He Said/She Said
What Lies Behind This Bizarre and Tragic Case Of Parental Abduction? Are Such Events Always What They Seem? And What Would God Say?
By Dan Huff
SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: THERE ARE TWO undisputed facts:
1. Tucsonan Cindie Franklin, 37, a full-time mom embroiled in a bitter divorce, gathered up her six children and vanished without a trace last November.
2. And since their disappearance -- indeed, because of it -- her ex-husband, David Franklin, 36, a computer support-systems analyst and programmer, has been awarded full legal custody of their children.
All the rest involves probing for clues in smoldering piles of "she said/he said," the bitter ashes of yet another marriage crashed and burned. It's the sort of dirty work the state, freed from religious ties, no longer performs in this era of no-fault divorce.
However, law enforcement officials are currently investigating the disappearance of Cindie and her children: Jeremy, nearly 2; Jeri, 3; Jodi, 5; Jordan, 6; Justin, 8; and Joshua, who's almost 10.
"I've never seen a parental abduction case involving six children," marvels Nancy Morin, investigator for the Florida-based Child Watch of North America, a clearinghouse for missing kids. She points to authorities who estimate as many as 354,000 children are abducted by their parents each year, adding, "The most I've had in one family is three."
Government officials and others in the business of family and divorce law echo Morin's wonder.
Several weeks ago, a frustrated Pima County Sheriff's detective turned the matter over to the FBI, making Cindie Franklin, who by all accounts -- even her ex-husband's -- is a profoundly devoted and loving mother, the subject of both state and federal felony warrants. And when they find her, she'll be arrested, perhaps imprisoned.
How did this bizarre and tragic situation come to be?
The senator is currently pushing legislation to prevent judges from all but automatically awarding custody to the non-fleeing spouse in parental abduction cases where abuse is proven. Richardson points to the Franklin case as just one of many familial horror stories that should goad her colleagues into passing her bill.
She recalls that Cindie and a female friend, with their babies in tow, called on her Phoenix office roughly a year and a half ago.
"She just came as a constituent, even though she wasn't in my district," Richardson says. "And basically what she said was, 'I have an abusive husband, and I'm going through divorce right now. I'm the custodial parent. I want supervised visitation. I'm afraid of my children being alone with this man. And right now we have supervised visitation, but it's not going to be for very long. I live in fear of my children having to spend time alone with him.' "
Richardson has seen plenty of these cases, and she says her instincts tell her Cindie Franklin, who appeared intelligent and rational, was being truthful. "Why would she come 120 miles and then lie to me?" the senator asks. "I have no reason not to believe her, and there's a whole big file."
The "file" to which Richardson refers includes an apparently damning report from Sister Janet M. Neider, a psychoanalytic play therapist who works for Catholic Social Services in Tucson.
Neider's August 1998 report is based on seven 90-minute sessions with the Franklin children. It paints a darkly disturbing picture of David Franklin as a very bad dad who forced his children to whisper when he was in the house; a cretin who smashed toys and mutilated pets; a monster who picked up children and threw them against walls.
"All these sharings," notes the report (which was supplied by Cindie's family, and which seems oddly bereft of specific times, dates and places for such horrific allegations), "are accompanied by wringing of hands, holding knees, crossing arms, and the escalation of voices or lowering to a whisper. All these are affects of past trauma still very operative; trauma extended in tense, mandated present visitations with Father."
Significantly, Neider never directly observed David Franklin in the presence of his children. "She never even met me," he says.
Neider did not return The Weekly's call.
So, we have the crime: parental abduction. And we have the alleged culprit, at least in a moral sense: David Franklin, even though it was his ex who grabbed the kids and ran. If this were a fictional mystery -- and who's to say where the truth lies in matters of the heart? -- the plot would thicken at this point. In fact, it does.
It all hinges on your opinion of his side of the story.
Franklin claims Neider's report is a tissue of lies orchestrated by Cindie and her family, who coached the children in an effort to dupe an unsuspecting nun deeply devoted to the safety and well-being of all children.
"I tried to arrange for Cindie and the kids to go to counseling through the Conciliation Court, which is a neutral government agency," he says. "But she refused."
