Murder in Oregon, a podcast about the 1989 murder of Oregon Department of Corrections director Michael Francke, told us in a previous episode that a violent drug dealer named Tim Natividad had been implicated in Michael’s murder by a number of inmates - and that the prison attorney, Scott McAlister, had arranged the hit. It was plausible, because Michael had uncovered serious corruption in Corrections, and was due to testify before the state legislature about it. But the authorities never charged Tim; instead, they went after a small-time drug dealer named Frank Gable. Michael’s brother, Kevin Francke, along with several journalists who covered the story at the time, said his name “came out of nowhere,” and none of them believed he had actually committed the crime. Host Lauren Bright Pacheco hears about the weak evidence against Frank, and the intimidation tactics used by the police against Kevin to try to run him out of town – or shut his mouth for good.
The pressure had been mounting to close this case for months, Lauren tells us, as evidenced by a long memo given to the police from then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s office. That memo claimed that there was no evidence that Mike had been looking into corruption, and that Mike’s family had never mentioned a “much-reported phone call” Mike made about organized crime. But those things weren’t true; police reports show that Kevin told authorities about Mike’s suspicions immediately after his murder. Phil Stanford, a journalist who has written more than 100 articles about Mike’s case, reads further: “‘The Francke family’s activities, and the presence of Phil Stanford, ensure that the issue will continue to receive attention by the press and public until some decisive step is taken to resolve it’” and that “‘it is crucial not to turn this into an FBI investigation.’” Lauren muses that it seems like the Governor’s office just wanted the whole thing to go away, and Phil affirms, “Oh, they do indeed.”
So in April of 1990, the cops charge Frank Gable with the murder of Michael Francke, something reporter Steve Jackson found a little too convenient. “The only one that was really pursued was the easy one for the police to settle on,” he points out; “some guy who had basically no support; no money, no friends, people willing to turn on him.” Frank’s cellmate, Mike Kearns, claimed that Frank had “told him he killed Francke during a car burglary,” Lauren tells us, but “he would later go public and say he made it all up,” Phil says. So the state started trying to find witnesses to corroborate their story, making one 17-year-old "tweaker," Jodie Swearingen, and a drug-dealing tough named Shorty Harden, take 23 polygraph tests “before they got the story they wanted...they even allowed Jodie and Shorty to meet privately in a room before the grand jury, so they could get their story straight,” Phil says. And “the state didn't seem to mind” that the story they told “contradicted the account of the only eyewitness on record, Wayne Hunsacker, the maintenance man who had seen two men interacting the night Francke was murdered,” Lauren says.
Meanwhile, Kevin Francke was at home in Florida, getting brushed off by the police and the district attorney’s office, so he decided to relocate to Oregon so he could keep attention on his brother’s case; he and his brother, Pat, had been christened “the Cranky Brothers” in the press for their dogged pursuit of justice. “I liked it,” Kevin says. “Yeah, we were cranky. We were pissed off.” TV reporter Eric Mason asked for an interview with Kevin as soon as he arrived in Oregon; he says, “He was not only suspicious of the people that surrounded Mike in the prison system; he was also very suspicious of the people that were investigating his brother’s murder, and he made that really clear...didn’t pull any punches.” A campaign of intimidation against Kevin began, from slashed tires to being suddenly surrounded by police vehicles to listing him in their system as owning an “assassin’s rifle” that he kept in his trunk, essentially giving permission for any “dirty cop” to “take my head off.” One harrowing night, multiple police vehicles followed him home and pointed riot guns at him. Kevin recalls, “One of them said, ‘You better be careful, Kevin. Next guy might shoot you.’...and boom, they were gone."
What did the police have to hide from the murder victim’s family? Why did they work so hard to pigeonhole Frank Gable? And why did the Governor want to avoid an FBI investigation so badly? Find out on this episode of Murder in Oregon.
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