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.

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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.

3 thoughts on “The Mad Professor, Part 1

  1. Mild mannered Professor? That\’s not what I heard.
    I went to Fresno State \’78-81. A best friend had a Poly Sci class with Professor, Max Franc. The teacher was so offensive in class that multiple students walked out on a number of occasions. He would threaten to fail them if they left, & on hot days, he wouldn\’t let them open the door for air, so it got very stuffy & hot…. just to be cruel. He said abusive things to students as well… a real freak. Of course, no one had cell phones to record anything back then! I read now that he had already been teaching there for 10 yrs at that time.
    This teacher even tried to get my friend to come to his house to \”help him study\”.. I was at his Clovis apartment when the teacher phoned him once… my friend refused, saying the Franc was so Creepy!! Another student we knew, did agree to go to his house sometimes. I learned later that that friend was homosexual & died of aids a few yrs after graduation.
    Then, In 1987, about 7 yrs later, I saw Franc\’s name in the Fresno Bee headlines. I was shocked… but then it made sense in a horrible way.

    • That’s really interesting to hear your experience. Sounds like you and your classmates could have been brought in as witnesses – but ultimately weren’t needed.
      I’m looking this story up because Max Franc was family – I think a great uncle. Every lunatic has family somewhere…

      Too bad he couldn’t just be who he was – maybe wouldn’t have been driven to such madness. In a rather judgemental society, it was a very judgemental family.

      • givenhe’d kept his perversion quiet and wasn’t being harassed about it, I don’t see how “judgementalness” in society had anything to do with this. Even now they still along with transgenders have a noticeable suicide rate. And the doestic violence in lesbian relationships is as bad as if not worse than that in heterosexual relationships.

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