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Home / US / Murder of Frank Spencer: Friends of Murder Victims in Pennsylvania Say Maria Spencer Satisfied Her Murder

Murder of Frank Spencer: Friends of Murder Victims in Pennsylvania Say Maria Spencer Satisfied Her Murder

Produced by Sarah Prior

Frank Spencer, a beloved businessman, was found dead in front of his house in Bloomsburg, PA, in July 2012. He was shot twice. Spencer's dog and truck were missing on the day his body was found.

Most of Frank's friends immediately suspected his ex-wife Maria Spencer. They knew that Maria Frank had been threatening for years.

"We knew it was Maria, we did not know who else could have been involved, but we knew it was her," Deanna Reed told "48 hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant.

After a controversial divorce, burglary, and fires in his mother's and girlfriend's homes, Frank Spencer knew he was a dead man. "Frank told me where it would happen, it would be in his house," said Derk Reed about the murder of his friend.

He even knew how it would happen. "She said: 'You'll be shot in the head.' She told him that," friend Paul Siciliano said of Maria's threats against Frank.

But nobody could stop it. The police and the district attorney say they have done everything they could to murder the law. According to the investigators, Maria Spencer and her father, Anthony "Rocco" Franklin, who according to the police had a reputation for connection to the crowd, planned his death. The divorce of the Spencers had been completed only three weeks earlier.

"Maria Spencer is a classic femme fatale to me," says Tony Forray, Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania. "An attractive woman, a seductress who ends badly when a man gets involved with her."

Forray added, "How could all this happen? If you made a movie out tomorrow, nobody would believe it actually happened."

A fleeting relationship

It was Tuesday, July 3, 201

2 in the once carefree town of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Joe Yodock, Frank Spencer's lifelong friend, had not heard from him since Saturday.

Joe Yodock : I worked on go-karts. We were in the middle of a big series. We try to win. And I had written him a text message … because we had problems we had to work with the go-karts.

Joe and Frank traveled for years with their kids go-karts. And so Yodock went in search of his missing buddy this morning.

Joe Yodock : I'll never forget it. I drove down the driveway. And I thought, "I hope I do not find him dead."

When Yodock saw Frank lying on the ground, he needed a moment to process what he saw.

Joe Yodock : He had that look of peace, the peace he had not had in a long time. I stepped over his legs. And I noticed what looked like dried blood in his ear. Now I realized what happened and that he is no longer alive.

Peter Van Sant : Can you put into words this loss of someone you've known since your childhood? [19659003] Joe Yodock [emotional]: No.

It was a tragedy, but no secret for Frank's loves. Most suspected Maria Spencer, Frank's former wife, who had officially become his ex-wife only three weeks before the murder. Maria did not want the divorce, and the process was lengthy and highly controversial.

Joe Yodock : It can be said that there was only poison. It was very – no matter who was there. She would fly screaming and slam car doors.

Ironically, Maria's passion was one of the things that had put Frank first.

Paul Sicilano | Frank's friend : He liked the crazy ones. You know, in the beginning, when they were together, he enjoyed it, because he had such a wild side.

Frank and Maria were blown away in 1997. Soon they had a son, Cyrus, and then a daughter, Frankie.

Joe Yodock : The children were … were his biggest priority. … Everything he did was about the children.

When Frank's father retired, he took over the family business – a junkyard behind Frank's childhood home.

Katie Yodock | Frank's friend : He knew everyone. I mean, everyone in town knew Frank Spencer.

Frank's friends say Maria did not seem to be as interested in family life as Frank.

Joe Yodock : Frank was disappointed that she did not care so much for the children.

  spencer-maria-frank.jpg "height =" 465 "width =" 620 "class =" lazyload "srcset =" https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17 1x6, https: //cbsnews3.cbsistatic/h970/ub/ 12b1-4395-aeee-5e15a2a0c226 / thumbnail / 1240x930 / 3e5faec57a9a0c3ee1c4d58df9436532 / spencer-maria-frank.jpg 2x "srcset =" Data: image / svg + xml,% 3Csvg% 20xf% 3f% .org% 2F2000% 2Fsvg% 20viewBox% 3D & 0% 200% 20620% 20465 "% 2F% 3E" /> </span><figcaption class= Maria and Frank Spencer

Pennsylvania State Police / Ron Romig

The marriage finally began to disintegrate and Frank filed for divorce in 2006. The police were called several times for domestic disputes. Nevertheless, Frank wanted to keep the children in a house.

