The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Hatewatch Exclusive: Racist Serial Killer, Facing Death, Recants

By Don Terry on October 17, 2013 - 11:34 am, Posted in Anti-Black, Anti-Semitic, Extremist Crime, Hate Crime

As he awaits his November date with the executioner, prolific racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin wants something he never showed any of his victims.

He wants mercy.

If the courts won’t give it to him, he hopes maybe God will.

“I’ve prayed to the Lord for forgiveness,” Franklin told Hatewatch this week in a series of telephone interviews from the condemned unit at the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri. “I not only asked the Lord for me, but I’ve prayed for all of my victims, too. I go from name to name and pray for each one of those people and regret that I ever harmed and shot them the way I did.”

Once defiant and unrepentant, the 63-year-old death row inmate, a self-admitted savvy manipulator, is “doing everything I can” to save his own life – and to prepare for the next. He has renounced his racist past and extremist beliefs and he professes a Christian rebirth during the 33 years he has been locked up for roaming the country and gunning down an interracial couple in Wisconsin, two black boys in Ohio, a Jewish man coming out of a synagogue after worship in Missouri and at least three other people from Tennessee to Utah. Authorities suspect there could be as many as 20 murder victims.

Using a sniper rifle, Franklin said he also stalked and shot publisher Larry Flynt, putting him in a wheelchair, because Flynt featured interracial sex in Hustler magazine. Two years later, in the spring of 1980, Franklin shot and tore a gaping hole in the back of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, who somehow survived the attack.

He was acquitted of shooting Jordan, who was president of the National Urban League at the time he was shot in a hotel parking lot in Fort Wayne, Ind. The jury, Franklin said, made a mistake.

“I was on a mission,” Franklin said, to kill as many Jews, blacks, and white women involved in interracial relationships as he possibly could. “I wanted to start a race war.”

He said he was inspired by Charles Manson, adding, “A lot of white nationalists looked up to Charles Manson.”

Franklin said he thought the killing of another civil rights leader would cause black people to riot, sparking a race war.

Jordan, however, wasn’t even his first choice.

“I was going to kill Rev. Jesse Jackson,” Franklin said.

Franklin drove to Chicago in 1980 and even walked around the headquarters building of Jackson’s Operation PUSH on the city’s South Side, looking for a place to set up a sniper’s nest. But he could not find an ideal location in the busy neighborhood. Then he noticed what he believed to be an unmarked police car following him.

Franklin quickly left the city and was driving through Indiana when he heard on the radio that Jordan was speaking nearby.

He pulled over, retrieved his rifle and waited in the bushes near Jordan’s hotel room.


Franklin is a hero to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, at least those who still remember him. The late neo-Nazi leader William Pierce dedicated Hunter, his novel about a lone-wolf racist terrorist, to Franklin.

Franklin’s chilling and sad words from death row today undoubtedly will shake and shock his supporters.

In his interviews with Hatewatch, Franklin spoke of his remorse and belief that anti-Semitism “is itself a sign of mental illness.” He talked about being beaten and abused as a boy growing up in Mobile, Ala., about joining the Klan, and leaving after just three months because there were more police informants under the sheets “than Klansmen.” He talked about devouring Mein Kampf over and over and about a road trip he said he took as a young neo-Nazi with David Duke and Don Black.

It was 1969 and the young racists were on their way to Arlington, Va., for a gathering of the World Union of National Socialists, started in 1962 by American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell and European neo-Nazis. Franklin said they made the trip in Chevrolet Chevelle that belonged to a close friend of Duke’s, who rode with them. Duke, the future Klan leader, did most of the driving.

“I was sitting in the back behind David Duke,” Franklin said. “He was in the front seat, telling racist jokes. Don Black was sitting in the back seat to my right.”

Franklin credits his change of mind and heart to decades meditation while incarcerated. “I began meditating St. Patrick’s Day, 1985,” he said. “But it took me a long time to really change. I was just so hardcore. When you’re that hardcore it really takes you a long time to change, but eventually, over a period of time, I just gradually started changing my views on a whole lot of things. I just could not see myself out there doing that same thing again.

“I’m glad I got caught,” he continued. “You know before I committed even more crimes. It’s been said many times that the Lord will often times turn what appears to be a curse into a blessing and that is what happened in my case.”


