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Who Was Behind The Gypsy Hill Serial Killings That Eileen Franklin Accused Her Father Of?
After Eileen Franklin's testimony helped convict her dad George Thomas Franklin Sr. of her friend Susan Nason's murder, she accused him of being a serial killer.
Long-repressed memories prompted a woman to accuse her father of being a serial killer, one who murdered her own childhood best friend in front of her own eyes before going on to kill others. Or, so she thought.
This is the terrifying premise of “Buried,” a new four-part docuseries that will debut on Showtime on Oct. 10.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
California mother Eileen Franklin claimed in 1989 that while looking at her young daughter, she suddenly recalled a memory of her childhood best friend Susan Nason. She said she remembered how her father George Thomas Franklin Sr. raped her 8-year-old friend, who bared a strong physical resemblance to her own daughter, before killing her with a rock twenty years prior.
The fantastic claim thrust the family into the spotlight and George was charged with Nason’s murder. During George’s controversial and high-profile trial, Eileen testified against her father, asserting that she witnessed him brutally kill her young friend. She also testified, along with her sister Janice, that George was a pedophile who sexually molested and raped both of them when they were children.
The case marked the first in which recovered memory was used in any criminal prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1995. And it was used successfully, at least at first. George was found guilty of killing Nason in 1990 and sentenced to life behind bars.
Following his conviction, Eileen claimed that she also recovered memories that her dad killed two others: 18-year-old Veronica Cascio in Pacifica and 17-year-old Paula Baxter in Millbrae. Both were found stabbed to death in 1976, seven years after Nason’s death. The teens were two of at least five victims killed, primarily in the Bay Area, who have become known as the Gypsy Hill killings.
But George was not responsible for the two Gypsy Hill victims as science would soon prove. His conviction for Nason’s murder was overturned in 1995, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was overturned for several reasons, including the validity of recovered memory and the trial judge’s refusal to allow evidence that could have shown that recovered details could have been found in newspaper articles of the murder, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
While the state geared up to conduct a retrial, Eileen and her sister Janice had a falling out and in turn, Janice exposed that Eileen had committed perjury during the first trial. She confessed that her sibling had been hypnotized before she recovered the so-called memories and then lied about it on the stand. Because California’s Supreme Court had ruled that testimony-based hypnosis-induced memories are unreliable, Eileen was barred from taking the stand again. Furthermore, DNA tests in 1995 revealed that another male DNA profile was responsible for the killings of Cascio and Baxter and not George. Prosecutors decided not to try George again and he was released in 1996 after he served six years behind bars.
The DNA found at Cascio and Baxter’s murder scenes then matched with the DNA of Oregon inmate Rodney Lynn Halbower in 2013. He was serving time behind bars in that state for attempted murder when the match was detected, Mercury News reported in 2014. His DNA profile also looked similar to DNA found on a cigarette near the body of a 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell, another Gypsy Hill victim. She was killed in 1976 in Reno, Nevada.
Halbower, now 73, was convicted of Cascio and Baxter’s murders in 2018. He is currently serving life for the slayings. He is expected to face a murder trial for Mitchell's slaying. A woman with schizophrenia named Cathy Woods was wrongfully convicted of Mithcell's murder and she spent 35 years behind bars before DNA got her exonerated in 2015, the Independent reported.
Georgie died in 2016, isolated from his family. Eileen maintained that the sexual abuse and incest she suffered as a child was very real. She has changed her name and chooses to live an anonymous life.
It remains unclear who killed Nason.
“It’s really hard to determine who the perpetrator is. It still could be George," Ari Pines, one of the directors behind "Buried" told Oxygen.com. "Even if you don’t believe Eileen and believe that her memory is false, he still may have done it. Everyone in that family suspected him for a good reason. He was a pedophile, he knew the victim, he lived close by. But it’s very hard to reach any certainty in this case.”