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Man Claims He Burned Churches To Battle Demons

December 19, 1992 GMT

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Living in a private hell of delusions and hallucinations, Patrick Lee Frank blamed churches.

The 42-year-old Tennessee drifter is charged with torching 17 churches in north and central Florida in 1991. U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul, who heard Frank’s two-day non-jury arson trial, will announce a ruling Jan. 4 on whether Frank is guilty or innocent by reason of insanity.

If convicted, Frank could be sentenced to 100 years in prison. If he is innocent by reason of insanity, he faces years in a mental hospital, said defense attorney Tom Miller.


Why would Frank burn houses of worship?

″It’s almost as though there was a constant struggle in his head. He thought the only way to stop the pain of being harassed was to burn the churches,″ psychologist Harry Krop testified.

Krop and David Mrad, chief psychologist for the Bureau of Prisons, said Frank was insane when he burned the churches and continues to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia.

Witnesses testified that Frank admitted setting many of the fires and provided details - along with a bizarre motive: he believed churches were using computers to give him homosexual urges and make him steal cars.

″When he passed a church, his thought was to eliminate it,″ Krop testified.

Frank also had problems with foreign cars and ″church people in farm vans,″ and claimed that a Cuban man named Rico was following him.

Frank, whose mental problems became apparent with his divorce and the death of his mother in the early 1970s, rarely went unnoticed.

National Crime Information Center computers showed Frank was stopped and questioned 138 times by police in an 18-month period in 1990 and 1991. He was released because there were no outstanding warrants against him.

Witnesses who placed him near the scene of several church blazes described him as a malodorous, unkempt man. Frank told one police officer he had no friends.

In a confession to agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Frank said he decided to burn churches while serving time in an Atlanta jail for slashing tires near several churches.

He wound up in Florida after an Atlanta police officer gave Frank a donated bus ticket to Jacksonville after his release from jail in January 1991.


The fires, which caused more than $10 million in damage, began on Jan. 21, 1991, with the destruction of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville, a downtown landmark built in 1907.

″We all wish it hadn’t happened. It is hard to understand how someone could do something like that,″ said Jim Salter, chairman of the church’s capital fund drive committee. A new $3.4 million church will be completed in about a year.

Investigators were able to track Frank’s movements because his family wired him money to Gainesville and Jacksonville Beach at times corresponding with the fires, authorities said.

The fires also stopped the day before Frank was arrested in November 1991.

Frank also is accused of torching churches in Lake City, Ocala, Jacksonville Beach, St. Augustine, High Springs, Winter Haven, St. Petersburg, and East Ridge, Tenn.

He faces separate indictments in a Jacksonville church fire and four fires in Tennessee.

Despite the fires, Salter said he didn’t know of anyone who had any bad feelings toward Frank.

″It’s a sad situation,″ he said.