Joseph Paul Franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin.png
MODOC mugshot
James Clayton Vaughn Jr.

(1950-04-13)April 13, 1950
DiedNovember 20, 2013(2013-11-20) (aged 63)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Other namesThe Racist Killer
Criminal statusExecuted
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)
Victims8 convicted, 20+ suspected[1]
Span of crimes
August 7, 1977 – August 20, 1980
CountryUnited States
State(s)Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, 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 white supremacist and serial killer who engaged in a murder spree spanning the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Franklin was convicted of several murders and received six life sentences, as well as two death sentences. He also confessed to the attempted murders of magazine publisher and pornographer 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 highly publicized cases, and he made his confessions years after the crimes had occurred.

Franklin was on Missouri's death row for 15 years awaiting execution for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon.[2][3] He was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 2013.[4]

Early life

James Clayton Vaughn Jr. was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 13, 1950, the elder son of James Clayton Vaughn Sr. and Helen Rau Vaughn, and brother to Carolyn, Marilyn, and Gordon.[5] Vaughn's father was a World War II veteran and butcher who left the family when Vaughn was aged eight.[6] 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."[6]

Vaughn later stated that he was rarely given enough to eat and suffered severe physical abuse as a child,[7] and that his mother "didn't care about [him and his siblings]".[8] 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."[8]

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.[9] In the 1960s, Franklin was inspired to start a race war after reading Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. "I've never felt that way about any other book that I read," he later reflected. "It was something weird about that book."[10]

In the early 1970s, he took a road trip to an American Nazi Party conference in Virginia with David Duke (then a student) and Don Black.[11]


For much of his life, Franklin was a drifter, roaming the East Coast seeking chances to "cleanse the world" of people he considered inferior, especially black people and Jewish people.[7] His primary source of financial support appears to have been bank robberies. Franklin supplemented his income from criminal acts 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 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 conspicuous 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.[7] 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 affected by the European Union export ban when the German drug manufacturer Fresenius Kabi was obliged to refuse having their drugs used for 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."[10][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 a.m. CST and he was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m.[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 agency report said that 5 grams (0.18 oz) of the barbiturate pentobarbital was administered.[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 media

Hunter (1989), a novel by the white supremacist William L. Pierce, 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 a similarly themed novel, The Turner Diaries, dedicated the book to Joseph Paul Franklin,[35] and said of Franklin that "he saw his duty as a white man and did what a responsible son of his race must do."[36][37] In the 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt, Franklin was portrayed by Czech actor Jan Tříska. In 2009, Franklin appeared in the MSNBC TV show Criminal Mindscape.[38]

See also



  1. ^ Perry, Kimball (November 30, 2018). "Mo. executes white supremacist serial killer Franklin". USA Today. The Cincinnati Enquirer.
  2. ^ "Judge stays serial killer's execution". CNN. November 20, 2013.
  3. ^ "High court denies execution stay for racist serial killer". USA Today. November 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013.
  5. ^ "Life of hate and killing began in '50". Deseret News. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Publishing Company. June 19, 1995. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Gaines, James R. (November 24, 1980). "On the trail of a murderous sniper suspect: The tangled life of Joseph Paul Franklin". People. New York, NY: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gladwell, Malcolm (February 24, 1997). "Damaged". The New Yorker. New York, NY: Condé Nast. pp. 132–47. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin prepares to die". CNN. November 18, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  9. ^ "Racist rifleman". Time. New York, NY: Meredith Corporation. November 10, 1980. Archived from the original on December 24, 2008. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". British Broadcasting Corporation. November 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Josh Levin (June 10, 2020). "Robe and ritual". Slow Burn (Podcast). Season 4 Episode 2. Slate. Archived from the original on June 10, 2020. As a student at LSU, [David] Duke wrote letters to the National Socialist White People’s Party, the group formerly known as the American Nazi Party. These Nazis invited Duke to their annual conference in Virginia and suggested that he carpool with two other white supremacists. Here’s the author, Eli Saslow. One of them was about his age. A guy named Joseph Paul Franklin. The other was about two or three years younger. A guy named Don Black. And they piled into this car and started driving, you know, at 800 miles up the highway. And over the course of those hours, these three kids became really close.
  12. ^ a b c "FBI - Serial Killers, Part 4: Joseph Paul Franklin". Federal Bureau of Investigation. March 7, 2017.
  13. ^ "Explosion Demolishes Synagogue in Tennessee; Wires Found Leading from Synagogue to Motel 100 Yards a". August 2, 1977.
  14. ^ Severo, Richard (March 8, 1984). "Former Klansman Indicted in Bombing of a Synagogue". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  15. ^ "Man Is Convicted of Killing Interracial Couple in Wisconsin in 1977". The New York Times. New York City. The Associated Press. February 14, 1986. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  16. ^ Hollington, Kris (2008). Wolves, Jackals, and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. London, England: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1429986809.
  17. ^ Ayton, Mel (2011). Dark Soul of the South: The Life and Crimes of Racist Killer Joseph Paul Franklin. Lincoln, Nebraska: 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 October 23, 2003. 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. New York City. 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". August 15, 2013. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  24. ^ Salter, Jim (August 16, 2013). "Concern over pending Mo. executions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  25. ^ "Cruel and unusable". The Economist. November 1, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  26. ^ "Missouri executes prisoner using single drug from secret pharmacy". The Guardian. November 20, 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 Kohler, Joseph (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  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. ^ Kohler, Jeremy (November 19, 2013). "Condemned serial killer on Missouri death row says he has remorse, is no longer a racist". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  32. ^ "Joseph Franklin, white supremacist serial killer, executed". BBC News. November 20, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  33. ^ Kohler, Jeremy (November 20, 2013). "Missouri executes white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  34. ^ Mills, David (May 16, 1993). "Don't Think Twice, It's All White". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  35. ^ "William Pierce, 69, Neo-Nazi Leader, Dies", The New York Times, July 24, 2002
  36. ^ Perry, Don. "MURDER'S PRICE". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  37. ^ Jenkins, Philip (2003). Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism. Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 76. ISBN 0202306798.
  38. ^ "Criminal Mindscape". IMDb. November 8, 2009.

Further reading