One Man's Road from Alabama to Dallas, 1954-1963

Touched By Fire


 Book reviews

"I just completed reading Touched By Fire and wanted to tell you how deeply moved I was by your heart-rending story. Never have I read such a fascinating personal account of the tumultuous era in which you as author not only observed major historical events by became an unexpected participate in them. Never have I encountered such an absorbing narrative connecting the events of one decade to those of another and that resulted in the close friendship you have with Governor John Patterson of Alabama. Your common bond with the Governor is as unique as one could ever imagine-the fate of your fathers-followed by your witnessing the slaying of Officer J.D. Tippit by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas that black day of November 22, 1963. You have truly been "touched by fire."

Howard Jones, University of Alabama, Research Professor
& Author of The Bay of Pigs

“More and more it occurred to me that this strange coincidence between a father-and-son who’d never even known one another was the kind of story that makes history worth learning.” Frank Griffin, the narrator of Touched by Fire, and his father, Johnnie Frank Griffin, are linked by similar events that happened nearly ten years apart.

Johnnie Frank, reputed to be wild and profligate, left Griffin, his mother, and his sister when the boy was still a toddler. The fatherless child grew up dirt poor, a migrant cotton picker in rural Alabama in the vicinity of the crime-ridden, corrupt town of Phenix City. There, in 1954, the notorious local sheriff shot Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson, who had vowed to clean up the town. Johnnie Frank witnessed the sheriff and his victim entering an alleyway, then saw Patterson emerge, mortally wounded. He finally told authorities what he’d seen, and died soon after, under mysterious circumstances.

Patterson’s son, John, was grateful to Johnnie Frank, regarding him as redeemed, a hero. The son, meanwhile, ran off with the circus, hauled moonshine, joined the marines, and was fleeing a petty crime rap when he ended up in Dallas on the fateful day when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He spotted Lee Harvey Oswald running away after shooting a cop. Troubled by these bizarre coincidences, Griffin contacted John Patterson, who had become governor of Alabama, believing they shared a strange destiny and feeling a need to understand the father he never knew.

The book has a carefully managed, journalistic sense of immediacy. The mysterious link between father and son, witnesses at separate famous crime scenes, is rich material for this readable saga. Written chronologically from Griffin’s viewpoint, the story moves at a measured clip. A plethora of historical details may, at times, overburden the average reader. For example, there is a section where Griffin combs available documents, almost desperately it seems, for corroboration of his presence in Dallas.

The book’s cover is an original, neatly organized collage in muted tones including photographs and newspaper headlines from the events described. Former Governor Patterson contributed a Foreword supporting Griffin’s perception of their unusual bond (“our personal histories were linked at certain key points”). Very short positive comments from former President George H. W. Bush and singer George Jones may lend the book extra credibility and attract a general audience.

At heart, this is a personal story, though, and the reader is left with the impression that presenting his experience to the world is as important to Griffin as the specifics of the situations he recounts. If not significant American history in itself, the tale is certainly a gripping account of one man’s connection to it, and how that kind of connection can change lives.

Barbara Scott - ForeWord Review


This book is one that you cannot put down but finish reading page after page until the last chapter. It is written in easy conversational style and yet packed with interesting historical facts as told by someone who encountered history as it happened.

The story of Frank Griffin is a story of all of us who have to face the demons of the past and come to grips with it. After more than four decades, the author spilled it all out in his book Touched by Fire as a form of catharsis. Like his father, who witnessed the murder of Alabama Attorney-General in 1954, Griffin saw Lee Harvey Oswald flee the scene of the crime that left a Dallas police officer dead in 1963. His father Johnnie Frank stood as witness to the 1954 crime and was stabbed and died. Griffin, on the other hand, told no one about what he saw in Dallas until he wrote this book.

Touched by Fire is a memoir of a man who faced hardships early in life, growing up picking cottons in the South, haunted by the memory of the father he never knew. His life was a series of misfortunes and calamities but in all of it he emerged a survivor. It is a proof of the resilience of the human spirit but most of all it is a testimony of the grace of God in the life of Frank Griffin.
Zenaida Maramara


I have read your book myself and found it to be interesting and engaging. Many authors present facts in a most dry and boring manner that put most readers to sleep. Your book was unlilke that in every way. You had a story to tell and did so simply and effectively. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Congratuations on a job well done and for sharing it with our little community.
Diana Wilkinson, Director - Shepherd Public Library


This is a small book - less than 200 pages but it tells a very big life story. I have spent my life in Alabama and had no idea that such a place as Phenix City Alabama existed. The evil nasty part that is. By the time I came along the evilness that made it so famous was long gone. When you visit it now, it is simply a lovely southern town.

Mr. Griffin's story is one that many in the south can relate to. The good ole' boy network welded tremendous power. They spent all their energy making sure that the down trodden stayed that way. Frank Griffin offers an unusual and poignant viewpoint of this time in Alabama. He lifts up his story from the heart and soul of a child. Whatever doubt I had, disappeared after the first few pages. This book is from someone who really lived it.

The amazing thing to me is that his story doesn't stop at Phenix City, Alabama. Nor does his story end in Dallas, Texas. He isn't that old but his life story must have a couple hundred years of experience.

It has been my privilege to meet Frank Griffin. It has been a pleasure and an eye opening experience to read his book. I encourage you to do the same.


"Touched by Fire" is the remarkable story of a man whose beginning and early years almost guaranteed failure.

That's where the story begins. It doesn't end there.

