By Joanna Robinson. Photos: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Mid-way through the grim meditation on grief that is Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea, an accidental fire rages through a New England home, killing three young children. 16 year-old Jeffrey Franklin also died tragically inside a burning house last month in upstate New York—but as more details in the case become clear suspicion has settled on his adopted parents: Ernest and Heather Franklin. According to police investigation, Jeffrey was deceased before the fire started—and the Franklins stand accused of covering up his murder with arson. On the night that Jeffrey died, the couple had just returned from watching Manchester by the Sea.
According to a report from NBC New York, last Friday, Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride revealed that an autopsy showed authorities had found no trace of smoke or soot in Jeffrey’s mouth, trachea or bronchi—indicating the teenager, who had mental and physical disabilities, had died prior to the fire. Speaking at the Franklins’ bail hearing, McBride pointed out that in the film Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler, discovers he cannot be charged for the murder of his three children because the fire in his house was set by accident. “Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant and her husband,” McBride said, “Jeffrey’s deceased.”
When searching for motive, McBride points to 33 year-old Heather Franklin’s social media confessions, which indicated that care for Jeffrey—who had “bowel issues and he had urine control issues”—was “putting a strain on her.” The couple adopted Jeffrey in 2012, and Franklin is currently pregnant with another child.
McBride’s suspicions also center on Ernest Franklin’s demeanor when authorities arrived at the burning house: “the defendant was very calm, cool, collected, and pointed to the room where Jeffrey was lying. And the defendant had no physical injuries from any attempt to try to save him,” he said. Heather Franklin, like Affleck’s character in the film, says she was at the store when the fire consumed the house. She claims she was buying medication. But according to a report from WBNG, “the prosecution believes it has evidence showing Franklin never went to the aisle in either store where the drug was located.”
The couple has been charged with second-degree murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence. Jeffrey Franklin died just days after Manchester by the Sea won two Oscars.
Though Manchester by the Sea’s Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Kenneth Lonergan has talked extensively both about the inspiration for and his lengthy process of writing the grief-filled script, he’s never said that the film was based on a true story. (A similar fire did tragically consume a house—and three young children inside it—in Stamford, Connecticut on Christmas Day, 2011.) But speaking about the film’s divisive and (some might say) pessimistic ending, Lonergan had this to say to The Washington Post: “People go through incredible pain, and I think [happy resolutions] are disrespectful of that experience. There’s what’s happening in the story, and then there’s my opinion about it. My opinion about it might be different from your opinion about it, and if the story bears any resemblance to real life, then our opinions probably will be different.”
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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