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Free online true-crime series takes fresh look at complicated 1989 Oregon murder of corrections department director

CONTRIBUTED - Phil Stanford has reported on the murder for three decades.The Michael Francke murder is receiving new attention in a free iHeartRadio podcast that became available Oct. 24.

The 12-part series explores the ongoing mystery of the 1989 killing of the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that his convicted killer, Salem petty criminal Frank Gable, did not receive a fair trial and probably is innocent. He has been released while the state appeals the ruling.

"Murder in Oregon: Who Killed Michael Francke?" is co-written and co-produced by former Oregonian and Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford, who appears extensively in it. So do Francke's brothers, Kevin and Patrick. All three have argued for 30 years that Gable was innocent and Michael was assassinated for investigating corruption within his department.

The series gives Stanford and the Francke brothers the most powerful platform to argue their case to date. Within 24 hours of the first episode being posted, it already was a top 20 show on Apple podcasts and No. 4 in the true crime category.

The Portland Tribune interviewed Stanford about the project. He insists that even those who are familiar with the case will learn new things about it from the podcast.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Department of Correcions Director Michael Francke His death is now unsolved.

Tribune: Podcasts are an increasingly popular outlet for true crime stories, which the killing of Michael Francke certainly is. How did you get involved in this one?

Stanford: I suppose you could say it was a sort of chance meeting. I got a call about six months ago from Lauren Bright-Pacheco, who wanted to interview me for a podcast she was producing ... about the Happy Face Killer (Keith Hunter Jesperson, whom Stanford had written about). I was just a minor character in that one, but we started talking and she said, "Say, I'll bet you've got some other good stories to tell," and I said "Yes, as I matter of fact I do."

Tribune: What is your role in the production of the podcast?

Stanford: I'm the lead writer, also an executive producer and a narrator along with Lauren.

Tribune: What do you hope it will accomplish?

Stanford: For me, that's a tough one because I'm actually quite cynical about what can be accomplished under present circumstances. The one thing we know for sure is that Frank Gable wasn't guilty of the crime. He didn't have anything to do with it. Which means that this is now, more than ever, an open murder case. Maybe now someone in a position of authority will do the right thing, but I doubt it.

Tribune: For people who are already familiar with at least the basic outline of the case, why would you tell them to listen?

Stanford: Well, in the first place because it's endlessly fascinating on any number of levels. As I think Nigel Jaquiss over at Willamette Week once said, it's Oregon's own Kennedy assassination mystery. And Kevin Francke, who came to Oregon to try to solve his brother's murder when he realized the official investigation was just a coverup, has a great story to tell.

Tribune: Without giving anything away, will people who have followed the story closely learn anything new?

Stanford: Without giving anything away, yes. Probably quite a bit.

Tribune: You've worked on this story for 30 years, first as a columnist for the Oregonian and then as a columnist for the Portland Tribune. You also wrote a fictionalized screenplay about the murder that was produced as a movie ("Without Evidence," the first starring role for Angelina Jolie). What do you feel you're able to accomplish through this podcast that you weren't able to do before?

Stanford: I suppose the biggest difference is that I understand the case so much better now. Part of that, of course, is due to the brilliant habeas corpus petition that Nell Brown, the federal public defender, wrote on Gable's behalf. And part would have to be that after writing several books on corruption, I finally came to understand how the corruption in Salem back in the '80s led to Francke's murder and the official cover-up that ensued.

In the beginning I was just raising questions, actually flying by the seat of my pants more often than not. After all this time, I have a much better understanding of how things probably went down.

Tribune: This may be an obvious question, but do you or anyone else in the podcast "solve the case" by naming the killer?

Stanford: Let me put it this way: We present enough information that listeners will be able to draw their own conclusions.

Listen in

"Murder in Oregon: Who Killed Michael Francke?" is streaming now on iHeartRadio, Amazon and other websites and apps where podcasts are available. Reporter Jim Redden also was interviewed for the podcast.

You can find previous Portland Tribune stories on the case at

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