Ron Romig | Frank's friend : Frank said children should not be punished if they have to go to their mother's or father's house. "This is your house." Well, this week I live here. Then I go this week. … and that the children should try to lead as stable a life as possible.

But friends say Mary is anything but stable. In 2008, she was arrested after a quarrel with Frank's mother at her daughter's school. She was charged with disorderly behavior, harassment and child harm because she allegedly did not punch her daughter in the car.

Tom Leipold followed the case when he was Assistant D.A. but did not feel that he could prove a danger to the child.

Tom Leipold : So I agreed to reject this charge in exchange for the plea of ​​the other two crimes.

Maria pleaded guilty and paid $ 600 in punishment. But the verdict seemed to fuel only Maria's anger. She repeatedly threatened to kill Frank – sometimes in front of other people. Frank had reported these threats to the local police for years.

Sgt. Scott Traugh : The problem is – is that the relationship between Frank and Maria [‘s] was volatile.

Scott Traugh, Hemlock Township police officer, says Frank and Maria would fight, but often reconcile. He says he wrote down Maria's threats, but Frank did not want them to be persecuted.

Sgt. Scott Traugh : He just wanted things to be documented in case something happened to him.

Until 2009, Spencer's divorce fight was three years and far from over. But emotionally, Frank went on.

Peter Van Sant : Did you understand both immediately?

Julie Dent | Frank's girlfriend : We did it. We made. … Frank and I both admit that both of us were hit at our meeting at the same time.

Frank Spencer and Julie Dent

Ron Romig

Julie Dent got to know Frank through mutual friends and it soon became serious. Maria did not take this news well – especially when she heard that Julie had spent time with the children:

MARIA SPENCER VOICEMAIL TO JULIE DENT | FEBRUARY 2010: Hey Julie, it's Maria Spencer. … You can go out with Frank, but make no mistake, watch my children.

The situation escalated further. This summer, Maria's father, Rocco Franklin, who had a reputation as a tough man, was released from prison after being charged with fraud for five years. This was not good news for Frank.

Joe Yodock : He began to change his habits when her father was out of jail.

Peter Van Sant : Did He Feel Hunted?

Joe Yodock : Yes.

Several months after Rocco's release, Frank's junkyard collapsed. Nothing of value was taken, but a pile of business papers was stolen – documents that could possibly help Maria prove her divorce income.

Tom Leipold : The day after the obvious burglary, I received a phone call from Maria Spencer. She said that she found a garbage bag with all those business documents on the veranda of her mother's house.

Do you remember Tom Leipold – the man who once persecuted Mary? He was now Maria's divorce lawyer – although he was still an assistant prosecutor. It may sound bizarre, but part-time attorneys are allowed in Pennsylvania.

Peter Van Sant : Understand, as far as appearances are concerned, why it is disconcerting to some that you attacked Maria Spencer? Because she had all these conflicts with the law? … does that not compromise you?

Tom Leipold : It did not compromise me. … I had no contact or involvement in … any criminal matter involving Frank Spencer or Maria Spencer after I had pledged to represent her in the divorce. None.

Many in the city suspected that Maria and Rocco were involved in the slump. Sergeant Traugh interviewed Maria and collected evidence that he presented to the head of DA – Tom Leipold.

Sgt. Scott Traugh : I consulted with the district attorney then … and then reviewed the entire case with him … And he found that there was not enough to prosecute To raise Maria Spencer.

Maria gave the documents to her lawyer and they were eventually returned to Frank, but the slump remained unresolved.

Paul Siciliano : And until today I do not understand it. … It's like being in a strange universe.

Frank's friends wondered if Maria would ever be stopped – especially when they saw what happened next.

Katie Yodock : I think when The house burned down, I thought … this is not a game anymore.


In the winter of 2010, the "Spencer War" continued, and the threats of Mary.

MARIA SPENCER VOICEMAIL: Hey Julie, it's Maria Spencer … do me a favor. Do not look at my children. Do not come between me and Frank by doing my children. Do you understand me?

Julie Dent : I was never threatened. So I really just told a bully that she was just turning her mouth, as she so often did.

