SAN FRANCISCO — After Eileen Franklin-Lipsker witnessed the murder of her best friend, she wondered why no one, including police investigators, thought to question her because she was only 8 years old.
Now, at 29, she will finally testify, and what she will say, she promises, is that the man she saw commit the crime was her own father.
Franklin-Lipsker, who came forward with her accusation for the first time last month, is the key witness against George Thomas Franklin Sr., 50, a former San Mateo firefighter. Based largely on his daughter's account of the crime, Franklin stands accused of the first-degree murder of 8-year-old Susan Nason during a sexual assault.
Susan disappeared from her home in Foster City, south of San Francisco, on Sept. 22, 1969. Her decomposed body was found months later under a mattress near a reservoir in San Mateo.
"Susan was my best friend," Franklin-Lipsker said during a telephone interview Thursday from her Canoga Park home. "We were kids who played together outside a lot and played tetherball on the school yards.
"It's still unbelievable to me that I was never questioned about my best friend's murder after it happened," she said.
In the intervening years, Franklin-Lipsker said, she blocked out the memory of the murder. She finally went to police after she started having vivid flashbacks of the murder, as she says she recalls it, down to its minute details, including her father bludgeoning Susan to death with a rock in the family van.
Franklin pleaded not guilty to the murder charge after he was arrested in November at his home in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento. He is being held at a San Mateo County jail in lieu of $2-million bail.
A judge ordered the high bail because of allegations of Franklin's sexual interest in children. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22, and a preliminary hearing will begin March 5.
On Wednesday, San Mateo County Municipal Judge James L. Browning Jr. threw out a gag order that had barred Franklin-Lipsker and other potential witnesses from talking about the case.
"I'm putting all my faith in the justice system to get this resolved," Franklin-Lipsker said.
Although she won't discuss the details of the murder of her girlhood friend--except to say that she saw her father do it in the family van--she does discuss the implications of the incident for herself.
"I don't think I'll ever lead a normal life again," she said. "I'm not just a witness to a crime, I'm a witness to a crime that my father committed--the same man who is the father of all my brothers and sisters and is the grandfather of my children."
Franklin-Lipsker still recalls the special friendship she and Susan shared as carefree youngsters as they played together in bayside Foster City south of San Francisco.
"We were kindred spirits," she said. "We had somewhat the same features and were bonded by the torment from the other kids because of our reddish hair and freckles."
Franklin-Lipsker said Susan's death had a profound impact on her ability to get close to people.
"I guess what I really lost was the ability to feel safe making friends," she said. "I developed this fear of loss and became a real loner after that."
Franklin-Lipsker married Barry Lipsker in 1984. The couple runs a computer consulting firm from their home and have two children, Jessica, 6, and Aaron, 3. The family is planning to move to Switzerland to establish their business there soon after the trial.
In the meantime, Franklin-Lipsker said she has avoided reading stories about the case or watching news accounts on television. She has even refused to discuss the crime in detail with any of her relatives, she said. By not talking about it, she said, she hopes to keep the memory accurate.
"I know what I remember and I don't want anything to influence my memory," she said.
The Lipskers also have shielded their children from the case. Barry Lipsker has made news clippings and placed them in an album for the children to look through "when they're old enough to understand," he said, joining his wife briefly in the telephone interviews.
"I feel very protective of my children," Franklin-Lipsker said. "They were the impetus for me to come forward because I love them so much."
She said most of the reaction from her friends and family has been supportive.
"No one has disbelieved me," she said. "I've just developed this general leeriness about people's reaction to it, particularly among people I know and work with.
"At the Christmas party, everyone talked about it. It made me quite upset that there might be some judgment about me."
Franklin-Lipsker hopes her coming forward encourages others who have witnessed crimes to do the same.
"I would hope people who live in fear and have a way to resolve it will come forward like myself," she said. "They just have to believe that it's the right thing to do no matter who it involves."