Investigation: The Franki Aymond story (Part I)
Did betrayal by Ohio State University lead a gifted young physicist to end her life?
On February 22, 2019, Frances "Franki" Aymond took her own life with an overdose of opioids. She was 30 years old, a graduate student in physics at the University of Texas, Austin, and beloved by her family and many friends.
Franki left a suicide note under her bed. It was written on a large piece of cardboard, perhaps four feet high and three feet wide.
"Monsters are real," it began.
"I was raped by one.
"Sometimes the monsters win.
"I apologize to anyone this monster hurts for not being able to stop him.
"I thought surviving might be enough but it's not.”
Franki went on to leave personal instructions for her friends and family, including for the care of her dog and two cats.
"Love, Franki," she signed off.
The man Franki accused of raping her is Andrew Krygier, a fellow physicist. The alleged rape took place in 2013, when Franki was a physics graduate student at Ohio State University (OSU) and Krygier was a post-doctoral scientist in the same research group. Krygier, today, does not want to talk about what happened. But at the time, he had plenty to say. In a long email just hours after the events, he told the head of their research group, Professor Richard Freeman, that Franki had raped him. OSU investigated that claim, and found it was not supported. Then OSU investigated Franki's accusation that Krygier raped her. The university could not come to any conclusions about that.
The two investigations left behind a paper trail of more than 400 pages of documents, as well as several audio files of interviews. The university has long had a bad and notorious national reputation for its failures to deal adequately with sexual misconduct accusations. The evidence suggests that the university did not do any better by Franki. Whatever the case, she had to leave OSU, although the circumstances of her departure are in dispute.
Krygier has gone on to a successful career in high energy density physics, the field both he and Franki specialized in. He is now at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, doing important research. Franki is gone, although she lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her.
This is her story.
A mathematical childhood
Frances Wright Aymond was born on October 22, 1988 in Dallas, Texas. Her mother is Pamela Buchmeyer, and her father is Rex Aymond. Pamela, whose father was a federal judge, is a lawyer and a writer; Rex had a long career in the sales of electronic components. In 1992, Pamela and Rex adopted Franki's sister, Robin. But when Franki was seven years old, her parents divorced. Both Pamela and Rex went on to marry other people. More than 19 months after her daughter's death, it is still too painful for Pamela to talk about it; but she has given her blessing to the telling of Franki's story.
Rex says that Franki showed signs of being a math wiz from a very young age. "We would be in line at the grocery story," Rex recalls, "and I would look down at her and say something like, 'What's the change for $17.28 from a twenty dollar bill?'" Franki would immediately chirp out the right amount. So when Franki reached the fourth grade, she began attending a magnet school that featured math competitions, and went on to attend high school at the Science and Engineering Magnet (SEM) in Dallas. In the ninth grade, Franki began taking college level courses in biological, chemistry, and physics.
One of Franki's best friends in high school was Thomas Jung, who was also born and raised in Dallas. Thomas was a sophomore when Franki came in as a freshman, but she soon skipped a grade and they became classmates. Thomas recalls her in calculus class. "She blew it out of the water," Thomas says. "She got a perfect score."
In high school, Thomas says, "I was an awkward, shy kind of guy. I felt like I didn't fit in very well. But Franki accepted everybody. She had the ability to look past what kids were wearing or how much money you had." Already in high school, Thomas says, Franki was showing clear signs of the commitment to social justice that would be a big part of the rest of her life.
Franki and Thomas were friends all through high school, and competed on the math team together. "She was intellectually on a different level," Thomas says. "She brought a whole new perspective to me." After Franki's parents divorced, her mother, Pamela, came out as gay. Thomas recalls how proud Franki was of her. "Coming from a conservative Korean background, I never imagined that was okay," Thomas says. "Franki explained to me what being gay was. She was very happy that her mother was able to finally be herself and who she wanted to be."
Having skipped a grade, Franki graduated from high school a year early, in 2006, with Highest Honors. It was clear she would go into the sciences. "She picked physics because it was the 'mathiest' of the sciences," Rex says. Franki was wait-listed by Harvard, MIT, and CalTech, but the University of Texas at Austin accepted her on the first pass. So off she went.
Franki at the University of Texas: Laser focused
Franki took to the University of Texas and to Austin like a duck to water. She quickly made new friends, and just as quickly, she jumped into the heart of high powered physics. UT Austin was, and is, home to one of the world's most powerful laser facilities, the Texas Petawatt Laser. Petawatt lasers generate light with at least a million billion watts of power--nearly 100 times the output of all the world's power plants--for very brief spurts of time.
It didn't take long before Franki and the laser met face to face.
"She was just a freshman," recalls Todd Ditmire, director of UT's Center for High Energy Density Science. One of the physics faculty was so impressed with Franki's performance in the physics lab that he brought her to meet Todd. "She spent four years here," Ditmire says. "She did her senior thesis here. She was so great, a real go-getter. I loved the heck out of Franki. People in physics can be awkward, but she was a dynamo."
"Franki was really popular with the grad students," recalls Kristina Serratto, who worked in the laser lab at the time. "She had a lot of friends. She was the life of the party, everyone liked her. She was fun, gregarious, outgoing, she had a good sense of humor. She was one of Todd's favorite students, they got on well."