Maria continued to harass Frank – and often threatened with her father:

MARIA SPENCER VOICEMAIL: Hey Frank, it's Maria … He's an old man. He has funny ways. … I thought I would let you know because I take care of you … not because I want to scare you.

Were Maria Spencer's voicemails killing angry words or promises?

Despite the threats, Julie and Frank tried to live a normal life. In January, they planned a romantic trip to the Caribbean.

Peter Van Sant : And did Maria know that you were going on vacation?

Julie Dent : Unfortunately, yes.

Maria started texting Julie Frank:

He says he loves me and he did not want to disappoint you on your only holiday this year.

Want to know if he loves you or me?

Then, the night before she left, she asked Frank for a dinner to discuss custody, and dinner became a room for the night in a hotel. Julie Dent: She lured him away] That night, Frank's mother went home, where he lived and lived, in flames. Frank's friends hurried to the scene, including divorce lawyer Joel Wiest.

Joel Wiest : No one could find Frank … We were all very upset that Frank was in the fire.

Fortunately, the house was empty that night, with the exception of the child's dog, who died in the fire. Frank's friend Derk Reed says as they stood by the smoldering ruins, Maria smiled.

Derk Reed : Drive up the driveway. Grin on her face … turned left. And that's it.

Frank arrived shortly after Maria left and told the state police fireman that he was certain that Maria and her father had set the fire. However, the fireman said there was no way to find evidence of arson because the building had been destroyed. The fire was classified as indefinite.

  spencer-fire.jpg "height =" 465 "width =" 620 "class =" lazyload "srcset =" https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17/b87be420 -2a0f-40b8-b491-7d2cff809b86 / thumbnail / 620x465 / 17e67764da8178a41f5cc193733ef0a3 / spencer-fire.jpg 1x, https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/ b87be420-2a0f-40b8-b491-7d2cff809b86 / thumbnail / 1240x930 / 3f9678cef2ae6fbfdbb1bd89f661d1dc / spencer-fire.jpg 2x "srcset =" Data: image / svg + xml,% 3csvg% 3mf% 20 .org% 2F2000% 2Fsvg% 20viewBox% 3D & 0% 200% 20620 % 20465 "% 2F% 3E" /> </span><figcaption class= A fire destroyed the home of Frank Spencer's mother on the night Frank was scheduled to go on holiday with Julie Dent.

Attorney General

Joel Wiest : Frank was extremely angry … that they could not figure out why or how the fire started.

Frank only wanted documents. He wanted an arrest.

Joel Wiest : Frank and I turned to all persons we could think of in the law enforcement community. I still do not know if there has ever been an investigation.

Sergeant Traugh of the Hemlock Township Police conducted a file and spoke to Maria, but says that because of the fireman's conclusion, he could do little else.

Sgt. Scott Traugh : I had a strong suspicion that it was arson. I am not an expert. When he realized that, I had to make up my mind.

After the fire, Maria Frank seemed to mock in a text:

Karma is a wonderful thing … They have destroyed my life. I feel allott [sic] better … since your whole life has been absorbed in the fire … makes it fair

Julie Dent : I can hear her say. That was just a text. I can hear it.

Maria added another threatening text about Julie:

I'll turn her [sic] from her job into her home …

Peter Van Sant : Did Frank read that to you?

Julie Dent : Does he. He was very upset about it.

Over time, Maria's threats became more courageous and public. At a children's football match, Maria screamed in Julie's face that her house was next. A few months later, Julie was home alone, asleep.

Julie Dent : When I heard the breaking of glass. … When I … came up the stairs when I wanted to come around the corner, I was greeted by a fireball – literally a fireball that came up the stairs.

Peter Van Sant : What are you doing? do?

Julie Dent : I could do nothing but open a window and go out on the canopy.

Julie jumped from her canopy on the second floor and survived. She was shaken, but unhurt.

Julie Dent : I lost everything.

Peter Van Sant : And do you think the only purpose was to burn down a house? Or was it to … kill you?

