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Joseph Paul Franklin

Joseph Paul Franklin (born James Clayton Vaughn Jr.; April 13, 1950 – November 20, 2013) was an American white supremacist serial killer who gained notoriety for a murder spree spanning the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was the subject of the novel Hunter by white supremacist William L. Pierce, who said of Franklin that "he saw his duty as a white man and did what a responsible son of his race must do."[1][2]

Joseph Paul Franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin.png
BornJames Clayton Vaughn Jr.
(1950-04-13)April 13, 1950
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
DiedNovember 20, 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 63)
Bonne Terre, Missouri, U.S.
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)
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

Franklin was convicted of several murders and received six life sentences, as well as the death sentence. He confessed to the attempted murders of magazine publisher 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 cases. Because he 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 Franklin's 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 Missouri's death row for fifteen years awaiting execution for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon.[3][4] He was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.[5]


Early lifeEdit

James Clayton Vaughn Jr. was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 13, 1950, as the eldest son of James Clayton Vaughn Sr. and Helen Rau Vaughn, and brother to Carolyn, Marilyn and Gordon.[6] Vaughn's father was an epileptic World War II veteran and butcher who left the family when Vaughn was eight.[7] 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."[7] Vaughn later stated that he was rarely given enough to eat and suffered severe physical abuse as a child,[8] and that his mother "didn't care about [him and his siblings]".[9] 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."[9]

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.[10] In the 1960s, Franklin was inspired to try and 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."[11]


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 black people and Jews.[8] His primary source of financial support appears to have come from bank robberies. Franklin supplemented his ill-gotten income 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, totally destroying it. Loss of life was prevented only because there were not enough worshippers that evening for a minyan and they left early.[13][14]
  • 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.[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 forty-two-year-old Gerald Gordon.[8] He also wounded Steven Goldman and William Ash.[16]


  • March 6, 1978: Franklin claimed he 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.[8]
  • July 29, 1978: Franklin hid near a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and shot and killed Bryant Tatum, an African-American 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.[8]


  • 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.[8]


  • May 29, 1980: Franklin 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.[8]
  • 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.[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.[8] He was tried on federal civil rights charges as well as state first-degree murder charges.[21]

Apprehension, conviction, and imprisonmentEdit

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 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 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.[8] 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 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 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."[11][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 news agency journalist said that 5 g of the barbiturate pentobarbital was administered. Franklin was pronounced dead ten minutes later.[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 mediaEdit

White supremacist William L. Pierce wrote a novel, Hunter (1989), published under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald, which 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 another racist novel, The Turner Diaries, dedicated the book to Joseph Paul Franklin.[35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Perry, Don. "MURDER'S PRICE". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  2. ^ Jenkins, Philip. Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism. p. 76. ISBN 0202306798.
  3. ^ "Judge stays serial killer's execution". CNN. November 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "High court denies execution stay for racist serial killer". USA Today. November 20, 2013.
  5. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013.
  6. ^ "Life of Hate and Killing Began In '50". Deseret News.
  7. ^ a b "On the Trail of a Murderous Sniper Suspect: the Tangled Life of Joseph Paul Franklin". People.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gladwell, Malcolm (February 24, 1997). "Damaged". The New Yorker: 132–47. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin prepares to die". CNN. November 18, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  10. ^ "Racist Rifleman". Time. November 10, 1980. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  11. ^ a b "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". British Broadcasting Corporation. 20 November 2013.
  12. ^ a b c "FBI - Serial Killers, Part 4: Joseph Paul Franklin". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 7 March 2017.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ New York Times, "Man Is Convicted of Killing Interracial Couple in Wisconsin in 1977," February 14, 1986.
  16. ^
  17. ^ 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.
  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 2003-10-23. 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. 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". 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  24. ^ Salter, Jim (16 Aug 2013). "Concern over pending Mo. executions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  25. ^ "Cruel and unusable". The Economist. November 1, 2013.
  26. ^ "Missouri executes prisoner using single drug from secret pharmacy". The Guardian. 20 Nov 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 "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 20, 2013.
  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. ^ "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.
  32. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. 20 Nov 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  33. ^ Kohler, Jeremy (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  34. ^ Amazon Books. Hunter (paperback). Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  35. ^ "William Pierce, 69, Neo-Nazi Leader, Dies", The New York Times, July 24, 2002

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit