Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Good Old Frank

I grew up with a kid named Frank Basile who lived on Howe Street, near the border that separates the town of Natick, Massachusetts, from Framingham. He was technically Natick and one of us, but he always smelled a little like Framingham to me, along with the Dows and the Sollimas who lived near him. He had a sort of dual citizenship that felt not quite kosher to me. But he was, as I say, Natick, so he went to Cole Elementary School with all of us, and then on to Kennedy Junior High and finally Natick High School.

Frank was always small for his age, doe-eyed and diffident, although sometimes he surprised you with contrariness. He would come up with original notions that added little to the matter at hand, then shut up when his opinion was passed over. If one cared to watch him, perhaps one could see in Frank an odd intentness about apparently nothing. His expression often denoted concentration, with a little frown and a fixed stare at the ground or the space in front of him. But for the most part he was quiet, unobtrusive, someone you could use to fill up the roster of a pick-up baseball team.

His father helped coach my farm league baseball team, the Tigers. Odd as this sounds, I don’t believe Frank was on the team. Hmmm. Maybe his father was friends with the coach. Anyway, because I was the tallest kid, I played first base, and Mr. Basile taught me to stand in a crouch with my hands on my knees, ready to spring at the crack of the bat. I was an indifferent athlete at best, but one day when someone hit a scorching line drive heading for right field I reflexively leaped up and snared the ball in my glove. All the parents went “ooooh!” and Mr. Basile told me, “You see! You had your hands on your knees! That’s why you caught it!”

Frank one time came to my house to show off a frog he caught. He carried it on a Frisbee and it was the ugliest frog I ever saw. Its colors were nearly luminescent, very harsh, very green. Something about its coloration made me think it was unfriendly and poisonous. The frog submitted to its captivity well, staying on the Frisbee and later allowed itself to be handled by Frank with domesticated passivity, no struggling to get away. The frog naturally became an object of great interest with us kids for about a half hour until when suddenly Frank became possessed with a wild desire to kill it. He set it on the ground, grabbed a a fallen tree branch the size of a staff and tried to crush it with one end, striking at it as if violently digging a hole for a post. “No, Frank, don’t!” I yelled, because the frog was an innocent thing and, despite its unpleasing exterior, wasn’t really such a bad frog after all. But Frank kept saying, “I’m gonna kill it!” and he had a maniacal expression that made us wonder if Frank’s mind was clicking on all cylinders. He came close to striking it a number of times but the frog eluded his lethal tree branch, sometimes just barely. I actually thought the frog might get away, but finally Frank made a direct hit and the frog had time to let out a small whimper before it went splat. We all protested, asking him why, but his response was that it was his frog and he could do with it what he liked.

As we got older, Frank was the first among us to smoke pot. He had older brothers who were into it and they took care of little Frank. Frank smoked and smoked all through seventh and eighth grade until he declared one day that he had smoked so much pot he was now permanently high. You could believe it because he seemed bemused most of the time, communicating to us from another dimension.

Finally Frank required psychiatric help, and over the years he got lots of it. We’d ask his younger brother every now and again how Frank was doing and he’d say, “Franky flipped out again, he’s getting treatment now,” as casually as if talking about an old car that keeps breaking down. When we’d see Frank and speak to him, he’d answer back as if he were miles away. One of my friends remarked, “One day Frank seems all right and the next you see him petting a fire hydrant.”

During late spring in 1982 Frank voluntarily checked himself into the psychiatric unit of Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. He stayed there for a couple of weeks and abruptly left against the advice of the therapists. They couldn’t keep him there, everyone found out later, because it was "voluntary." Hmmm. Anyway, old Frank went home, took a baseball bat and bludgeoned his parents to death. The news the next day played the 911 call his mother desperately tried to make. One cop later said “their heads were all bashed to hell” and it was the worst thing he had ever seen.

