Advertisement

30-year crime spree ends with death penalty for child killer

By
ANNETTE HADDAD

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Once one of the nation's youngest Trappist novitiates, Theodore Frank is the newest resident of San Quentin's death row. A sadistic child molester, he has left a trail of anguish spanning 30 years.

The 51-year-old Frank, who once described himself as a 'good, clean child molester,' was sentenced to death Wednesday by an Orange County jury for the second time since 1978 for the torture-slaying of 2-year-old Amy Sue Seitz.

Advertisement

The Seitz case became a cause celebre for opponents of former state Chief Justice Rose Bird after the high court upheld Frank's conviction but overturned his first death verdict, ordering a second penalty trial.

The court ruled that evidence used in the first trial, Frank's personal journals seized without a search warrant from his home, was inadmissible and obtained by invading his privacy.

In those 'diaries,' as they came to be called -- two address books and an appointment calendar filled while he was a patient at Atascadero State Hospital -- Frank wrote of his desire to force children to submit to a sadistic ritual of sexual fulfillment and of his predilection for using locking pliers -- Vise-Grips -- to inflict pain.

Advertisement

'It's a form of sex that's exciting to me and it's easy to get with children,' he wrote in one notebook.

When police found the 38-inch body of Amy Sue in a rural section of the San Fernando Valley on March 16, 1978, two days after she was abducted from her aunt's yard in Camarillo 25 miles away, she had been force-fed alcohol, raped, tortured with Vise-Grips and strangled.

Born in St. Louis in 1935, Frank was raised by a rigidly religious mother.

At 17, even before finishing high school, he began preparing for a life of prayer and self-deprivation in one of the most austere Catholic ascetic orders, becoming one of the youngest novitiates to be accepted at a Trappist monastery, said Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Tom Hutchins.

He was asked to leave the Our Lady of New Mellory Abbey in Dubuque eight months later because his 'excessive masturbatory practices,' Hutchins said.

'Molesting isn't as bad as masturbation. I'm a nice molester,' Frank once wrote.

Frank's first conviction came in 1958 when he was sent to Fulton (Mo.) State Hospital for molesting a young girl in his hometown and he has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and prisons ever since.

Advertisement

According to court documents, Frank admitted molesting from 100 to 150 children. By the time he was arrested for the Seitz murder in 1978, he had left a trail of victims in at least four states -- Missouri, Illinois, Arizona and California.

He has been incarcerated for close to two decades of his life but was never convicted of murder until his trial for the slaying of Amy Sue Seitz.

His pattern seemed to be consistent: cruising neighborhoods several miles from his home, enticing children into his car with an offer of candy or money, then taking them to remote areas and 'playing out his own private sexual agenda,' Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Tom Hutchins said.

'While all my molests prior to late 1967 were of a non-violent nature (if the girl would start crying, I'd go no further), gradually I became more and more aggressive,' Frank was quoted as saying in a 1979 probation report.

'After I came out of prison in March 1970, my molests were very aggressive and some were very sadistic and violent.'

In 1974, Frank was sent to Atascadero for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl. Six weeks after his release in 1978, Amy was found dead.

Advertisement

Frank's formal sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 11, when Superior Court Judge John Ryan will either uphold or reverse the jury's decision. No Orange County Superior Court judge has reversed a jury's death verdict since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1977.

If the verdict is upheld, the case will automatically be appealed to the state Supreme Court again, although this time the majority of court justices will be appointees of Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

During the four-week penalty trial that ended last week, the bearded and bespectacled Frank was portrayed by witnesses -- including his second wife -- as a compassionate and intelligent man whose behavior is directed by mental illness and not free choice.

Louis Nuernberger, a psychiatrist for the state Department of Corrections, testified that Frank has an I.Q. of 130, 'but for all his intelligence, he hadn't fathomed the depths of his mental disorder.'

But prosecutor Hutchins said Frank is a master at manipulation.

'His exemplary conduct while on death row, while his case was on appeal, was just common sense,' Hutchins said. 'Frank is a very bright man. He operates perfectly in his own self-interest.'

Amy's grandmother, Patti Linebaugh, 51, who became a vocal opponent of the Bird Court after Frank's first death sentence was reversed, has often said she wants Frank executed.

Advertisement

'You can't believe the relief that we feel,' Linebaugh, founder of Society's League Against Molesters, said Wednesday after hearing the verdict.

Linebaugh, who has been the family's spokeswoman, said she wanted to be in court when the verdict was read but she was celebrating the 5th birthdays of her twin grandchildren, who never knew their older sister, Amy.

Latest Headlines