Turmoil at the Museum: Inside the Affair, Suicide and Abrupt Resignation That Rocked the Cleveland Museum of Art

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Davidson said she would ask Franklin about it and call them back that afternoon. That never happened. "On this same date I received call back from Davidson and she was upset at an article that was posted online from a local magazine," the case report notes. "Davidson told me that due to 'people now writing articles about my client' it would be in her client's best interest not to answer any of our questions."

When reached by Scene, Davidson said, "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."

But the Gaston family had other questions as well. The toxicology report from the medical examiner showed no drugs in her system, despite the prescriptions, some of which hadn't been refilled in months, in her apartment. Also, there was the ceiling fan, which Gaston's stepfather, Ron Flower, had installed. How, they wondered, was Christina able to get the knot around the fan? "Standing on her bed -- a soft mattress (no supporting box-spring) on a metal frame -- Christina would have missed reaching the ceiling fan blades by at least five inches," a family member wrote. That she also still couldn't move her right arm well while recovering from shoulder surgery also puzzled the family.

In the months following Christina's death, the Cleveland Heights police department and the county medical examiner had each been telling the Gaston family that it was the other agency that should answer questions. The medical examiner had been telling them they only re-open cases for further investigation based on information provided by the police department. The police had been telling them they couldn't look into anything without the explicit order from the medical examiner.

"Our department did not consider this a suspicious death," wrote one officer, but he allowed the family to simply "vent" their concerns: "I explained that we could not open an investigation. However, I did advise Flower we could look into a few of his 'concerns and questions' about our police report, and make an addendum to clarify our report, and forward that to coroner's office."

"Police feel at this point they are not interested in proceeding any further with looking into those issues," said law director Gibbon. "As far as they are concerned, the case is closed, unless the coroner's office asks them to assist them."

The coroner's office pronounced the death a suicide in less than 24 hours, and there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to point to that fact.

Initially, officer Trhlin wasn't surprised to find Christina Gaston dead from an apparent suicide when he responded to the call. The department had to deal with her suicide attempt just several months prior, he told both David Franklin and the medical examiner investigator. The M.E.'s report noted: "Cleveland Heights PD stated that the decedent made a call in 2012 (end of) to Mobile Crisis. She was making threats of suicide while in her car near her apartment. They located her and she was taken to University Hospital."

Like the text message, that call to Mobile Crisis -- a 24/7 mental help hotline -- by Christina never existed. The family checked her phone records, Cleveland Heights police records, and talked to the hospital, finding no such record of that call or incident. Flower included this information in a long letter to Cleveland Heights police in September. A Cleveland Heights detective finally confirmed on October 30 that the suicide attempt never happened.

There are records of a previous, aborted suicide attempt by Christina in 2010, however, though the family noted she had undergone outpatient therapy until 2012 and was no longer in need of treatment for depression.


David Franklin's behavior after Christina died was odd, according to the family. Over the ensuing months, Franklin first avoided her sister Cassandra's calls, then hounded her almost nonstop with text messages and phone calls proclaiming his love for Christina and the sorrow he felt. (Franklin did not respond to request for comment from Scene.)

Those calls, which were recorded by Cassandra, found Franklin detailing his and Christina's future plans – he claimed his divorce paperwork would have come weeks after the funeral, which he attended, and they had been looking at houses together and wanted to get married soon. He hated Cleveland, and didn't think it was the right city for Christina. He had "failed her" by not recognizing problems before they materialized.

He'd ramble for minutes at a time without interruption in his soft Canadian lilt, making oddly specific statements about the exact reasons Christina would have killed herself and exactly what was going through her mind the days leading up to the incident, despite only telling police that he had responded to her apartment that night because she hadn't responded to a text. Listen to a part of that call here, where he describes finding her:

David Franklin describes the day Christina Gaston died

In this segment of a recorded conversation from late May, David Franklin talks to Christina Gaston's sister, Cassandra, about the day Christina died.

Franklin told Cassandra Gaston that when he didn't hear back from Christina that Sunday, he thought either "she was having emergency meetings with the ChamberFest people and therefore was gone Sunday morning" or she was in a sleeping pill-induced nap.

