November 20, 2013
At 6:17 am, CST, on November 20, 2013, Joseph Paul Franklin, born James Clayton Vaughn, Jr., was pronounced dead at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri. Joseph was 63 years of age. Joseph was executed for the murder of Gerald Gordon, which occurred outside a Jewish synagogue in St. Louis on October 8, 1977. Joseph spent the last 16 years of his life on Missouri’s death row.
Joseph was scheduled to be executed shortly after midnight on November 20, 2013 however a flurry of appeals resulted in a two stays of execution. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned both stays of execution early Wednesday morning. Joseph and his attorney then appealed to the United States’ Supreme Court, which refused to stay the execution, clearing the way for his execution early this morning.
James Clayton Vaughn, Jr., was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the eldest son of a drifting, alcoholic father. When James’ father was home, he would beat his children, and, being the eldest, James received the worst beatings. Throughout his youth, James was drawn to fringe religions and escaped his hellish life by reading. One of his favorite books was Mein Kempf. Joseph would later describe Adolf Hitler, the author, as his “god” and Mein Kempf as his “Bible.” According to James, his father later died in the mental ward of Biloxi in 1994, and his brother Gordon “went completely crazy” and “wound up in prison.”
Sometime during his high school years, James was involved in an accident that left him completely blind in one eye and partial blind in the other. It was around that time that James dropped out of high school. James was married in 1968, and shortly after the wedding, James began having wild changes in his personality, according to his wife. At times, she would find him weeping and at other times, he would emulate his father by beating his wife. At the same time, his all white neighborhood was becoming racially diverse, much to James’ displeasure.
By 1969, his marriage had fallen apart and James moved to Washington, DC, where he became involved in several racial incidents and was sporadically arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. He also became increasingly engrossed with extremists parties such as the American Nazi Party, the neo-fascist National States Rights Party, and the Ku Klux Klan, all of which he eventually joined. On Labor Day 1976, James trailed an interracial couple to a dead-end street and sprayed them with Chemical Mace. In 1973, James legally changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin, in honor of Nazi leader Paul Joseph Gobbels and American inventor Benjamin Franklin.
Prosecutors have alleged, and jurors have agreed, that Franklin spent the next several years traveling all over the United States carrying out varying acts of violence, usually racist in nature. On September 25, 1980, Franklin was arrested in Kentucky. He managed to escape custody and flee to Florida where he was re-arrested one month later. Franklin faced a multitude of charges in several different states.
Although not the first state to convict Franklin, Missouri was the first state to give Franklin the death penalty for his crime. Before committing his crime in Missouri, Franklin first robbed a bank in Little Rock, Arkansas. Franklin traveled to Dallas, Texas to buy a 30-06 rifle with a telescopic sight, before heading to St. Louis, Missouri to check into a hotel. After checking in, Franklin scouted St. Louis for a synagogue, finally settling on Brith Shalom Kneseth Israel Congregation in Richmond Heights, a suburb of St. Louis.
Franklin carefully planned his crime. He bought 10” nails, a guitar case, and a bicycle. He drove the nails into a telephone pole to serve as a rifle rest. Franklin filed the serial number off the rifle and tested the bicycle to ensure that he could use it to get away from the scene. Finally, while wearing gloves, Franklin wiped his prints from the rifle, ammunition, and guitar case.
On October 8, 1977, Franklin retrieved his guitar case containing the rifle and ammunition from its hiding place in bushes near the synagogue and waited for people to emerge. Around 1 pm, guests at a bar mitzvah celebration began leaving. Franklin fired approximately five shots into the crowd. Gerald Gordon was shot on the left side of his chest and died from blood loss. Two other men were wounded, but survived. Once out of ammunition, Franklin abandoned his guitar case and rifle, and rode his bicycle to where his car was parked. He then abandoned the bicycle, and drove off.
Twenty years later, Franklin was found guilty by a jury on February 27, 1997, and sentenced to die by lethal injection.
