January 18, 1983
Aplington, Iowa
Ethel Mae Franken kills her husband and their three children before killing herself

Ethel had recently been released from the hospital following five weeks of therapy — which included electroshock treatments — for “a nervous breakdown.” Friends and family later stated Ethel had seemed to be doing well emotionally following her treatments.

Friends grew concerned about the family when no activity was seen in or around the Franken home, and both vehicles were in the garage. They attempted to check on the family by knocking on the door, calling the home allowing the phone to ring 20 or more times, and checking with the children’s school to see if they were in attendance. The friends called police, though the officer responding was reluctant to break open the door. One friend used a stepladder to enter through a small kitchen window then unlocked a side door for the others, one of whom slipped further into the home. He quickly turned back to prevent the others from seeing the scene, simply stating, “Don’t go in there. It’s bad.”

Darrell Franken (37) and his son Troy (13) were found next to each other on the floor of the master bedroom. Valerie (11) was in her room laying against her dresser while Dustin (6) was in his bed. Each had been shot twice in the chest, each with one of the two bullets penetrating the heart. Ethel (33) was found on her bed with a gunshot wound to the chest. Near her body was a “very short and very brief” suicide note, the contents of which have not been divulged. Each family member was clad in their bedclothes and it was estimated they had died between 4 and 4:30 a.m. on January 18.

Though the exact reasoning behind the murder-suicide is unclear, friends of the family mentioned in interviews with the press that Ethel was depressed because “the kids weren’t doing as well (in school) as she had hoped” and she “felt that she wasn’t good enough” as a mother because of her children’s average performances in school.

“Mother’s suicide note said ‘short’.” Waterloo Courier. January 20, 1983
“Murder-suicide leaves 5 dead.” Spokane Chronicle. January 20, 1983
Griffiths, Lawn. “Five deaths shake Aplington.” Waterloo Courier. January 19, 1983 (image source, via newspapers.com)

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