"I do honestly believe that that was the trigger, the work, she just felt overwhelmed," he said. The pain from her shoulder surgery, a slight mistake at work – it all added up, Franklin contended. "I assume it really had to do with her arm. The pain, the chronic pain she described something that was chronic, she never could escaped it and it just drove her to this moment of despair."

Deep into the conversation, Franklin continued:

"I really think she woke up on Saturday, she got fucked around by the music festival that had been fucking her around for a few weeks, she was probably exhausted, her arm hurt, she thought she had somehow made a mistake, that was going to embarrass her in terms of the festival, and then probably -- and then I wasn't available, and there must be some demons in her head -- the kind that we all have in a way, but she couldn't dismiss them and she didn't reach out to anyone. That night, she didn't have any of her defenses that day. I think it was very spontaneous, I don't know why that makes me feel somewhat better, but I guess it slightly does, it makes me feel slightly more like an accident I guess."

He also thought the pills could have played a role: "Well, that's the thing, though, I don't know whether that's actually what killed her, in fact, or whether that was just paraphernalia, see what I mean? Whether she died from an overdose -- I just didn't spend enough time there." Franklin also noted that Christina had confessed to a prior suicide attempt and he regretted not prodding her about that further, and he repeatedly mentions the alleged suicide attempt that Cleveland Heights police informed him of that never actually happened.

Throughout the conversation, Franklin mentioned Christina died "quickly" and "spontaneously." He also provided more information on his whereabouts the day she died that he didn't mention to police: He never told police or the medical examiner he was at her apartment earlier in the day.

"I actually went over once in the afternoon. I rang the bell, no answer," he told her. "I didn't have a key, which in retrospect was totally fucking stupid on my part." The family thinks Franklin did, in fact, have key to her place. The duplicate they had made for her was not in her apartment when they searched for it, and Christina had a key to Franklin's place with her car keys.

"Anyway, so, I didn't have a key, so I left -- I can't remember what time, maybe that was like 4 in the afternoon or something, and I went home again, and I just thought 'this is too strange' by the evening. So I went back, and then I realized because it was getting dark, there was a light on in her bedroom. I went to the back door and the door was open, so I found her and I called 911."

The Gaston family created their own timeline for Franklin. When Franklin stated he noticed her light was on because it was "getting dark," the Gastons checked the times for sunset that day: some time between 8:21 and 8:51 p.m. They estimate Christina died some time between 9 and 11 p.m, likely around 10 p.m., based off the documented condition of her body and the autopsy report. Franklin called 911 just after midnight.

"I left before the coroner came 'cause they, I think, I guess they figured out who I was or whatever," Franklin said.


In the midst of a finish line-sprint to complete the $350-million renovation and intent on protecting the image of the museum, which had been pegged as incapable of attracting top talent and having run through a string of directors in just a few short years, Kestner had every reason to protect David Franklin.

But something pressed the board in October to demand his resignation. While Scene broke the news of the affair and suicide, it wasn't until two days later that Kestner "confirmed" to the Plain Dealer that the extramarital affair was behind the departure. The museum was aware of rumors as early as January 2013, Kestner said, but it wasn't until early October that proof of their "dating relationship" was discovered. Early last year the museum hired an attorney to investigate but, "The inquiry yielded no credible evidence to substantiate an inappropriate relationship and the inquiry was closed at that time," Kestner wrote in his statement to the Plain Dealer. "We believe that it would have been irresponsible to take action based solely on rumors."

Swift action was taken, according to the chairman, once they saw the police report: "In early October, for the first time and based on new information, the Board confirmed that a dating relationship had existed with a former employee during and after her employment at the Museum. Once the relationship was confirmed in early October, the Board acted expeditiously."

However, documents show an attorney for the Cleveland Museum of Art contacted Ron Flower in September asking who the detective in charge of the investigation was. Kestner amended his version of events again to say yes, the museum knew of the police report in September but did not obtain proof of the relationship until October.

About The Authors

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...

Doug Brown

Doug Brown is a staff writer at Scene with a passion for public records laws and investigative reporting. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., he has an M.A. in journalism from the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a B.A. in political science from Hiram College. Prior to joining Scene,...
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