The Mad Professor, Conclusion

Tracy Leroy Nute, alleged teenage victim of Professor Max Bernard Franc’s “homosexual rage”, was described by his mother, Judy Nute, as a “sentimental” and “naive” kid with problems. Interviewed in her Kansas home she said that her son had been in trouble with the law, “but nothing that any rowdy teenager wouldn’t have gotten into.”

Tracy’s scrapes with the law may have been minor, but at some point Judy found it impossible to handle him and he spent much of his time in juvenile homes. The homes in which he was placed didn’t work out and he decided, like many unhappy kids, to head for Southern California. His destination was Hollywood where he intended to become an actor. Runaways have been coming  to Hollywood in droves with the same dream since the first studios appeared in the 1910s. But big dreams die hard and fast when the reality of street life sets in–everything is a struggle–food, cigarettes, a place to crash. Tracy, like other teenage transplants before him, was most likely welcomed to town by drug dealers and pimps, not an agent with a movie contract. Tracy’s home state’s motto is Ad Astra per Aspera (To the Stars through Difficulties). He never reached a star, he never had the chance. By the spring of 1987 he was turning tricks, and by summer he was dead.

Max contended that he wasn’t Tracy’s killer and that the murder had been committed by a gay prostitute by the name of Terry Adams. According to Max, Terry had even lived with him for a while in Fresno. Did Terry exist? Sheriff’s investigators never found him; and Max was so terrified of being outed that he’d gone to great lengths to conduct a secret life in Hollywood. Would he have risked everything to bring a lover to Fresno? It is doubtful.

The trial was as interesting as had been anticipated. Rumors circulated that Tracy had attempted to extort money from Max. If true the kid had morphed quickly from a naive Kansas runaway to a street-wise Hollywood blackmailer.

Public Defender, Mark Kaiserman, admitted that Max was a voyeur who suffered from poor judgment. Explicit photos of the victim were found among the hundreds discovered in Max’s apartment. Interestingly, no photos of his alleged lover were found. The attorney unveiled a unique defense which was based primarily on Max’s ineptitude. Kaiserman argued that Max was too “nerdy” and too much of “a klutz” to wield handle a gun, let alone manage a chain saw. Kaiserman reminded jurors that Max had cemented over the entire yard at his Fresno home to avoid using a lawn mower.

nerd headline

Was it a creative defense? Without a doubt. Was it an effective defense? Unfortunately for Max, no. He was found guilty of Tracy’s murder. Fear of exposure, if that was the motive for the slaying, easily explained how Max was able to overcome his nerdiness and commit such an atrocious murder.

The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that characterized the defendant as a man overcome by homosexual rage and rejected the defense argument that Max was too wimpy to have committed the crime. max blows kiss

At his sentencing hearing Max’s sister, Carol Waiters, a psychiatric social worker from Philadelphia, made a plea for leniency on her brother’s behalf. She implored Judge John H. Reid to consider “the whole person” rather than the part of his personality that drove him to murder. On July 28, 1988, Judge Reid sentenced Max to from 25 years to life with the possibility of parole in 17 years.

Max didn’t live long enough to become eligible for parole. He died of a heart attack in Cochran State Prison on September 18, 1997.

The Mad Professor, Part 1

On Tuesday, August 25, 1987, the head and torso of a male, probably in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut, were found by a Madera County rancher. The body parts were discovered off a rural highway about 20 miles north of Fresno. The young man had a gunshot wound to the head and had been dead about two days. From marks on the bones and the tearing of the flesh it it appeared that the killer may have used a chain saw to dismember the body.

On Thursday, August 27, body parts wrapped in a bed sheet were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The mutilations appeared to have been made with a chain saw. Sergeant John Andrews of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said: “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.” No driver’s license or any other means of identifying the young man were discovered with the remains. Investigators weren’t yet sure if the body parts belonged to one or more victims.

Sheriff’s investigators started working the case, but there wasn’t much to go on until the LAPD received a phone call regarding a bloody chain saw. Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the saw–and it would lead them to the most unlikely killer imaginable.

* * *

UntitledFifty-year-old Max Bernard Franc was a tenured professor of public administration at the California State University at Fresno. The unmarried Wisconsin native had earned his Ph.D. at New York University. He’d joined the Fresno faculty in 1969. His colleagues knew him as quiet and scholarly, so you can imagine their shock when he was arrested in Hollywood for the murder and dismemberment of the young man whose body parts had been found scattered along highways between Los Angeles and Fresno.

David Provost, professor and former chair of Max’s department described him this way: “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose he was. . . a very gentle type of individual.”

One of Max’s colleagues, who declined to be named, said: “I saw him about 10 days ago on campus. He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly, chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss. None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . He’s not the kind to blow up.” Echoing David Provost’s comments he said: “He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.

Max had recently received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators, and he was just about to begin a semester long sabbatical.

If he was the killer, what had made the mild-mannered professor snap? And what was a fairly conservative man doing in the company of a teenage punk-rocker?

NEXT TIME:  Max Franc’s secret life.