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Kimmyan Franklin couldn't escape her uneasy past

See also: In Memory of Kimmyan Franklin
Hadley Hooper

Take me up into your mind once or twice before I die (you know why: because the eyes of you and me will be full of dirt some day). — e.e. cummings

She was always jotting down notable quotes in that journal of hers, the one her mother gave her the year she turned twenty-one. She took it with her everywhere, ready to record whatever was inspiring or artful in what she was reading or listening to: cummings, William Carlos Williams, Shakespeare or Kafka or Celine, killer lyrics from Big Black or Big Star. It was a battered collection of great writers' great thoughts about love, fate, God, hope, betrayal — and entirely too much about death.

She wrote stories and poetry, too. But the works of Kimmyan Dylana Franklin weren't published in the usual way. You'd find a slip of paper tucked into a drawer like a mash note after she'd crashed at your place for the night, or slipped under your drink like a coaster when she was tending bar, and there it was, a Kimmyan original, dark and broody or bright and exuberant, depending on her mood. Yet always fresh, always alive.

See, her friends say, that was the thing about Kimmyan. She may have been, like so many hard-drinking romantics, half in love with easeful death. But she understood that life is for celebration. The past may be painful and immutable, the future uncertain, but today? Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present.

So in this scattered and fragmentary puzzle she left behind — the journal, the notes, the stories on her computer, the Facebook postings — amid all her grim musings on loss and doom, her flights from bad times to dark places, bursts an occasional shaft of pure joy. Like the miraculous moon, orange and huge, that greeted her two years ago when she moved to the cabin in the mountains to stay with her mother and stepfather.

"Had Thanksgiving a few days late and drank a huge jug of Carlo Rossi with Madre and Padre and a good friend that stays true to his word," she wrote. "Parents got wasted and sang along to 'Sam Stone' by John Prine. Fucking beautiful."

"Sam Stone" is a ballad about a heroin overdose, a Vietnam veteran who "popped his last balloon" when "life had lost its fun and there was nothing to be done." It would not be most families' first choice for a holiday sing-along. Yet at the right time, in the right company, Franklin believed, beauty could be found just about anywhere.

She died last July at the age of 39, after being in the wrong company at the wrong time a few miles from Yuma, Colorado — a place she'd fled years earlier, a place she'd once described as a "death trap" in a notable quote of her own.

See also: In Memory of Kimmyan Franklin

******

For more than a decade, Kimmyan Franklin was a linchpin of Denver's underground music scene. She was more than just a comforting presence slinging drinks at the Lion's Lair, the East Colfax dive bar with a hard-earned rep for squalor and raucous live shows. She was a muse to local bands, a punk princess, a jukebox jockey of wide and eclectic enthusiasms — and, like all good bartenders, an utterly non-judgmental therapist and sounding board.

Few of the hipsters she bantered with nightly had any idea that she was also a refugee of the eastern plains, a 1990 graduate of Yuma High School. She didn't talk much about her past, and it took a series of personal crises to drive her back to Yuma County last summer.

Franklin lost her job at the Lair three years ago. She lost her mother to cancer last spring. At loose ends, she accepted an invitation from her cousin, Christa Loudin, to come stay with her and her two daughters for a few weeks in Eckley, a town of 250 people east of Yuma.

On the evening of July 22, Franklin headed to the Silver Spur, the only bar in Eckley. She didn't return to her cousin's house that night. Loudin figured she'd met up with Pete Newton, a local farmer and old acquaintance, and had gone home with him.

"I heard nothing until the next morning, when Pete called," Loudin says. "I went to go get it, but whoever it was had hung up. I called back the number. Pete said, 'Your cousin Kimmyan won't wake up. Will you come get her?' He didn't sound distressed. I had no idea what I was going into."

Loudin arrived at Newton's place shortly after nine in the morning. No one answered her knock at the door. She found Newton sitting in a kitchen nook with a man who worked for him. Newton told her that her cousin was in the bedroom. Loudin found her there, sitting propped against the wall next to the bed and unconscious, pills scattered around her. Her breathing was labored and ragged. Loudin immediately called 911.

