Joseph Paul Franklin

Joseph Paul Franklin

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 The Racist Killer
Criminal penalty Execution by lethal injection
Motive Desire to incite a race war
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 (born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr.; April 13, 1950 – November 20, 2013) was an American serial killer who gained notoriety for numerous murders in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His killing spree was the subject of a fictional novel entitled Hunter by William Luther Pierce. Pierce 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]

He was convicted of several murders, and received 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.[3][4] He was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.[5]

Early life

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] James Clayton Vaughn, Sr. was an epileptic World War II veteran and butcher who left the family when Vaughn, Jr. was eight.[7] Vaughn's sister Carolyn recalled "Whenever [Vaughn, Sr.] came to visit he'd beat us," and their mother had Vaughn, Sr. jailed twice for public drunkenness. Helen Rau Vaughn 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 10 years or more behind other people in their maturity."[9]

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 and Benjamin Franklin.[10] 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."[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 blacks and Jews.[8] 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.[12]





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.[12]

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.[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. She noted his delusional thinking and a childhood history of severe abuse.[8]

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."[19]

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.[20] 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".[21]


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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] 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,[25] and the Supreme Court subsequently rejected his final appeals.[26][27]

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][28]

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.[25] His execution was the first lethal injection in Missouri to use pentobarbital alone instead of the conventional three drug cocktail.[26]

An Associated Press news agency journalist said that 5g of the barbiturate pentobarbital was administered. It took him 10 minutes to be pronounced dead.[29]

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.[30]

Representation in other media

William L. Pierce wrote a novel, Hunter (1989), published under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald.[31] Pierce, founder of the National Alliance and author of another racist novel, The Turner Diaries, dedicated the book to Joseph Paul Franklin.[32]

Further reading

See also


  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. 1 2 "On the Trail of a Murderous Sniper Suspect: the Tangled Life of Joseph Paul Franklin". People (magazine).
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Gladwell, Malcolm (February 24, 1997). "Damaged". The New Yorker: 132–47. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  9. 1 2 "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. 1 2 "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". British Broadcasting Corporation. 20 November 2013.
  12. 1 2 3 "FBI - Serial Killers, Part 4: Joseph Paul Franklin". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 14 January 2014.
  13. New York Times, "Man Is Convicted of Killing Interracial Couple in Wisconsin in 1977," February 14, 1986.
  15. 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.
  16. 1 2 Dan Horn, "Franklin's confession frees man: Judge grants new trial in W.Va. slayings, Cincinnati Enquirer, January 30, 1999. Retrieved May 7, 2012
  17. "Ohio v. Joseph Paul Franklin Updates". Court TV Online. Archived from the original on 2003-10-23. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  18. "AROUND THE NATION; Judge Denies Trial Request For Suspect in Iowa Deaths". The New York Times. January 6, 1981. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  19. "Larry Flynt: Don't execute man who shot me". BBC News. October 18, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  20. "Execution Date Set for Infamous Racist Serial Killer". 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  21. Salter, Jim (16 Aug 2013). "Concern over pending Mo. executions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  22. "Cruel and unusable". The Economist. November 1, 2013.
  23. "Missouri executes prisoner using single drug from secret pharmacy". The Guardian. 20 Nov 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  24. "US serial killer Joseph Franklin granted stay of execution". BBC News. November 19, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  25. 1 2 "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 20, 2013.
  26. 1 2 "Missouri executes serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin". Los Angeles Times. November 20, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  27. Mungin, Lateef (November 20, 2013). "Serial killer Joseph Franklin executed after hours of delay". CNN. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  28. "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.
  29. "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. 20 Nov 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  30. Kohler, Jeremy (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  31. Amazon Books. Hunter (paperback). Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  32. "William Pierce, 69, Neo-Nazi Leader, Dies", The New York Times, July 24, 2002
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