In addition to his crime in Missouri, Franklin was also convicted of the following crimes:
- A bombing in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 29, 1977, where there were no injuries. Franklin was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
- A double murder in Madison, Wisconsin on August 7, 1977. Twenty-three-year-old Alphonse Manning (black) and 23-year-old Toni Schwenn (white) were pulling out of a shopping mall when their car was rammed by Franklin. Franklin exited his car and shot Alphonse twice and Toni four times, killing them both. He received two life sentences.
- A double murder in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 8, 1980. Thirteen-year-old Dante Brown and 14-year-old Darrel Lane, who were cousins, were each shot twice by Franklin, who was standing on an overpass, as the boys walked to a convenience store. Franklin received two life sentences.
- A double murder in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 20, 1980. Twenty-year-old Ted Fields and 18-year-old David Martin were out jogging, along with two women when the group was fired upon. Ted and David were killed. One woman was injured but survived. Franklin received two life sentences.
Over the years, Franklin’s accounts of his murders have not remained consistent. The full scope of Franklin’s crimes remain unknown.
Franklin has admitted to committing the following crimes:
- A July 25, 1977, bombing in Rockville, Maryland. There were no injuries or deaths.
- In February 1978, in Atlanta, Georgia, an interracial couple was targeted. Johnny Brookshire was killed and Joy Williams was paralyzed.
- On March 6, 1978, in Lawrenceville, Georgia where two were injured. Franklin was attempting to kill Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler, for displaying interracial sex. Larry was injured, paralyzed from the waist down. Larry’s attorney, Gene Reeves, was also shot. He spent 20 days in a coma and survived. There were no charges filed in this case.
- On July 29, 1978, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where one person was injured, and one person was killed.
- On March 25, 1979, in Jackson, Mississippi, where 25-year-old Johnnie Noyes, a Jackson State University student with dreams of being a doctor was killed.
- On July 12, 1979, in Doraville, Georgia, where one person was killed.
- On August 8, 1979, in Falls Church, Virginia, where one person was killed.
- On January 14, 1980, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where two were killed. Franklin admitted to this crime after charges against him were dropped.
- On April 23, 1980, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where two were injured.
- On May 29, 1980, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where civil rights leader and Urban League president Vernon Jordan, Jr., was injured. Franklin initially denied participation in this crime, but later admitted to the crime after a jury acquitted him.
- On June 25, 1980, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, where two were killed. Another man, Jacob Beard, was previously charged and convicted of these killings. Jacob was released and a retrial was ordered based on Franklin’s confession.
Although unconfirmed, it is suspected that Franklin was also responsible for the following crimes:
- On October 7, 1977, in St. Louis, Missouri, where one person was killed and two were injured.
- On July 29, 1979, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, were one person was killed.
- On October 21, 1979, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where two people were killed.
- On December 5, 1979, in Dakalb County, Georgia, where one person was killed.
- On January 12, 1980, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where one person was killed.
- On May 3, 1980, in Tomah Wisconsin, where one person was killed.
- On June 6, 1980, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where two people were killed.
- On June 15, 1980, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where two people were killed. Pennsylvania has chosen not to extradite Franklin and try him.
Franklin is also suspected of robbing 16 banks to support his activities.
Franklin has said that at the time of the killings, it was as if a “cloud had descended over [him]” and that he was “obviously mentally ill.” He also said that he felt he was “serving the Lord by killing enemies of the white race.” He now regrets his actions, saying he has repented and believes the Lord has forgiven him.
Please pray for peace for the family of Gerald Gordon. Please pray for peace for the families of Alphonse Manning, Toni Schwenn, Dante Brown, Darrel Lane, Ted Fields, David Martin, Johnny Brookshire, and all others who were affected by Joseph Franklin’s crimes. Please pray for peace and healing for those who survived attacks by Joseph Franklin. Please pray for strength for the family of Joseph.