‘Gentle’ Professor Tied to Bloody Chain Saw, Held in Murder Probe

Times Staff Writer

A university professor was arrested at his West Hollywood apartment Saturday and accused of using a chain saw to dismember human body parts found last week along highways in Valencia and near Fresno, Sheriff’s Department officials said.

Max Bernard Franc, 57, a professor of public administration at California State University, Fresno, was booked on suspicion of murder after investigators determined that he either owned or borrowed a chain saw that was found to have human blood and tissue in its mechanisms, authorities said. Franc was being held without bail.

The head and torso of a male in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut was found Tuesday by a rancher along a rural Madera County highway about 20 miles north of Fresno, a Madera County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

Dead Two Days

According to a Madera County coroner autopsy report, the teen-ager had a gunshot wound in the head and had been dead about two days.

On Thursday, body parts were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The remains were wrapped in a sheet near a guardrail.


“Both the torso in Fresno and body parts in Valencia were mutilated with the same type of instrument, like a chain saw,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Andrews. “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.”

Neither set of remains has been identified. Coroners have not determined whether the body parts are of the same person, Andrews said.

Acting on an anonymous phone call that a bloodied chain saw had been found, Los Angeles Police Department investigators linked Franc to the saw, Andrews said. The saw was confiscated Friday. Sheriff’s Department officials would not release information about how Franc was traced to the saw or where the saw was found.

Similar Circumstances

“LAPD was doing its own investigation about the saw when they realized that the sheriff was investigating the discovery of body parts,” Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Fosselman said. “Then we found that there had been a similar mutilation near Fresno.”

Franc’s colleagues in the political science department at Cal State Fresno said he joined the faculty there in 1969. he earned his Ph.D. from New York University. He is single, and a native of Wisconsin.

“I find it really rather incredible that he has been accused of this,” said David Provost, professor and former chairman of the department. “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose. He was . . . a very gentle type of individual.”

Another professor who asked not to be identified said Franc was in great spirits of late. He had received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators. And he had just received word that his request for sabbatical had been approved for the semester that begins next week.

“I saw him about 10 days ago on campus,” the professor said. “He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly. Chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss.”

Referring to the circumstances of Franc’s arrest, the professor added: “None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . . He’s not the kind to blow up. He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.”

Times staff writer Mark Arax contributed to this article