A murder in 1969 of an eight-year-old girl went unsolved for 20 years. During those two decades, a woman named Eileen Franklin held the key to the cold case… she just didn’t know it. For 20 years, the pieces of the puzzle were buried in her memory. It was only as a mother, playing with her eight-year-old daughter, that a shockingly vivid memory came back to her.
In that moment, she recalled seeing her very own father take the life of her friend and neighbor, Susan Nason, all those years ago. Could such a memory be taken seriously after so much time had passed? Could it be accurate? Well, in the end, that repressed memory sent her father to prison.
Welcome to Safe and Sound Foster City
It was September 1969. The Nasons and the Franklins lived only a few doors down from each other in California’s Foster City, a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood that was just starting to be built up. Families who lived there considered it safe. Susan Nason and Eileen Franklin were fourth graders who went to school down the block from their homes.
Aimee Alotta, a childhood friend of theirs, said her family moved into the neighborhood the same day as the Franklins. Parents George and Leah Franklin had five kids; Eileen was the middle child. “Eileen was probably the quietest of the bunch. She was definitely George’s favorite,” Aimee recalled.
The House of Hell
“My dad used to tell me how beautiful I was when everyone else in the neighborhood told me how ugly I was,” she shared. Eileen called her father “irresistible”; she noted that women always flirted with him. But behind closed doors, the family dynamic was much more sinister.
To the others in the neighborhood, George was the firefighter father of five, but to the Franklin children, George was an abusive drunk. “He beat me because I was his son,” George Franklin Jr. declared. Eileen and her sister Janice said their father was sexually abusive, too.
Harry Maclean, who wrote a book on the Franklin case, called it a “house of hell.”
Little Susie Never Came Home
“Every form of dysfunction I’ve ever encountered I saw in that family,” Maclean said. Tragically, it wasn’t only his own children that George Franklin took his fury out on. One day, in the fall of 1969, Eileen’s friend Susan was sent out by her mother to run a small errand. But Susan (friends called her Susie) never came home.
20 years later, in January 1989, a now grown-up 28-year-old Eileen Franklin was playing with her children at home. Her two-year-old son was in her arms as her eight-year-old daughter and two friends sat on the floor. As she looked into her daughter’s eyes, the most horrific vision came to her.
From Wonderful to Chaotic
In that very moment, her wonderful, warm world turned cold and chaotic. And it was because of the memory that suddenly came to her mind. In the scene that flashed before her eyes, Eileen saw her best friend Susie sitting on a rock in a wooded setting.
In the bright, sunlit woods, she saw a man behind Susie holding a heavy rock above his head. Susie lifted her hands to protect herself as the rock came crashing down. She looked at Eileen in that second, with her eyes wide in terror and helplessness.
A Bone-Shattering Memory, Two Decades Later
As the rock crushed the girl’s skull, Eileen closed her eyes and covered her ears to mute the sound of bones shattering. It was a flash of a memory, but Eileen knew it was real. It came to her suddenly, after two decades, without any warning – as if she were being contacted from the past to reveal a shocking truth.
She believed that she had witnessed her best friend’s murder. Perhaps even more disturbing was the second revelation: that the man who murdered her friend was her own father, George Franklin.
A Fun Outing That Ended in the Worst Possible Way
Eileen tried to avoid the memory for months. But there was no repressing the memory now. In fact, it kept returning to her with more and more detail. It was only ten months later, in November 1989, that Eileen decided to share her memory with her husband, who then insisted they call the police.
As Eileen sat down in her living room with detectives, she started to unravel, with astonishing detail, a memory of a playful daytrip with her friend and father that ended in rape and murder.
She Should Never Have Gotten Into the Van
Her recollection was perfectly relayed, with colors, sounds, emotions, and word-for-word conversations. As she recounted the day in question, the detectives couldn’t help but exchange looks. As far-fetched and baffling as it seemed, the woman sitting before them appeared to be telling the truth.
On the morning of September 22, 1969 (a Monday), George drove Eileen and Janice to school in the family’s Volkswagen van, when Eileen spotted Susie on the way. They offered to give her a ride, but when Susie hopped into the van, George asked Janice to get out.
He drove Eileen and Susie around for a while and eventually pulled up in the front of their school, as though he was dropping them off. But that wasn’t his plan. Instead, he told the girls that they were going to play hooky. So, they drove around some more.
George took them up to the hills on Half Moon Bay Road and stopped in a wooded area. For a while, the girls played in the trees before climbing back into the van, which (as VW vans had in those days) had a built-in bed.
