Prosecutors claim they burned down their house to cover their tracks
Roughly halfway through Kenneth Lonergan’s bittersweet tragedy Manchester by the Sea, a family’s lives are irreversibly changed when a fire sweeps through a house and kills three young children.
Now a New York prosecutor says the film inspired a real-life crime, with two parents accused of setting their house on fire to cover up the suspicious death of their 16-year-old son.
Believed to have perished in the fire that gutted his family home, an autopsy revealed no trace of smoke or soot in the mouth of Jeffrey Franklin. The results suggested that the teenager, who had mental and physical disabilities, had died before the fire started.
His parents Ernest and Heather Franklin stand accused of covering up his murder with arson, with the investigation revealing that on the night their house caught fire, they had just returned from watching Manchester by the Sea.
“Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant and her husband, Jeffrey’s deceased,” Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride told local media in upstate New York.
While investigating what possible motive the pair could have had for allegedly murdering their son, who they adopted in 2012, authorities pointed to Heather Franklin’s social media accounts. There the 33-year-old has made a number of statements about how her son’s “bowel [...] and urine control issues,” were “putting a strain on her.”
According to the district attorney, Ernest Franklin’s behaviour after emergency services arrived on the scene as the house was on fire also raised suspicions.
“The defendant was very calm, cool, collected, and pointed to the room where Jeffrey was lying,” said McBride.
“And the defendant had no physical injuries from any attempt to try to save him.”
Heather Franklin, who is currently pregnant, says that she had gone shopping in search of medication when the house caught light. But the prosecution claims that CCTV footage shows her not walking to the sections of the two shops she entered where the medication is on sale.
Their son’s body was so badly burnt that the pathologist was unable to determine a cause of death, but the Franklins now face charges of second-degree murder, arson, and tampering with physical evidence.
Manchester by the Sea won two Academy Awards in February, with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan claiming his first Oscar for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ after three previous nominations.
The film, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, was inspired by a real fire in Stamford, New York, which claimed the lives of three young children in the early hours of Christmas Day 2011.