SAGINAW, Mich. (WJRT) – One mystery solved, one to go.
Now that a missing man’s car has been found more than nine years after the man and car vanished, the question remains; what happened to Eric Franks?
There is a clue.
The mother of Franks’ child was a caretaker of a man at the home where Franks’ car was apparently hidden. The man who lived there was quite wealthy.
Franks was 38 years old when he was last seen in mid-Michigan. He had moved to Saginaw County in 2010 to be closer to a former girlfriend, Kendra Firmingham, who had told Franks he was the father of Firmingham’s child. Its believed he left Miller’s Motel in Bridgeport in late March 2011. Firmingham gave conflicting statements to police about the last time she saw Franks, but did tell them at one time she saw Franks drive away from the motel, possibly heading to California. The discovery of his car now makes that scenario seem unlikely.
So where was Franks’ call all this time?
Saginaw County Probate Court records show Gerald Rutledge was an incapacitated adult due to a medical condition, but the former General Motors worker saved a lot of money, approximately $2.9 million. He lived in a west side Saginaw home until he died in April at the age of 84.
His house was put up for sale and in one of the realtor photos, you see a two-car garage. The darker color car was Franks’. The car was sold to a man in Clare this summer and is now with Michigan State Police Crime Lab, as its now a key piece of evidence in a murder investigation.
Court records show Firmingham, the woman who had a child with Franks, was a caretaker for Rutledge. But in March 2011, just a few weeks before Franks was last seen, Guardianship Services of Saginaw documents indicate there were suspicions of how Rutledge’s money was being spent.
In one entry, on March 2, 2011, three weeks before Franks was last seen, a guardianship employee writes “spoke with Kendra how she is paid. Mr, Rutledge paid the home-care service that she owns one year in advance on on advice of his banker.” I could not reach Rutledge’s banker at that time, but did speak with an elder law attorney who says that is not a customary practice in a guardianship to pay for services in advance.
The documents later indicate Rutledge’s bank accounts were frozen for a time. In another document, Rutledge told an attorney in 2012 that he goes roller skating every Sunday. Franks told friends before his disappearance that he often went roller skating with Kendra, and a man named Gerry. Firmingham died in 2016. And now Franks’s missing car has been found, presumably hidden in Gerald Rutledge’s garage until this summer. A former neighbor of Rutledge’s, who did not want to be identified, is shocked the missing car was so close to her home for several years.
“Unbelievable, I’m not even sure Gerald would have known about it and I’m not sure if he did, that he would have liked it, because he was exceptionally particular about certain things, certain ways.” she said.
She also talked to Kendra about her care of Gerald Rutledge.
“You worry about older people being taken advantage of, and I don’t know how she became connected with Gerald, so when I saw her over there, I got a little curious,” she says.
The Michigan State Police is hoping the discovery of Franks’ car will lead to more tips in this investigation to find out what happened to Eric Franks.
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