and Midwest, employing pseudonyms, changing cars and weapons frequently, dying his hair to the point it came close to falling out, in a one-man crusade against people he considered inferior, mostly interracial couples and Jews. He would sustain himself by committing robberies and paying blood bank donations.
On July 25, 1977, he detonated a dynamite bomb outside the Rockville, Maryland, home of Jewish lobbyist, attorney, and at the time executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Morris J. Amitay. While the latter and his family managed to escape, their house dog was killed in the explosion. Four days later, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he firebombed and destroyed the Beth Shalom Synagogue, though there were no casualties or injuries. On August 7, Franklin shot a young interracial couple, Alphonse Manning, Jr. and Toni Schwenn, in a Madison, Wisconsin, parking lot. Almost two months later, he shot at people attending services at a St. Louis, Missouri, synagogue. Gerald Gordon, 42, was killed, while two others were left wounded.
1978 - 1979
On February 2, 1978, Franklin shot and killed Johnny Brookshire, wounding his white wife, Joy Williams. On March 6, he shot Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and his lawyer, Gene Reeves, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Flynt was left permanently crippled by the shooting. Franklin would later state he did it in retaliation for Hustler depicting interracial sex. On July 29, again in Chattanooga, he shot and killed William Bryant Tatum, a black man, also injuring his white girlfriend, Nancy Hilton. On July 12, 1979, in Doraville, Georgia, he shot and killed black Taco Bell manager Harold McIver for being in close contact with white women. On August 18, he shot and killed Raymond Taylor, a 28-year-old black man who was sitting inside a Falls Church, Virginia, Burger King. On October 21, he killed yet another interracial couple, Jesse Taylor and Marian Bresette, in the parking lot of a Oklahoma City shopping center. On December 5, he shot to death a 15-year-old prostitute named Mercedes Lynn Master, with whom he briefly lived with, in Dekalb County, Georgia. Franklin would later say he did it because she had African-American customers.
While in Indianapolis, Franklin shot and killed two black males, Lawrence Reese and Leo Watkins, on the 12th and 14th of January 1980. On May 3, he shot to death a young white hitchhiker, Rebecca Bergstrom, dumping her body near Tomah, in central Wisconsin. On May 29, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, civil rights activist and Urban League president Vernon Jordan, Jr. was shot and seriously wounded while in the company of a white woman. Franklin at first denied being responsible for the attempt and was acquitted, though he later confessed. He also admitted having planned to kill another civil rights activist before Jordan: Julian Bond. On June 8, he shot and killed Darrell Lane and his cousin, Dante Evans Brown, in Cincinnati. On June 15, he shot an interracial couple, Arthur Smothers and Kathleen Mikula, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Ten days later, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, he picked up two white hitchhikers, Nancy Santomero and Vicki Durian, and brought them to a wooded area where he shot them both to death. Franklin would later say he decided to do it after one of the young girls said she had a black boyfriend. On August 20, he shot two black joggers, Ted Fields and David Martin, as they were leaving a Salt Lake City park with two white women. One of the latter was also slightly wounded.
Arrest, Trials, and Execution
Franklin left Utah, relocating first to Nevada, then to San Francisco, California. On September 25, 1980, he was arrested in Florence, Kentucky, where he managed to escape from custody through a police department window. He was eventually recaptured, almost a month later, in Lakeland, Florida, while paying a blood bank donation. In 1981, after he was extradited back to Salt Lake City, he was convicted of both state and federal offenses related to the murders of Fields and Martin. He began to serve his life sentences in the United States Penitentiary of Marion, Illinois, where he was repeatedly stabbed by a group of African-American inmates. In 1986, after confessing several of his crimes, he was convicted of the murders of Alphonse Manning, Jr. and Toni Schwenn, in Wisconsin, and sentenced to another two consecutive life sentences. Later on, in 1997, despite attempts from the defense to argue that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and despite an attempted escape by Franklin himself, he was sentenced to death for the murder of Gerald Gordon, in Missouri. In the same year, he was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment for the murders of Darrell Lane and Dante Brown, then, in 1998, to yet another two concurrent life sentences for the murder of William Tatum.
Despite delays concerning the constitutional admissibility of the method of execution, and despite opposition from the same Larry Flynt, Franklin was injected with a lethal dose of Pentobarbital, at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, in Bonne Terre, Missouri, on November 20, 2013. He didn't make any final statement. Three days before, he revealed to a local newspaper he had renounced his racist views, and that he considered black people "people just like us".
On his own account, Franklin carefully planned every shooting, down to what kind of clothing he would wear. The night before, he would place the weapon in the site he had chosen, its serial number filed off, knowing that it would be abandoned after the crime was completed. On one occasion, in order to stabilize his aim, he used a telephone pole in which he planted, partway, a nail wrapped with cloth. He would wear gloves while handling potential evidence. Occasionally, he would steal a bicycle to take him from the firing position to his car (a 1975 Chevrolet Camaro), so that witnesses would not be able to identify him. He also had a police scanner to monitor their activities. Before attempting to assassinate Larry Flynt and Vernon Jordan, Jr., he admitted stalking them for about a year.
