A young woman’s memory of being sexually abused as a child in 2001 at a campground near Joplin has led to the charging of a state prison inmate with the murder of a woman who went missing at that time.
Mark T. Walsh, 56, an inmate serving two life terms at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, has been charged with the murder of Freida Franks on Aug. 17, 2001, at a campground on the outskirts of Joplin.
Prosecutor Jake Skouby filed counts of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree statutory sodomy against Walsh based on information dug up recently by Detective Mike Barnett of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department.
A missing-person report filed by a daughter of Franks in 2002 caught the eye of the detective when it popped up on a computer screen and he began looking into the case. His inquiries led to an interview of a woman who had been the sexual abuse victim of Walsh in Stone County in the 2002 case that got him sent to prison.
The sexual assault victim recalled being with Franks and Walsh at the campground in August 2001 when Franks was 46 and she was 11 years old. She told Barnett that when Franks left her alone in an RV with Walsh one day, he showed her child pornography on a computer, took her into a bedroom and began sexually abusing her.
She told the detective that Franks walked in and caught Walsh in the act of molesting her. Franks began hitting him, and Walsh picked up a large knife and slashed Franks’ arms, she said. Franks kept hitting him and he stabbed her in the chest, the now-adult woman told the detective. Franks fell to the floor. The last image of her the woman could recall is of Franks lying on the floor, bleeding.
The young woman told the detective that she was sent to another room at that point and that she never saw Franks again.
Barnett said Walsh abducted the girl, taking her with him to Stone County, where he eventually was caught molesting her. He was convicted there of two counts of statutory sodomy and received the concurrent life terms that he is serving today.
The girl’s father, who lived in Neosho, contacted police when his daughter disappeared, and for a time Franks was suspected of having abducted the girl, Barnett said. But Franks’ daughter filed a missing person report on her in 2002, and it was a notice of that old report that eventually drew Barnett’s attention.
After speaking with the woman who had been Walsh’s victim, Barnett found a recorded interview of Walsh at the Stone County Sheriff’s Department in 2002 during which he admitted to investigators that he had been at the Joplin campground with Franks.
He told them in the interview that he was in the bathroom of the RV when Franks opened the door and came at him with a knife. He told them Franks fell on the knife in the ensuing struggle and died of her injuries. He said he disposed of her body in Arkansas.
According to an affidavit, Barnett also dug up the transcript of an interview conducted by a state trooper in November 2012 of a cellmate of Walsh’s at the Stone County Jail. The cellmate said Walsh told him that he killed a woman named “Freida” by cutting her throat because he feared she might testify against him for molesting a young girl. The cellmate said Walsh told him that he disposed of the body in Bull Shoals Lake.
Freida Franks’ body has never been found. For years, it remained uncertain where her murder may have taken place, according to Chief Deputy Chris Jennings of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department. “They (investigators in Stone County) knew he had killed her,” Jennings said, referring to Mark T. Walsh. “The problem at the time was everybody thought he killed her down at (Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas).”