Was the director of the Oregon prison system murdered to stop his investigation into high level corruption?
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.
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:
Reporter Steven Jackson of the Salem Statesman-Journal believed that Michael didn’t realize what he was up against:
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:
Michael’s sister-in-law, Katie Francke, talked to Michael just a few days before he was killed:
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.
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:
Reporter Steven Jackson believes the police made a rush to judgment:
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:
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:
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:
E. Patrick Francke:
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.