 

"My cousin has overdosed on pills, it looks like," she told the dispatcher. "She won't wake up."

The scene she found didn't make much sense to Loudin. The pills tossed around haphazardly — Klonopin, which Franklin took for a panic disorder, and some prescription painkillers — didn't look like something her cousin would do. One pill hung on the edge of her lip, as if someone had stuck it there. And as she moved closer to try to rouse her or at least shift her onto her side, Loudin noticed that Franklin seemed to have been dressed awkwardly and hurriedly by someone else. Her underwear was on crooked.

Newton told Loudin that her cousin had taken pills frequently during the night. While Loudin remained on the phone with the dispatcher for an agonizing twenty minutes, he drifted in and out of the room, as if preoccupied with other tasks. Then the ambulance arrived, followed by a deputy and a sergeant from the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.

The officers questioned Newton, who told them that he and Franklin had smoked methamphetamine the night before and had sex. During the early-morning hours, she complained of a headache and nausea, he said, and vomited several times. She was having trouble walking, so he helped her back and forth to the bathroom. But she asked him not to call anyone, not wanting her family to know she'd been doing meth.

Around five in the morning, he went to his field to start baling hay; when he left, Franklin was conscious and sitting up against the bed, he said. He sent a field hand to check on her a couple of hours later, and the man reported back that Franklin seemed to be okay. (The man, who spoke almost no English, would later explain to police that he peeked in the bedroom and saw a naked woman on the floor, groaning and appearing to gesture with her arm for him to leave — which he did.) When Newton returned to the house shortly after eight, he found her unconscious. He called her cousin at 8:55. He admitted dressing Franklin, saying he wanted to preserve her modesty when others showed up.

A toxicology screen at the Yuma hospital found traces of marijuana, opiates and benzodiazepines (such as Klonopin) in Franklin's system. Nothing that would constititute a prescription overdose, but there was also a substantial presence of methamphetamine. Her condition was deemed serious enough to transport her to a larger hospital in Greeley, where a CAT scan indicated that she'd suffered a stroke; a vessel in her brain had burst, causing a cerebral hemorrhage. Hospital staff also documented several prominent bruises on her chest, hips, thighs and upper arms.

According to Rick Layton, a Denver musician and boyfriend of Franklin's, the bruises had not been there when he'd visited her in Eckley the day before, just hours before she went to Newton's house. "It looked like someone had been grabbing her, pushing her," he says. "It didn't look like a fall or anything like that. The bruising was too widespread and aggressive. The first thing I thought was, 'Did she get attacked?'"

Franklin was soon moved again, to the intensive-care unit at Swedish Hospital in Denver, but no extraordinary measures could stop the bleeding in her brain. When it was clear that nothing more could be done, family members made the decision to take Franklin off the ventilator. She died less than 48 hours after Loudin found her.

Layton and other grieving friends organized a benefit show at Denver's 3 Kings Tavern and a memorial gathering at a park in Lakewood. They spoke passionately of Franklin's talents as a writer, her kindness and friendship, but struggled to account for the perplexing circumstances of her death. An obituary that ran in the Yuma Pioneer expressed her family's bewilderment: "That her death was waiting for her in Eckley was unforeseen, sudden, untimely and mysterious...and still remains."

"She was not just another junkie," says Lisa Flowers, who knew Franklin for twenty years. "She wasn't bent on a path of self-destruction — quite the opposite. She was committed to struggling against her own depression. What happened was a complete fluke. It was not her lifestyle at all."

Shortly after Franklin was rushed to the hospital, the investigating officers were confronted with conflicting versions of what had happened that night. Two witnesses told police that Newton had said he and Franklin hadn't been smoking meth but shooting it; Loudin says Newton told her that he'd helped inject her cousin shortly before she collapsed. But Newton denies making those statements, and county law enforcement officials soon concluded their investigation into the death without filing any criminal charges in the matter.

 

"The case we submitted to the DA's office wasn't, 'Here are the charges we're looking at,'" says Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day. "We said, 'Here's the information, and we don't think there are any charges here.'"