Horror on the Hills
George joined the girls in the van, and as Eileen was sitting in the front seat, her father climbed on top of Susie. “My dad pinned Susan down,” Eileen told the detectives in her living room, “with her legs hanging off the edge of the bed … and he held her two arms up with both of his hands.”
She added, “I got really scared when I looked directly at Susan.” Eileen recalled rolling up into a ball next to the bed until her father finished raping her friend. Afterward, she and Susie, who was crying, got out of the van.
Susie’s Final Moments
As Susie walked over to “a point or a peak” and sat down, Eileen stayed next to the car. Then, under the rays of sun streaming through the trees, she saw her father standing above her friend, holding a rock above his head.
That was when she saw Susie in her final moments. Eileen screamed as she heard the crushing of the bones. Her father then came toward her…
Dead or in the Looney Bin
George grabbed his daughter, knocked her to the ground, and told her that he would kill her if she told anyone. He also warned her that no one would believe her anyway – they would just throw her into a “mental home.” After telling her to forget about it, he took out a shovel and started digging.
Eileen had no choice but to help, although he swore at her for being so clumsy. On the drive back home, she curled up next to the car seat. Believing her friend was still alive, she begged her father not to leave Susie alone, afraid, and in the cold.
Mr. Franklin? You Have the Right to Remain Silent
George kept driving. At home, Eileen went straight to her bedroom to hide. After hearing Eileen’s story, the detectives had numerous questions. Eileen had an answer for each one. Were there a lot of trees? It was “moderately dense,” she replied, with three narrow trees in a “zigzagged row.”
What kind of a road was it? A “dirt road, unpaved.” She also mentioned a ring – Susie’s – which was a “silver ring with a stone in it.” Eileen noticed it when Susie was shielding herself from the rock.
Leaving the Franklin home, the detectives were convinced that the woman was telling the truth. Three days later, George Franklin was arrested for the long-ago murder of Susan Nason. The evidence? Only his daughter’s memory.
Whereas most criminal cases involve actual evidence, this one relied on repressed memories alone. An eight-year-old’s, no less. But Eileen’s recounting was so amazingly detailed that people couldn’t help but listen to her story in awe. Obviously, questions about the reliability of her memory were raised.
Every. Single. Detail.
Yet, “Every detail she gave the detectives can be found in the newspaper articles that appeared at the time of Susan’s disappearance and two months later when her body was discovered,” defense attorney Doug Horngrad revealed.
As for the prosecution, they claimed that Eileen relayed details about the murder that could only be those of an eyewitness. The defense, on the other hand, just needed to prove that the critical details were widely reported in the media and thus Eileen wasn’t providing anything the police didn’t already know.
After Three Months Missing…
And the newspaper articles at the time were indeed revealing. Eileen’s detailed statements matched nearly perfectly with the facts reported of the murder. If you’re wondering what happened to Susie, she was listed as missing for three months.
That is, until her body was discovered under a mattress deep in the woods, which was at the bottom of a steep bank next to the highway above Crystal Springs Reservoir. Susie’s skull was evidently crushed, with traces of blood found on a three-pound rock next to her.
The Devil Is in the Details
She had been wearing a blue dress, white socks, and brown shoes. On her right, smashed hand was a silver brocade ring on her finger. The stone of the ring was missing, only to be found later by a search team.
All of these details were reported in the news, but not all of the details were completely accurate. For instance, Susan actually had two rings on: a silver one on her right hand and a gold one on her left. In fact, one newspaper report confused the two rings.
The Thing About the Ring
It stated that it was the silver ring which held the stone when it was really the gold one. In Eileen’s account, she made the same error, which raised some doubts about her credibility. Then there was the mattress which was covering Susie’s body.
One report mentioned the mattress, but it was technically a box spring (which, as it turned out, was too big to fit in George Franklin’s van). The preliminary hearing occurred six months after Eileen’s statement, where she changed her description.
Was It a Mattress or a “Thing?”
Instead of “mattress,” she said, “He was crouched over Susan’s body, putting rocks on her. I thought I saw him put this thing over her body.” Other details were altered in the preliminary hearing, like when Eileen changed the time of the murder from morning to late afternoon.
Some things just weren’t adding up….
Her father couldn’t have picked up Susie in the morning, as Eileen initially reported, seeing as Susie had gone to school that morning. Susie’s mother, Margaret Nason, was sewing a dress for her upcoming birthday party when her daughter come home that day, at around 3:00 p.m.
