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Missouri Executes Serial Killer Who Claimed Responsibility For 1980 WV Rainbow Family Murders

Reported by: Send eMail Associated Press
Web Producer: Heath Harrison
Also Contributing: Heath Harrison
Reported: Nov. 20, 2013 3:17 PM EST
Updated: Nov. 20, 2013 4:02 PM EST

Missouri Department of Corrections
Missouri Department of Corrections

Bonne Terr, Mo.

White supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin has been put to death in Missouri. It was the state's first execution in nearly three years.

Franklin, 63, targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980. He was executed Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.

Franklin was convicted of seven other murders across the country and claimed responsibility for up to 20 overall, including two women killed in West Virginia. The Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.

According to e-WV, Franklin claimed he was the one responsible for the murder of two hitchhikers in West Virginia in 1980.

Nancy Santomero, 19, of Long Island, New York and Vicki Durian, 26, of Wellman, Iowa were murdered on Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County while on their way to the Rainbow Family gathering in Monongahela National Forest.

Jacob Beard of Pocahontas County was convicted in the killings, but his conviction was overturned in 1999. He was acquitted of the murders after a second trial in 2000. Beard later filed a wrongful conviction suit and settled with Pocahontas County for $2 million in 2003.

Franklin claimed responsibility for the murders in a 1997 confession, though some in law enforcement challenged his account.

Franklin has also admitted to shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since the attack in 1978.

Franklin was in his mid-20s when he began drifting across the country. He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 1977. No one was hurt, but soon, the killings began.

He arrived in the St. Louis area in October 1977 and picked out the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the Yellow Pages. He fired five shots at the parking lot in Richmond Heights after a bar mitzvah on Oct. 8, 1977. One struck and killed Gerald Gordon, a 42-year-old father of three.

Franklin got away. His killing spree continued another three years.

Several of his victims were interracial couples. He also shot and killed, among others, two black children in Cincinnati, three female hitchhikers and a white 15-year-old prostitute, with whom he was angry because the girl had sex with black men.

He finally stumbled after killing two young black men in Salt Lake City in August 1980. He was arrested a month later in Kentucky, briefly escaped, and was captured for good a month after that in Florida.

Franklin was convicted of eight murders: two in Madison, Wis., two in Cincinnati, two in Salt Lake City, one in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the one in St. Louis County. Years later, in federal prison, Franklin admitted to several crimes, including the St. Louis County killing. He was sentenced to death in 1997.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, Franklin insisted he no longer hates blacks or Jews. While he was held at St. Louis County Jail, he said he interacted with blacks at the jail, "and I saw they were people just like us."

The execution was the first in Missouri using a single drug, pentobarbital.

Franklin's fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court decision overturning stays granted Tuesday.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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