True crime: Joseph Paul Franklin’s reign of violence ends in Missouri

Image source -

ST. LOUIS — We’re taking a look back at some of the biggest cases in the St. Louis area. The execution of this nationally-known killer is one of the most imfamous.

Joseph Paul Franklin, an infamous American neo-Nazi, terrorist, and serial killer, carried out a spree of murders from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Born in 1950 in Alabama, he met his end at the correctional center in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Originally named James Clayton Vaughn Jr., Franklin later changed his name to honor his personal heroes: Paul Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi, and Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin, the eldest of three siblings, faced a troubled upbringing. His father, a World War II veteran and butcher, abandoned the family when Franklin was eight. One of Franklin’s siblings claimed that when his father did come to visit, he frequently experienced physical abuse at his hands. Additionally, Franklin’s mother, known for her strict parenting, was also alleged to have administered physical discipline.

Blaming his upbringing, Franklin later attributed his descent into mass murder and serial killing to a lack of maturity and an inability to distinguish right from wrong.

During his school years, Franklin developed an interest in Nazism. He held memberships in the National Socialist White People’s Party and the Ku Klux Klan.

Franklin claimed in an interview with FOX2’s Tom O’Neal that the Nazi literature he read as a teenager, specifically Adolf Hitler’s influential words in Mein Kampf, was the source of his hatred for Jews and African Americans.

Crime Timeline:


July 29: Firebombed Beth Shalom Synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

August 7: Shot and killed an interracial couple in a parking lot in Madison, Wisconsin.

October 8: Attacked Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri, killing one and injuring others.


March 6: Attempted to assassinate Larry Flynt in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

July 29: Hid near a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and shot and killed a black man.


July 12: Fatally shot Taco Bell manager Harold McIver in Doraville, Georgia.

October 21: Killed a black man and his white wife in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


May 29: Confessed to shooting civil rights activist Vernon Jordan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

June 8: Killed two cousins in Cincinnati, Ohio, while waiting for an interracial couple.

June 15: Shot and killed a black man and a white woman in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

June 25: Used a pistol to kill two hitchhikers in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

August 20: Killed two black men near Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.

After the Utah killings, Franklin was arrested in Kentucky for outstanding warrants. The FBI, noting his racist tattoos and reliance on blood bank donations for cash, traced him to Lakeland, Florida, and apprehended him on October 28, 1980.

Over the next two decades, Franklin faced the legal consequences of the United States, being convicted of numerous murders, assaults, and other crimes at both the state and federal levels.

His sentences included life imprisonment and death penalties in multiple states. In 1994, while serving consecutive life sentences in the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, Franklin made a startling confession to the Richmond Heights synagogue murder.

Claiming a dream had compelled him, Franklin confessed to the killing of Gerald Gordon. Fear of retribution for assaulting a guard at Marion also motivated his confession. While resulting in a death penalty for Franklin, the confession led to his transfer to the prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

On November 11, 2013, Franklin was executed in Missouri for the 1977 murder of a man in front of a synagogue in St. Louis.

The crime that put Franklin on Missouri’s death row was the murder of Gerald Gordon. On October 8, 1977, Franklin strategically placed 10-inch nails into a telephone pole as a makeshift gun rest for his hunting rifle. As around 200 guests departed from a bar mitzvah, Franklin pulled the trigger, murdering Gordon in front of his wife and three children.

Franklin also admitted to shooting Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, expressing his displeasure with the magazine’s depiction of interracial couples in sexual situations. Despite his confession, Franklin was never brought to trial for the shooting, which left Flynt paralyzed.

In 1980, Franklin was acquitted of shooting and injuring Vernon Jordan, the head of the Urban League at the time. However, Franklin later confessed to the crime.

Franklin was executed at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri, on November 20, 2013. The execution commenced at 6:07 a.m. CST, and he was officially pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m.


Never Miss A Story

Get our Weekly recap with the latest news, articles and resources.
Cookie policy
We use our own and third party cookies to allow us to understand how the site is used and to support our marketing campaigns.

Hot daily news right into your inbox.