They Weren’t Playing Hooky After All
It was her mother who sent Susie back outside only to never come back; she just didn’t know it. Margaret asked Susie to walk to her classmate’s home to return a pair of tennis shoes she had left at school.
The girl left the house around 3:15 p.m., and several neighbors remember seeing her walking on the sidewalk. It wasn’t like their responsible and careful daughter not to make it back in time. By about 4:30 p.m., Margaret began to worry, so she rode her bike around the neighborhood to look for Susie.
Susan Was Officially Missing
At 8:00 p.m., the Nasons called the police. Eileen made several reports in 1989, and it was after her initial conversation with the detectives that she changed the time of the murder to match the known facts.
The way she explained it, the more she thought about seeing her father’s silhouette with the bright sun behind him, the more she realized that it couldn’t have been in the morning. She modified her memory in late 1989, but didn’t inform the prosecution about it until May 9, 1990, two weeks before the preliminary hearing.
The Thing About Memory Is…
She also changed the anecdote of her sister Janice being in the van. In May 1990, Eileen again revised her memory, now stating that she had seen Janice in an open field near where her father stopped to pick up Susie.
That’s the thing about memory: it changes over time. Everything Eileen was adding or subtracting from her story was consistent with the current research about memories. As time passes, so do memories. But does that necessarily mean that she didn’t see her father rape and kill her friend?
There’s a Theory
There is a theory that Eileen incorporated newspaper facts into her memory and added details to create a story that made sense. The prosecutors argued that Eileen’s elaborate “memory” was indeed accurate.
They appealed to the mechanism of repression, which would explain why Eileen buried the memory only to recall it 20 years later. Changes and inconsistencies in her story? Take it as proof that this is an old memory, they argued, which needed a few repairs.
So, what triggered Eileen’s flashbacks?
Was She Under Hypnosis?
In August 1989, Eileen revealed to her brother that she was undergoing therapy and had been hypnotized. She told him that while she was under hypnosis she visualized her father killing Susie.
A month later, Eileen told her mother about the memory, also confiding that it occurred in a hypnotherapy session. And then, a few months later, Eileen’s story changed again. Once her father was in custody, she called her brother to ask if he had already talked to the defense team. He had, so she quickly changed her story about the hypnosis.
The Thing About Repression Is…
Now, her memory was said to have resulted from a regular therapy session. She begged her brother not to mention anything about hypnosis. In the preliminary hearing, Eileen confessed that she lied to her brother and her mother – that she thought hypnosis would add credibility to her story.
She desperately wanted them to believe her. So, what was it – a flashback, a dream, or a hypnotically-induced memory? According to the prosecution, it was none of the above. It was simply a repressed memory and was not deliberately kept secret.
This Was No Ordinary Memory
Considering how traumatic the murder was, Eileen’s mind protected her by removing the memory from her consciousness. Dr. Lenore Terr, an expert witness for the prosecution in the trial, has worked with traumatized children…
Terr wrote a book, in which she stated that sudden and quick events can overwhelm a child’s defenses and create “brilliant, overly clear verbal memories” that are “far clearer, more detailed, and more long lasting than ordinary memory.” According to Terr, it’s only when a child is subjected to recurring trauma that defense mechanisms appear, interfering with memory formation, storage, and retrieval.
We, Your Honor, Find George Franklin….
So, what does that mean for Eileen? The prosecution attempted to match these theories to Eileen’s story. Their angle: a single traumatic event (witnessing Susie’s murder) took place within an ongoing series of traumatic events (the abuse she and her siblings were subjected to at home).
After nine days of the trial, the jury started deliberating. The next day they reached a verdict: George Franklin was guilty of first-degree murder. George, a rugged, middle-aged man by that point was about to sit behind bars for a murder he allegedly committed 20 years earlier.
Wicked and Depraved
A Superior Court Judge, Thomas M. Smith, denounced the man as “wicked and depraved,” and sentenced him to life in prison. This was history in the making, as never before had recovered memory been used as sole evidence in a criminal prosecution.
When the verdict was read, Eileen embraced Margaret, Susie’s mother. “There can’t be a true victory for me because it is my father,” Eileen said at the time. Not long after, and despite the life sentence, George’s attorneys filed an appeal… successfully.
