Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

White Supremacist Confesses to 1977 Murder of St. Louis Jew

November 15, 1994
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An avowed white supremacist sentenced to life in prison for the murder of four other people has confessed to the 1977 killing of a local Jewish resident, who was shot to death as he left a synagogue here.

Joseph Paul Franklin, 44, prisoner in the federal maximum security prison in Marion, Ill., told detectives that he “planned to kill as many Jews as he could that day,” according to a report in the St. Louis Post-dispatch.

The newspaper quoted one detective, Rich Zweifel, as saying, “He (Franklin) said he wanted to clear his conscience. It was calm, almost casual conversation. He wasn’t cocky. And he is still a racist.”

In the 1977 incident, Gerald Gordon, 42, was shot to death as he left the Brith Sholom Knesseth Israel Synagogue after a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Two other men were wounded in the attack.

Gordon, a sales representative for a clothing firm, left behind his wife and three children.

Following his confession, Franklin was charged with capital murder, two counts of assault in the first degree and three counts of armed criminal action in connection with the attack. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Jeffrey Sinensky, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League, called Franklin “one of America’s most vicious racist killers.”

A former member of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi National Socialist White People’s Party, Franklin is already serving four life sentences for four murders committed in the mid-1970s, all of which had racial overtones.

He killed two black men as they were jogging with two white teen-age girls in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1976.

A year later, he murdered an interracial couple in Madison, Wis.

Franklin was indicted, but never convicted, in the 1978 shootings of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and Flynt’s lawyer. The shooting left Flynt paralyzed.

He was also charged, but later acquitted, in the 1980 shooting of Vernon Jordan, then president of the National Urban League.

In 1984, Franklin admitted to the 1977 bombing attack on a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., that destroyed the shul.

Franklin reportedly told detectives that he had bought the rifle used in the Gordon murder in Texas and then headed to St. Louis because of its large Jewish community, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Franklin also said he drove around the area, looking at several synagogues, before choosing Brith Sholom at random. He fired five shots and left the scene, driving south.

Attorney Irl Baris, who was president of the synagogue at the time of the shooting, said, “we are very pleased that the crime has been solved. It’s a great relief to know the person who did it has been charged.”

Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Brith Sholom said the charges against Franklin were “great news to the congregation.”

Recommended from JTA