FBI profiler John Douglas classified Franklin as an assassin personality. He came from an abusive childhood, turned into an inadequate loner as an adult, and eventually tried to compensate for this by adhering to an ideology that enabled him to feel worthy, by considering someone else unworthy or inferior. For the same reasons, he changed his name and became adept at marksmanship (a way of compensating for his eyesight impediment). The fact that he shot his victims from long distances seems to imply he felt comfortable only in situations he could control completely. He ultimately committed his crimes for personal satisfaction, to vent his rage, and to make a name and a reputation for himself.
- Unspecified date: an unspecified bank robbery in Atlanta, Georgia
- July 25, Rockville, Maryland: Morris J. Amitay and his family (all survived except for the family dog; their house was bombed)
- July 29, Chattanooga, Tennessee: a victimless bombing at the Beth Shalom Synagogue
- August 2: an unspecified bank robbery in Columbus, Ohio
- August 7:
- Madison, Wisconsin:
- an unspecified bank robbery
- Alphonse Manning, Jr., 23 (shot to death)
- Tony Schwenn, 23 (Manning's girlfriend; was shot to death)
- Madison, Wisconsin:
- September: an unspecified bank robbery in Little Rock, Arkansas
- October 8, St. Louis, Missouri (all shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Gerald Walker, 42
- Steven Goldman (survived)
- William Lee Ash, 30 (survived)
- Unspecified dates and locations: three bank robberies in Louisville, Kentucky, Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama
- February 2, 1978, Atlanta, Georgia:
- Johnny Brookshire, 22
- Joy Williams, 23 (Brookshire's wife; survived)
- March 6, Lawrenceville, Georgia (both survived; both were shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Larry Flynt (previously stalked for about a year; was left crippled)
- Gene Reeves (Flynt's lawyer)
- July 29, Chattanooga, Tennessee (both shot with a shotgun):
- William Bryant Tatum, 20
- Nancy Hilton, 18 (Tatum's girlfriend; survived)
- July 12, Doraville, Georgia: Harold McIver, 29 (shot with a rifle from a distance)
- August 18, Falls Church, Virginia: Raymond Taylor, 28 (shot with a rifle from a distance)
- October 21, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (both shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Jesse Taylor, 42
- Marian Bresette, 31 (Taylor's girlfriend)
- December 5, Dekalb County, Georgia: Mercedes Lynn Master, 15 (his former cohabitee; shot with a shotgun)
- January 11, Indianapolis, Indiana: Lawrence E. Reese, 22 (shot with a rifle from a distance)
- January 14, Indianapolis, Indiana: Leo Thomas Watkins, 19 (shot with a rifle from a distance)
- May 3, near Tomah, Wisconsin: Rebecca Bergstrom, 20 (shot to death)
- Unspecified dates before May 29, Georgia: Julian Bond, 40 (stalked and intended to assassinate)
- May 29, Fort Wayne, Indiana: Vernon Jordan, Jr., 44 (survived; was shot with a rifle from a distance)
- June 8, Cincinnati, Ohio (both shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Darrell Lane, 14
- Dante Evans Brown, 13 (Lane's cousin)
- June 15, Johnstown, Pennsylvania (both shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Arthur Smothers, 22
- Kathleen Mikula, 16 (Smothers' girlfriend)
- June 24: an unspecified bank robbery in Burlington, North Carolina
- June 25, Pocahontas County, West Virginia (both shot to death):
- Nancy Santomero, 19
- Vicki Durian, 26
- August 20, Salt Lake City, Utah (all shot with a rifle from a distance):
- Terry Elrod, 16 (survived; was grazed by a bullet)
- Ted Fields, 20
- David Martin, 18
- Unspecified dates and locations: robbed at least eight other banks and convenience stores
On Criminal Minds
- Season Seven
- "A Thin Line" - While Franklin was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Trevor Mills - Both were serial killers, attempted assassins, and white supremacists who, while in their twenties, attempted to start a race war (though Mills hoped to do so by killing white people and make the crimes look like the acts of black gangs and immigrants, while Franklin mostly killed interracial couples and African-American men, hoping to inspire other white people to follow his example). Also, the BAU theorized that Mills' could have modeled his plan after Charles Manson's "Helter-Skelter", just like Franklin, by his own admission, did in real life.
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
- Season One
- "The Ballad of Nick & Nat" - While Franklin was never directly mentioned or referenced on Beyond Borders, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, Natalie Knox and Nick Jamison - All three were killers from Mobile, Alabama, both Jamison and Franklin had absent parents, did poorly in high school, and all three roamed the country in a car and shot random people who did not conform to their political views.
- Franklin is impressively similar to Swedish serial shooter John Ausonius - Both were right-wing extremists and assassin personalities who changed their names and appearances to cope with their inadequacy, did poorly at school, associated themselves to extremist groups, committed shootings with rifles targeting people they deemed inferior (in Franklin's case Jews and African-Americans, in Ausonius' immigrants (though he was also suspected of killing a Jewish woman), escaped at least one time a crime scene on a bicycle, and were involved in at least one assassination of a political personality (Ausonius was briefly suspected of the assassination of Olof Palme, while Franklin committed three separate attempts on the lives of Jewish lobbyist Morris J. Amitay, magazine publisher Larry Flynt, and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan, Jr.). Both also committed bank robberies as a means to sustain themselves.