Six Years Later…
Only six years later, a federal judge overturned the verdict, finding that the court had made a mistake in not allowing the jury to examine reports that contradicted Eileen’s statements. And so, whether we like it or not, George was released for good. He died in 2006.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Eileen’s own family turned on her. One of her sisters threw her under the bus (metaphorically, of course). She had submitted a statement to the court, swearing that she saw Eileen watch a news broadcast that showed the murder scene – something Eileen denied.
Her Own Family Lost Faith
Moreover, their mother, Leah Franklin, who was previously a prosecution witness (confessing to his abuse in the home), came to retract her statement. Leah initially believed her daughter’s story and the concept of repressed memory. Later, however, she “realized it was all wrong… I got some information, I believed it, and I later found it was wrong.”
Since the trial was the first of its kind, it attracted widespread attention. In the years following, countless adults left their therapists’ couches with newfound memories of past molestations and abuse. Lawsuits were being brought, left, front and center.
The Backlash Begins
Soon enough, half of the nation’s states passed laws permitting adults to sue people based on recovered memories. And just as quick the backlash began. So-called victims started retracting their accusations.
Some even sued their therapists for implanting the memories. One Minnesota jury awarded $2.7 million to a woman for such reasons. Meanwhile, in California, Eileen has moved on with her life. She has reportedly changed her name and wishes to remain anonymous. As for her older sister, Janice, she had a lot to say about the whole case.
Janice Kept Quiet for Years
Janice confirmed Eileen’s allegations of their father’s molesting them as well as their elder sister Kate growing up. According to Janice, Eileen was their father’s favorite; he let her sit on his lap like “his body was the game.”
Other than affirming George’s violence toward the family, Janice said she remembers him behaving oddly on the day Susie vanished. She was nine or ten in 1969, but she knew something was wrong. When the police asked to speak with her about the case, George kicked her so hard in the back that it resulted in a permanent injury.
It was a warning, which she heard loud and clear, and she didn’t speak about it for years. In 1984, Janice reported their father’s likely involvement in the murder, but detectives told her they couldn’t follow through with such limited information.
She was the only one who kept backing her sister in the whole ordeal. During the trial, Janice testified against George, declaring that no hypnosis was involved in her sister’s returning repressed memories. By March 1996, however, Janice confessed to the prosecutor’s office that they indeed lied about this fact.
Cooperating With the Enemy?
Hypnosis was no doubt a factor. Some say that this recanting on Janice’s part was after the sisters’ falling-out, but that’s hearsay. Even still, Janice said she revealed this fact in “good faith” in order to change laws on hypnosis testimonies otherwise, people like her father would be set free.
Janice made it evident that she believes her father is guilty. Since the trial, Janice seemingly accused her little sister of seeking publicity. Eileen had publicly called out her siblings for “cooperating with the enemies.”
Eileen Had More Memories of Murder
Not much is known about Janice since and what she is doing these days. Understandably, she’s keeping herself out of the spotlight. In 1990, Eileen was taped in a statement she made to prosecutors, saying that she saw her father commit a second murder.
“Eileen described a young woman entering the front seat of her father’s car, her father later chasing that woman through the woods and strangling her with a belt, and there being blood on the woman’s breast,” the defense attorney shared.
Did Her Father Kill Another Girl?
At the time, there were six unsolved murders in San Mateo County, and authorities tried to match Eileen’s recollection to any of those murders. According to the defense team, investigators eliminated all the murders except for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old Pacifica woman named Veronica Cascio, whose body was found in January 1976.
News reports said Cascio was stabbed more than 30 times. The defense report said Eileen was shown photos of the female victim as well as the crime scene and confirmed that they were consistent with the murder she remembered.
Is Eileen on a Mission?
The next step was to find proof. A semen sample from the attacker had been preserved… Investigators compared the sample to George Franklin’s blood, and it was concluded that he could not have been the killer.
In 1991, Eileen came up with yet a new story for the same murder – that of Veronica Casci. Eileen claimed that she remembered her father was accompanied by a second man: her godfather, Stan Smith. But investigators were unable to connect Smith to the crime.
If you’re starting to think that Eileen was merely on a mission to incarcerate her father, you’re not alone…
A Third Murder?
Eileen reported recalling a third murder – one she allegedly saw when she was 15. She said she witnessed her father kill a third time; this time he fired a bullet into a woman’s body in someone’s apartment.
According to George Franklin’s attorney, an impartial prosecutor realized that Eileen’s memories are no basis for a murder case. They also claimed that district attorneys Elaine Tipton and Martin Murray and investigator Robert Morse had grown close to Eileen and thus were too biased to prosecute the case.