Last week, the Portland Tribune reported that one of the police investigators in the controversial Michael Francke case thinks the man convicted should never have been charged with the crime. The article did not discuss the reasoning of longtime detective Randy Martinak, but WW has learned that his doubts go to the heart of one of the notorious murder's most enduring question marks.
In January 1989, Francke, the head of Oregon's prison system, was killed outside his office. At the time, he was going after drug trafficking in the prisons. A year and a half after the murder, a jury convicted a small-time drug dealer named Frank Gable based on testimony from jailbirds and drug addicts.
Despite Gable's conviction, only one man ever actually confessed to the murder: John Lee Crouse.
Crouse, who surfaced shortly after the murder, changed his story so often that few believed he actually did it. In fact, a fellow inmate reportedly claimed Crouse was being paid to lead investigators on a wild goose chase.
Significantly, however, Crouse had information that he definitely should not have had: He knew the number and location of Francke's wounds--in the heart and arm--and that the killing was done with a long, single-edged knife.
Only investigators and the killer knew these details. So where did Crouse get his information? The ex-con was not a friend of Gable. But he was tight with a small circle of methamphetamine dealers--the same group that the dead man's brother, Kevin Francke, and Tribune columnist Phil Stanford think actually committed the murder on behalf of one of Francke's enemies inside the corrections department.
In April 1989, the state police used a polygraph to conclude Crouse had not committed the crime. But later that year another state polygrapher, as well as an FBI polygrapher, concluded the state-police lie detector was wrong (for more on the state's use of polygraphs, see "True Lies?" in last week's WW). Crouse could not be located for this article.
Kevin Francke says that in 2000, he got a call from Martinak, the detective, as Gable neared the court date for his first appeal. Martinak was looking for Gable's attorney. In the telephone conversation, Francke says Martinak specifically cited Crouse's inside knowledge as one basis for the investigator's belief that the real killer (or killers) was still at large.
Contacted through an intermediary, Martinak declined to comment to WW, except in an email that blamed the media for interfering with the original Francke murder probe. He would neither confirm nor deny that he is the same "Randy" who last month posted on a local website called Freefrankgable.com.
The website message identifies "Randy" as an investigator in the original murder probe. It cites Crouse's knowledge of the wounds. And it hints that, contrary to the Gable prosecutors' claims, Francke was killed because he was going after corrupt prison officials.
Crouse had information he should not have had--details known only to police and the killer.