Julie Dent : I believe it also had the component to free me from the life of Frank Spencer

Julie lived in another county and she and Frank were hoping a better result this time. But another firefighter from the state police said he could find no evidence of what triggered the fire that night. Joel Wiest At this point, I did not accept it, let alone Frank.

  spencer-juliedentfire.jpg "height =" 479 "width =" 620 "class =" lazyload "srcset =" https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/15/ 15ae2017 -7aa4-4930-96c2-2894657a1eda / thumbnail / 620x479 / f0ba8c698b26662bed24b92f625b01ab / spencer-juliedentfire.jpg 1x, https://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/15/15 -96c2-2894657a1eda / thumbnail / 1240x958 / e56c69fc1eb7abecde0e4ed0f23e65db / spencer-juliedentfire.jpg 2x "srcset =" Data: image / svg + xml,% 3Csvg% 20xmlns% 3D & # 39; http% 2F2% 2F2www.2. 2Fsvg% 20viewBox% 3D & 0% 200% 20620% 20479% 2F% 3E "/> </span><figcaption class=" It was when I heard the breaking of glass. When I … passed the top of the stairs, I was greeted by a fireball – literally a fireball that came up the stairs, "Julie Dent said about the fire that destroyed her house.

Attorney General's Office

Julie's home insurance company sent out a fire inspector the next morning – and Joel Wiest said he had shown him what they had found through a side window.

Joel Wiest : Here was a jack on the ground. It was a scissors jacket that would lift the car.

Peter Van Sant : What would a jack do here?

Joel Wiest : It's hard. It is steel. It was used to break this window.

And the investigator noticed a way through the weeds at the house.

Joel Wiest : There was a milk jug, a gallon container. … And next to it was an unused street fire.

Peter Van Sant : A detonator.

Joel Wiest : A detonator who told the detective … These are the requirements for a fire bomb.

A fire bomb. The fireman of the state police was back on site.

Joel Wiest : They used their apparatus to design accelerators. There was gas everywhere.

This time the fire was considered an arson. Frank and Julie told the fireman they were sure Maria was involved and shared their previous threats. But again nobody was charged. In the fall of 2010, Frank and Julie tried to break up briefly, desperately telling their story of a local paper.

One and a half years later, on June 30, 2010, there was something in the newspaper: an announcement that Frank and Maria were finally divorced.

Peter Van Sant : Did you both talk about spending the rest of your life together?

Julie Dent : We did it, yes.

But that would never happen. Frank Spencer was dead the day after this divorce notice was published.


Shawn Williams, the Pennsylvania State Police Corporal, was ordered to direct the murder investigation on the day Frank Spencer's body was found. He is now in the office of Lucerne County, PA, DA.

Peter Van Sant : And on this July morning, as you approached the front door, what did you see?

Det. Shawn Williams : There was a lot of blood right outside the door. The blood had stripes in it, as if it had been pushed with a broom, an attempt to clean up.

Frank's house has been frozen in time since his assassination in 2012.

Det. Shawn Williams : You can still see some of our chemical tests. Frank Spencer's blood splashed against the frame and the door.

Peter Van Sant : Right here?

Det. Shawn Williams : Yes.

Peter Van Sant : Can you bring us in?

Det. Shawn Williams : Sure. That door was actually closed all the time … and Frank's body was right here on those tiles … Frank's head was behind that door. And his arms were stretched out over his head. He lay on his back.

The investigators found their next clue in the blood around Frank's body, where part of the floor was removed.

Det. Shawn Williams : The Forensic Service Unit collected evidence and … they found shoe prints on this tile in the blood.

Peter Van Sant : Footprints.

Det. Shawn Williams : Yes. … We sent it to the FBI for analysis and it came back that it was a dr. Scholl Escape sneaker 11 size traded.

The FBI analysis of the bloody footprint found at the doorstep of Frank Spencer's house came as Dr. Dean. Scholl's Escape sneaker, size 11, back – the same style and size that Rocco Franklin wore

The same shoe size and shoe brand as Maria's father Rocco.

Peter Van Sant : What other evidence did you find here in the house?

Det. Shawn Williams : I can show you if you come in. This is the main living room … So, here we come back to the kitchen. What we noticed about the Forensic Services Unit was that they found a glove – a yellow cleaning glove right there.

Det. Shawn Williams : They expect a cleaning glove in the kitchen, but they are not in the middle of the floor. … and the buddy for the glove was actually in the sink.

When the gloves were tested, Maria's DNA was found inside. Frank's friends say she has not lived in this house for over a year.