Franklin began his personal mission of murder in 1977. He drove around the country in a used Chevy he purchased for $975 from the proceeds of the first of his 16 bank robberies, hunting down interracial couples, “totally obsessed with Mein Kampf and Hitler” and consumed with a desire “to kill some Jews,” although most of his victims were black.

After being caught, Franklin told a Missouri courtroom that the only thing he was sorry about was that killing Jews was illegal.

He’s sorry about much more now.

Pending execution can have that effect on people.

“There are psychiatrists who actually believe that anti-Semitism itself is a mental illness,” Franklin told Hatewatch. “And I’m convinced personally that it’s true. I’ve met other people who were into Nazism and I could tell that they were mentally ill.

“People should be locked up just for espousing that type of views,” he continued. “That would have helped me out if I would have been locked up in a mental institution for a while until I was cured.”

Instead, he killed at least eight people and has spent more than half his life in prison. Now his time appears to have run out. The state of Missouri is scheduled to put Franklin to death by lethal injection on Nov. 20 for the sniper killing in the fall of 1977 of Gerald Gordon, 42, as Gordon was coming out of a synagogue in suburban St. Louis.

Gordon was the third of the eight people Franklin has been convicted of murdering from 1977 to 1980.

A last ditch legal fight over the method of execution could – at least for a while – delay Franklin’s scheduled execution.


In the meantime, Franklin wants to have his say.

“I was mentally ill when I was out there, man,” he said. “I mean, I was just really out of control. That was not me out in the streets, doing that crap. I would not even think of doing that stuff anymore.”

Born James Clayton Vaughn Jr. in Mobile on April 13, 1950, Franklin’s childhood was by all accounts filled with poverty and pain, mostly at the abusive hands of his mother who made life for Franklin and his three siblings “a living hell.”

His parents, however, were not any more racist than “most other people” in the segregated South, he said.

“They weren’t members of any white supremacist organization or anything,” he said. “Just about everybody in Mobile at that time during the ’50s and ’60s when I was growing up, used the N-word. It was kind of common then. Matter of fact it was uncommon to hear anybody use the word Negro.”

His mother’s side of the family was from Germany. As a boy, when Franklin discovered photographs of his German relatives wearing swastika armbands during World War II, he was hooked. “I thought, hey, this is something my family is into,” Franklin said.

He joined the American Nazi Party in 1967, the same year Rockwell was assassinated by a disgruntled follower, sending in the $2 membership fee. He was 17.

“The party at that time was fairly strong,” Franklin said. “They just began integrating the schools and I think a lot of the organizations at that time were at their peak — United Klans of America, American Nazi Party, National States’ Rights Party. A lot of people were scared of integration and began joining those organizations.”

At one time or another, Franklin says he belonged to all three.

But his heart always belonged to the Führer. In 1976, Franklin 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.

A year later, the killing began with a young interracial couple in Madison, Wisc., who Franklin happened to encounter in a mall parking lot.

“I’m just trusting in the Lord’s mercy,” Franklin told Hatewatch. “He tells us right there in the Scriptures that those who obey him will enter into his rest and receive eternal life.”

Moments later, an automated voice interrupted Franklin, informing him he had one minute left on the monitored prison telephone.

Then, 60 seconds later, the automated voice was back and said, “Goodbye.”

The call was over.

Joseph Paul Franklin had run out of time.

  • aadila

    Terry Elrod’s comment is the most uplifting I have ever read on this topic. It is a ray of sunshine on this dark and disturbing episode of human history. I hope he keeps on saying it.

  • aadila

    “I also observed that while availability of mental health care (prior to Obamacare) in the general community is often zero, in prison it is usually at least not zero.”

    Fair enough Dan, but to compare prison mistreatment to real, compassionate psycholgical care is an insult to the profession.

    There are by the way low cost or no cost clinics in most urban areas, and most clinical mental health people will accept reduced or even pro-bono cases. I think the problem is not access to care, but that people who need mental health treatment the most (those with severe personality disorders, for example) don’t think they need it and don’t end up being treated…a lot then end up in jail and if we had a better system there it might reduce the problem, though it would not eliminate it.

    So there is a lot of blame to go around before we say it’s just lack of clinics.

  • Byron

    Very ironic. How many innocent black men has the state of Missouri executed? And how many lives and families has it ruined by unlawful and unnecessary incarceration? Perhaps Franklin’s mistake is that he used a gun rather than a gavel.

