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John Franklin, Sr., 35, a central Iowa factory worker, and his 22-year-old wife Michelle were shot to death in their Eddyville, Iowa, home some time between 10 p.m. and midnight on Tuesday, January 3, 1978, in what officials called a double homicide.
Michelle’s mother, Willa Mae Brower, discovered the bodies about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 4, in the Franklin’s small frame house and alerted local authorities.
Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Craig Beek said the couple apparently were shot to death during the night but that there were no signs of a struggle.
John Franklin’s son by a previous marriage, John Franklin, Jr., 14, was picked up in Oskaloosa by law officers about 1 a.m. the morning after the murders.
Mahaska County Sheriff Harold Van De Pol said young Franklin was being held “purely as a runaway,” and at the time refused to comment whether the boy was linked to the killings.
John Franklin Jr. lived with his father — an employee of Rolscreen Company in Pella — and stepmother. His biological mother lived in Des Moines.
On Monday, March 6, 1978, John Franklin Jr. was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A court ruled he would be tried as an adult, and on March 16 he was arraigned in Wapello County District Court in Ottumwa, Iowa, in connection with the shootings.
In an evidence hearing on August 28, 1978, BCI agent Ron Mower testified that Franklin admitted killing his father and stepmother, and then beating his father’s body with a stick.
The trial was held in Washington County District Court on a change of venue and began March 13, 1979.
Defense attorney Alfredo Parrish told the six-men six-women jurors that a neighbor “whose bedroom is adjacent to the Franklin house, awoke at 3 a.m. and heard what he thought were three shots — maybe more.”
Prosecutor Sam Erhardt, the Wapello County Attorney at the time of the shootings, said he would show evidence that Franklin stated to an acquaintance in Eddyville that he was going to kill his father and kill his parents. “And while he was held [at the State Training School for Boys] at Eldora, he stated on more than one occasion that he had shot his father and stepmother,” Erhardt said.
An Associated Press story published in the Carroll Times Herald on March 22, 1979, laid out both the prosecution’s and defense’s arguments on the first full day of testimony, including, in part:
Young Franklin was familiar with firearms, said Erhardt, particularly the .22-caliber bolt action rifle that was found in the Franklins’ living room. He used the gun when he went hunting with his father, Erhardt said.
Parrish said he would show inconsistencies in the state’s claim that the Franklins were both dead by about 5 p.m.
“Sometime around 5:30, or closer to 6 p.m., a witness heard a call on the CB for ‘Honest John’ calling ‘Troublemaker.’ We will show that ‘Honest John’ was John Franklin Sr. and ‘Troublemaker’ was his wife, Michelle,” Parrish said.
— Carroll Times Herald, March 22, 1979
Erhardt said Michelle Franklin was shot in the living room of the Franklin home when she returned from work in Ottumwa about 4 p.m. on January 3. Her body was dragged into a bedroom, where John Franklin, Sr. also was shot when he arrived home about 5 p.m., Erhardt said.
According to Wapello County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. H.L. Wormhoudt, the couple died sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight.
John Franklin Jr. was 16 years old when the Washington County District Court jury acquitted him of both murders.
John Franklin Sr. was born April 13, 1942. He was survived by a son, John Franklin Jr.
Michelle Anne Franklin was born May 5, 1955.
The couple were laid to rest at Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Ottumwa, Iowa.