In fact, there has been no official determination that Franklin's death was drug-related. Although meth use has been associated with a high risk of arterial damage and strokes — it's now the second-leading cause, after cocaine, for strokes in otherwise healthy people under the age of 45 — the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Franklin didn't believe the linkage could be proven in her case. "There's no doubt that people who inject meth are more susceptible to stroke, but we can't say in this instance that it's the reason for the stroke," Day explains.

Those decisions don't sit well with many of Franklin's relatives and friends. "I don't think anyone is going to buy that it's a pure coincidence that Kimmyan had an aneurysm after being shot up with meth," says Flowers. "I just don't think they want the hassle of pursuing this."

Franklin's death has triggered a much wider discussion, in Eckley and elsewhere, about justice and meth use on the eastern plains, the small-town death trap Franklin had sought to escape, what happened in the final hours of her life — and how she got there.

"This isn't over," says Diane Dilka, Franklin's aunt, who's been unable to persuade Day to reopen his investigation. "I am just appalled at this community trying to bury it."

******

In grade school, Kimmyan Franklin was a chubby-cheeked girl teased relentlessly by boys about her gap-toothed smile. But she never let the meanness get to her.

"She'd say, 'That's okay — I like me, and my friends do, too,'" recalls Pati Krehmeyer, who grew up with Franklin and now lives in Wray. "She was one of the sweetest, most caring, smiliest people I've ever known. I never knew her to say a bad word about anybody."

Lisa Flowers first met Franklin when they were both nineteen and hitchhiking down Boulder Canyon from Nederland. She had grown into a waifish, striking young woman who still had a high-pitched, girlish voice. She told Flowers she was taking a break from community college in Chicago and writing a lot of poetry and fiction.

"She was very brilliant, very sensitive and kind, and extraordinarily well read," Flowers says. "She was very focused on her writing."

Franklin's parents, George Knake and Sandra Dilka, had met in photography school in Philadelphia. They shared a love of the 1960s counterculture and its music; Sandy had been at Woodstock, and George was for many years a member of a bluegrass band in Chicago. Their daughter's middle name, Dylana, was in honor of a certain folk singer from Minnesota. They separated in the early 1980s, when Kimmyan was around ten years old, and both moved to Colorado — George to Boulder, Sandy to the Yuma area, where she had relatives. Kimmyan grew up there and, after her mother remarried, moved with her and her stepfather, Steve Morgan, to Nederland.

College in Chicago had a strong appeal for Franklin. She enjoyed big-city culture and the chance to steep herself in books and classes. In another life, she might have gone on to be a college professor or a professional writer. But she never finished her degree; instead, she moved to Denver and began to find her way to the core of its nightlife scene, tending bar at the 15th Street Tavern, 7 South and then the Lion's Lair. Some friends suspected that her choices were not about pursuing a career as much as they were about whatever was pursuing her.

Over time, Flowers learned that the seemingly carefree girl she'd met hitchhiking in the canyon had more than a few traumatic memories tucked away, episodes of raw pain that flashed in some of her stories and poems. Kimmyan had a half-sister, Lisa, five years older, whom she'd adored; Lisa had died at seventeen in a car crash outside Eckley in 1984. And though she rarely talked about it, when she was in high school, Kimmyan had been raped by a cousin. Like many small-town sexual assaults, in which perpetrators and victims are almost always neighbors and sometimes related, the case was never reported to the police.

Flowers went with Franklin one time when she drove back to Yuma County to visit relatives. She found the place depressing, and the visit just seemed to stir bad feelings in Franklin. "The energy in that place is palpable and malevolent," Flowers says. "It's absolutely twisted."

 

Years later, Franklin wrote on her Facebook page about an acquaintance from Yuma named Allison who'd committed suicide: "Last time I saw her was by the train tracks, at a party, one week after graduation. It was one of those 'stoner' kids' parties. We were both drunk and talked about why we weren't good friends in high school.... We decided, like most drunks do, that we'd missed out on what could have been a very good friendship.

"I moved away from that town the next day. I knew it was a town that would eventually, and most prematurely, take your life...by a car wreck or a suicide and sometimes by both, which they had often said of my sister. Year after year, my mother would call to tell me who'd just been buried: 'Wasn't he/she in your class?' 'Didn't you two do this/that together?'