  • Kiwiwriter

    I have no sympathy for Mr. Franklin, who looks like Hitler if Der Fuehrer had been caught and imprisoned.

    I’ve written earlier that I’m conflicted on the death penalty. I think there is racism in how it’s used, and it does not deter the vast bulk of crime. We do not use it on stock manipulators, drug dealers, human traffickers, and grafters.

    On the other hand, I do not see the point in expending my tax dollars to ensure that a sadistic, brutal, vicious, racist killer gets three squares a day, a bed, clothing, medical care throughout his life (better than I get), cable TV, unlimited access to lawyers to appeal his predicament, high school and college classes, and health and recreation opportunities…that his victims never get.

    So I’m caught in the middle on the death penalty and that’s where I’m staying.

    However, if anyone deserves the blue juice, Mr. Franklin does…he deliberately and maliciously stalked and killed people who bore him not the slightest droplets of malice, total innocents. And why? Because they were living happy and productive lives, and he wasn’t, and had to feel that this situation was somehow “wrong” and “immoral.” So he punished them for violating his rules.

    I suppose he thought at some levels that people would be “inspired” by his acts and rally behind him to continue the genocidal campaign and put him on the throne majestic, but the harsh reality of these nasty little racists is not any desire to make the world a “better” place…they just want everyone to be as miserable as they are.

    Nor do I believe his “apologies.” People on death row will do anything possible to avoid the blue juice and being held accountable for their actions.

    Before he dies, he should take pen and paper, and write out individual, separate apologies, to every single family he has harmed. After doing that, he should write an essay to his supporters and followers, urging them to abandon the cause of racism.

  • Willie

    I am not a proponent of the death penalty either, but sometimes my view can be deeply challenged by some of the heinous act committed upon others. This is one of those times.

  • Terry Elrod

    JPF murdered my friends and shot me in 1980 when I was 15 years old.

    Three months ago I created an art piece about his childhood and life sentences we were sentenced to when he carried out his crimes.

    I went to the canyon and prayed for his sentence to be carried out.

    Before then, I never thought about his execution. It seemed so far away. It didn’t seem a real possibility until he was old and gray, which is obviously the case.

    An execution seems more humane than his life. I never thought I would pray for someones death. But when I learned more about his childhood I found that he has been in some sort of prison his whole life from cradle to grave.

    I wasn’t praying to be vindicated so much as mercy, for who he could have been if he had a normal childhood and upbringing.

    His life sentences were connected to the victims & family life sentences. We will all be doing time for the village turning a blind eye to his childhood suffering.

    I am not trying to make excuses for him. I want to heal the wounds he left in my heart and the community. In order to do that I have to know his narrative. What I have learned allowed me to forgive him. I think that is why I prayed for his suffering to be eased. Death is the only way that can happen for him.

    I created this art piece to remember why its important to be part of the village who watch over our children. I am willing to have uncomfortable conversations if it saves a child.

    JPF’s childhood and life reminds me that ignoring someone’s pain doesn’t shield me from it.


  • Wren

    He stated clearly himself what helped him; look at his own words about meditation over a long period of time.

  • emeraldeyes

    This man is Exhibit A for everything that represents the classic racist – pathological hatred and fear. I would certainly agree with one of the commentators above. Religious orthodoxy fervour is a mental illness. It is to racism what air is to breathing, what crack cocaine is to addiction. If religion was a drug that they were ingesting on a daily basis that did this kind of harm it would be a felony offense to distribute it. But, because it is ”religion”, it is perfectly legal. The truth is that this kind of religious belief is more deadly than any crack cocaine. It perpetuates hatred of other, of different. It instills fear on the level of paranoia. That is why uneducated, uninformed orthodox Christian Southerners worship guns, they fear that the ”other” or the ”different” is coming around the corner any moment and will annhialate them . The deadly cocktail of religion and paranoia that has been part of their lives from infancy has altered the physiology of their brain, heightening their hyper vigilance. Compare the Southern firebrand doses of faux-religion to the new Roman Catholic pope’s version of piety, of gentle kindness and quiet caring and giving and non-judgmental tolerance, no matter who the person.

