9:10 AM, Oct 27, 2013
Jerry Mitchell, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON, Miss. — One of the nation’s most notorious serial killers, Joseph Paul Franklin, got his idea to kill Hustler publisher Larry Flynt after looking at the magazine in Jackson in 1977.
By the time Franklin got his chance a year later, he had already begun his rampage, bombing synagogues, shooting interracial couples and killing “enemies of the white race,” and, by the time it ended, leaving at least 21 dead, including Jackson State University student Johnnie Noyes Jr., according to authorities.
“I had a hatred toward blacks bordering on insanity,” the 63-year-old Franklin, who is scheduled to be executed Nov. 20, said in a telephone interview from death row in Missouri. “I was flat-out mentally ill.”
Before those killings began, he rented a place in an upscale neighborhood in Jackson near a Krystal, where he gobbled many burgers in 1977. “It was all I could afford,” he said.
Inside that home, he spotted a Hustler on a coffee table and picked it up. “I see some broad having sex with a black man,” he said. “I got so outraged.”
He flipped through the magazine and discovered Flynt was the publisher. “I thought, ‘I’m going to kill that guy,'” Franklin said. “I started stalking him.”
Franklin was born in 1950 to a Mobile, Ala., family that swirled with violence, neglect and mental illness.
His drunken father beat his mother before abandoning the family. He recalled his mother walking up behind him while he was eating and smacking him in the face.
After he and his siblings came home from school, she would keep them locked in the house, he said. “It was like being in a prison most of your childhood. It really messed up our minds.”
He said he became a loner, and his brother, Gordon, “wound up in prison. He went completely crazy.”
So did his father, James Clayton Vaughn Sr., who died in a mental ward in Biloxi in 1994.
To escape, Franklin buried himself in books, including Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” “To me at the time, Hitler was a god-man,” he said. “‘Mein Kampf’ was my Bible. I read it hundreds of times.”
By age 18, his lone attempt at marriage had ended amid allegations he abused his wife.
Struggling for identity, he moved in 1969 to Washington, D.C., where he became active in the American Nazi Party and later the National Socialist White People’s Party.
Franklin faithfully listened to the daily “White Power” messages left by neo-Nazi leader William Pierce.
Pierce denounced the Jews and called for repatriation of African Americans.
Upset at “race mixing,” Franklin confronted interracial couples, hurled insults at them and later sprayed them with mace.
Worried a 1973 conviction for carrying a concealed weapon would haunt him, he legally changed his name from James Clayton Vaughn Jr. to Joseph Paul Franklin, borrowing the names of Nazi leader Paul Joseph Goebbels and American patriot Benjamin Franklin.
He wandered the country, working dead-end jobs before he decided to go on the “warpath,” killing Jews, he said.
On July 25, 1977, he blew up a Jewish lobbyist’s home, but failed to kill the man. Days later he planted a bomb inside a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn. He had timed the device to explode during Sabbath services, but when the eight members left early because of light attendance, the blast hurt no one.
After his attack failed, he read about Judge Archie Simonson in Madison, Wis., whom he felt had been too lenient in sentencing two African-American men for raping a white woman.
“I got so mad, I drove all the way to Madison to kill that (expletive),” he said.
En route to the judge’s office, he gave two teenage girls a ride to a mall and then grew frustrated when a car slowed down in front of him.
Inside the car was Mississippi native Alphonse Manning, an African American who worked as a high school janitor. With him was his white girlfriend, Toni Schwenn, who worked at a juvenile detention center.
Franklin beeped his horn.
When Manning failed to speed up, Franklin laid on the horn. Upset, Manning bolted out of his car.
Franklin said he reached under the front seat for his .357-caliber pistol. “I grabbed it and whipped it out and ‘pow, pow,’ I shot him twice.”
Franklin got out of the car, walked past the body and shot Schwenn through the car window.
As he drove away, he shot Schwenn a second time.
A witness at the crime scene saw his Alabama license plate but was unable to get the number. Almost a decade would pass before Franklin was tried and convicted of murder in the slayings. By then he was already serving a life sentence for murdering two black joggers in Utah in 1980.
