St. Louis police mugshot of Joseph Paul Franklin, 1995.
Joseph Paul Franklin (April 13, 1950-) is an American serial killer who may have killed 20 people between 1977 and 1980. He has been convicted of several slayings. He has confessed to the attempted assassinations of two prominent people: the 1978 shooting of magazine publisher Larry Flynt and Flynt's attorney and the 1980 shooting of Vernon Jordan. Franklin has not been convicted in either of those cases.
He was born James Clayton Vaughn, in Mobile, Alabama to a poor family. In 1976 he changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin. He selected Joseph Paul in honor of Paul Joseph Goebbels and Franklin after US founding father, Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin is believed to have suffered an abusive childhood at the hands of both his violent parents. As early as high school he had become very interested in Nazism and later held memberships in both the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. He also has one daughter from a 1968 marriage.
Franklin was a drifter, roaming up and down the East Coast, always looking for chances to "cleanse the world" of people he considered inferior, especially blacks and Jews. He sustained himself by robbing banks and often sold or traded the guns he used to kill. Despite being partially blind in his left eye and completely blind in his right eye, Franklin was a proficient sniper, and killed most of his victims from over 100 feet away. He did not touch or try to contact the majority of victims, instead assassinating them from a distance; thereby falling into the category of a mission orientated serial killer. He was a highly organised killer, who would plan several escape routes and anti-forensic techniques in advance. Despite his rare and inflammatory motives, Franklin's complete lack of murder ritual has excluded him from pop culture reference, unlike less prolific serial killers such as Charles Manson.
A recalcitrant and unrepentant prisoner, Franklin claimed after trial (for the murder of Gerald Gordon) that his only regret was that killing Jews was not legal. He also threatened to rape a Jewish psychologist who came to interview him , as well as making an escape attempt during a jury adjournment. He made a reference to his escape attempts during the trial, thanking the jury for a fair trial and commending them on their verdict, claiming that if he had not been given the death penalty, he would probably escape again.
Franklin's level of violence continuously escalated; before he committed his first known murder, he fire-bombed a synagogue and threw mace at a racially-mixed couple. Starting in 1977, he went a continual murder spree, supporting himself by robbing banks. He admitted his racist ideology; God, he said, wanted him to start a race war.
Franklin killed at random, and may have begun in Madison, Wisconsin. His target of choice were mixed-race couples, which he called "MRCs." In interviews, he explained that he planned the murders and his exit in advance, often changing his hair style and colour, as well as changing clothes and vehicles often. He would listen to a police scanner during his escapes.
On one occasion, he threatened to kill President Jimmy Carter for his pro-civil rights views. He'd also intended to shoot Jesse Jackson, but Jackson's security detail made this impossible; he changed his target to Vernon Jordan in lieu of Jackson. An escape artist, he managed to elude law enforcement for years. He was eventually caught, however, when a nurse in Florida taking the blood he was selling recognised a bald eagle tattoo on his arm.
Arrested in 1980, Franklin provided detailed confessions. He has been tried in several states and, in Missouri in 1997, he was sentenced to death.
Franklin has been linked by either indictment or confession to 20 murders, 6 aggravated assaults, 16 bank robberies and 2 bombings. He has confessed to 8 murders, and has received several life sentences or capital punishment for others. He made several confessions in the late 1990's on the condition that he confessed to "an attractive white female investigator."
- September 6, 1976; Franklin followed an interracial couple down an alley and sprayed mace at them.
- July 29, 1977; Beth Shalom synagogue in Chattanooga is firebombed.
- August 7, 1977; Dressed in cowboy regalia, Franklin shot and killed a black man and a white woman, Alphonse Manning and Toni Schwenn, driving away from a bank robbery Madison, Wisconsin. He had been wanting to drive faster, but was frustrated with the speed of Manning's driving. Manning stopped his car and got out, Franklin picked up a stolen handgun and shot him, then walking over to his car and shot his friend. In 1985, he received two life sentences for these murders.