For beneath the skin of this poor Southern white boy who encountered little love and mostly rejection from those who should have been his greatest supporters was a determination to survive, to overcome the pitfalls that seemed ever to lie in his path.

Like the City of Atlanta after the Civil War, Frank Griffin found himself repeatedly rising from the ashes of flames that threatened to burn him alive.

But from deep within his gut he continued to find ways to fight on for yet another day, not knowing where he would turn next or who to turn to.

The man who he lived with most of his childhood was anything but a loving father to him--at times he wanted to kill him. And his real father not only left his family early, but this son never got to know him. And when that father was killed in Phenix City, Ala., he didn't even get to attend his funeral.

Frank would survive childhood to join the military--boot camp, artillery school and the U.S. Marines. Here he gained discipline, skills and a faith in himself and his fellow men he might never have attained elsewhere.

Griffin tells his story through the eyes of an Alabama country boy, which helps draw readers into numerous plots.

What many would find intriguing is how his life experiences have brought him into contact with a former Alabama governor, John Patterson. Patterson's father, Albert Patterson, was assassinated outside his Phenix City law office as a result of the same criminal elements whose activities were under investigation, leading to Griffin's father being in Phenix City to testify before a grand jury. Griffin's father also would be killed before he could testify.

Gov. John Patterson and Frank Griffin also were involved in the infamous struggle in Cuba that led to Fidel Castro establishing a Communist state only miles from the coast of Florida, which almost led President John F. Kennedy and the U.S. into war with the USSR.

Most intriguing, Griffin details how he was working on a project in Dallas, Tex., the day President Kennedy was assassinated there by Lee Harvey Oswald and may have seen Oswald just after he reportedly gunned down a Dallas police officer as Oswald fled.

In recent years, Griffin even developed a friendship with Oswald's brother.

Frank Griffin got his life in order. He also befriended Gov. Patterson in the governor's later years, visiting Patterson at his Goldville, Ala., farm to talk about their fathers and the Phenix City story. Many considered Phenix City the most corrupt city in the U.S. in the early 1950s. They talked about their fathers and how Griffin's father was killed before he could offer testimony which authorities considered critical in efforts to solve the murder of then Alabama Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson.

It's a sometimes sobering but encouraging story of how hope and stubborn determination can overcome emptiness and frustration.
Harry Franklin (Retired)
Columbus Ledger Enquirer


This is one of the best books I've ever read! It's incredibly touching, and adults of all ages would enjoy! It's a great book to show children the importance of our history!


I grew up in Phenix City, Alabama. My father was a part of the clean-up of Phenix City and was a life long friend of Governor Patterson.

Frank's book is about as accurate an account that I have read. The details are very interesting and accurate.

I met Frank by chance at Governor Patterson's book signing. At the time I purchased his book I did not know his exact connection because there were many players in this era and I grew up as a child knowing many of these men.

What was interesting to me about meeting Frank is that his father Johnnie Frank worked at the Elite Cafe prior to the shooting which happened to be next to the alley where the crime was committed. My father bought and ran the Elite cafe a few years later in the early 60's when I was in the first grade.

It was at the Elite that I met and got to know several of the RBA. Many of these men were humble (and smart )members of the RBA and never bragged or talked much of what they did.

My thanks to Frank Griffin for staying within the confines of the story and not choosing to sensationalize the story with hollywood stuff.

Thanks Frank.

Cary E. Griggs
Son of C.C. Griggs Jr.


This is the most defying books. It is very interesting and one that you can not put down.If a movie was made about this book. I beleive the ratings would be out of this world.I do highly recomend every one to get this book if you are interested in true crime. The crime in this book could not get anymore real than it is.


I really enjoyed this book. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Griffin at his book signing was able to see lots of photos and documents, letters and such that are authentic. I appreciate him for writing this book after all those years and sharing his story. You will enjoy this one as well.
Lovely Whitmore


Touched by Fire is not an ordinary memoir. Refined by fire is probably more apt description of the Franklin Griffin’s life journey.  I read the book with curiosity and found it intriguing that one man’s life filled with childhood deprivation, adversity, running against the law, finally serving his country in the marines, and witnessing Lee Harvey Oswald flee the scene of murder of a police officer in Dallas in 1964 an hour after President Kennedy was assassinated.

Nine years earlier, Franklin’s father stood as witness to the killing of Alabama Attorney-General elect Albert Patterson by the Phenix mob.  The following day, Johnnie Frank Griffin died. Unlike his father, Franklin did not come out with his testimony and kept quiet until he wrote Touched by Fire.

In writing the book, Franklin Griffin developed a close friendship with John Patterson, former Alabama governor, whose father’s murder, Johnnie Frank Griffin stood as witness, and probably caused him his life.  The historical ties that bind John Patterson and Franklin Griffin cannot be taken away from them.

The book is a story of Franklin Griffin, a man shaped by a tortuous past yet came out of it a survivor. Despite the difficult life growing in a dysfunctional family picking up cottons in Alabama in the 1940s, tortuous teen-age years, living in the shadow of the father he never knew, witnessing a historical event during the JFK assassination and keeping it a secret until he wrote this book, Griffin seeks meaning in everything that happened in the past seven decades of his life.

I met the author in Spring of 2012 and discovered a down-to earth Southern man with a pure heart. It looks to me that Touched by Fire is a turning point in Griffin’s life.  Now that his secrets are told in this book, he invites people to take a peek and perhaps encounter something familiar in their lives.

As gold is refined by fire, Franklin Griffin’s life was touched by fire and he came out of it not scorched  but purified like the precious metal.

Martha Philipps