Franklin offers stacks of reports in his own defense, reports prepared by court-appointed supervisors of his weekly visits with his children over seven long months. Among them are indications Cindie Franklin ordered her kids to misbehave in the presence of their father. Some examples:
· In a report dated August, 1998, court-appointed supervisor Carolyn Farrier notes: "Jeri said, 'You're mean!' to Father. Father responded with, 'I'm mean?' Jodie answered, 'Mommy said that.' "
· In a report dated September, 1998, supervisor Lynda McKinley wrote: "Father was very upbeat, saying 'Hi' to girls. Jeri called him Daddy Poo-Poo, and Jodi giggled about it. Father said, 'No, just Daddy, not Daddy Poo-Poo.' Jeri repeated Daddy Poo-Poo, and Father asked who said call me that? Jerri replied, 'Momma.' "
· Also in September of '98, supervisor Jennie Obregon observed: "Justin started knocking down all of the chairs and wouldn't stop when Father and Supervisor Jennie were telling him to stop. Jordan started playing with the mini blinds, pulling them, making them go up on one side and hitting them over and over. When Father asked him why were they behaving like that, Justin said, "Mo [mother] said so."
In that same report, Obregon notes, "Justin really dislikes having to come and visit; he repeats all the time, 'I hate to come and see you, 'cause I hate you.' Father will ask, 'Why do you hate me?' He'll answer, 'Cause Mo says to.' "
"The visits, certainly with the three older boys, were particularly trying," recalls Bob Henley, director of the Family Counseling Agency, which provides the court-appointed supervisors for parental visitations. "The kids acted as though they'd been encouraged to misbehave. But the father maintained a really appropriate stance, and handled those challenges particularly well."
Henley says that of course most non-custodial spouses granted supervised visitation try to be on their best behavior.
"But our experience has been that after the first couple of supervised visits, everyone's kind of used to the supervisor," he says, "and the interactions become much more natural. And so you know that if the parents aren't going to be able to hold it together and provide a safe setting with their kid, that will come out."
After so many months of weekly supervised visits, did it appear likely David Franklin was a danger to his children? Says Henley, "There was nothing that suggested abuse. And he was very appropriate towards them, while their behavior would be consistent with David's belief that it was coaching."
Furthermore, Henley notes, Franklin's closely observed behavior simply didn't fit the common profile of a wife beater: "I have no idea myself of what actually occurred in the home prior to their decision to separate. I know of the mom's allegations of domestic violence and abuse, and I don't have any idea how valid or inaccurate they are. Many of our clients are here because of domestic violence.
"But this father generally hasn't behaved like some of our other batterers have. They need to intimidate, and they can be contentious, hostile. I'm certain some of his behavior could have felt abusive to his wife...but that doesn't mean diddly. On the other hand, we did observe his interactions with kids, and that was all quite positive."
So what's really going on here?
David Franklin flashes a rare smile. "One of my wife's religious affectations is that God will provide," he says. "You must trust God. He will never give you more kids than you can handle. And I had the choice, either to have reproductive issues with her, or embrace it. And I chose to embrace it. And the kids are beautiful, they're great."
Call it a variation on deus ex machina, the classical "god from the machine" who comes to clear up difficulties in an ancient play. In this modern play of domestic passions, however, it turns out the Christian God, and the profound mystery of His existence or non-existence, has come to fan the age-old fires of war between men and women.
David and Cindie had known each other since their late teens. They were friends and fellow students at Tucson's Sahuaro High School, where she was a nearly straight-A student and editor of the 1980 yearbook. Both were deeply religious, although, as David tells it, she was always more conservative in her beliefs than he.
"We dated for about four years before we got married," David recalls. "But before we dated, we were just hanging out with this group of eclectic Christian people from churches all over Tucson. The bottom line was that we all claimed that we loved God, we loved Jesus, and we loved our neighbor. At that time Cindie had a much broader view of God and love of people. It was one of the most attractive things about her. I don't know where it's gone."
Like most people, they had connected on the things they had in common. "You know, love of God, doing what's right," he recalls. But there were still differences. "We had some tiffs about, well, she'd say King James is the only version of the Bible; and I'd say, no, there's a million versions. Things like that."
