On Tuesday, August 25th, 1987, a rancher found a head and torso deposited along a highway in Madera County, just north of Fresno. Two days later more of the body was found off the I-5 in Valencia. The victim was 18-year-old Tracy Leroy Nute, who left Kansas City for Hollywood nine months earlier, hoping to become a movie star.
Instead, he eventually became a prostitute. On August 20th he was shot in the head and then dismembered with a chainsaw.
Sometime during the week of the discovery an unidentified store in Los Angeles called police to report that someone had returned a rented chainsaw with blood and flesh inside. LAPD took custody of the tool on Friday, August 28th. The customer who rented it had used his real name.
Max Bernard Franc was a political science professor at CSU Fresno from 1969 until his resignation in 1988. He had just started a sabbatical in Fall 1987 and was staying in a West Hollywood apartment that he had maintained for years. He was known to frequently spend weekends there before his leave.
That's where police found him on Saturday, August 29th. Blood was found in both the apartment and Franc's car. He was arrested that day.
|via The Milwaukee Journal|
When interviewed by detectives he first claimed that he used the chainsaw to cut up a dog he accidentally killed, later elaborating that the dog belonged to an "underworld" figure of some kind and the death had to be concealed. He also said that another man, Terry Adams was the one who actually used the chainsaw. When told that the blood was determined to be human, he then claimed that Adams, who was never found and whom authorities believed never existed in the first place, was the one who killed and dissected Nute.
Supposedly the transcript includes some telling statements:
"Suddenly I realized that Terry had a gun in my hand -- a gun in his hand," Frank was quoted as saying in the transcript.
"A gun in his hand?" asked sheriff's investigator Stanley Allen White.
"Yeah. That sounds like a slip, doesn't it? Ha, ha, ha," Franc was quoted as saying.
|via Lawrence Journal-World|
The murder weapon was owned by Franc and later confiscated from his Fresno office. He claimed that Adams, who was fleshed out as another homeless prostitute, had somehow acquired it from under his bed.
Franc's defense strategy played on homosexual stereotypes, with his sister testifying that he was a "sissy" who couldn't possibly use power tools. The jury didn't buy it and convicted him of first degree murder.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Sterling Norris initially pursued a special circumstance charge that the murder was committed during a robbery, which would have made Franc eligible for death, but apparently on rather flimsy grounds: Franc had gotten $10 from Nute after asking for the return of $40 that was borrowed previously. A judge found insufficient evidence for the robbery circumstance and Franc was sentenced to 25 years to life.
He died after suffering a heart attack in 1997.