At 6:17am on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Bonne Terre, Missouri, 63-year-old Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks, Jews and “the damned” in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death in the state’s first execution in nearly three years.
The sentence was for the sniper killing of Gerald Gordon at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders and claimed responsibility for more than 20. “6:17 is a lucky number. It means I will go to a good place,” the serial killer told prison employees as they strapped him into a gurney.
After a midnight intercession by the State’s Supreme Court as a result of his “innate state of mental illness,” that ruling was turned over by the Federal Supreme Court. Such is the American court system. Thus, more than 36 years since the murder, the execution began, six hours later than intended, and took just ten minutes.
Beyond saying it was happening ten minutes earlier than “prophesied,” and declining a chance to make a further final statement. Franklin swallowed hard, repeating the number 27 as five grams of pentobarbital were administered. He breathed heavily a couple of times then simply stopped breathing.
Franklin, a paranoid schizophrenic, was in his mid-20s when he began drifting across the country. He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 1977, before, he told the St. Louis Dispatch, the taste for killings began. Arriving in the St. Louis area in October 1977, he picked out the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the Yellow Pages. He fired a “dreamed of” five shots at the parking lot in Richmond Heights after a bar mitzvah on October 8, 1977. One struck and killed Gerald Gordon, a 42-year-old father of three. Franklin then hit the road and carried on his killing spree for three more years. His murder victims included three interracial couples, 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 also wounded the civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who was paralyzed from the waist down after an attack in 1978. Finally arrested in Kentucky in September. 1980, Franklin escaped, but was recaptured in Florida. Convicted of eight of the murders, he was sentenced to death in 1997.
There are many beliefs taken on by the incarcerated, from Islam all the way to transcendentalism. Numerology is a metaphysical science similar to astrology; its basic calculations accessible to anyone. It is a belief system that posits that it’s impossible to get through a single day without using numbers. Indeed, Franklin was unable to get through any single existential act without using numbers. From waking up to the digitized numbers on the alarm clock onward, a numerologist is constantly confronted by and made to deal with numbers. As nearly every aspect of our daily lives deals with numbers in some way – time, money, bus routes, highway exits, addresses, telephones and social security numbers – it affects us in multitudinous ways.
During a colorful interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Monday before sentence was carried out, Franklin insisted he no longer hated blacks or Jews. In St. Louis County Jail, he said he interacted with blacks, “and I saw they were people just like us.” As a gesture of mortification toward the wife and children of his victim Mr. Gordon, Franklin said he would eat a chopped liver sandwich as part of his last meal. More than that, he said, now that he knew Mr. Gordon’s birthdate, the murders and his ultimate execution had been inevitable, as predicted in the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy. Never publicity-shy, Franklin still denied repeated interview requests from The Associated Press because of its “negative phone digits.” Franklin’s attorney Jennifer Herndon said his reasoning exemplified his mental illness: He told her the digits of the AP‘s St. Louis office phone number added up to what he called an “unlucky number,” and refused to call it.
“They’re getting it wrong,” he told Herndon, tapping her watch before he was strapped down. “It’s not fair.”