  • Ange

    I am not American and we do not have the death penalty in this country, in fact, we barely have a legal system at all, sadly. But when things like this walk the earth they don’t deserve the air they breathe, and why, you as Americans, why should you have to pay for this things day to day living with your taxes. That is what I hate about this country, all this scum in prison, living the high life, as they here are better treated than our elderly on the outside, why should our taxes go to pay for their day to day living. Bring on the death penalty and rid yourselves of this piece of nothing, worthless, poor excuse for a human being.

  • Dan Zabetakis

    ” or worse, as seems to be the case with you, are devoid of empathy for human suffering.”

    I can only assume you imagine that I am saying things that I am not saying.

    I was merely observing that _if_ Franklin was diagnosed with schizophrenia he _may_ have been receiving medication for the last 33 years and that may be the _cause_ of his change in outlook.

    I also observed that while availability of mental health care (prior to Obamacare) in the general community is often zero, in prison it is usually at least not zero.

  • Sandy Blinkhorn

    I’m from Ohio. I remember Franklin murdering those 2 young boys, shooting Larry Flynt and Vernon Jordan. And I remember the other murders he was eventually convicted of. Those were the days of serial killers. He terrorized all of us. I meet my limitations of compassion when confronted with another human like Franklin. The death penalty is abhorrent to me, so I draw the line there. I don’t have it in me to forgive this man, however. I wish I could be like Sister Prejean, but I don’t know how to get there. I cannot trust his intentions in confessing and asking for mercy. The Hitler haircut, is also a problem for me.

  • Madge

    Do whatever horrible thing you want to do in your life and recant on your “death bed”. It’s the Christian way.

  • Tomas

    Prison is the place for violent criminals like this, for life. Community service is for non-violent criminals, like drug possessors.

  • http://Hatewatch Willie Salas

    The death penalty is a just sentence for a serial killer like Franklin, who expressed NO remorse for killing his victims. A death sentence very often strikes fear in the hearts of even the worst criminals, so… it does send a message to others contemplating this type of criminal behavior. I feel this is nothing more than a desparate, last minute attempt to save his hide by proclaiming childhood poverty, abuse and mental conditions. In my opinion this comes 33 years too late.

  • Lord Vader

    He’s gotta go. If for anything, it’s for the Hitler haircut in the photo. 33 years on Death Row is long enough–his appeals have taken THAT LONG? Jeesh. What does his repentance and jailhouse religious conversion do for the victims, the dead and the survivors?

  • aadila


    Deliberate denial of care in custody has led to numerous deaths — even in immigrant detention facilities. If we are going to be the country that puts people in warehouses more than any other country on the planet, we should at least observe basic standards of human rights are applied, and the article I cited clearly suggests prisons are not doing that. I’ll trust an academic article over your unqualifed opinion, thanks all the same.

    Mental health care in prison is the same sort of false gesture as swabbing a cotton ball on the arm before injecting barbituates to stop his heart. Here we are torturing thousands upon thousands of people in solitary confinement, then giving them access for 20 minutes to a social worker once a month as if this is some kind of commitment to humanity, before starting the torture again.

    Lots of people in prison are not “bad people” or beyond redemption, but just made a mistake, and no one should be tortured or refused medical care as punishment. If we made an effort to ensure that psychological counseling and substance abuse treatment were available universally in confinement, we might be able to reduce the alarming rate of recidivism and actually do something about the root of the problem.

    I suggest talking to some prison chaplains in your area to get a sense of how bad it really is. You should simply not trust what prison administrators — many working for profit — say about how they comply with standards. Investigations routinely show problems of many kinds. Most people don’t have any idea, or worse, as seems to be the case with you, are devoid of empathy for human suffering.

    It would be interesting to know from Don Terry his impression on whether Franklin was genuine about his remorse, or if he feels it was merely a manipulative gesture to gain sympathy and hopefully to avoid execution. We should not forget Don’s role in all of this, which certainly must have been a difficult and unpleasant challenge, and an incredibly valuable action which most people lack the courage and decency to undertake.

  • Dietrich

    Wow, this story is all sorts of depressing.

  • Dan Zabetakis

    “DanZ, when you make a comment like that, I must question how much you know about the availability of mental health care (or any kind of health care) in the American penal system. ”

    I know that the care in prisons is greater than that available in the community up until now.

