Journal of a Murder – Part 1 of 4

Posted: September 8, 2009 in Francke Case
Journal of a Murder – written by Steven Jackson of the Statesman Journal on 4-28-91
I am breaking this article up into four parts for review here in my blog before including it on the website in its entirety.

Journal of a Murder

Written by Steven P. Jackson 4-28-91

The Statesman Journal




February 2 The New Mexico State Penitentiary riot begins. Before the riot is quelled several days later, inmates kill 31 other prisoners, mostly informants who were identified by administration “snitch jackets.”

Michael Francke, an assistant attorney general from New Mexico, is brought in as prosecutor to try the rioters.

Transferred Oregon inmate, Charles Veldon “Buck” Burgess, serving time for manslaughter, is segregated from the New Mexico penitentiary general population on February 25 so that authorities can investigate his role in the riots.

In 1989, Burgess, an associate of the methamphetamine drug traffickers involved in the Francke case, will be questioned by Oregon State Police about Francke’s murder.

He will point to some of his Salem associates as possible suspects in Francke’s death.



July – Francke becomes the director of the New Mexico Corrections Department.

After Francke is killed in January 1989, police receive a number of tips that his death was related to his work as a prosecutor after the New Mexico riots and/or because of enemies–such as Hispanic and Aryan gangs–that he made while corrections director in New Mexico.


Summer –

Frank E. Gable, 27, the man who will be indicted for Francke’s murder in April 1990, is at the Oregon prison farm annex. He receives several misconduct reports for violations such as the use of drugs and having sex with a female inmate.


Jim Mickelson, the director of New Mexico’s beleaguered prison industries program, quits New Mexico. He told the Statesman Journal in September 1989 that the New Mexico program was a financial mess before he arrived and that he and Francke parted on good terms.


Francke hires former auditor John Tafoya to reconstruct the New Mexico prison industries books that had not been kept in two years. In Oregon, Mickelson gets the job of running prison industries for the Oregon Corrections Division.


June –

At the insistence of state senator L.B. Day, R-Salem, the Oregon State Police launch an investigation into charges of criminal activities and corruption at the Oregon Department of Corrections. Day’s insistence on the investigation is based on information brought to him by corrections officers Dave Larson and Robert Merchant.


The Oregon corrections investigation eventually involves the state police, the FBI and the US Secret Service. Charges range from prison drug trafficking to gambling to official misconduct. Critics of the investigation say its integrity was compromised on at least two occasions when:

Assistant attorney general Scott McAlister, who provided legal counsel to the Corrections Department and was privy to much of the investigation, told Harol Whitley, the former security manager of the Oregon penitentiary and one of the top suspects, about the investigation’s progress.

State police detectives told corrections officials about the investigation’s progress. State police detective Loren Glover, who in 1989 would be one of the lead detectives in the Francke murder investigation, also updated McAlister on the investigation’s progress.

By that time, Whitley had left Oregon to become the warden of the Nevada State Penitentiary. Also an audits division report for 1984 and 1985 of Oregon prison industries notes inadequate control of transactions and poor tracking of inventories.

August 4

– Day writes to Gov. Vic Atiyeh complaining that he is becoming disillusioned with the state police investigation. Day, a tough local Teamster’s Union official, tells Atiyeh that he fears a cover-up of “widespread corruption by a great many people..

..It appears at this point an attempt is being made to cut off further investigation.”

Late August

– Whitley, whose brother-in-law is former state police Maj. John Duman, is questioned on the telephone by Lt. Dean Renfrow of the Oregon State Police. Before hanging up, Whitley turns the tables and questions Renfro.

The following is a transcript of that part of their conversation:


: “Well, it looks to me like some things are being covered up.”


: “No, not on our part.”


: “No?”


: “Not on our part, obviously.”


: “Yeah, how come you’re doing the investigation now?”


: “Well, what they did was they just, uh, decided to bring somebody in from outside the area just to get another look at it, and there’s nothing wrong with how it was conducted initially at all from our point.”


: “That aint what I heard, but it’s neither here nor there, I guess.”

Renfro had already questioned Duman, who had been taken off the corrections investigation case, according to police officials, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Renfro asked Duman, who since has retired, about his association with Whitley and any knowledge of illegal activities by Whitley. Both Whitley and Duman denied that Whitley was involved in any illegal activities.


– After a year, John Tafoya is able to partially reconstruct the accounting books of the New Mexico prison industries program. Tafoya discovered almost $1 million in unpaid bills stashed in a desk drawer; the purchase of equipment that was obsolete; $350,000 worth of unfinished goods that could not be accounted for; and that top dollar had been paid for poor quality raw materials.

Also, Francke told Tafoya that he had been under the impression that there was as much as $800,000 in the industries account; there was about $12,000.

The state of New Mexico never pursued whether the program’s financial woes were criminal in nature or simply mismanagement, Tafoya told the Statesman Journal in September 1989.

Tafoya’s findings and the results bear a remarkable similarity to findings discovered by Oregon auditors in 1990.


– Day dies of a heart attack at a political fund-raising rally hours before debating his political opponent, Jim Hill, D-Salem, who later takes Day’s seat in the legislature. Day still was angry that the investigation was being cut off, his colleagues told the Statesman Journal in 1989.

Day’s file, which contained allegations of official wrongdoing and of a cover-up, is taken from his Teamsters office and given to Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer.

Frohnmayer never looked at the file, his aide, Marla Rae, told a legislative committee Nov. 30, 1989. She said she glanced through the file but saw nothing pressing in it.

After a month in Frohnmayer’s office, Day’s file was turned over to Maj. Reg Madsen, who was in charge of the state police corrections investigation. Madsen was named state police superintendent in 1990.

When the 1986 investigation was linked to the Francke case in the summer of 1989, the media requested the 1986 files and reports. Police at first released only part of the files, much of them blacked out; Day’s file was not included.

The press requested and received the rest of the file, including at least part of Day’s papers several months later from Renfro. Renfro had been promoted to Major and as head of the criminal investigations division was in charge of the Francke investigation.

Renfro said the file had been “honestly misplaced.” Among the misplaced papers was Day’s letter to Atiyeh warning of a cover-up.

The 1986 investigation closed with a half-dozen, mostly low-ranking, corrections employees resigning, being fired or demoted. There were several charges–ranging from theft to marijuana use–against low-ranking corrections employees; only one for marijuana smuggling, resulted in a conviction–a six month jail term for the corrections officer.

November 16

– Francke meets Bingta Hardgrove. They are married April 28, 1987 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


31 – Francke leaves the New Mexico Corrections Division.


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