Det. Shawn Williams : It was not a bang, close the file and arrest you, but it definitely helped.

Detective Williams apparently linked Maria and her father Rocco to the crime scene. But only Williams could do that.

Det. Shawn Williams : We work with Fact in our business. … Just because everyone in the city said, "I think Mary did that, I think her dad did that," we could not just accept that.

However, the investigators soon discovered further evidence of two suspects. Frank had been shot by two different weapons. A forensic analysis revealed that the first bullet hit Frank on the doorstep and came from a rifle.

Det. Shawn Williams : A bullet went through his biceps and went into his chest cavity.

Peter Van Sant : Was that a deadly shot, do you think?

Det. Shawn Williams : Yes.

As a rifle is usually a long-range weapon, the police expanded their search into the forest.

Det. Shawn Williams : Right up here on this ridge opposite the house you see a Y in a tree and there is a big base.

Peter Van Sant : Right up here?

  spencer-tree.jpg "height =" 349 "width =" 620 "class =" lazyload "srcset =" https://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17/842fbcce 1x, https://cbsnews3.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17/842fbccce-1588b640-43eb5f25d93c / thumbnail / 1240x698 / f8dfeda35ad86a8ad966adc9e533ec19 / spencer-tree.jpg 2x "srcset =" Data: image / svg + xml,% 3Csvg% 20xmlns% 3D & # 39; http% 3A% 2F% 2Fwwww. "% 20viewBox% 3D" 0% 200% 20620% 20349 "% 2F% 3E" /> </span><figcaption class= The investigators believe the Y in this tree was the shooter's location when Frank Spencer He was standing by his front door

CBS News

Det. Shawn Williams : Yes. … At this point we found a spent shell, a living shell, both 0.36 rounds, and to the right was a soft rifle case for a long rifle.

Peter Van Sant : Well, this murder took place in mid-summer in July, so I suppose that whole hill is covered with leaves and shrubs … Would Frank have seen an attacker up there?

Det. Shawn Williams : I would not believe that.

Peter Van Sant : So that was a classic ambush?

Det. Shawn Williams : Yes.

After this first shot, according to Williams, Frank was dragged in and shot again – this time with a pistol close up.

Peter Van Sant : Why a second bullet?

Det. Shawn Williams : It could be a hate motivation. It could be a message to Frank Spencer. … This recording meant something to someone who dropped her there.

Detective Williams had another puzzle to solve: where was Frank's pickup?

Det. Shawn Williams : We have a victim in the house, but there was no vehicle for the victim.

Investigators inspected security cameras along the streets near Frank's house. And they found pictures of Frank's lorry driving away from his house just minutes after they calculated he had been murdered. But who was in the truck?

Det. Shawn Williams : We … sent it to the United States Secret Service, and … it was … just too far away. It was not like they could zoom in, look through the window and see who was there.

Frank's lorry was finally found in Sunbury, Pennsylvania – 27 miles from Frank's house and only 5 miles from the place where Mary lived at the time.

Frank's missing truck had taken the police home to Maria's house, but that day still lacked something that would lead them to Rocco.


Frank and Barbara Pinto run a wedding in Dauphin. Pennsylvania – 72 miles from where Frank Spencer was killed. On the day of the murder, they were preparing for a wedding when an uninvited guest came in.

Frank Pinto : And then suddenly – Barbara Pinto : A dog has appeared.

Frank Pinto : Right here is a Weimaraner [sic]!

Frank Pinto : A beautiful dog comes in. And … I said, "Whose dog is this?" And nobody knew whose dog it was.

It was Frank's dog Mutley – adopted after his children's dog had been killed in this blaze.

  Mutley of the Weimaraner

Attorney General

Peter Van Sant : Did Mutley look like that? Exhausted, as if it had taken about 70 miles to get here?

Barbara Pinto : No, you can say that he was someone's dog and was taken care of very well.

Frank Pinto : – Someone's dog. And was in very good hands.

Detective Williams noted that Mutley had driven to Dauphin, and that this person had been in Frank's house at the time of the murder.

Peter Van Sant : How many murderers would take a dog if they do not know this dog?

Det. Shawn Williams : I would not think too many.

Williams learned that Rocco lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And the wedding location is right on the road from Frank's house to Rocco.

