Joseph Paul Franklin caused a lot of pain for two local families.
On June 15, 1980, Franklin shot and killed Arthur Dale Smothers, 22, and his girlfriend, Kathleen Mikula, 16, on the Washington Street Bridge, near the Roosevelt Boulevard intersection, in downtown Johnstown.
Smothers was black. Mikula was white.
In 1998, the avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite confessed to the killings. On Wednesday, at 12:01 a.m., he is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Missouri, a punishment issued for gunning down a man outside a synagogue in 1977.
Franklin, whose birth name is James Clayton Vaughn, may have killed 20 or more people.
“Nobody can bring my sister back, and the other people he killed,” said Larry Mikula, Kathleen Mikula’s brother.
Asked about whether he supported the execution, Mikula, a West End resident, said, “It’s up to the law. It’s not up to me.
“Suffering in prison is even worse because it makes him think and think and think,” he said.
There was some evidence against Franklin, including the fact he fit the profile of somebody who would shoot an interracial couple, but never enough to make an arrest. His confession was obtained by then Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Callihan and Johnstown police Detective Jeannine Gaydos during an interview in a Tennessee prison.
At the time, then District Attorney David Tulowitzki, now a county judge, called the confession the key to solving the case.
“It was eerie,” said Callihan, now the county’s district attorney. “I don’t think I’ll ever experience that again. It was literally like you could get into the mind of a serial killer.”
Even with the confession, Cambria County decided to not prosecute.
“The risk of moving him was too high, and he already had a death sentence against him,” Callihan said.
Asked about the execution being carried out, Callihan said, “I think, especially for the families in the Johnstown incident, it will bring finality for them. ... With the number of people he has killed and the years that have passed, I would say a death sentence is warranted.”
The couple were shot with a high-powered rifle while walking from Mikula’s house in the West End to Smothers’ Kernville residence. The killings apparently were random. Franklin took a position on a wooded hillside and waited for potential targets to come into his line of sight. Both victims died during surgery.
Fingerprints were found on a fast-food drinking cup near the spot where the sniper waited.
Mikula said his family has never been told if the fingerprints belonged to Franklin, who originally came to town that day to rob a bank.
“It’s the one thing I do want to know,” said Mikula.
Smothers and Mikula were among Franklin’s final victims in a multistate killing spree that lasted from 1977 into 1980.
Franklin recently told CNN “I felt like I was at war. The survival of the white race was at stake.”
Franklin is most well-known for shooting Larry Flynt, publisher and founder of Hustler magazine, and Vernon Jordan Jr., a civil rights leader.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.