Was the director of the Oregon prison system murdered to stop his investigation into high level corruption?

Smiling Michael Franke wearing a suit and tie and glasses

Michael Francke

Michael Franke in suit and tie standing next to Jimmy Carter

Francke was acclaimed for his prison reforms

CASE DETAILS

In February, 1980, a deadly prison riot broke out in New Mexico, killing 33 prisoners. State official Michael Francke was brought in to completely revamp the troubled prison system. He did such a good job, that in 1987, the governor of Oregon brought him in to do the same thing there.

Michael Francke told his family that he was going to blow the lid off corruption in the Oregon prison system and implicate several top government officials. But apparently, Michael did too good a job. On January 17, 1989, just after he completed the investigation, he was found stabbed to death outside his office.

Prison guards behind the fence of a prison

Oregon prison authorities allegedly dealt drugs

The D.A. said Francke’s murder was a botched robbery. But his family thinks that Michael Francke had uncovered a vast conspiracy. Bob Merchant, a former Oregon state prison guard, described the illegal activities he witnessed:

“I was told by my superiors to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business or I’d be looking for a job. The three main criminal activities that I observed working in corrections were the introduction of drugs into the institution, falsifying of records, and thefts of state property. Basically anything that was not nailed down was subject to be stolen. There was a constant flow of drugs being brought into the institutions. One of the most common ways was staff bringing them in their own lunch buckets. There were no searches being conducted on staff as they entered or left the facility.”

Reporter Steven Jackson of the Salem Statesman-Journal believed that Michael didn’t realize what he was up against:

“When Mike came in, he’s got a good old boy system to contend with. A lot of these guys have been here for 20 or 30 years. The system has run the way they want it to run for that many years. So here comes some guy from out of state who has all these high-minded ideas about what he’s going to do and just rubbed a lot of them the wrong way.”

Michael’s brother, Kevin Francke, said Michael knew he was juggling political dynamite and that it could blow up in his face at any moment:

“He had uncovered, he said, an organized criminal element in the system and said that he was going to do a thorough house cleaning immediately after the first of the year, and his quote was, a lot of heads were gonna roll.”

Michael’s sister-in-law, Katie Francke, talked to Michael just a few days before he was killed:

“On January 13, I called Michael and he said that he was going to go before the legislature and clean house the following Wednesday. He was very, very concerned, and I think he had uncovered something far bigger than he expected.”

A lone robber accosting Franke outside a house

Police accused a lone robber of killing Franke

Four days later, on January 17, 1989, Michael was found murdered on a side porch of his office building. Police began to piece together the last hours of his life.

After the regular Tuesday staff meeting, Michael spoke with one of his employees. Later, two other employees noticed that the light in Michael’s car was on and that the driver’s door was wide open. Two corrections officials searched the building, but Michael was nowhere to be found. The two men left around 9:30 p.m. without calling the police.

Later that night, a security guard found Michael’s body on the side porch of the building that had been searched just four hours earlier. The glass in the side door was shattered. And his briefcase appeared to be missing.

A group of people walking up the steps of a court house

Did someone want Franke silenced?

Believing Michael was murdered in a robbery attempt, the police interrogated known drug dealers and street criminals. One of them claimed that he witnessed the murder, and fingered a drug dealer named Frank Gable.

According to this witness, Gable was in the act of breaking into Michael’s car when Michael came out of the office building around 7 p.m.. Gable stabbed Francke, mortally wounding him. Some believe Gable also stole the briefcase. Michael staggered up the stairs of a side entrance to the building and broke the glass door in a desperate attempt to get back into his office.

Frank Gable was tried and convicted of the murder of Michael Francke. But for many people, the evidence simply did not add up. Bruises, abrasions, and other wounds on Michael’s body indicated a struggle with more than one person, leading Katie Francke to conclude that Frank Gable is innocent:

“I think Frank Gable is a scapegoat because I think it goes much higher up in the Oregon government. He’s just being used to take the fall.”

