The FBI emphasizes that most of the excitement about Joseph Paul Franklin was generated by the media, but it does want to ask him where he was when civil rights leader Vernon Jordan was shot in Fort Wayne, Ind., last May 29.
Franklin, a 30-year-old drifter from Alabama with a string of aliases, was formally charged over the weekend with civil rights violations in the sniper slayings of two black youths in Salt Lake City on Aug. 20 as they jogged out of a public park with two young white girls.
A local prosecutor in Salt Lake City yesterday said that it was "premature" to file state homicide charges against Franklin. "Those federal charges are a separate and distinct matter from local murder charges," Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon said.
According to an eight-page affidavit supporting the federal warrants for his arrest, Franklin reportedly told an acquaintance a few days earlier that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and that he had killed a number of blacks in the past.
As a result, authorities in at least four cities want to question him about unsolved slayings and sniper attacks over the past year that were carried out in most cases by a hidden assailant using a high-powered rifle.
Franklin, who abandoned his real name of James Clayton Vaughn Jr. about four years ago, was picked up briefly Sept. 25 in Florence, Ky., where police ran a computer check on his Chevrolet Camaro and learned that Salt Lake City police wanted him for questioning. But he escaped by jumping out of a police station window.
Officials said that an inspection of the tire treads on the car he left behind -- with .30-06 rifles and two handguns in it -- showed they were similar to the tread marks found at the scene of the Salt Lake City murders. s
FBI spokesman Roger Young said it has been determined that neither rifle was used in the attack on Jordan, but the bureau still wants to determine Franklin's whereabouts the night Jordan was shot. A .30-06 bullet struck the National Urban League president in the back moments after he emerged from a car driven by a woman member of the Fort Wayne Urban League's board of directors.
"A lot of [what's been published about Franklin] is speculative," Young said, "but we still have an individual who evidently uses .30-06s and who is alleged to have shot people for racial motives." In the Jordan case, Young said, "we want to question him, but he isn't wanted for questioning. There isn't any warrant outstanding for him on that score."
Indianapolis police were quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Franklin resembles a man seen in the lobby of Jordan's motel the night he was shot in the parking lot there. But Indiana's FBI agent in charge, Wayne Davis, said the only similarity was that both men wear thick glasses and "a lot of people wear glasses."
"We have nothing to link him directly to Fort Wayne and the Jordan shooting," Davis told AP.
Police authorites were also said to be eager to question Franklin about the killing last June 15 of a 22-year-old black man and a 16-year-old white girl as they were walking across the bridge in Johnstown Pa.; the June 8 slayings in Cincinnatti of two teen-age black youths by a sniper apparently perched atop a railroad trestle, and the killing last Oct. 21 of a 42-year-old black man and a 31-year-old white woman as they were about to get into their car outside an Oklahoma City supermarket.
Detectives from those three cities as well as from Salt Lake City and Indianapolis, which has also logged several unsolved shootings of black victims this year, reportedly concluded at a joint meeting last month that there was no evidence to link any of the attacks.