"This past year, I dreamt of Allison often. I would try to hurt myself...she would tell me to stop and that she understood. Yuma, Colorado, is a death trap. I only went back there once. Lisa Flowers and I. There was nothing there.... Now I imagine it to stink of death and decay. A rubble of smashed cars and ghosts."

She found an extended family of sorts at the Lion's Lair, a former jazz club that, in the hands of rock impresario Doug Kauffman, had become a pioneering venue for the city's alternative music scene. Countless local punk and garage bands got their start there, playing for little pay just inches from demonstrative, wedged-in patrons fueled by cheap drinks and beer. It also provided an intimate if cramped space for touring (or slumming) specialty acts, from John Doe to Gil Scott-Heron and Robyn Hitchcock.

Even in its frenzied heyday, there wasn't a lot to love about the Lair. It was a pit, with a red floor and black walls and the most barbarous bathrooms in Denver, packed with crusty punks and Colfax critters and lost souls in the early stages of a lifelong love affair with rock and booze, not necessarily in that order. But if anyone could brighten the place up, Franklin did. She was friendly and gracious and good at her job. "Weekend nights were just crazy busy, but she knew everyone's name," says Matthew Hunter, who worked beside her behind the bar for years. "And everybody knew her."

During slack times Franklin would often read behind the bar. Sometimes she had two books going at once. She was unimpressed by poseurs and kind to the parched daytime regulars who wandered in to drink the heart out of a spring afternoon. She could kick your ass at pool or cards, all the while holding forth, in her well-informed but never overbearing way, on the merits and flaws of Hitchock's major thrillers or obscure, cheesy horror movies, the decline and fall of punk, or the Bandini novels of John Fante.

"She was the only person in town you could talk to about Big Star and Che Guevara at the same time," says Kauffman. "We'd sit around and talk about things all day long. She was a sweetheart. Lots of people loved her. We all did."

Plenty of local musicians, and even a few marquee performers, fell madly in love with her. Doubtless some were just interested in getting into her pants, but what Franklin thought about their music seemed to count, too; approval from Kimmyan was a validation of coolness. "She was supportive without really knowing it," says Rick Layton, who wooed her away from a buddy at a New Year's Eve party in 1995 and maintained a friendship and sporadic, complicated romance with her for many years. "A lot of people looked up to her. She was the little punk-rock princess of Denver."

The Lair provided Franklin with ample material for her short stories. "A lot of them were Tom Waits-ish, down-and-out things about bar-room characters," says Flowers. It was, of course, a congenial atmosphere for drinking as well as writing. Friends disagree about the drinking; some say Franklin didn't seem to have much of a problem, while others recall coming across her strolling the neighborhood near her LoHi apartment with a bottle of wine in the middle of the day. Her aunt describes her as an alcoholic; Franklin sometimes referred to herself as a drunk.

"Everybody who drinks too much knows they drink too much," says former Westword music editor Laura Bond, who knew Franklin well. "But the type of person who's a constant pain in the ass, the crazy-making, destructive personality, the person who drains everyone and is kind of a vampire — she wasn't that way. There was such a goodness about her. She had something to reckon with in this lifetime that she couldn't quite master. She couldn't say no for herself. But I never felt imposed on by Kimmyan. She gave a lot."

 

At some point the romance of the bottle, like all romances, gives way to harsh daylight and the taste of ashes. After a few years among the denizens of Colfax, Franklin decided to try something new. She left the Lair to wait tables at the now-defunct North Star restaurant and brewery in Highland, a clean, well-lighted place. In 2006, her father went to visit her while she was working there and was impressed at how she was getting along.

"I was amazed," Knake says. "Everywhere we went, she knew people. We'd go out to eat, and we didn't have to pay for anything. We'd go down to the mall, and people walking by would say, 'Hi, Kim.'"

But after a few months, Franklin went back to the Lair; she said the money was better. Some friends believe the reasons were more complicated. The North Star was too healthy an environment, they suggest, too much light and normalcy. Maybe she didn't feel she deserved anything that good.

