Homicide detectives are investigating the mysterious death of an Orthodox Jewish man who begged for money outside synagogues, even though his massive collection of vintage TV photos was said to be worth millions of dollars.
55 year old Howard Frank was discovered floating face down in the Gowanus Canal on June 29th, a couple of days after he was last seen outside the Landau shul on Avenue “L” in Flatbush.
“I actually think he was murdered,” said shul regular, Aaron Farrell, when PIX 11 met him outside the synagogue on Friday. “He was always nervous the last few weeks. He was saying he owed $80,000 to someone and he was supposed to meet him.”
The money was apparently owed for Bensonhurst storage fees to house Howard Frank’s huge collection of one million photos ….of TV stars from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. He had ten thousand pictures of the late comedienne, Lucille Ball, and used to license them to magazines and other publications. He started collecting when he was 18, but his business took a “downturn” after the9/11 terror attacks hurt the economy. Still, Frank was trying to find ways to digitize his collection.
On Wednesday night, June 27th, other members of the Landau synagogue noticed Frank left much earlier than usual. His business partner of recent years, Frank Pohole, told PIX 11 that Howard Frank never made it home to Sunset Park, where Pohole had given the collector a place to sleep. Pohole was operating the website, Personality Photos.com, that sought to sell Howard Frank’s collection to serious bidders, if they were willing to offer “eight digits”. Those offering anything less were told to not bother contacting the site.
According to Howard Frank’s estranged brother, Reuven, acquaintances of Howard’s later said the troubled collector was telling them, “People were after him. They wanted to kill him.”
Some believe Howard Frank committed suicide, because he was evicted from his apartment several years ago, didn’t have a job, and owed money.
When we reached Frank Pohole on the phone Friday, we asked him about a document Howard Frank signed about a week before his death, putting a “lien” for $78,000 on his photo collection, in the event he died. This was to cover the storage fees he accumulated over the last, few years.
“Don’t you think it’s curious the timing of him signing this, and then he’s dead a week later?” PIX 11 asked Pohole.
Pohole responded, “Well, there were a lot of other things in Howard’s life he never told me about.”
Pohole suggested that Howard Frank was sharing information about Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community with others, and this could have angered some people.
“Howard kept a lot of things to himself,” Pohole told PIX 11. The business partner said he was cooperating fully with detectives from the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn and “I told them what I knew.”
When we asked Pohole about the “eight figures” he wanted, before selling the collection, he responded, “You start high, then you work your way somewhere else.”
Howard Frank’s collection contained publicity shots from famous series like “Bewitched”, “Gilligan’s Island,” and “The Partridge Family.” He also had pictures of film stars like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart.
Reuven Frank said his brother’s begging—and his photo collection—sometimes helped Frank Pohole pay bills. “He told me he was paying this guy’s property taxes,” Reuven Frank said.
Frank Pohole acknowledged that was the case, at times. He answered all the questions PIX 11 put to him freely.
Howard Frank’s body was prepared for burial by an Orthodox Jewish group, without his brother being consulted, and the family later contacted Shmarya Rosenberg at FailedMessiah.com, hoping to expand the investigation. Rosenberg wrote a lengthy article about the case, speaking to PIX 11 on Friday. Regarding reports that Howard Frank was troubled and suffering from some kind of mental illness, Rosenberg noted, “Most mentally ill people don’t commit suicide.”
Howard Frank had never threatened suicide, according to his brother and sister-in –law. “He wouldn’t kill himself,” said Barbara Frank. “He was eccentric, but he wouldn’t kill himself.”
Yet Frank sensed he was going to die, in the days before he turned up in the Gowanus Canal. “He was saying good-bye to friends and telling them, ‘nice knowing you,’” his brother said.