Det. Shawn Williams : Rocco's cell phone is on the same day on the direct route. Williams assumes that Maria had asked Rocco to take Mutley with him – for the sake of the children, and that Mutley had accidentally run away when Rocco stopped on the road. It was now two months after Frank's murder and Williams wanted to talk to his two main suspects. Maria refused, but to William's surprise, Rocco agreed.

Det. Shawn Williams : Which still impresses me, why he decided to talk to us. … However, I think Rocco likes this cat and mouse part of an investigation.

Rocco gab Williams ein Alibi.

Peter Van Sant : Was hat er gesagt?

Det. Shawn Williams : "Ich habe Harrisburg nie verlassen." … Ich konnte es nicht glauben… weil ich von seinem Handy weiß, dass er zweimal gereist war.

 spencer-rocco-franklin.jpg [19659031] Rocco Franklin erzählte der Polizei, dass er Frank Spencer zwar nie gemocht habe, aber tatsächlich am Tag vor dem Mord bei Frank gewesen sei – ohne dass seine Tochter Maria beim Aufräumen geholfen hätte.

Rocco erzählte der Polizei eine absurde Geschichte Frank mochte er nie, er war tatsächlich am Tag vor dem Mord bei Frank – ohne Maria – beim Aufräumen helfen.

Det. Shawn Williams : Und ich sagte: "Was für eine Art von Reinigung haben Sie gemacht?" And he said well … "I was … folding laundry, cleaning up with the push broom."

That&#39;s the same push broom that was used to clean Frank&#39;s blood off the porch. Even more far-fetched, Rocco said Frank had let him test drive his truck that day and that when he offered to buy it, Frank suggested they wrestle for it.

Det. Shawn Williams: Basically, what he&#39;s saying is — I touched Frank Spencer. I touched the truck, and I touched that push broom.

Peter Van Sant:  It sounds like he&#39;s trying to create a scenario — if you find my DNA in any of these places, this is why.

Det. Shawn Williams:  Absolutely.

Around the same time Rocco was talking to Williams, Frank&#39;s friend, Derk Reed, saw Maria in the stands at a high school football game.

Derk Reed: So, I just sat down beside her. And I said, "I just want to let you know, don&#39;t worry about me … around your kids." I said, "I&#39;m never gonna say anything to disrespect you or Frank around your kids." And she looked at me and goes, "that&#39;s why you&#39;re still alive, Reed." I just looked at her and said, "tell your dad I said hi." … and she went off.

Like many of Frank&#39;s friends, Reed suspected Rocco had helped Maria murder Frank.

Derk Reed: We were basically almost nose to nose. And I&#39;m going, "why?" … I said, "you took him away from not just your kids — from everybody."

Peter Van Sant: What did she say to that, though? I mean, did she say, "I didn&#39;t kill him?"

Derk Reed: Oh no. No. What she said was, "the last thing he saw before he died was me."

It was a wretched moment for Reed, but a huge piece of evidence for the case.

Det. Shawn Williams: She&#39;s putting herself at a homicide scene. … If she saw someone take their last breath … she&#39;s saying she was there.

By that autumn, Williams was working with prosecutor Tony Forray, the senior deputy attorney general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: I think it was horrible what Frank went through.

Forray was handling the prosecution because the county DA was now Tom Leipold, Maria&#39;s former divorce attorney, and he had recused himself from the case. Forray was aghast when he learned Frank had been reporting death threats for years — both before and after the fires in 2010.

Peter Van Sant: In the state of Pennsylvania is making a death threat to someone is that a crime?

Prosecutor Tony Forray: Yes, that would be a terroristic threat.

Even when Frank did ask police to investigate some of the threats he reported, Maria was never brought in for an interview or charged with making terroristic threats.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: If you get away with terroristic threats and then if you get away with a burglary … and … you get away with a fire … and … you get away with a blatant attempt to murder a girlfriend in a fire … the only thing left is murder.

Peter Van Sant: People in this town who believe that you and other members of the Hemlock Township Police Department were just not doing your job, you were no t properly investigating these threats and complaints, you say what?

Sgt. Scott Traugh:  That&#39;s not true. Every incident … was thoroughly investigated. If they were serious in nature, the Columbia County district attorney was consulted. And he would determine at that time … if somebody would get arrested or not arrested.