Her father always felt that she should set her sights higher than bartending, but there was something, some nagging canker of self-esteem issues or worse, holding her back. "I don't think she thought she could put forth," Knake says. "I knew that she could. I always had great aspirations for her."

******

When Franklin finally left her job at the Lair in 2009, it was not of her choice. She told Layton she'd begun to experience debilitating panic attacks in crowded places — "so bad that she was actually losing her sight over them," he says.

The condition became so severe and chronic that she was unable to work, she said, and began to receive disability checks. Yet the anxiety disorder appears to have been only one trouble among many. Diane Dilka says her niece had suffered at least two sexual assaults during her years of bartending and no longer felt safe working on Colfax. At one point she was diagnosed as bipolar. The anti-depressants and other pills the doctors urged on her made her foggy at work, Dilka suggests, and contributed to her termination.

"Most of her problems were related to sexual trauma," she says. "She had to be tough, and she really wasn't a tough person. Eventually she lost her nerve. She started going to counseling, and they put her on some psychotropic medication that made her incapable of working."

Shortly after Franklin lost her job, her mother moved back to Colorado, apparently to help take care of her. The two were exceptionally close; even though Sandy had lived in Virginia for the past seven years, "they'd talk every day on the phone for hours," Dilka says. Sandy and Franklin's stepfather purchased a house in Bailey, and Franklin moved in with them. She rarely came down from the mountains; communication with many of her Denver friends dwindled to a trickle of exchanges on Facebook.

Early last year, Franklin's mother was diagnosed with cancer. Franklin and her stepfather became her caretakers in a long, heroic but lonely fight that lasted until last April. Franklin was devastated by her death. "They were each other's world, basically," says Flowers.

Franklin had clashed with her stepfather during Sandy's illness and moved out shortly after her mother's death. She stayed for a few weeks with her father, but that relationship, too, was strained. Knake wanted his daughter to be sober and productive, but she was sunk in grief and her own regimen of self-medication.

"She really missed her mom a lot," Knake says. "She was having a hard time with it. I wanted to get her into volunteer work, to get her back into the workforce. And there were certain rules we had to follow — no drugs, no alcohol in the house. It wasn't until she moved out that I found out she'd been drinking a whole lot when she was staying with me. I didn't detect that at all, but after she left, I found lots of bottles."

Despite her recent reclusiveness, Franklin still had many friends in Denver and Chicago who would have offered a couch or a basement, a place to mourn and heal. But it was her mother's family, her aunt Diane and cousin Christa, she most wanted to see; they invited her to Eckley, to stay with them and get to know Christa's children better. That seemed to trump all the bitter memories and bad dreams about Yuma County. Then she could move on, maybe to Chicago.

"I was thrilled to hear that she was planning to go to Chicago," Flowers recalls. "I kept telling her to get out of these small towns. The stimulation of a city would have done so much to get her out of her depression. I think it would have been a life-changing move."

 

Knake remembers talking to his daughter about returning to Eckley, the scene of so many past traumas. "We both agreed that it was a bad place," he says. "But she thought she would be safe there with her family."

******

After losing touch with her years earlier, Rick Layton tracked down Franklin last year, while she was still caring for her mother. The two began exchanging e-mails and eventually renewed a romance that had never quite died.

"It took me a while to find her," Layton says. "But she's the only person I ever thought of constantly. She was always in my head."

Layton was a rarity among Franklin's boyfriends, many of whom were short-term, bad-boy types. ("She would walk past three really cool guys to go for the bad one," one friend says.) When Franklin went to stay with her cousin last June, Layton made the 150-mile drive to Eckley several times to see her. They began talking about a possible future together.

"She said if I ever asked her to marry her, she would definitely say yes," Layton explains. "I had been married before, and I wasn't a big fan of the actual term. But I told her I would give her a respectful lifetime commitment, which is almost the same thing."

Her stay in Eckley was supposed to be for a couple of weeks, but Franklin stayed on. She enjoyed spending time with her nieces; at the same time, she told Layton, she was quickly getting bored. "I'd never been in a small-town environment like that," Layton says. "There was so much family. Everybody was somebody's cousin. We'd be at the store, and everybody knew each other. She said she didn't like being back there."