Apparently these two young adults, caught up in their growing mutual attraction, were blithely unaware that people through the ages have committed mass slaughter on behalf of their slightly differing interpretations of God's will. Perhaps the lovebirds had even chosen to ignore those bloody Old Testament passages describing how an Almighty God wipes out whole peoples -- seemingly innocent men, women and children -- merely because they're standing in the way of His chosen few.
As David Franklin tells it, a notorious local cable television personality opened his eyes to the sometimes goofy, sometimes gory games of God's well-meaning disciples.
"Are you familiar at all with the different people from TCCC (Tucson Community Cable Corp.)?" he asks. "The show 666 Lord of Hosts? He's a character, but his big thing is exposing the hypocrisy of Christianity. And I originally talked to him to try to convince him that no, you're missing it. Yeah, there are a lot of hypocrites here, but it doesn't matter -- Jesus is about love and forgiveness.
"You know," David says, "he ended up being one of the factors that brought back my critical thinking skills."
And, apparently in the process, ripping asunder what God had supposedly joined for eternity.
Without even knowing what was happening to them -- one might assume, because they kept on producing babies -- Cindie, who was growing more devoted to her religious beliefs, and David, who was increasingly questioning his own and others, had begun their long, spiraling descent into marital hell.
At least that's how David begins his side of the story.
After thousands of years, the authorship of many of its books is still subject to debate; whole passages are repeated in slightly altered form, with important details changed; characters sometimes appear from nowhere. And, of course, the true believers have added to this welter of confusion by producing so many translations and versions of the same old stories that it's difficult to determine who, or what, to believe.
And so it is, too, with our little epics of today. Cindie Franklin is not around to tell her story; but her mother, Jerry Bee, readily holds up her daughter's end of things:
"Basically, David was abusing the children," Jerry Bee maintains. "They had lived in a single-wide trailer for most of their married life, and they had moved into a nice, four-bedroom house. And the violence became worse. And she was five months pregnant with five small children, seven and under, and she took them and left because she felt she could no longer protect the children."
Bee describes a far different David Franklin than one sees today. She tells of an increasingly sullen, uncommunicative and violent man who often dressed in full punk regalia, and who glared at her and her increasingly frightened family with what seemed to be nothing short of pure hatred.
She has photos of her former son-in-law during those years, showing him sporting a wild, red 'do accented with snack food, a Cheet-oh.
She offers writings, purportedly from her daughter, stating, "My children have had no relationship [with him] except the abuse and the 'public good daddy behavior.' The three oldest especially are adamant about not wanting to even see him."
At one point, during their subsequent separation, Jerry Bee recalls, Cindie "told me, 'Momma, maybe I should go back. At least then I would be there to protect the children.' And then she just paused and said, 'If I go back, he'll kill me in my bed.'"
When asked if she had any hard proof David was abusing his children, since the court -- based on seven months of closely supervised visitation, had obviously seen fit to grant him custody after the disappearance -- Mrs. Bee replied:
"Um, she had custody when she left. It's a very interesting thing that's happening, not only in Arizona, but across the United States. I'm finding out that when a parent does leave with the children, no matter what the abuse charges may be, the courts automatically seem to be giving custody to the remaining parent, in spite of the charges."
TW: But does she have proof?
Bee: I could fax you a copy of a letter that the children's counselor wrote that does explain about the abuse.
TW: Who's the counselor?
Bee: It's Sister Janet Neider, with Catholic Social Services.
TW: Presumably the court looked at that when it made its decision?
Bee: No, they did not. A lot of the information that she had was never presented in court.
TW: Why not?
Bee: You know, it's a long story. I'm not really sure, except that he had a high-powered attorney and things just, you know, he had more money, he could afford...And I don't know, a lot of this stuff just was not brought up. Time constraints. Just all sorts of things happened. Like I said, it would take me a couple of hours to explain it.
TW: Well, I'd be happy to listen. Is there any way I could come out and chat with you about it?
Bee: Well, gosh, I'm going to be in and out for the next few weeks. He [David Franklin] has also contacted the Star and a couple of TV stations, and they were thinking about doing stories, but after they had talked to several people and everything, they said, 'Nah, I don't think we're gonna get mixed up in this one.'
