By Joyce Wadler
November 04, 1991 12:00 PM

EILEEN FRANKLIN’S LIFE-OR WHAT SHE thought was her life—changed forever on a sunny afternoon in January 1989. Franklin, then 28, was sitting in her Canoga Park, Calif., living room, playing with her children, Jessica, 5, and Aaron, 2. Suddenly, a look on her daughter’s face triggered a memory so hideous that Franklin had never allowed herself to know she possessed it. “I looked down,” Franklin says of the split second when the memory came rushing back. “Jessica had her head turned up looking at me, and at that moment I saw. The first thing was the silhouette of my father coming with a rock above his head and me holding [my best friend] Susan’s gaze. The moment I caught my daughter’s eyes, these big blue eyes, all of a sudden it was Susan’s blue eyes. Inside I shouted, ‘No!’ But it was not to be stopped, it was too late.” Twenty years earlier, she realized suddenly, her own father had murdered her friend, 8-year-old Susan Nason.

Franklin’s shocking vision of homicide was not only tragic but true. Prodded by what she told them, California authorities reopened the long-dormant case in 1989 and, with the help of circumstantial evidence that matched Eileen’s memories, convicted her father, George Franklin Sr., of the first-degree murder of Susan Nason. Franklin, 52, a former San Mateo, Calif., fireman, is now serving a life sentence at the California Colony in San Luis Obispo.

The extraordinary case made headlines for months; now Eileen has published a book about her experiences. Sins of the Father, coauthored by William Wright, details more than one horror that Franklin’s mind had repressed. She remembers being sexually abused for 11 years by her father. “One of the biggest problems in this whole progression of things is that the memories have never stopped coming,” says Franklin, who moved with her family to Switzerland when her husband, Barry Lipsker, 44, a computer analyst, landed a contract there last year. “It’s amazing to me now to see how childlike and innocent my own children are, because I was never that carefree. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have had 30 normal years. You can’t see it, but I am just so horribly damaged.”

The damage began early. Eileen was born on Nov. 25, 1960, to George and Leah Franklin and was raised in the newly built community of Foster City, 23 miles south of San Francisco. There were two older sisters, Kate and Janice, a younger brother, George Jr., and baby Diana. George Sr., an alcoholic, beat his wife and children; the belt and the fist were his preferred weapons. When Eileen was 3, she says, he sexually abused her for the first time, penetrating her with a butter knife on the kitchen table.

Eileen’s mother, who also drank, was so brutalized herself that she often seemed indifferent to her children’s suffering. (When Eileen experienced an attack of acute appendicitis at camp one summer, she almost died, she says, because Leah delayed picking her up and taking her to the hospital.) The Franklin children rarely talked to outsiders about the situation at home, and when they did, little came of it. Once, Kate told her junior high school teachers about the beatings. The police came to the door, but George Franklin denied any wrongdoing and let them know that he was a fireman—a brother officer in a way. The police left.

“My father was just this handsome, charming southern gentleman,” Eileen says. In spite of everything, she adds, “I always loved him so much.”

Though Eileen’s memory of the disappearance of Susan Nason in September 1969, and the discovery of her body three months later, would remain hazy for years, otherwise she remembered her friend vividly. Susan lived around the corner, and she had a lovely, frequent laugh. After Susan’s disappearance the violence in Eileen’s household grew worse. Although she successfully blocked awareness of her own sexual abuse, she knew her father was abusing her sisters. Today, one of them has confirmed this.

In 1975, when Eileen was 14, her parents divorced. A solitary child, Eileen became a wild and troubled teenager. At 16 she made a suicidal gesture, taking six Seconal tablets, and later failed to graduate from San Mateo High School. At 19 she used cocaine habitually; at 20, arrested while working for an escort service, she pleaded guilty to soliciting with the intent of prostitution and was fined $1,500.

Barry Lipsker, whom she met in 1982 while working in the management office of an apartment complex, gave Eileen the stability she needed. They married in 1984, shortly after the birth of their daughter. George Franklin was a doting grandfather, though Eileen was disturbed one day to find him examining the genitals of infant Jessica. Questioned, he said he was just admiring his beautiful granddaughter. Eileen did not want to believe the incident was sexual abuse, but she never left Jessica alone with George again.

In 1988, concerned that having grown up with a violent alcoholic would affect her parenting, Eileen began seeing a therapist. Soon afterward she experienced her first memory of sexual abuse: a digital penetration by her father when she was 7. The memory disgusted and surprised her. “How funny,” she thought, “that I’ve never remembered this before.”

A few months later the murder memories began breaking down the walls she had built in her mind—scattered images, emerging over several weeks “like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle,” Eileen says. She remembered being with her father in his van, seeing Susan on the sidewalk and inviting her to come along on a ride. There was an image of her father on top of Susan in the back of the van, her skirt up, her arms flailing. Eileen saw herself curled into a ball in the front seat of the van, whimpering. There was another horrible memory as well: the sound of a rock coming down twice on her friend’s head—”like a bat hitting a hard-boiled egg, but louder,” she says. She also recalled her father’s saying she had better keep quiet because what happened was her fault, since it was Eileen who had invited Susan along.

As these memories returned, Eileen says her primary emotion was “complete fear. I had never heard of repression, so I thought I must be going insane. I was no longer safe inside myself.”

Eileen first spoke of the memories only with her therapist. When she revealed them to her husband, he persuaded her to go to the San Mateo District Attorney. George Franklin was arrested shortly after Thanksgiving 1989. A collection of child pornography was found at his Sacramento apartment.

At her father’s trial, Eileen’s sister Janice testified that she remembers his kicking her hard before she went to the phone to answer routine police questions about Susan Nason’s murder. George Sr.’s ex-wife, Leah, told the jury that shortly after the murder, George Sr. gave her a bloody shirt to wash, saying he had had “a painting accident.” As the guilty verdict was read, Eileen sat quietly, holding the hand of Margaret Nason, Susan’s mother.

But going public has not stopped Eileen’s pain. She is continuing in therapy, which she finds helpful, but she still has frequent nightmares. “It’s the goddamned sound of the murder that haunts me,” she says. “The strangest thing about these repressed memories is that it’s not like watching TV or a movie—you smell it, you feel the air, the temperature, you hear the sounds. I live with all of it.” Nor have the memories stopped coming. The San Mateo sheriff’s office—prompted by fresh revelations from Eileen—investigated George Franklin in connection with two other deaths. For legal reasons. Eileen is not allowed to talk about her role in the inquiry, which was suspended early last month.

Eileen lives also with a growing sense of anger at her mother (“So much of what happened to me could have been stopped by her”) and with sorrow that her brother refuses to believe her revelations and her sister Diana claims to be neutral. “I could have used their support,” she says.

Yet she has no regrets. “After the trial, Susan’s mother wrote and told me that, for the first time in 20 years, she could look at pictures of Susan in the family albums again,” says Eileen. “I can live with myself now. Keeping it in, I don’t think I could have.”