The county district attorney during most of the time leading up to Frank&#39;s murder was Gary Norton. He says he never knew about Maria&#39;s threatening voicemails and texts.

Gary Norton: As district attorney I only know what police tell me.

And Norton says it was usually up to police to make arrests, not the DA.

Gary Norton: When I was DA, 95 to 99% of the arrests that were made were made without consultation with the DA. The police had that power and exercised that power.

Julie Dent&#39;s fire was not in Traugh or Norton&#39;s district. And Norton says he didn&#39;t ignore Frank&#39;s mother&#39;s fire or the theft of Frank&#39;s business records. He says he was following the law.

Gary Norton: Is there an arson and can we prove an arson? No. … Is there a burglary? No. Because … Frank Spencer had no proof that it was Maria who entered the premises.

Gary Norton: Before a prosecutor can ethically bring a charge … there has to be evidence or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But prosecutor Tony Forray felt he could prove the earlier crimes and Frank&#39;s murder. It took time to gather evidence, and in 2013 Forray convened a grand jury. This time both suspects agreed to talk.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: There was no interrupting Maria … as soon as she took a breath, I would ask a question. … "Did you ever threaten to kill Frank Spencer?" Her answer would be "Absolutely not." Check, one count of perjury … "Did you ever threaten Julie Dent?" "Absolutely not." Check.

And so Forray charged Maria with 12 counts of perjury, more than a dozen other charges and, most importantly, Frank Spencer&#39;s murder. In July 2014, Williams went to arrest her.

Det. Shawn Williams: And that&#39;s when I told her she was under arrest for the murder of Frank Spencer. She immediately … began to say, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God."

The warrant for Rocco&#39;s arrest was issued the same day, but Rocco was nowhere to be found.


It had been two years since Frank Spencer&#39;s murder and Maria Spencer was finally under arrest.

Derk Reed: It was like you lifted a, you know, a weight, like, there&#39;s thousand pounds off your back.

But her father Rocco had skipped town the year before, fleeing right after he finished his grand jury testimony.

Det. Shawn Williams: Within like 36 hours Rocco Franklin had boarded a plane … to the country of Colombia, South America.

Peter Van Sant: And are you hot on his trail?

Det. Shawn Williams: Not at that point.

That&#39;s because Rocco had an 11-month head start. But once Williams had an arrest warrant, and a little help from the state department, he found him.

Det. Shawn Williams: He was only four blocks away from the United States Embassy in Buenos Aries, Argentina. I couldn&#39;t believe that it was sort of that easy 

"Sort of" was the operative term. Within weeks Rocco was arrested by Argentinian police — but he fought extradition, and so in the fall of 2015 Maria Spencer went on trial for Frank&#39;s murder alone.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: The totality of what went on is I think both the strength of the case and also the horror of the case.

Forray had Maria&#39;s DNA at the crime scene, the truck found close to her home, and her history of death threats. Maria&#39;s defense was to blame her own father.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: The defense strategy was … this was all Rocco. Rocco. Rocco. He&#39;s the bad guy … It was all him.

Cameras were not allowed inside the trial. One by one, Frank&#39;s friends took the stand. They told the jury about the fires, Maria&#39;s admission that she was at the crime scene, and the years of harassment. Julie Dent testified about an especially disturbing threat.

Peter Van Sant: What would she say to Frank?

Julie Dent: One specific that I remember plain as day is … That she would cut off both his hands and dip them into hot tar and cauterize them so that she would never — he would never be able to hold his children again.

The trial lasted nine days. As jury began its deliberation, Frank&#39;s friends were worried.

Katie Yodock:  You were just thinking.

Ron Romig: Oh, my God. Could something stupid happen?

Katie Yodock: Yeah. Like things never seem to go our way, you know?

Ron Romig: I was scared.