So, the point I guess I was trying to make is that my husband and I and the rest of our family knew there were problems, but we didn't know the extent until she left. And she moved in with us and lived here for a year, and the children started talking and telling us what was going on. And I cried. I just could not...
TW: Your daughter just took this abuse and didn't tell you?
Bee: Um, she had, he had threatened her.
Bee: He had threatened her if she told his parents, her parents or anyone else, law enforcement, anyone. She finally came to me when he had come home so high on marijuana one night that he was just out of it. And she said, 'Mom, David has threatened me if I tell you. But I've got to tell someone that he's on marijuana. If anything happens, I just wanted you to know, but please, Momma, don't tell anyone.'
TW: And did the court hear this?
Bee: Some of it. The interesting thing was, they never had a court reporter in there. There was one hearing that his attorney was supposed to arrange for one, and he didn't, and her attorney was running up and down the halls trying to find someone, anyone, at the last minute to come in and record this testimony. So the only time there was a reporter in court was the very last hearing, and she was not there.
TW: She had left town by then?
Bee: Yes. But we just felt that for a mother to be five months pregnant, with five little children, to leave her beautiful new house, and after living in a single-wide trailer, and it had two bedrooms. The master bedroom was decent, the other one was about the size of a large walk-in closet...
And after that we realized there had to be a reason. No mother, no woman, with that many children and that pregnant would [leave] under those circumstances, unless there was something seriously wrong.
A week or so later, Bee produced writings in which her daughter purportedly accuses David of slapping the children to keep them awake during late-night car rides, of smearing feces in the face of one of the children as punishment for leaving a dirty diaper laying around, and other alleged abuses.
Franklin fervently denies such allegations.
Sadly, that's not the case with Jerry Bee's telling of her daughter's side of the story.
During the course of several interviews, she listed as various reasons to distrust her former son-in-law:
· In college, he majored in psychology.
· "He's, uh, he's, what do I say, a master at the art of strategy. Very good. He's no slouch, I mean he's also a good actor, he's acted in things before. And, um, he was in a play at church one time and they said he was the best actor they ever had."
· His demeanor changed dramatically over the course of their marriage. One of Cindie's lawyers once theorized he might have bi-polar disease.
· And, of course, there's the marijuana.
Yes, David Franklin admits smoking dope. He says he was playing in a punk band on weekends at the time -- partially to pick up a few extra bucks, and partially for the fun of it. And he admits he wasn't around as much as he should have been, especially on weekends when he was playing with the band; but he swears he would never harm his wife or children.
"And please keep in mind I'd never cheated on her," he says. "We never had anything like that. We'd been very fidelity oriented. I mean, we were a close family. We had five kids together. We were sexually active and we had a good love relationship."
Then why, as Bee says, would a woman with six children and a nice new house flee?
Franklin blames it on his wife's family, but mostly on Jerry Bee herself, whom he maintains is the ruler of what he claims is the Bees' own too-closely knit, family brand of "separatist, exclusive, cult-like Christianity."
However, Bee scoffs at the charge. She points out that she and her husband attend El Camino Baptist Church. "It's very mainstream, you know, there's nothing weird about it."
"Of course she's going to deny it," he says. "They can't appear as wackos."
Why, he asks, "have they never allowed my kids medical attention? They currently do not have health insurance for my kids. They've never allowed anything but alternative medicine. For the last baby, they wouldn't even allow me to get a midwife -- Mom Bee [Jerry] delivered it herself."
Furthermore, he says, the Bees home-schooled his children, using textbooks that in some instances were written in the 19th century. "I'm not joking. The courts and lawyers many times requested them to present their homeschool books and records, but they never did.
"Not allowing the kids in sports, or any outside activities that would socialize them into normal reality? That's pretty much separatist and exclusive behavior right there," he argues.
"Adding extracurricular things to their Biblical beliefs -- that smoking cigarettes, eating sugar, etc., are satanic. That's pretty weird, too," says David, himself a chain-smoker.
"See, he doesn't know, he doesn't know anything that happened while she was living with us," Jerry Bee says. "In the first place, we both had restraining orders against him. We were advised not to disclose our whereabouts, the places we went or the things we did. So he doesn't know that."
Bee laughs out loud at David's claim they were using 19th-century textbooks in their home schooling, which she dismisses with, "I'm sorry, that's not funny. But it sounds funny."