From Wisconsin, Franklin took a Greyhound to Atlanta and used a new alias he had taken from a 7-year-old boy whose name he had found in microfilm while looking through newspaper obituaries.
Arrested in New Orleans on yet another concealed-weapon charge, Franklin spent a week and a half in jail.
After he was freed, he left New Orleans, vowing to start a “race war,” believing other whites would join him.
Adopting aliases of Old West gunslingers he admired, he began looking for victims and robbed banks to support his crimes.
He then spent time on the Gulf Coast until he sensed someone was following him. He grabbed his suitcase and hit the road again.
Franklin resumed his rampage. On Oct. 8, 1977, he opened fire on members emerging from a synagogue in a St. Louis suburb, killing one and injuring another. It was the crime that eventually would land him on death row.
He headed south on I-55 and stayed in Memphis.
Then in February 1978 it was on to Atlanta, where he spotted a young interracial couple. He opened fire, killing Johnny Brookshire and paralyzing Joy Williams.
He readied to leave Atlanta when he read the Hustler publisher he had been longing to kill was on trial for obscenity in nearby Lawrenceville.
He said he drove there and began to search for “a good place to ambush him.”
His answer came in the newspaper when he read that Flynt liked to eat at the V&J Cafeteria.
That night, Franklin walked the path from the courthouse to the cafeteria and spotted an empty building across the street – the perfect spot for a sniper’s nest.
He saw the building lacked windows and returned with burlap sacks, which he tacked up to conceal his presence.
The morning of March 6, 1978, he slipped into his sniper’s nest.
Unlike previous attacks, he felt terrified, he said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘What in the world am I doing here?'”
Two men walked down the street, and Franklin decided to sight one as practice. “As soon as I got the scope on him, I realized it was Larry Flynt,” he said.
He fired several shots, hitting both Flynt and his lawyer, Gene Reeves. Flynt was left paralyzed from the waist down. Reeves, who was in a coma for 20 days, survived.
As he was leaving the scene, Franklin said, a Camaro peeled out, prompting an all-points bulletin for a black and silver Camaro. “Since I was in a green Torino, nobody was looking for my car.”
In spring 1979, Franklin arrived in Jackson with killing on his mind.
On March 25, he drove past a car wash on U.S. 80. From across the street, he leveled his .44 Magnum and fired.
Johnnie Noyes Jr., a 25-year-old Jackson State University student who dreamed of being a doctor, dropped dead.
In the years that followed, Franklin continued his shooting spree, firing at both the known and unknown. On May 29, 1980, he shot civil rights leader Vernon Jordan in the back in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“I felt I was serving the Lord by killing enemies of the white race,” Franklin said. “I felt that was what he wanted me to do.”
Months later, authorities caught him after he sold his plasma for $5 to a Florida blood bank.
As Franklin’s rampage became news, white supremacists praised him.
William Pierce wrote his 1989 book, “Hunter,” about a racist assassin eerily similar to Franklin and dedicated the book to him, saying he “saw his duty as a white man and did what a responsible son of his race must do.”
Franklin now regrets his actions, saying he was suffering from manic depression. “I felt like a cloud descended over me,” he said. “I was obviously mentally ill.”
After going to jail in St. Louis in 1996, Franklin interacted with African Americans and realized the error of his racism, he said.
He no longer believes “race mixing” is an abomination, saying God could have easily had the human race all one color, he said. “For some reason, he made us different colors.”
As for his many crimes, “I feel like the Lord has forgiven me because I’ve repented,” he said.
He now regrets shooting Jordan. Although a federal jury acquitted him of shooting Jordan, Franklin admits he, indeed, shot the civil rights leader. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him now,” he said.
Franklin also expressed regret for shooting the Hustler publisher.
Flynt has become an unexpected voice in favor of halting the serial killer’s execution.
“I have every reason to be overjoyed with this decision, but I am not,” he penned in a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter. “I firmly believe that a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.”
But the 54-year-old brother of Johnnie Noyes Jr. sees it differently.
Franklin is “getting what he deserves,” said Felix Noyes. “It’s just that simple.”