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Woman’s Hazy Memory Puts Father in Court

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like any daughter would, Eileen Franklin-Lipsker professes love for her father. But other than that deep feeling, little is normal about this young woman’s relationship with her father.

Seated on the witness stand in San Mateo County Municipal Court, the 29-year-old mother of two looked haunted last week as she recalled a terrible childhood memory: She testified that she saw her father, George T. Franklin, molest and murder her best childhood friend nearly 21 years ago.

She recalled seeing the menacing and silhouetted figure of her father holding a rock above 8-year-old Susan Nason’s head.

As she spoke, Franklin-Lipsker rarely glanced toward her father, who stared at her from a nearby defense table.

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It is this gauzy girlhood memory, repressed for two decades, that forms the basis of a charge of murder against Franklin, 50, a retired San Mateo firefighter.

She said she cannot explain why she remembered the murderous image, but said it was triggered as she sat in the family room of her Canoga Park home a year ago in January.

Her son had awakened from an afternoon nap and was cradled on her lap. Her daughter was on the floor, coloring and chattering with two friends. Then, she caught her daughter’s blue-eyed gaze and the terrible image flashed.

“All I remember thinking was a very emphatic, ‘No!’ and making myself stop thinking that,” she testified. ". . . I just remember being very frightened.”

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Over the months, however, the images reappeared. She began telling people--first a therapist, then her brother, her mother, a lawyer and her husband. Last November, as she struggled over when to go to police, her husband took it upon himself to call authorities.

On Nov. 28, her father was arrested and charged with murder. Franklin, who had no criminal past, had been living in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, working as a real estate salesman.

Now, the decades-old events surrounding the murder of a girl a week shy of her ninth birthday, are being relived in the courtroom of Municipal Judge James L. Browning Jr. Franklin-Lipsker will resume testimony on Tuesday. Other witnesses likely will follow. Once the preliminary hearing concludes, Browning will decide whether there is enough evidence to bind Franklin over for a trial.

Among the witnesses last week was Susan Nason’s mother, Margaret, who lives in the same house in the San Francisco suburb of Foster City as she did when her daughter disappeared on Sept. 22, 1969. Confident that she and her husband taught Susan well about kidnapers, she testified her daughter “had never taken a ride with a stranger.”

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Ephe G. Bottimore, a retired groundskeeper, recalled that he was patrolling the hills around Crystal Springs Reservoir, about 10 miles west of Foster City, on Dec. 2, 1969, when he saw the girl’s decomposed body under an old box spring in a gully down from Half Moon Bay Road. He might not have noticed it, he said, except that the leaves in the thick patch of poison oak had fallen off for the winter.

A pathologist told how the fatal injuries to Susan suggested she died from two blows from a rock. The pathologist noted that the white metal ring on her right middle finger had been smashed.

In 1969, Foster City was a place of open fields, construction crews and jack rabbits. With a motto, “Growing Beautifully,” the suburb between San Francisco and San Jose attracted young parents with its low-priced three- and four-bedroom homes, and a promise of safe streets. The Franklins and Nasons lived a half-block from one another in the suburb’s first neighborhood. Eileen and her sisters often played with Susan and her older sister.

Under questioning by San Mateo County Deputy Dist. Atty. Elaine Tipton, Franklin-Lipsker remembered that as she rode through her neighborhood in her father’s Volkswagen van, she saw her best friend on the street and excitedly asked her father if he could pick up “Suzie.”

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The two girls tumbled into the back of the van, she said, jumping and playing on the mattress as her father drove. Eileen said she looked out the van window and saw Crystal Springs Reservoir. Then, she recalled, Franklin stopped on Half Moon Bay Road, the main highway from the San Francisco Peninsula west to the ocean.

When he went to the rear of the van, Eileen, then 8, went to the front, she said. She turned to see her friend struggling, and her father holding her arms above her head and laying on top of her, she said.

“I think she said, ‘Stop.’ He said, ‘Now, Suzie.” ’ Her friend was crying. “I was frightened.” Her next memory is of her standing on a road, and her father and Susan apparently down an embankment.

“I think I did something that caused Susan to look up at me.” Their eyes met, then Nason looked to a figure that loomed over her. He had a rock in his hand, and held it over his head. “I closed my eyes. I think I turned away.”

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She recalled standing over her friend’s lifeless body, focusing on Susan’s bloodied hand, noticing that her ring had been crushed. As she ran from the corpse, she said, her father grabbed her, told her that she was responsible because she had invited Susan into the van, and warned he would kill her if she told anyone. Then he demanded she help him remove something large--she couldn’t remember what--from the rear of the van.

Two years after the murder, the Franklins moved across Foster City. The parents separated in 1974. Today, the five Franklin children are grown.

As she testified, Franklin-Lipsker occasionally cried. Once, she froze and turned to Judge Browning. As a television camera and several still cameras were trained on her, and spectators and reporters watched, she complained meekly about “people staring at me.”

At other times, she smiled confidently, appeared poised and attempted to verbally parry with her father’s lawyer, Douglas Horngrad, a veteran criminal defense specialist.

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Franklin-Lipsker is the sole witness against her father. There apparently is no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Horngrad is challenging not only a memory hazy after 21 years, but one of an 8-year-old girl. His questioning has shown that what she recalls has varied and evolved.

“I can’t give exact perfect details,” she protested in exasperation.

Horngrad also is trying to show she is open to suggestion, and has been pressured by her husband. Under Horngrad’s questioning, she told of offers to sell her rights for movies and books. She testified that although she wants to donate any money to charity, her husband wants to retain some.

As testimony continues, Franklin remains at San Mateo County Jail on $2 million bail. In court, he wears a dark gray suit. His hair, long and wavy upon his arrest, is clipped short. Gone too is the beard. He remains stony-faced as photographers take his pictures when bailiffs escort him from the courthouse to the jail a block away.

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The thought of him going to prison has weighed on Franklin-Lipsker. “I didn’t like the idea,” she said. And as she testified at the end of the day Friday, she said her feelings remain strong for him. “I think I’ve always felt love for my father.”


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