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“MacLean gives us a fascinating look at a fascinating crime. No one will be bored reading this one.”

– Tony Hillerman, author of Talking God and Coyote Waits

Once Upon a Time - Book by Harry MacLean - True Crime Book

Did Eileen Franklin suddenly remember a 20 year-old murder? Or did she suffer from “False-Memory Syndrome?”




Harry MacLean is an Edgar Award winning writer and lawyer living in Denver, Colorado, who writes true crime books. 

“IMPORTANT. . . RELENTLESS. . . A many-faceted and accomplished study. . . MacLean has taken a gruesome story and retold it with considerable sensitivity. . . A lawyer himself, he give an account of the trial that is comprehensible yet suspenseful, enriched by his insights into the tactics and emotions of the opposing lawyers. His understanding and clarity with regard to psychological issues is exemplary.”

— The New York Times

Once Upon A Time - Eileen Franklin

In 1989, Eileen Franklin, a young California housewife, claimed to recover a repressed memory of her father killing her playmate 20 earlier. In a landmark trial, the father was charged and convicted of first-degree murder, based solely on his daughter’s testimony. This book chronicles the trial, explores the remarkably dysfunctional Franklin family, and delves into the reliability of repressed memory as evidence in court.

This version contains a 2011 Epilogue, which details the reasons for the reversal of George Franklin’s conviction and the refusal of the district attorney to retry him for murder.

Once Upon a Time was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The New York Times called it a “deceptively important work. . . a many faceted and important study. MacLean gives an account of the trial which is comprehensive yet suspenseful, enriched by his insights into the tactics and emotions of the opposing lawyers.”

Eileen Franklin at the preliminary hearing demonstrating her image of her father killing Susan Nason. 

(Courtesy John Green, San Mateo Times)

“Once Upon A Time is a well-written and meticulous account of a true human drama. . The author’s objective viewpoint in presenting these facts makes for a compelling and challenging read. . The uncharted terrain of the human mind and its ability to repress as well as deceive are fascinating food for thought.”


George Franklin at the time of his arrest in November 1989. 

(Courtesy Mike Russell, San Mateo Times)

Detectives Bryan Cassandro (left)
and Bob Morse. 

(Courtesy Mike Russell, San Mateo Times)



The man’s wife picked up the phone, and asked coyly, a light challenge in her voice.


“Well, have you figured out what case this is on your own?”

“No, no. We haven’t,” replied Etter matter of factly.

“Okay. It was in Foster City. Her name was Susan Nason.”

Etter pressed a little.

“As I understand your husband, you were going to tell us what happened that day.”


The woman turned away from the phone and angrily demanded of her husband why he had said that she would give all the details. She had nothing more to say. Etter heard  voices in the background and then the woman came back on the phone and agreed to give a brief account of the killing. Her voice was firm and confident as she recounted that she had been in the car with the person who committed the crime and that  they had picked Susan up across the street from her house. They had driven to a wooded area on the road to Half Moon Bay and there she had watched from the front seat as the man had raped her friend in the back.


Then the woman’s voice dropped slightly, became softer:


And after that, we were all out of –out of the car, and Susan was sitting down and I was standing by the car, and she was sitting –I can’t give you an exact distance. I would say like maybe fifteen feet, twenty feet from the car and she was sitting on, like a tiny little hill, or maybe it was a rock. She was sitting on something that was slightly elevated. And he hit her” (here her voice hesitated, and caught in her throat) “on the head with the rock and she brought her hand up to her head and he hit again and she a—blood went everywhere. She had a ring on her hand, and it—it crushed the ring on her hand.” Her voice wavered and skipped.

Etter asked her what happened next.


“Well, this part’s real fuzzy for me because I have sort of a half-memory of this.”


“Of that he made me help him put something over her. A mattress.”

“Did he leave the body there?”
Her voice slipped into a whisper.


“At the same spot where he had hit her?”

“Yeah,” she murmured weakly, as if about to slip away.

Etter held her like an anchor.

“Okay, and then what happened?”

“Well, I was screaming. I. . .”

“You were screaming?”

“. . . and he pushed me on the ground. . . and held me down and told me that he would kill me. . . and that no one would ever believe me. Okay?” Now, almost as if she were on the ground again, hearing the horrible sounds from the murderer’s mouth, her words began to rush out: “. . . If anyone ever did believe me they would say that I was a part of it, and that they would put me away, and they would blame me for this, and that he would kill me if I ever talked about it.”

“How old were you at the time?” asked Etter.

“I was eight,” the childlike voice fluttered back.


Once Upon A Time can be purchased at your at your local bookstore or Amazon.

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