Reporter Steven Jackson believes the police made a rush to judgment:

“From the onset of the Francke investigation, it appeared the police put blinders on as far as what they were most inclined to believe.”

A woman puting Franke's papers through a paper shredder

Who ordered Francke’s papers to be shredded?

Michael’s family and supporters found discrepancies in the official report of his death. Michael had a state-of-the-art car alarm system. If the killer broke into the car, why was the alarm not set off? And why were there no signs of forced entry?

The police believe Michael was stabbed at the car, puncturing his heart and lungs. But why was there no trace of blood within one hundred feet of the car?

And finally, if Michael was killed at 7 p.m., as police estimate, why wasn’t his body or the broken glass noticed when the building was searched between 8:30 and 9:30 pm?

Some believe that Michael was the victim of a premeditated murder carried out by several men and possibly instigated by high-ranking officials fearful of being named in the investigation. According to reporter Steven Jackson, an eyewitness at the scene backs up this theory:

“At 10:15, 10:20 on January 17th, a young man riding in a car looked over where the scene of the crime was and saw five to six men running toward a Volkswagen van. If Michael Francke had been abducted and then brought back to the building where he was killed, this would fit in with the abduction theory.”

A police sketch of a caucasian man with dark hair, eyes, and a mustache

Suspicious man observed near murder scene

This theory suggests that on the night of his death, Michael unlocked his own car and deactivating the alarm at the same time the men approached him. Michael did not keep regular office hours, except for Tuesday staff meetings, so it appeared the attackers were familiar with his schedule.

Reporter Steven Jackson:

“The abduction theory would have that Michael Francke was later brought back and perhaps going to his office to find whatever paperwork or computer files or these sort of things in his office. Once there, he gets out of the car, perhaps sees his only chance for getting away, tries to make a break for it, perhaps receives one or more of his wounds at that time, goes to the north porch where he is finished off.”

That night, several people reported seeing a man with a pin-striped suit and dark complexion lurking in the corrections building after hours. A composite drawing based on a witness description was made.

One other disturbing fact supports the theory that it was an assassination and cover up. As Steven Jackson points out, incredibly, no paperwork about Michael’s investigation into the Oregon prison system has ever been found:

“Shortly after Michael Francke’s death, some people, some employees, some inmates spotted approximately 23 bags of shredded papers coming out of Michael Francke’s office and some surrounding offices. That’s something you have to wonder about, is who authorized shredding of documents from a murder scene?”

Katie Francke:

“The officials investigating Mike’s murder don’t want it solved, because it goes much higher in the Oregon government.”

E. Patrick Francke:

“My family is dedicated to bringing this to a successful conclusion. We’re gonna find out what the hell happened. And we’re gonna see that the people who are involved receive their full punishment.”

UPDATE: In 2019, a federal judge ordered that Frank Gable be released from prison after finding that evidence was wrongly kept from jurors during Gable’s trial.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season three with Robert Stack and in season two with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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16 Comments

  1. Wm Hunt

    To say this case stinks to the high heaven would be a understatement!!!! Where is the DA on this? The fact is one of the most corrupt and poorly investigated government bodies is the justice system especially the prison system. We probably will never know who killed Frankie but we should be able to grant that convicted man a pardon and a fat check for being in jail for 30 plus years for a crime someone else obviously did

    Reply

  2. Richard Gerber

    And you know it’s probably still going on, Just new faces and names.And it’s not just some bad cops it’s our whole legal system. Money and influence is the name of the game. How can we do anything about it
    when they own the legal system. They: politicians, people with a lot of money, people with a lot of power, people in the legal system. Follow the money and the power.

    Reply

  3. Dean

    Crazy democrats were all in this episode with their fairy tale accusations

    Reply

  4. Riley

    or maybe it wasnt a guy and it was his ex wife…. she might of known the person he was doing a case on and she was covering up for him, or it could of been that man. Micheal knew to much so he killed him.