There was a big manhunt for Frank. He took off in his parents’ car, a old Granada. Frank was a famous walker, often taking four or five hour strolls at a time, and the news played that up, as if ditching the car and setting off on foot would make him invisible. But finally he was caught in a diner in New Hampshire, his parents’ car in the parking lot. He offered no resistance; he had spent all day nursing a cup of coffee in this diner, quiet but seeming strange, and the manager at last called the police. No one there had any idea he was a murderer.

I last saw him a few days later on the news being led into court, handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit. As always, Frank looked small for his age and doe-eyed.


Blogger NYPinTA said...

Holy crap!

2:33 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Good lord, that's creepy. I went to school with a couple of kids we all thought would wig out and do something like that. Voluntary or not, if you know they're crazy, lock em up!

2:37 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

We used to always say he was "harmless."

4:56 AM  
Blogger John said...

The frog whimpered? Weird.

When we were told this story at work a few years ago, it was a lot shorter and at the begining it sounded like it was going to be a funny story. It basically went, "I knew this kid Frank growing up that used to kill frogs. He later killed his parents with a baseball bat."

6:54 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

We lived around the corner from the Basiles on Hemlock Drive. My brother and I were friends with Franky's younger brother Robert. I remember the parents were strict, all the brothers' bedrooms were downstairs, and we used to climb the Mulberry trees in the backyard. By this time Mr. Basile had had a heart attack and we had to keep it down. We moved away in '73, finished High School in Framingham. I was going to NYU when I heard the news. I was in total utter shock.

Today I came back to visit my parents and we took a drive thru the old neighborhood. As we drove past Howe street I thought about the Basiles and Franky clubbing his parent's to death. It seemed so unreal and far away.

I googled and found your story.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous David said...

When my family moved to Natick I was in the same second grade class as Franky. He became my first friend in the neighborhood. Coming from a small industrial city in Massachusetts, I was unfamiliar with the woods and was amazed at Franky's knowledge of the woods and the creatures that live there. He taught me how to build a lean-to in my backyard and a tree fort in the woods.
We played on Saturdays and after school all through elementary school and I was at his house often. I was also friends with his brother Mike.

His parents were extremely strict!!

One day after class in Junior High School, he introduced me to marijuana on what was then the Lakewood golf course off of Boden Lane.

I lost track of Franky as I got busy with my adolescent life at Natick High School. At age 17, I moved away and never saw him again.

I was living in Manhattan when I heard the news. I felt so bad for his entire family.

In the wintertime, when the trees are bare, you can see his house up on the hill from my Mom's kitchen window.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Marsha said...

HI..I was friends with his sister Leanne in Jr. High and High School! I actually read about Frank in "Boston" magazine a long while back and was shocked...do you know is he still in custody?

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

@Evan thanks for the kind words of remembrance. Give Bruce and Lisa my best. Whenever I drive by my parents house I wonder if the mulberry tree is still there.

@Marsha my brother is still in custody but was released from Bridgewater and is in a hospital in Worcester due to failing health. Leanne is still living in the Natick area. My brother Paul passed away a couple years ago.

I can't believe it's been 30 years.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow please let us know if Frank is locked up now or if he is free? What is the status of his health? An old Butterworth Park friend...

6:39 PM  
Blogger Nattie Demesa said...

I am the mother in law of one of the Basile's grandaughters. She told me the story and I felt so bad for her. Not knowing your grandparents and father seems to be a big lost to her and her children. We are now grandparents too to her two beautiful children. We treat them with love and affection and given the same manner to my daughter in law.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Jbd said...

My grandparents were these Basiles who lived on Howe Street. I was only 3 years old when all this happened so I don't really remember them or my uncle Frank for that matter. From what my mother told me Frank was a very disturbed person and she was scared of him. I guess that she had every reason to be afraid now seeing what he was capable of. I'm a parent now and when I visit the story of my grandparent's death I sort of wonder how could this be possible. I think if they had focused more on Frank's needs from the get go then they would have probably been around now and the family would not be so estranged. They were close before and after all that happened everyone sort of stopped talking to each other.

11:02 PM  

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