- October 8, 1977; He hid in long grass behind a telegraph pole at a synagogue parking lot in Richmond Heights, Missouri, using a Remington 700 sniper rifle to kill one man, Gerald Gordon, and injure two others. He had earlier in the day bought some ten inch nails, a bicycle and a guitar case. He scratched the serial number from his gun, cleaned off his fingerprints and placed it in the guitar case. He hammered the nails into the telegraph pole to serve as a gun rest and used the bike for a quick escape. he then took the rifle out of the case and fired five shots. After killing Gordon and wounding Steven Goldman and William Ash, he cycled to his car. He was convicted of murder, and was sentenced to death by lethal injection in the Potosi Correctional Center in Potosi, Missouri.
- Franklin claims that, on March 6, 1978, he used a .44 calibre rifle to ambush pornographer Larry Flynt and his lawyer Gene Reeves in Lawrenceville, Georgia. In his confession, Franklin said this was in retaliation for an edition of Hustler celebrating interracial sex. Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down. Flynt believes Franklin's confessions, although there have been no charges in the case.
- July 29, 1978; Frankin hid in the long grass around a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, jumping out to kill Bryant Tatum with a 12 gauge shotgun. Tatum, a black man, was shot once, as was his white girlfriend Nancy Hilton (who survived.) Franklin confessed and pled guilty, being given a life sentence, as well as a sentence for an unrelated armed robbery in 1977.
- July 12, 1979; Taco Bell manager Harold McIver (27), a black man, was shot through a window from 150 yards in Doraville, Georgia, killing him. Franklin confessed but was not tried or sentenced for this crime. Franklin asserted that McIver was in close contact with white women, and the murder prevented him from having sex with any of them.
- August 18, 1979; He killed a black man seated in a Burger King with a sniper rifle in Falls Church. Later, this would be the scene of another sniper attack by the Beltway Sniper, a black man who killed a woman whose surname was Franklin. Franklin confessed to the murder on videotape.
- October 21, 1979; Franklin used a sniper rifle to kill a mixed race couple in Oklahoma City. He has not yet been tried for this murder. He fired five shots from 100 yards away, hitting Jesse Taylor, who was black, three times and Marian Bresette, who was white, once.
- December 5, 1979; Franklin killed 15-year-old prostitute Mercedes Lynn Masters, with whom he had previously lived in Dekalb County, Georgia, with a shotgun. Her fatal mistake was telling Franklin him that she had black customers. DeKalb County was also the scene of four of the Atlanta child murders, which were initially thought to be racially motivated.
- January 8 or January 11, 1980]; Franklin murdered a 19-year-old black man in a long-distance sniper attack in Indianapolis. The young man was standing with his father outside a fried chicken restaurant. Franklin awaits trial for aggravated murder.
- January 16 or January 17, 1980; He sniped a black man with the same sniper rifle from 150 yards in Indianapolis. He awaits trial for aggravated murder.
- May 2, 1980; He shot hitchhiker Rebecca Bergstrom with a handgun in Monroe County, Wisconsin. He confessed to this murder in 1984.
- May 29, 1980; He shot Bill Clinton associate Vernon Jordan after seeing him with a white woman in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was initially acquitted, but later confessed.
- June 8, 1980; Franklin has confessed to killing cousins Darrel Lane (14) and Donte Evans Brown (13) in Bond Hill, Cincinnati. He was waiting on an overpass for hours to shoot a racially mixed couple, but grew impatient and shot the boys instead. He received two life sentences for these murders. During the trial, he taunted the Judge and claimed that the sheriff and his deputies were homosexuals .
- June 15, 1980; He shot and killed an interracial couple, Arthur Smothers (22) and Kathleen Mikula (16), from a woodland area in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Franklin has confessed, although Pennsylvania has not extradited him.
- June 25, 1980; He 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 after it was revealed that another man, Jacob Beard of Florida, was imprisoned in 1993 on these charges. He picked up the white girls, but decided to kill them after one of them admitted having a black boyfriend. He later said, "They told me they were into race-mixing, I just decided to waste 'em."
- August 20, 1980; He killed two black men from 40 yards with a Marlin Firearms lever action rifle as they jogged with white women in Salt Lake City. Franklin received two life sentences for this crime. The victims, Ted Fields and David Martin, died at the scene. 
- September, 1980; He escaped from police custody, but was recaptured in Florida.
William Luther Pierce's second book, Hunter, contains a dedication to Franklin.