Eight hours later, the jury had reached a verdict.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: I look down. I never look at the jury. … I don&#39;t want to react … I&#39;m waiting, which seems like an eternity. … And then it&#39;s "guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty. "

Maria was found guilty on all counts: for murdering Frank Spencer and for the two arsons, the burglary, 12 counts of perjury, conspiracy and terroristic threats. She was sentenced to life without parole plus 50 years.

spencer-friends.jpg " height="349" width="620" class=" lazyload" srcset="https://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17/f4f7ae1c-a6d6-4c84-b2f2-060aaa2114e4/thumbnail/620x349/3666f309be929401519c7d7d7837313a/spencer-friends.jpg 1x, https://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2019/11/17/f4f7ae1c-a6d6-4c84-b2f2-060aaa2114e4/thumbnail/1240x698/48b14fcc7c7009592abe0087f2fd2153/spencer-friends.jpg 2x" srcset="data:image/svg+xml,%3Csvg%20xmlns%3D&#39;http%3A%2F%2Fwww.w3.org%2F2000%2Fsvg&#39;%20viewBox%3D&#39;0%200%20620%20349&#39;%2F%3E"/></span><figcaption class=Frank Spencer&#39;s friends discuss the case with "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant.

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Paul Siciliano: That was it.

Ron Romig: That was it.

Katie Yodok: Yeah.

Ron Romig: That was it for all of us. Oh, thank you.

Katie Yodock: Oh. my gosh. Thank God.

It took another year-and-a-half, but in 2017, Williams was finally able to bring Rocco back to stand trial.

ROCCO FRANKLIN [in cuffs, with a coat over his head]:  I never done anything.

REPORTER: Did you kill Mr. Spencer?

ROCCO FRANKLIN: Of course not. Don&#39;t talk ridiculous!

Maria had argued Rocco killed Frank alone, but Rocco wasn&#39;t following that script.

Rocco Franklin: I got no beef with Frank Spencer. If I had a beef with Frank Spencer, I&#39;d have broke his face a long time ago.

But Rocco, who spoke to "48 Hours" from the county jail, doesn&#39;t appear to be holding a grudge against Maria for trying to blame it all on him.

Rocco Franklin: Maria never hurt nobody. What they did to that girl is outrageous!

Rocco says he&#39;s innocent of murder and the rest of it.

Rocco Franklin: They&#39;ve got no proof. What proof do they have? Show me one piece of evidence. One fingerprint! One eyewitness! One anything!

Man who once claimed he was a hit man now says he’s “not a violent guy”

Prosecutor Forray says he has plenty of evidence—from the shoeprint in Frank&#39;s blood, to Rocco&#39;s ridiculous story putting himself at Frank&#39;s before the murder, and of course the arrival of Mutley at that wedding.

Rocco Franklin: Like I&#39;m that dumb that I&#39;m gonna steal from a guy I&#39;m supposed to whack? Take his dog, and leave it 10 miles from my house? … Come on!

In the autumn of 2018, after a four-day trial, Rocco Franklin was convicted of Frank&#39;s murder and for the burglary, and the arson at Frank&#39;s mother&#39;s house. He was sentenced to life plus 45 years.

Derk Reed: This has been a long drawn out affair. And it never needed to be what we&#39;re going through

Deanna Reed: After the first fire, she should have been in prison. Frank should still be here.

Sergeant Traugh says he did what he could.

Sgt. Scott Traugh: I mean, Frank&#39;s dead. And I understand that. But I wouldn&#39;t do anything, and our department wouldn&#39;t do anything differently than we did.

Tony Forray has called what Frank experienced an epic failure of law enforcement.

Prosecutor Tony Forray: Did anyone stop and look at the totality of everything that was going on and do something significant in terms of arresting either Maria or her father Rocco? The answer is no.

Gary Norton | Former DA: There&#39;s not a crime in the Pennsylvania crimes code that&#39;s called the totality of the circumstances make you look really guilty. … You have to analyze these things case by case and ask yourself, can an arrest be made and can I — in good faith — secure a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt? And the answer was yes where we prosecuted her and no when we did not prosecute her.

Gary Norton: I reacted as best I could in the situation and my conscience is clear. … I don&#39;t have any regrets as to what I did.

Out in front of the courthouse where Gary Norton now serves as a judge and Maria&#39;s former divorce lawyer Tom Leipold serves as the county D.A., is a fundraising brick Frank Spencer purchased years ago. He dedicated it to his children.

Joe Yodock: There&#39;s not a day that goes by that I don&#39;t think about him. … and I still can&#39;t figure out why. Why it happened.

After Maria&#39;s arrest, Frankie and Cyrus Spencer were raised by Maria&#39;s sister.

Frank&#39;s dog Mutley is alive and well. He lives with Frank&#39;s mother.

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