She also says Cindie, who plays a mean game of racquetball, is not anti sports, and that while most of her children were too young for organized teams, the three older boys took part in a home-school sports program that taught participants the basics of many games in league play.
"And please remember, these were little kids. Josh [the oldest] had just turned 7 when they moved into their new house."
Also, she maintains her grandkids were not deliberately isolated. There were plenty of other children around when Cindie and David lived in the trailer park, Bee says. "Every time she'd open her door there were 13 neighbor kids in their yard."
But Jerry Bee admits her daughter's children are not immunized.
"Our family has had some very severe reactions to immunizations," she explains. "I have a son who's been damaged by immunization shots.
"So Cindie was very hesitant. In fact some of my children have doctor's orders that they could have certain ones, but there are others that they couldn't have, which is a long story. And it has more to do with my children, and it isn't important in this. But, so she was very cautious about anything that..."
TW: So I guess the answer is no?
Bee: ...because of the reactions they had. So I mean if you put in anything, it's not that she was against immunizations, it's that she proceeded with caution because of what happened to her brother.
TW: So as far as you know, they were not immunized?
Bee: No. But that's going to make her look horrible if you put that in the paper.
TW: Well, it's an issue. Did you argue with her and say that perhaps she should talk to a doctor about immunizing the kids?
Bee: She had expressed to the doctor her concerns.
TW: And the doctor said, don't bother?
Bee: He basically supported her -- as long as the children were healthy.
TW: Was this a medical doctor, an MD?
Bee: Basically there are two doctors, one is an MD and one is a naturopath.
TW: So who'd she talk to on that?
Bee: I'm not going to give that out. I don't want the doctor coming back and saying, 'My name's in the paper.' "
She adds that Cindie took the kids to at least five specialists, including dentists, over the course of several years, choosing to pay their bills out of her own pocket, rather than joining an HMO. When Cindie fled, Bee says she and her husband were left to pay off some of those medical bills.
Cindie and the children disappeared the first time on October 17, 1997, while David was at work. As the sole breadwinner for his growing family, he admits he'd pretty much been a '50s-style father for some time. "I was gone a lot, and when I'd get home at night I had maybe five minutes to talk to the kids.
"I returned home that night and I was devastated. I thought we'd been robbed. No one was home. I was very worried. Looked around, found a 'Dear John' letter saying, 'It seems your friends are more important than your family. I'm going up north.' Completely devastated me. We'd never been divorced, we'd never been separated. She'd never even said, 'I'm going to my mother's for the weekend.' There was no indication this was coming.
"Everything was gone. Her family and some church group, and we still don't know for sure who it was, took a U-Haul and moved everything."
Late that evening he went over to her parents' house and demanded to know where his wife and children were. The Bees said they didn't know. David was persistent -- perhaps too persistent. In what he now says was probably his worst mistake of the whole miserable affair, he continued to pester the Bees, demanding that they tell him where his family had gone. He went so far as to pry open a screen on the Bee's house -- to place a note, he says.
A friend, Michael Vause, 24, claims he accompanied David on the screen-bending foray. "He wasn't thinking very clearly because he was really, really upset," Vause recalls. "We knocked on the door, but nobody answered. We walked around to see if anyone was inside, we couldn't tell. So he wrote up a note and was going to put it on the door, but then he started messing with the screen. And I said, 'Ah, come on, Dave, that could be so misinterpreted. Let's not do that,' and he stopped."
The Bees accused him of harassment and took out several restraining orders against him.
"They were trying to claim they feared me or whatever," David says. "That I was harassing them. Duh? Of course I'm trying to get in touch with you, you have my children!"
Jerry Bee says she has no idea why David is so insistent on wanting his children back now, after ignoring them -- or worse, abusing them -- for so long. Perhaps he's looking for revenge, she theorizes.
At any rate, after about four weeks, David told the Bees he was filing charges of custodial interference, and that a warrant would be issued for Cindie's arrest in three to five weeks. The threat of legal action worked, he says. "On the fifth week my kids were back in Tucson. So was she. But they were back, unbeknownst to me. And I was served with divorce papers with all kinds of bizarre charges.
