After 33 years in prison, Joseph Paul Franklin, one of the most notorious and prolific racist serial killers of modern times, now has a date with the executioner.
The Missouri State Supreme Court yesterday ordered that Franklin be executed by lethal injection on Nov. 20, almost 36 years after he murdered Gerald Gordon outside a synagogue following an Oct. 8, 1977, bar mitzvah.
Franklin, 63, is to be executed for the Gordon killing. But he has been convicted of a total of eight racially motivated murders in Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri between 1977 and 1980, and confessed to or was implicated in 13 additional racial murders. He also confessed to the 1978 attempted murder of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and his lawyer, saying he was infuriated by an interracial porn shoot in Flynt’s publication, but was never tried in that case. He was acquitted of the 1980 attempted murder of Urban League President Vernon Jordan Jr., a black civil rights activist.
Franklin has said he was attempting to start a race war by targeting victims who were Jewish, African-American or involved in interracial romantic relationships. Although he didn’t use the term, his crimes were what other racists would come to call acts of Phineas Priests, based on a Bible story describing Phineas’ killing of a man and a woman of different tribes who were having sex. Many white supremacists see this story as proof that God approves of murdering “race-mixers.”
The late William Pierce, founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, attempted to immortalize Franklin’s racist killing spree by dedicating to him the 1989 novel, Hunter, which Pierce authored under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. The book depicted a man, Oscar Yeager (an Anglicization of Jäger, German for hunter), who hunted down and murdered interracial couples and government officials.
Despite that dedication and his infamy in the national press at the time, Franklin’s murderous acts seem largely forgotten by today’s organized racists. It’s rare to find references to him or his attacks in contemporary racist literature.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who earlier filed a motion asking the court to set the execution dates for Franklin and another man, said he was pleased the state’s request was granted, the Kansas City Star reported. “The death penalty remains a legal punishment in our state,” Koster said in a prepared statement. “By setting these execution dates, the court has taken an important step to see that justice is finally done for the victims and their families.”
The Gerald Gordon murder took place in Richmond Heights, Mo. After a day of careful planning, Franklin armed himself with a Remington 700 hunting rifle and hid in tall grass behind a telephone pole outside the Brith Shalom synagogue. From his sniper’s nest, he fired five shots, killing Gordon and wounding Steven Goldman and William Ash. Franklin escaped and went on to kill others.
Eventually, he was captured and tried. In February 1997, a Missouri jury convicted Franklin of the murder 20 years earlier of Gordon and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Born James Clayton Vaughn Jr. in Mobile, Ala., on April 13, 1950, Franklin joined the American Nazi Party, which was formed in 1959, as a teenager. In 1976, just a year before embarking on his murderous rampage, he changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin, taking “Joseph Paul” from Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Paul Goebbels, and “Franklin” from American icon Benjamin Franklin.
Pierce, who for many years until his 2002 death was America’s most important neo-Nazi leader, admired Franklin greatly, and said as much in the first pages of Hunter: “Dedicated to Joseph Paul Franklin, the Lone Hunter, who saw his duty as a White man and did what a responsible son of his race must do, to the best of his ability and without regard for the personal consequences.”