IPT Book Reviews

Title: Once Upon a Time  Positive Review
Author: Harry N. MacLean
Publisher: Harper Collins 1992

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This 512-page book describes the Eileen Franklin murder case.  In November, 1990 Eileen Franklin testified that she had recently recovered a repressed memory of her father, George Franklin, murdering her best friend, Susan Nason, 20 years before.  The trial resulted in the conviction of George Franklin.

The author attended the trial and had innumerable interviews with the detectives, lawyers, jurors, and judge.  The book begins with the history of the people involved, including descriptions of the members of the clearly dysfunctional Franklin family.  The trial is described in detail, including the testimony of the experts, Lenore Terr for the prosecution and David Spiegel and Elizabeth Loftus for the defense.

Much information not generally known is included in this book.  For example, all of the facts in Eileen Franklin's alleged recovered memory had been available to the public through newspaper and television accounts.  However, the judge did not permit this evidence to be presented to the jury.  Also, Eileen Franklin's highly-publicized account of suddenly remembering the murder when she was looking at her own daughter was only the last of several versions of how her memory allegedly returned.


This is an important book since the Eileen Franklin case is cited as demonstrating a documented recovered repressed memory.  Unlike many accusations of sexual abuse where there is a question about whether the alleged event ever happened, Susan Nason was murdered.  However, the details of this case as presented by MacLean may cause doubts about Eileen Franklin's memory.  Not only were all of the essential facts Eileen recalled available to the public, but Eileen emerges as a histrionic, narcissistic, imaginative, and suggestible woman who had created other false traumatic memories.  The case is complicated by the fact that the father, George Franklin, evidently was a cruel and abusive man who terrorized his family.

A major shortcoming of the book is the absence of documentation.  However, I called Harry MacLean who described his lengthy interviews and review of documents.  He has clearly done careful and thorough research, but it was an editorial decision not to include the documentation in the book.  Given the importance of this book, I would have preferred to see the documentation included.

MacLean also asserts that psychologists and psychiatrists agree that it is possible for the mind to repress and later retrieve a memory for a traumatic event.  He does not mention the controversial nature of this concept nor the fact that many professionals seriously doubt that this type of "robust repression" exists.  However, at the time MacLean was writing the book, the skeptical viewpoint had not been publicized to the extent it is now.

A minor criticism is the change of tense back and forth from past to present.  This appears to be a device to separate the background of the case from the trial, but I found it distracting

The descriptions of the testimony of the expert witnesses are fascinating.  Lenore Terr is presented as a charismatic story teller with impressive credentials.  Her testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case and the members of the jury were enthralled and mesmerized by her.  The defense attorney didn't have a chance against her in cross examination.

Terr claims there are two types of traumas: Type I is caused by a single "blow," whereas Type II is caused by multiple blows or incidents.  Type I is exemplified by the Chowchilla children, none of whom has forgotten details of their kidnapping.  But in Type II trauma, the child dissociates or represses the abuse.  Eileen, because of her reported history of physical and sexual abuse, experienced Type II trauma.  Terr maintains that the recovered memory of a repressed traumatic event will be clear and accurate and the fact that the memory has been repressed may actually enhance its accuracy.  But despite the fact that Terr's theories have not been empirically validated and are highly controversial they were accepted by the jury.

The defense experts, David Spiegel and Elizabeth Loftus, have credentials that are just as impressive as Terr's but they did not have the same impact in the trial.  MacLean notes, "If Terr was bad science and good theater, Spiegel is good science and bad theater."  Spiegel testified about the difficulty distinguishing real from false memories, the suggestibility of traumatized children, and the danger of reasoning backwards.  However, he did not challenge the general concept of dissociated or repressed memories of early trauma.

Elizabeth Loftus testified about the instability, fluidity; suggestibility and reconstructive nature of memory and the fact that people can repeat false memories confidently and in great detail.  If her testimony had been believed by the jury; it could have been devastating for the prosecution.  The prosecutors strategy; which apparently succeeded, was to present Loftus as a "whore" who is only a researcher with no clinical experience and whose experiments on memory distortion in normal, untraumatized people were irrelevant to the issues of the Franklin case.  It was partially her experience with this case that resulted in Dr. Loftus's current research project on developing false memories.

This is a highly readable and interesting book that should be read by all lay persons and professionals concerned with the recovered memory controversy.

Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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