Real Name: James Michael Francke
Nicknames: Michael, Mike
Location: Salem, Oregon
Date: January 17, 1989
Details: In February 1980, prison director Michael Francke was brought in to investigate several riots at a New Mexico prison that left thirty-three inmates dead. He was successful with reforms in New Mexico. In 1987, the Oregon governor asked him to take over the state's troubled prison system. However, he was found stabbed to death just outside his office door on January 17, 1989. Before his death, he had told several family members that he was doing a top-secret investigation into drug trafficking and other corruption in the Oregon prison system. He planned to name several high-level officials. Although police investigators believe he was killed in a robbery gone wrong, his family is convinced that he was silenced because of information uncovered during his investigations.
A former prison guard claimed that other guards had brought drugs, weapons, and other illegal items to prisoners. Michael interviewed this guard and several others, gathering evidence of corruption within Oregon's prison system. By the end of 1988, he appeared to find even more incriminating evidence against certain prison officials. On January 13, 1989, he told his sister-in-law that he was planning to go before the legislature and "clean house" the next week. He said that he was concerned about what he had uncovered. Four days later, he was found dead.
Police tried to piece together the last hours of his life. At 6:50pm on January 16, after the regular Tuesday staff meeting, he spoke to one of his employees. Thirty minutes later, two other corrections employees noticed that the light in his car was on and the driver's door was open. The two employees could not find him, nor could they reach him on his pager, which he always carried with him. They called their superiors and at 8:30pm, two officials searched the building. However, he was nowhere to be found. The two men left at around 9:30pm.
At 12:45am, a security guard found Michael's body on the side porch of the building. A pane of glass on the side door was shattered and his briefcase was missing. Investigators believed that he was murdered by someone that was trying to rob him. They interrogated several drug dealers and street criminals. One of them claimed that he witnessed the murder and identified the killer as drug dealer Frank Gable. Gable was arrested and charged with Michael's murder. Police determined that Gable stabbed him while trying to break into his car. However, many people, including Michael's family, are convinced that someone else was responsible.
His family has found some discrepancies in the police's official version of the events surrounding his murder. Michael had a car alarm system that would have gone off if Gable was breaking into his car. Also, there appeared to be no signs of forced entry on the car. Furthermore, if Michael had been stabbed at the car, there should have been blood around it. However, there was no trace of blood for more than one-hundred feet from the car. Finally, it seemed unlikely that he was murdered at 7pm if his body was not found during the search of the building at 8:30pm.
His family and several others believe that Michael was killed during a premeditated murder committed by several men, possibly the high-ranking officials that were to be named in his investigation. One eyewitness seemed to corroborate the theory. At 10:15pm on the night of the murder, he saw either five or six men running from the crime scene to a Volkswagen van. His family theorizes that these men abducted him as he opened his car. According to the theory, they took him to an unknown location and then returned him to his office so that they could get incriminating documents from him. He then tried to escape his abductors, but was stabbed and killed on the porch.
Interestingly, several witnesses had reported seeing an unidentified man wearing a pin-striped suit at Michael's office building on the night of the murder. One final fact that seemed to support the cover-up theory was that no paperwork involving Michael's prison investigation has ever been found. Several witnesses recalled seeing around twenty-three bags of shredded papers being removed from his office after his death.
Suspects: Drug dealer Frank Gable is considered the prime suspect in the case. A witness came forward, claiming that he had seen Gable breaking into Michael's car on the night of the murder. At 7pm, Michael had apparently came out of the office building and found Gable in his car. According to the witness, the two struggled and Michael was stabbed. Gable then took his briefcase before fleeing. Michael ran to the side porch in an attempt to get help, but collapsed and died.
Witnesses reportedly placed Gable in and around the area around the time of the murder. A maintenance worker witnessed a man matching Gable's description running away from the murder scene around 7pm. A few hours after the murder, he had a friend get rid of something in a bag. The friend threw the bag, which he believed had clothing and another object in it, into a nearby river. Several witnesses also claimed that Gable had confessed to the murder. He allegedly threatened some witnesses that he would kill them and their families if they went to police. Furthermore, his wife claimed that he liked knives and was abusive towards her.
Gable was arrested and charged with Michael's murder, but many believe that someone else was responsible for the crime. They believe that his murder may have been orchestrated by one of the high-ranking officials that was involved with corruption in the Oregon prison system.
A suspicious-looking man was seen lurking around the corrections building at the time of the murder. He was described as a neatly dressed man in a pin-striped suit, and he was described as having a dark complexion. No physical description of the man exists; however, a sketch of the man is available.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on the February 20, 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries. A movie about the case, Without Evidence, was released in 1995.
Results: Unresolved. In June 1991, Gable was convicted of Michael's murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, he maintains his innocence. Some of Gable's supporters claim that police coerced witnesses into testifying against him. Several of the witnesses allegedly later recanted their statements. His supporters also claim that the police hid evidence that might exonerate him. Specifically, they note that at least two other men should have been considered suspects; one was allegedly placed at the murder scene by a witness and another confessed to killing Michael.
In April 2019, a judge overturned Gable's murder conviction, deciding that Gable either had to be released or re-tried for the murder. The Oregon Department of Justice appealed the ruling. In June, he was released from prison pending the appeal; however, he remains under federal supervision.
Several of Michael's friends and family members believe that Michael's real killer or killers are still at large. However, others believe that there was no conspiracy in the case, and that most of the evidence of the conspiracy was either fabricated or misinterpreted. Investigations by the Governor of Oregon and independent journalists at The Oregonian concluded that there was no conspiracy and that Michael was most likely killed by Gable.
- Michael Francke on Unsolved.com
- Michael Francke at Wikipedia
- Prison chief sought challenges in life - January 19, 1989
- Former aide of Michael Francke refuses to take polygraph test - June 16, 1989
- Ore. officials refuse to be tested in Francke probe - June 17, 1989
- Inmate swears he didn't murder Francke - February 12, 1990
- Indictment doesn't finish Francke case - April 10, 1990
- Francke killer may have wanted briefcase - April 11, 1990
- Katie Francke struggles with death that took more than brother-in-law - November 11, 1990
- Gable becomes prominent figure in Francke murder - April 28, 1991
- Gable prosecutors focus on police interviews - May 15, 1991
- Gable's past may play role in whether he will die or serve life - July 11, 1991
- Facts dispute Michael Francke conspiracy - May 22, 2005
- Gable v. State - January 18, 2006
- Frank Gable cites new evidence in bid to escape Michael Francke murder conviction - October 26, 2014
- Oregon prison corruption and the murder of Michael Francke - April 24, 2016
- Frank Gable, convicted in 1989 killing of Michael Francke, should be retried or released from prison, judge says - April 18, 2019
- Brothers of slain Oregon prisons chief both want release of man convicted in case, but disagree on next step - April 29, 2019
- Judge orders Frank Gable released Friday in Oregon prison director's murder - June 27, 2019
- Frank Gable’s lawyers challenge state’s appeal of his release, order for new trial - March 18, 2020
- Michael Francke at Find a Grave
- Michael Francke at the Officer Down Memorial Page