Eckley's social center is its lone bar and grill, the Silver Spur. That's where Franklin went when she was bored, and where she met up with Pete Newton, a 47-year-old alfalfa farmer and a member of one of the area's more prominent farm families. Newton says he hadn't seen Franklin since she was in high school, but the two were soon spending time together at least a couple times a week, squeezing in time between Newton's farm and family duties — he has a six-year-old girl and three older offspring from previous relationships — and Franklin taking care of her cousin's daughters.

"I would pick her up, and we'd go check my sprinklers," Newton says. "She liked to take pictures of the sunset and the crops. We'd take walks. Go horseback riding. We were getting real close. She talked about maybe staying here."

When he visited her right after the Fourth of July, Layton learned that Franklin was finding new ways to ease her boredom. She was sick for three days, and when Layton pressed her for an explanation, she sheepishly admitted that she'd used meth with Newton and had become violently ill. She showed him the mark the needle had left on her skin, and he asked why she'd done such a thing.

"He said it would just be a tiny bit," she said.

Franklin kept apologizing. She felt like crap, and there was "no way in hell" she was ever going to do that again. She had just been really bored, that's all, and Newton was "like family" to her. (Newton is a cousin of Franklin's stepfather.)

Layton was baffled. Like many of her friends, he'd always thought of Franklin as someone who liked to drink, with maybe some weed on the side; meth seemed an unlikely drug of choice, particularly for someone with an anxiety disorder. True, anyone who tends bar at a place like the Lion's Lair wouldn't have to look far to find plenty of mind-altering substances floating around. But she'd always disparaged methamphetamine as a form of self-destruction she could do without.

"It's still hard to believe she was doing that," says Knake. "We used to kid around that anything east of Denver to the Mississippi was nothing but a meth lab. She always indicated to me that she didn't like getting into that. I thought she knew better than that."

According to Newton, though, Franklin was no stranger to the needle. "She said she had been on heroin before, and methamphetamine, too," he says. "She'd done a lot more drugs than I ever had."

Newton says he doesn't use meth anymore, that his meth use at the time was minimal — "once every three or four months, socially" — and that he never did the drug intravenously with Franklin. "We didn't use it that way," he says. "I am not going to stick a needle in anybody's arm."

On subsequent visits, Layton didn't see any evidence that Franklin was using meth. His last visit to Eckley ended the morning of July 22; he says Franklin planned to stay there another twelve days before joining him in Denver. A few hours later, she headed to the Silver Spur to meet Newton, telling her eleven-year-old niece Sarah that she'd be back that evening.

 

The next time Layton saw her, she was in a hospital bed in Denver, her brain damaged and her body failing. Layton introduced himself to Franklin's father and sat down. He took her hand and held it until they turned off the machine and she stopped breathing.

******

The day after Franklin's death, Christa Loudin sought out Newton at the Silver Spur. She had seen the bruises on her cousin's body, and neither the story Newton had told her about Kimmyan taking pills nor the subsequent story he told police about the two of them smoking a little meth explained the bruises or what she'd seen at Newton's house.

It was at that point, Loudin says, that Newton told her that he and Franklin had been shooting meth. He had helped inject her, he explained, because she was having trouble finding a vein. She was also having trouble walking, and may have bruised herself falling against the bed frame — or, as he'd explained to the police, she may have gotten injured when he wrestled her in and out of a wheelchair to take her to the bathroom. About an hour after they'd shot up for the last time, he said, she collapsed.

Loudin relayed this information to the sheriff's investigators. They then interviewed a woman who'd been tending bar at the Silver Spur when Loudin talked to Newton and had overheard part of the conversation; the woman said Newton had admitted to her, too, that he'd helped Franklin shoot up.

A deputy told Loudin it might be useful to record on her phone any subsequent conversations with Newton. They had no recording equipment of their own to offer her, and they never bothered to interview Newton again about the conflicting versions of Franklin's last hours. One police report states that Newton "appeared to be open and truthful" in their dealings with him.

