Phone records provided to Scene by Christina Gaston’s family show definitively that former Cleveland Museum of Art Director David Franklin gave false information to Cleveland Heights police officers on April 29, 2013, when he allegedly discovered Gaston’s body at her apartment on Euclid Heights Boulevard in the very early morning.
Franklin told police, and provided handwritten testimony in their report, that he’d received a text message from Christina Gaston at 8 p.m. the previous night (Saturday, April 27). According to Franklin, that text said: “depressed from work.”
But Christina Gaston’s phone records show only one text on April 27. It was sent from Gaston’s phone at 6:06 p.m. to a number which Scene has confirmed is not David Franklin’s. What prodded Franklin to allegedly visit her apartment that night if that text was never sent?
Gaston’s phone, of course, was never recovered from her apartment after her death. Along with her missing camera — Gaston was an avid photographer — the missing phone appeared to be one of the more troubling question marks in an increasingly troubling tragedy. Additionally, those phone records show there was a large data transfer from Christina's phone at 12:22 a.m. April 29, just minutes after Cleveland Hts. fire had arrived on scene after Franklin's call to report the incident.
The Cleveland Heights Police, for their part, hadn’t given the phone much thought. They certainly weren’t looking for it. Ron Flower, Christina Gaston’s stepfather, called them on July 1 from his home in Georgia just to ask that the phone and camera be labeled missing. He provided the make, model and serial numbers. (This conversation is detailed in the original police report).
At the time, Ron Flower’s call was little more than a modest request from a grieving stepfather. After all, Christina Gaston’s death was an open-and-shut case, ruled a suicide immediately (cause of death: “asphyxiation due to hanging”) with no investigation whatsoever after the fact.
The Gaston family has confirmed (though Cleveland Heights’ Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson and Law Director John Gibbon will not) that on September 12, Christina Gaston’s case has been assigned to a detective for follow-up. (Whether or not the investigation is officially re-opened is unclear.) As far as the Gastons knew, no police personnel had been assigned to the case until that date.
Had detectives been assigned on the night of Gaston’s death, they might have though to collect the wine glass on her countertop to examine for fingerprints (never happened); or gather any evidence from the apartment at all (they didn’t).
Investigators might have probed further when David Franklin identified himself as Ms. Gaston’s “friend;” (they didn’t); they might have required a more thorough step-by-step of Franklin’s discovery of the body; they might have asked for a timeline less infuriatingly vague; they might have questioned neighbors or the building manager (they didn’t); they might have searched for the missing phone; and when David Franklin cited a text message from Saturday as the impetus for his arrival at Ms. Gaston’s apartment 28 hours later, detectives almost certainly would have asked to see the text in question.
When Scene brought these concerns before Cleveland Heights Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson in an effort to clarify their procedures when a suicide is called in, we were referred by Robertson’s secretary to Law Director John Gibbon, who has yet to respond via phone or email.
Scene did speak yesterday with the building manager at MMH Management who served as Gaston’s landlord until her death. He said that there had been zero communication from Cleveland Heights police. None back in April, none in September, none this week.
Franklin's lawyer, Virginia Davidson, responded to Scene via email yesterday regarding the case in general: "The details that are being reported in the media concern Dr. Franklin’s personal life. There was a tragedy. It has nothing to do with the exceptionally fine work that Dr. Franklin has done for the museum. We just ask that you give his family its privacy at this time."
When reached for comment about the new details this morning, Davidson responded via email: "You have your facts wrong. There is no story here, and no reason to engage in discussion about this personal matter."