"And at the time I still loved her," he says. "I still thought there was a chance at reconciliation. I was very wrong. I wish I hadn't even gone that way. Instead I should have done everything I could to focus on what's best for the children. Unfortunately, I believed that what was best for the children was for the two of us to be together."
For David, what was left of their marriage was a promise of seeing their children for a total of 16 hours a week. But he claims he never got that much time. "The most I saw them was eight. And they were at every visitation, her parents.
"They made sure the kids weren't allowed to have me in the loop in anything in their lives. I couldn't even ask them, 'So how you doin', what'd ya have for dinner, how're things goin'?' You couldn't even get involved in that. They were told by her parents not to talk about anything.
"So I had to be very creative every visit. Whatever I came up with as entertainment, an activity for us to do, that was what we could connect with. And I think they were truly amazed at how effective I could be with nothing to work with. There was still a relationship."
It was during this time, he maintains, that the Bees deliberately "poisoned and alienated" his children from him. And he claims that it was only after months of isolation under their care, months of living and home-schooling in the Bees' house, that the children began describing for Neider the supposed horrors of their previous life with Daddy Dearest.
"This went on for months," he says. "It was pretty apparent they weren't going to live up to anything on their end, that they were just going to drag this out and out. I was getting very close to the point of just taking them to court and taking the worst that might happen -- which was that the judge might decide to listen to her hearsay and at least put me in supervised visitation."
Which is what happened. "And it worked very well, "he says. "They [the Bees] weren't there, number one. They couldn't be poisoning the kids during the visitation. And number two, someone was there recording everything, and seeing what they were doing to my children."
After seven months of this, as the court was shifting the visitations from agency supervision to supervision by David's parents, Cindie fled for the second time.
Jerry Bee says one of the incidents that may have prompted her daughter to flee occurred at one of these family-supervised visits, when Cindie realized David's mom was outside, while David was alone in the house with several of their daughters.
"David's mom...knew a lot of things, she really did, but after a while, she went into denial over this," Jerry Bee claims.
Mary Lou Franklin, David's mother, is angered by such allegations. "My son loves his children very much," she says indignantly. "He'd never do anything to hurt them." She, too, complains of Jerry Bee's alleged tight control of the Bee family, and of their particular brand of Christianity. But she complains most bitterly about Cindie and her family cutting her off from all contact with David's children. "They're my grandchildren too," fumes Mrs. Franklin.
That may be true, but Child Watch's Morin says it's been her experience that in roughly 98 percent of the cases, parents know where their children are hiding.
David Franklin claims he never threatened his wife or harmed his children.
That may be a lie. But consider this: The children were under the authority of the court, and not an often woefully unresponsive state agency like Child Protective Services. If David had made even the smallest bruise on the tiniest arm, would a judge allow him unsupervised visits? Not likely.
But Bee is adamant that the legal system, as well as other protections in place for abused and battered spouses and children do not always work. And she maintains it certainly failed in her daughter's case.
A call to the office of one of Bee's six children, state Sen. Keith Bee, went unanswered -- not surprising, since a sheriff's detective and a court worker both complain the lawmaker had failed to return their numerous calls on the matter of his sister's disappearance. System failure, indeed.
And for the record, although she claims not to have known at first that Cindie Franklin was her colleague Keith Bee's sister, Sen. Richardson says she attended Keith Bee's wedding.
Finally, there's the question of who's the real abuser, here and now. Increasingly, the experts are coming down hard against the abducting parent. According to a recent report from the American Prosecutors Research Institute:
"Contributing to the increased awareness of parental abduction as a form of child abuse is the realization that...the abducting parent may be providing inadequate care. The child may be forced into a secret life, including frequent moves or concealed identities, and may not be allowed to form attachments to new friends or neighbors...At the very least, the child loses her entire community -- parent...school, friends...." David Franklin goes on to add that his children have been deprived of contact with their aunts and uncles and cousins as well.
And while we may never get to the absolute truth in a turgid, highly personal meltdown like the marriage of David and Cindie Franklin, it comes down to this, finally:
Does Cindie Franklin's supposed fear of her husband and devotion to her children justify ignoring the law and playing God Almighty with their lives?
The answer, undoubtedly, involves yet another round of she said/he said.
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