Newton denies making those statements to Loudin and the bar manager. Citing legal concerns, he won't go into specifics about how much meth was used that night or the time frame, but he takes issue with many details in Loudin's version. Franklin suffered from migraines and was complaining of a headache before she took any meth that night, he says. He suggests that whatever condition was causing the migraines may have resulted in her stroke, not the "small amount" of meth consumed.

"This has been one of the worst things that's probably ever happened to me," he says. "I was very confused that night about what was going on. I wanted to call the ambulance. She said, 'No, this will pass. I'm just having a migraine.' But she was slurring her words."

The police didn't conduct a formal search of Newton's residence for drugs or other evidence until the afternoon of July 24 — more than 24 hours after Franklin was taken away. They found nothing suspicious.

The bruises, the crooked clothing, the seemingly staged scene with pills scattered around the room — and the presence of two other men at Newton's house when Loudin arrived — raised concerns among Franklin's relatives that there was more to the story than they would ever know. They wondered if she could have been shot up with more meth than she could handle and then sexually assaulted.

Sheriff Day says those concerns are completely unfounded. The autopsy by Ben Galloway, one of the state's most experienced forensic pathologists, found no evidence of sexual assault; the bruises were not consistent with assault, he told investigators, and "not concerning." And the two other men present when Loudin arrived told the deputies that they'd just arrived themselves; one had worked in the field with Newton that morning, while the other had shown up to finish installing some windows.

"There's absolutely no doubt that 911 should have been called sooner," says Day. "But that falls short of being a crime, or even leaning toward a crime."

And the pills? "We can't rule out the possibility that Pete may have put those pills in her mouth," Day says. "But even if he did do that, we're still short of a crime. Everything that we have suggests that this was a terrible incident. To say it's an accident, I think that's the truth, but it doesn't sound respectful, so I've stopped doing that. But there were some really terrible decisions made that night."

Newton says he's "very hurt" that Franklin's family blames him for her death. The two had been having an earnest conversation that night about how she could take her life in a fresh direction.

 

"I feel like we could have had a relationship in the future," he says. "What really hurt me that night — she'd talked about being in bad places and making the wrong choices. But I guess the worst choice of all is dying, isn't it? And it happened at my house."

Some members of the community don't consider Franklin's death to be an isolated "terrible incident." For a while, a lively, far-ranging discussion broke out on locals' Facebook pages, much of it since removed, about drug abuse and domestic violence and male privilege in places like Eckley, and whether law enforcement is more interested in protecting the status quo than in punishing the perpetrators. Several women wrote about past sexual assaults that had never been successfully prosecuted — and how they'd eventually discovered that their experience was hardly unique.

Dilka wants to help develop an anti-meth campaign that would bring attention to the problem in Eckley. Sheriff Day says stories about meth in the heartland, depicting areas like Yuma County as honeycombed with labs, are overblown.

"We're fooling ourselves if we say it's not here," says the sheriff, who grew up in Yuma and worked in Larimer County before returning to the plains. "The amount of space out here where people can hide, it can happen. But I wouldn't say it's the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the issues we have here."

Shortly after his talk with Loudin, Newton wrote a check to help pay for Franklin's funeral expenses. The check remains uncashed; family members didn't want any misunderstanding about it, didn't want folks in Eckley to think something had been purchased that can't be bought. "We don't want his money," Dilka says.

The people who knew Franklin best took comfort in the benefit show at 3 Kings played in her memory and the service that followed. George Knake was amazed at the turnout. All those years bugging Kimmyan to do something with her life, and he had no idea how many lives she'd touched.

"I was absolutely stunned," he says. "Parents don't always know their children. They don't know the influence their children have on other people. It was an eye-opening experience. That she had all these friends, people who loved her — it was a beautiful thing."

A beautiful thing. A moment to take her up into your mind, like a half-forgotten poem or a fading Cheshire smile, before they scattered her ashes on mountain and plain.

Kimmyan Franklin didn't like to talk about the past -- but her writings hinted at painful secrets. See also: In Memory of Kimmyan Franklin
Gerald Bivens

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