From Spoiled Brat to Killer

Mug Shots of Frank C. Alerte
Frank C. Alerte was arrested for attempted murder of a 60 year-old victim. That 1998 attack was committed after he was released for Paul Kelly’s murder.

Frankie Alerte was a spoiled brat. The son of Dr. Franck C. Alerte, a pathologist, and Barbara Alerte, he was used to getting whatever he wanted and didn’t react well when he didn’t.

According to Barbara, who testified at her son’s 1980 criminal trial for the murder of a DePaul student and member of the university’s tennis team, Frankie was referred to psychologists and child psychiatrists because of his bad behavior and violent outbursts.

She recalled the following instances as examples:

  • Frankie struck a student with a rock.
  • Frankie hit a neighbor’s son with a hammer.
  • Frankie set fire to his house.
  • Frankie ran away from home.
  • Frankie attacked a young man on a train platform.
  • Frankie struck a co-worker over the head with an iron pipe.
  • Frankie dropped grapes down the back of his brother’s caregiver after she reprimanded him for teasing the brother.
  • Frankie stuck a knife in the caregiver’s back after she went to phone the father after the grape incident.
  • Frankie was expelled from various schools.
  • Frankie experienced “periods of hospitalilzation”.

Other witnesses at Frankie’s first trial testified that he “behaved violently and aggressively and seemed like a different person, his facial expression completely changed, his strength doubled, showing no remorse and offering no explanation”.

Officials at the Chicago Police Department told the Chicago Sun-Times after Alerte’s arrest that his record showed “some arrests” but would not go into detail.

A 13-year neighbor of the Alertes described Frankie as “a loner”, pointing out that he never played with the other kids in the neighborhood. A former teacher of Frankie testified that he “seemed to turn on those classmates he liked the best”.

The statement by the teacher might help to explain why Frankie, at the age of 25, would brutally stab to death Paul Kelly when Kelly was an 18 year-old freshman at DePaul University.

Paul was well-liked by everyone who knew him. His first tennis coach described him as “the nicest kid I’d ever met”. A friend of his family said he was “a terrific boy with a great personality”. His DePaul tennis teammates related how friendly and fun he was and how easy it was to be friends with someone like him.

Frankie must have liked Paul, too. And that may have been why he turned on him.

Frank Alerte and Paul Kelly got to know each other through the tennis team at DePaul. Frankie had tried out of the team but didn’t make it. Paul was a scholarship player and probably the second best player on the team according to the coach, the late George Lott.

After Paul’s death, Lott explained how badly Frankie wanted to be on the team. “But I had eight or nine players who could beat him easily”, he said.

In trying to make sense of the tragedy, some of Paul’s fellow team members speculated that jealously may have been the motive for the slaying.

Mike Naughton was an assistant sports information director at the time. He explained how Frank went from team wannabe to team manager.

“Frank tried out for the team last year. He wanted to play really badly but he couldn’t make the grade. So he became the manager,” Naughton told the Chicago Tribune after the murder.

According to the Tribune article, the position of tennis team manager was created at DePaul just so Alerte could remain with the team in one capacity or another. As manager, Alerte was responsible for equipment, setting up matches, and making travel arrangements.

The night of the murder, when detectives showed up at the Alerte’s home at 8018 S. Peoria in Chicago, Frankie “conversed about his position as manager of the university’s tennis team”.

He had just taken the life of a beloved, vibrant, talented, intelligent, young man who had hosted him at his own dorm and the fact that he was the team manager was what he had to talk about with the cops who came to arrest him?

I am no psychiatrist but I wonder if Frankie had it in his mind that, if he got rid of Paul, that would open up a spot for him on the team he wanted so desperately to play on. If Lott shared with Frankie what he told The DePaulia, DePaul’s student newspaper, about having 8 or 9 players who could beat him, did Frankie think that eliminating one of those players could open the door for him?

I am not sure how Frankie ever came to DePaul in the first place. Somehow, after being expelled from “various schools”, he attended Loop College. One reason why Frankie was so much older than the rest of us (like Paul, I was in the Class of 1983 at DePaul) was because he kept dropping out – or flunking out – of DePaul. But, DePaul kept letting him back in.

I am curious as to how much DePaul knew about Alerte’s violent past and, if they did know, why did they keep letting him back in. Indeed, why did they admit someone like him the first place?

Was Frankie in some sort of Catholic program for “at-risk” kids such as what Jerry Sandusky had going near Penn State University and what many Catholic priests set up in inner-cities across the country?

