Inspired by Hitler, He Tried to Start a Race War
The racist killer naively named himself after the German-hating Benjamin Franklin.
Criminals and murderers most often in their own minds aren’t really committing a crime at all. They’re either just satisfying their inner urges that seem to them like the right thing to do, and in some cases, they’re even doing something for the greater good of the world — creating a revolution. Some of you may have read about Lonnie Franklin aka The Grim Sleeper, who took it upon himself to cleanse the streets of Los Angeles of drug-addicted prostitutes.
Or a more universally-known figure of Adolf Hitler, the man who shook the world with his attempts at exterminating the Jewish population.
One such self-proclaimed revolutionary was Joseph Paul Franklin — a white supremacist who was convicted for eight counts of murder and suspected of 20+ cases that weren’t proved in court. He happened to have been inspired by none other than Herr Hitler himself — more on that later.
The Birth of James Clayton Vaughn Jr.
Franklin was born as James Clayton Vaughn Jr. on April 13, 1950, in Alabama, to James Clayton Vaughn Sr. and Helen Rau Vaughn.
His father was a WW-II veteran and was an alcoholic who would physically abuse his kids. He left the family when Franklin was only eight years old, but there are accounts from his sister that he would beat the kids up even when he visited them occasionally.
Franklin’s mother was a German woman who was quite strict and is also known to have potentially been abusive to her kids. Similar to many other serial killers with abusive childhoods, Franklin’s psychologists would later suggest that his emotional and mental well-being was significantly impacted by the constant abuse and neglect he went through as a child.
The Making of Joseph Paul Franklin
With his mixed origins with a White American father, and a German mother, Franklin had influences of both cultures growing up. In high school, he developed some interest in evangelical Christianity as well as later in Nazism.
He was so inspired by the two movements that he changed his name from James Clayton Vaughn Jr. to Joseph Paul Franklin in the honor of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi politician, and Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA.
It was in the 1960s that he read Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf. This is when he felt inspired to start a race war in the world, and later mentioned that the book had a profound impact on his thinking and in-turn his life.
The Crimes and the Common Racist Undertone
With his inspiration and upbringing, Franklin had turned into a White Supremacist and his Nazi influence also meant that he hated Jews. So, he decided to go out into the world and cleanse the world of the “inferior” Blacks and Jews.
He would lead a life of crime, including homicides, and his means of funding his activities would be by donating blood to blood banks, as well as bank robberies.
Each of the crimes he committed over the years had a clear intention of either spurring an inter-racial war, or aimed towards killing Blacks and Jews.
Some of his known crimes include:
July 1977 — Bombs a Synagogue (Jewish place of worship), after the service had ended, but luckily no one is seriously injured
August 1977 — Shoots an interracial couple to death in Madison, Wisconsin
October 1977 — Fires at a group of people attending services at a Synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri, kills a 42-year old Gerald Gordon, and injures others
March 1978 — Shoots and paralyzes the publisher of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt as well as his attorney, a crime he was charged with only years later. Flynt, despite being paralyzed for life due to the attack, would later appeal for clemency for Franklin, in an act of kindness
May 1980 — In the second of his attempted murders of “famous people” he would shoot and seriously wound Urban League President Vernon Jordan, a Black civil-rights activist, when he was seen with a White woman
June 1980 — Lawrence Reese and Leo Watkins, both black, are shot to death — a crime for which Franklin is charged, never tried
August 1980 — shoots and kills Ted Fields and David Martin — both black, in a Salt Lake City park while they were jogging with two white women
The list of his crimes is much longer, but the common theme is clear. He would either target Jews — especially at their place of worship, to show utter contempt for the religion and everyone associated with it, or would target interracial couples, and kill the black halves of these couples, to quench his hatred for the race, as well as in the hopes of fuelling a racial war.
Franklin’s Arrest, Trial & Eventual Fate
Following the Utah murders of August, 1980, Franklin was detained for questioning for possession of a firearm in his vehicle. While he fled the investigation, there was enough supporting evidence recovered from his vehicle to link him to some of the killings.
He also had obviously racist tattoos, that made the authorities more suspicious, and his frequent visits to blood banks led to a nationwide alert being sent to blood banks. A Florida blood bank worker contacted the FBI, recognizing Franklin from his tattoos, and he was arrested in October 1980.
During the trials, a psychiatrist also attested for the defense claiming that Franklin was a Paranoid Schizophrenic, making him unfit for trial. The psychiatrist also linked his behavior and delusional thinking to his childhood abuse and its mental impact.
Despite all of the pleas of the defense for leniency given his mental condition, he was awarded as many as six life sentences and two death sentences, having been convicted for eight murders.
Franklin was executed in Missouri on November 20, 2013. The execution began at 6:07 AM CST and he was pronounced dead at 6:17 AM.
Another Victim of Child Abuse and Flawed Upbringing
As is central to many of the serial killers I’ve read and written about including most famously John Wayne Gacy aka The Killer Joker, Franklin was a victim of physical and mental abuse as a child, which left him scarred for life and turned him into a racist, delusional individual.
To add to this, he was misguided in the name of religion and politics, and his beliefs led him to believe that it was his duty to make the world “pure” again — and in that pursuit, he went on a spree of crimes that led to the loss of many innocent lives, and if he were to have his way, could have been a much more disastrous outcome.