    Reply

  5. Scott

    Oregon is a very corrupt state all you have to do is look into the probate courts and it’s not hard to find look into the estate of Val Rodger gravning Val is my dad my name was taken off of things that I was supposed to inherit after my dad had passed away the attorney was disbarred during my dad’s estate for robbing over $1000000 from an elderly couple I feel I was robbed by this attorney and the attorneys that handled it and the Oregon State Bar would not do anything about the fraud I feel was committed right down to the judge when I try to report to the courts my address I was yelled and screamed at by the clerk that I was not part of the case and that my niece Jamila was going to inherit everything I think that the court is ran on payoffs and if you are part of the family you can rob the rest of your family

    Reply

  6. Vanessa Dargain

    Micheal Franke initially became employed by the New Mexico DOC in 1983 , three years after the infamous New Mexico pen riot of 1980 . Then he transferred to the mismanaged Oregon DOC in 1987 with a New Mexico DOC recommendation . Two years after accepting the Oregon position
    he was dead . My guess is BOTH corrections departments needed some legal issue Micheal Franke was close to hushed up . And they got their wish .

    Reply

  7. Amie

    I find it so very disturbing that this poor man. Mr. Frank Gable sits still to this day in a jail cell even though since his cinviction all witnesses have come forward to say they lied on the stand because of threats and abuse by police. That evidence has emerged proving he was home that night having a party. Many have come forward to say it was natividad, i know where the briefcase ended up and what it contained. And how it was disposed of. It was in the possession of natividad not gable. Its 110 percent obvious he has been wrongly convicted and yet there he sits fighting for his freedom. Ignored and forgotten. Oregon sweeping the issue under the rug because it doest want to face the music. Its time to free Gable. Imagine if he were your son wasting away in there. Mr. Franke and Gable deserve for justice to be served and i am sure Franke cannot rest in his grave knowing an innocent man is paying for his murder. Oregon needs to do the right thing and set him free.

    Reply

  8. Update wanted

    Any updates on this ?

    Reply

  9. Wes

    Off topic.. But if I had a genie and could make a one wish, I would wish to know the answer to every question.. I really think the prison system was involved in drug smuggling. I’m sure it went high up, possibly involving ADA’s and other high-ranking officials who, if not involved, knew about it and decided to keep it quiet. I’ve seen on the show FBI Files that there have been other law enforcement sects who were involved with drug running and other crimes; it actually went as high as the Chief of Police.

    Reply

  10. Wilcox

    Looking into a pediphile ring that was being operated in lake grove in the 70’s led me to this case. The only angle I have to connect this is the involvement of Scott Mcallister and his conviction of possession of child pornography tied to a case. So much is buried and covered up can the whys ever be answered

    Reply

    • jj maquina

      I was in the Oregon state pen in 95-2001 for stabbing a guy interfering with my investigation of my own 6 month grandsons murder and subsequent cover up of the murder, and, while in prison I had inmates leaving the prison systems for parole take out documents of said corruptions, pleae help me get thword out because i am not to smart concerning computers 360-268-3156 jj

      Reply

  11. ANDREA RENEE' SOLIS

    Mmmm…

    Reply

  12. Allofat

    I worked at Oregon State Penitentary after Michael Franke died. The day after his death, I was sent to take something to th Dome building. This was somthing I was asked to do 2-3 days a week. When I arrived at the Dome building, the halls were full of paper shredders and people were pushing paper in as fast as they could. The atmosphere was strange that day.

    Reply

  13. Anonymous

    Please don’t say that this shows that “all cops” can’t be trusted. I was a cop for over 30 years and put my neck on the chopping block several time in the name of honesty. There are several of us out there that are honest…even if it meant we get fired. I agree with you that some cops are bad and dishonest….but not all cop are bad and dishonest. My hope is that when you need help, you find a cop you can put enough trust in and get the help you need.

    Reply

  14. shannon

    The lies and unjust actions of the law continue. This case is only one example of exactly why to Not Trust the cops .

    Reply