Camelot Drive is a middle-class neighbourhood in Huntsville, Alabama, where lawns are kept well-manicured and people leave bicycles on front lawns without fearing that they will be stolen. In 1998, however, this quaint neighbourhood was the scene of a brutal murder.
On the 10 March, 1998, 17-year-old Jeffrey Franklin attacked his family in their home at 13005 Camelot Drive. Armed with a hatchet, a two-pound sledgehammer, a rat-tail file and a butcher’s knife, he attacked his mother, Cynthia, and his father, Gerald. He also attacked his younger siblings – 14-year-old Sara, 8-year-old Timmy and 6-year-old Christopher.
Police were alerted to the scene when a neighbour noticed one of the children laying outside the home in a puddle of blood. When they arrived, they had only come with one ambulance and one Urban Responder car, believing that they were responding to one injured child. What they found inside, however, distressed even the most seasoned officers. “After 16 years, this is the worst I’ve seen,” said one of the officers.1
By this point, Jeffrey had already fled from the scene but police issued an all-points bulletin after discovering that he had fled in a blue Geo Metro. He would lead police on a car chase throughout the neighbourhoods of southeast Huntsville. During the chase, Jeffrey tried to run officers off the road and succeeded once, on Bailey Cove Road, where he forced a patrol car onto the curb in front of Hope Presbyterian Church.
The chase came to a halt when Jeffrey crashed into a fence. As he was being arrested, he laughed and taunted onlookers and spat on a photographer. Despite the cold weather, Jeffrey was shirtless and a pitchfork and pentagram had been scratched into his chest.2
Cynthia and Gerald were both pronounced dead at the scene while Sara, Timothy and Christopher were rushed to Huntsville Hospital where they were in critical condition. “The children all had very serious head and face injuries from what looked like an axe and some sort of large, blunt force object,” said hospital spokeswoman Terri Bryson. Miraculously, all three siblings would survive, although with life-altering injuries.
Jeffrey’s other sister, 11-year-old, Stacey, was thankfully not at home at the time of the attack but in the aftermath, she would receive counselling for post-traumatic stress syndrome. According to their aunt, Donna Maddi: “They are doing pretty good, actually. I decided early on that we would not talk about what happened, unless they wanted to. Then, it would be on their terms.”
Based on the crime scene, Jeffrey had murdered his mother first by stabbing her with a rat-tail file. He then attacked his sister with a hatchet, slashing her throat and clubbing her. Jeffrey then killed his father with a sledgehammer as he entered the house before turning his attention on his younger brothers. They had both been attacked with a hatchet.
According to neighbours and fellow students at Grissom High School where Jeffrey was a student, he was “involved in devil worship.” According to 17-year-old Jenny Smith: “He was really smart, a nice person up until two years ago. He just changed into a different person. I don’t know why. His attitude was different. He was always in a bad mood, and he had a really short temper.” She described an incident during a discussion about God in their government class which had convinced her that he “worshipped the devil.”
Another student, Mark Dunham, said that Jeffrey often threatened to put spells on people while Adam Salyers said that he frequently spoke about taking drugs, mainly Ritalin. A number of Cynthia’s colleagues at Valley View Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center said that Jeffrey had been causing his family problems for over a year and a half. According to one colleague, Paul Noel: “She told me it was out of hand.” Cynthia told her concerned colleagues that a pastor had told her that Jeffrey was in a “passing phrase.”3
In his notebook, police found that he had been planning on killing his parents for a while. He also wrote of satanic rituals and sexual torture and his belief that Satan wanted him to kill his family. He wrote: “I know dad will be home at this time and I’m going to be, I’ll wait by the front door, behind the little hutch, and I’ll hit him with a hammer. Mom will be out on a walk, when she comes back, I’ll have the radio playing loudly, I’ll call mom in the room and ask her what’s on the agenda for today, then I’ll kill her, and what about the brothers and sisters. Well, I’ll take them, I’ll strangle my little brother in his room and I’ll lure my other little brother into this room and strangle him. Then my sister, I will rape her then I will finish her off.”4
Before the murders, Jeffrey had been visiting a psychiatrist for attention deficit disorder and depression. He was prescribed with Ritalin, Prozac, and Klonopin. Jeffrey had been awake for three days straight before the killings and was said to abuse Ritalin and was snorting three of four pills at a time. Cynthia had kept the pills in a lockbox but Jeffrey had figured out how to take out the hinge pins, remove the pills and then replace them with saccharine tablets without her noticing. The abuse “pushed him into a total psychosis, he was crazy,” said Robert Tuten, Jeffrey’s representative.
Jeffrey’s defence attorney described his behaviour as “deranged.” Jeffrey told police that he was at the house but didn’t admit to attacking his family. He said it was like some “evil being” had taken over his body. Jeffrey was arraigned in Madison County District Court on charges of capital murder and attempted murder. He entered a not-guilty plea through his defence lawyer, Roy Miller.5
In 2001, Jeffrey avoided a trial by pleading guilty to two murder charges and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to three life sentences that were to be served consecutively. In a statement, Jeffrey said: “I hope and pray that one day my family can forgive me for the things that I have done, and I know that may take a long time. I know that God has already forgiven me.” In the statement, Jeffrey additionally warned others about the dangers of abusing Ritalin: “I told my doctor I was abusing Ritalin, but he continued to prescribe it to me in increasingly high doses and I, in return, abused it in higher and higher doses.”6
According to Jeffrey’s attorneys, Robert Tuten, Patrick Tuten and Leon Johnson, their defence would have hung on the psychiatrist’s determination that Jeffrey was insane when he attacked his family. They said that they took the plea deal because it was the best outcome. “Just because he can stand up there in front of a judge and say ‘yes’ does not mean he is all right now,” said Patrick Tuten.
Under Alabama law, a person sentenced to life in prison is eligible for parole after serving 15 years. In September of 2016, Jeffrey was denied parole.
- The Huntsville Times, 11 March, 1998 – “This is the Worst I’ve Seen”
- Associated Press, 11 March, 1998 – “Teenager Charged in Parents Axe Murder”
- The Huntsville Times, 14 March, 1998 – “Parents With Troubled Kids Struggle”
- CBS – 19 WHNT, 25 May, 2016 – “Jeffrey Franklin’s Dark Writings Foreshadowed His Deadly Attack on Family”
- The Huntsville Times, 14 March, 1998 – “Accused Teenager Pleads Not Guilty”
- The Huntsville Times, 23 June, 2001 – “Franklin Pleads Guilty to Murders”