    It’s a good supposition that Franklin combined latent social racism with paranoid schizophrenia. When he was sent to prison it may have been the first time he received mental healthcare. I’m not saying the care is good, just that it is not zero. If, as is likely, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia on intake, he would have received medication as a matter of course.

    That would explain why, decades later, he can’t understand his previous behavior.

  • Matthew Bright

    He killed kids. Consequently, I have no sympathy for him. And though Missouri has inflicted many a bad politician on the country, I have to give credit where credit is due — Missouri is showing the good sense and decency to execute this awful man. Years too late in my opinion, but better late than never.

  • Mike

    I’ll forgive him forever… when they throw the switch and fry this son of a bitch.

    I believe he truly did repent though; some troglodytes have such a primordial brain, they only understand power, and realize sudden deep epiphanies (for their primitive psyches) — when they’re looking down the barrel of their intended rape victim’s gun.

    “Once defiant and unrepentant, the 63-year-old death row inmate, a self-admitted savvy manipulator, is “doing everything I can” to save his own life…”

    Yeeeeesssssss….. not savvy enough to keep from admitting this, huh? He’s clearly a troglodyte. Everything about his contrition smacks of fraud; he’s looking death in the face and squealing in fear.

    He’s not sorry for what he did — just sorry he got caught! Take away the threat on his life, and he’ll be boasting about his gaming of our justice system within the immediately following second. Not savvy enough to worm his way out of a wet paper bag. He’s just clever enough to be a natural cretinous sociopath. Just look at his mug.

  • David Cary Hart

    I am a victim of violent crime – having been shot and seriously injured. If they ever caught the guy I could snuff out his lights with my hands. As a society we should be better than that.

    I hope that this jerk’s sentence gets commuted. That is probably unlikely. However, killing him serves no purpose while making us a bit less sensitive to murder.

    Having said that, I am not interested in his supposed recantations or anything else that he has to say. I prefer to keep him irrelevant to my existence.

  • Brian

    The death penalty is fundamentally wrong and immoral, no matter who the convict is. Even for psychotic scum like this.

  • Gregory

    My opinion, stated the last time we discussed this sad specimen, is to let him live out the remainder of his life in prison. A forgotten death in a lonely prison cell will be the epitaph of a wasted life. That would be far more cruel than releasing him from this life prematurely.

  • aadila

    DanZ, when you make a comment like that, I must question how much you know about the availability of mental health care (or any kind of health care) in the American penal system.

    One of the reasons why we have nearly 90% recidivism in this country is precisely because inmates are subjected to dehumanizing and torturous conditions to punish them, but don’t get mental health or substance abuse counseling for the problems that landed them in prison.

    I have linked to an article on this topic, but here is an excerpt from _Death Row Inmates and Mental Health_, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 33:3:406-408 (September 2005) :

    ‘Compliance with ACA standards was found to be “incongruous,” since the mental health conditions on death row were “grossly inadequate.”’

  • Dan Zabetakis

    What is very likely the case is that he has had 33 years of regular psychiatric healthcare. A couple of decades of treatment for schizophrenia or psychosis can really help you get your head together.


  • Reynardine

    You have to wonder how plenary an act of contrition this is.

  • aadila

    I don’t support the death penalty. However I also don’t think facing our actions is as simple as apologizing for them or saying “it’s not me anymore”. His circumstance is a direct result of what he did. But I do take some hope that just as the debt is paid, the lesson too is learned, and I am relieved that he has reflected deeply and found some answers.

    But more than this I find myself thinking there are many kids who grow up in abusive homes, in situations of risk, who overcome their challenges and go on to have meaningful, compassionate, and productive lives. I’ve said it before, but if we are going to throw our lives away, at least let us throw it away in cultivating something better for someone, somewhere, somehow.

    I would like to know why some people overcome their challenges and others fall so deeply into darkness, a darkness so deep that it seems at times like light will never enter. I think about this all the time, and I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. Perhaps I will never know. Perhaps there is no way to know.

    But I suspect it has to do with hope. Hope and faith. Some small, miniscule point of light somewhere in the mind that says …. stop…. don’t … it is wrong. We all have it. But we don’t always listen. It is why it is so important for those of us who never faced these kinds of challenges to have compassion; and for those of us who did overcome them, to share their way with others. Maybe if one person, somehow, had put down their momentary distractions, if they had cared enough to look, and intervened, it all would have turned out so differently.

    This world is not easy for anyone.