Was the fact that Frankie’s father was a doctor and probably had a good salary a factor in admitting Frank, Jr. into DePaul’s School of Business?

Why did the athletic department create a manger position just for Frankie? Did the coaches or personnel feel at all threatened by him if they didn’t bend over backwards to please him? Did he show signs to them that he might return with a vengeance if they didn’t cater to his every want? Or, did they know of his violent past and simply try to appease him?

Frank C. Alerte, Jr. was convicted of murdering Paul C. Kelly in 1980. Alerte’s attorney tried the insanity defense but the jury didn’t buy it.

Frank Alerte holding paper in front of his face the morning after he killed Paul Kelly
Cowardly Man Walking in a Chicago Police Station the morning after he killed my friend Paul Kelly. Courtesy of The DePaulia

Dr. Fredric A. Gibbs testified for the defense, testifying that he believed Alerte had a type of epilepsy that does not produce seizures but can produce rage attacks. In 1969, at age 15, Alerte grabbed Gibbs by his necktie during an appointment and started dragging him toward an open window before someone intervened.

Also testifying for the defense was Dr. Frank Lorimer who shared with the jury his diagnosis of “limbic epilepsy”, “organic brain syndrome, non-psychotic with epilepsy”. He said Alerte was “in a psychotic phase because the defendant was in a distinct rage attack at the time”.

The state rebutted with testimony from Dr. John Hughes and Dr. Robert Reifman, a psychiatrist. Reifman had a more simple explanation for Alerte’s behavior: Narcissism.

During the closing arguments, the prosecutor suggested Frankie’s parents ought to also be charged along with their spoiled rotten son. “There should be two more chairs seated right next to that guy, and that’s for his parents. They should be on trial here, too, because it was them, along with him, that caused the death of [Paul Kelly].

He went on. “You heard all about [Alerte’s] life. Thank God you did, because you know how not to raise your kids…. We have learned that if you raise your kids like [Franck and Barbara Alerte] did, they’re going to kill somebody some day. If you give them everything they want, if you don’t deal with their problems,….. If you want to just send them to other people, some day, you may have a killer on your hands.”

The Illinois Appellate Court concurred that the evidence had shown that “the defendant’s parents spoiled him and did not discipline him properly”. After the first verdict was overturned, Alerte was re-tried for Paul’s murder in 1990. Ten years after taking Paul’s life, Alerte’s guilt was affirmed by the court.

After serving less than twenty years for killing Paul, Frankie got out and, before long, tried to kill a 60 year-old man. So, now he is back in prison and will not be up for parole until 2032 (unless some corrupt Illinois governor decides to open his cage before then).

In cases like this one, I cannot help but think of the image of a wolf among lambs. Maybe I got it from the bible. The blood-thirsty wolf is a symbol of viciousness, selfishness, hatred, and greed while the lambs are innocent, trusting, generous, unsuspecting, and vulnerable.

Does our society not have an obligation to protect our lambs from the predator wolves? With all the red flags raised in Frankie Alerte’s childhood and beyond, what the hell did anyone who knew him think was going to happen? That he’d go on to live an upstanding life somewhere, minding his own business, and becoming a productive member of society? Was the future they saw for Frankie one as an honest and law-abiding businessman? Seriously?

Many professionals including doctors, psychiatrists, specialists, law enforcement, and school administrators had all seen the red flags Frankie’s violent actions were setting off for most of his life. Yet, he was free to roam around freely, befriend unsuspecting citizens, and then commit a cold-blooded murder of a man who had shown nothing but light to this world.

Whatever led Frank Alerte to attack Paul Kelly, it never should have happened. He never should have been given the opportunity. With a record of violence like he had before he killed Paul, he never should have been free. He should have either been in prison or in a secure mental facility.

If he was given slaps on the wrist because his father was a prominent member of the city or if he was given a pass by Catholic priests who believe second, third, fourth, and fifth chances without any accountability are an expression of compassion, shame on every person who had a hand in creating the tragic crime scene that occurred outside of my dorm in 1980.

People v. Alerte Illinois Appellate Court Opinion filed December 30, 1983.

Frank C. Alerte, Jr. v. Kenneth McGinnis Director, Dept. of Correction of Illinois 1990.

People v. Alerte 1992

Also see Do you know Paul Kelly?, “Nicest kid I’d ever met”, Love, instead of Hate, and It Took a Dead Body.

Tomorrow’s post will wrap up the story of Paul Kelly, for now.