Nirmala Kandadai was a graduate student in Ditmire's research group at the time Franki started working there. She and Franki became fast friends. Nirmala, who is now an assistant professor at Boise State University, says that Franki was "amazing" in everything she did. Even though Franki was still an undergraduate student, she and Nirmala tool a graduate course in non-linear optics together. "She did brilliantly."
But Franki was not just fanatic about physics. She was also an avid sports fan. "She taught me how to follow basketball," Nirmala says, "the game and league concept." When, in 2009, Nirmala went to India to get married, Franki traveled to Hyderabad to be at the wedding.
"Her family story was an open book and she was bright, extroverted, and happy," Nirmala adds.
Nirmala, and many other of Franki's friends, were also struck by Franki's strong sense of social justice. "She was always involved in a cause," Nirmala says. "From finding homes for homeless people--Franki knew all the homeless people on Austin's Guadalupe Street--to making a video for Omar Kokabee," a physics doctoral student at UT who was imprisoned for five years in Iran.
Franki had another good friend at UT. It was Thomas Jung, who entered the university at the same time to major in chemistry and Asian studies. During their sophomore year, Franki and Thomas decided to be roommates, and lived together for two years. "Franki was very much into her physics clique," Thomas says, but he and his girlfriend of the time would sometimes join in social events.
Then Thomas and his girlfriend split up, and Thomas fell into a depression. "Franki was there for me," he says. "She got me to go see a therapist." Thomas says that Franki dated a couple of people herself, and had one bad breakup that "affected her quite a bit." While they were just friends, Thomas says, "we always joked that if we were not married by 35 we would marry each other."
Thomas and Franki even traveled together, including a big trip to Korea and Japan.
Thomas says that Franki was a big advocate for women in the sciences. "She helped me understand what feminism was," Thomas says. "She said feminism was just about being equal, it wasn't like the other 'isms.'"
In 2010, Franki graduated from UT with her bachelor's degree. She had taken four years to get her degree, even though she already had 45 hours of credit from the college classes she took in high school.
"I asked her why it took her four years to get an undergraduate degree when she had such a big head start," Rex remembers. "She said, "Dad, I'm not going to be in grad school and one evening everyone says let's go have a beer and I have to say, sorry, I can't, I'm not 21.'"
The four years Franki spent as an undergraduate at UT Austin were probably the happiest of her life. Little did she know that a long and dark path loomed just ahead.
At OSU and in the UK, a dream turns into a nightmare
After graduation, Franki stayed in Austin for a while, continuing to work in Ditmire's lab. But one day OSU physicist Richard Freeman came to visit, and met Franki. He suggested that she come and do a PhD with her at OSU. Franki said yes.
At OSU, Franki stood out as a brilliant student, just as she had at UT Austin. Before long, Freeman offered her a very exciting opportunity: She would go to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, not far from Oxford in the UK, to do some experiments with British and American colleagues. Franki jumped at the chance. Also joining the team was Andrew Krygier, a postdoc in Freeman's group. And so in early August, 2013, Franki and Andrew flew from Columbus to Washington, D.C., and then on to London, where they made their way to the historic little town of Abingdon-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. On Sunday, August 4, they checked into their B&B, Kingfisher Barn, and then met up with friends and colleagues for drinks.
The following morning, August 5, Andrew Krygier sent Richard Freeman an email that would change Franki's life forever. He accused her of raping him earlier that morning.
I am extremely disturbed by some events that have occurred this evening/morning in Abingdon which require immediate action."
Krygier went to to describe how he and Franki met up with friends and colleagues in Abingdon for drinks, visiting two local pubs, the Nags Head and the King's Head and Bell. Then he and Franki left the pub and walked together to their B&B. At the B&B, they joined another group of what Krygier called "foreigners" partying in their room for about another hour. It was clear that both Franki and Krygier drank a fair bit that evening.
About 2 am, Krygier wrote, they went to their separate rooms and went to bed.
"At some point later I woke up, in my bed, with Franki on top of me, having sex with me. I had no interest or intention of having sex with her and more than a few people know that not only do I not like her or have any romantic interest in her, I actively dislike her."
Krygier went on to name people that he said he had told he did not like Franki. "I also have more than a few times sent comments to a wide range of people expressing my extreme dislike for her." (Exactly why Krygier did that has never been made clear.)
Krygier gave Freeman a few more details about what he claimed had happened, including his contention that Franki had climbed through a window to get into his room. He attached a photo of the small window he said she entered. Then he gave Freeman his bottom line:
"She cannot be part of this experiment and I absolutely refuse to have any professional or personal relationship of any kind from this moment forward. Frankly, I would be completely unsatisfied with anything less than a dismissal from the university."
The record of emails strongly suggests that Freeman did not question Krygier's story. At least, there is no evidence that he asked Franki to give her version of events. And what happened next would convince Franki from then on that Freeman, who was very good friends with Krygier's parents, could not be trusted to have her interests at heart.
It happened that Krygier's parents, Jim and Melissa, were vacationing in the UK at the time, not too far away from Abingdon. On Monday morning, August 5, Freeman emailed Franki to tell her that Andrew's father was going to come see her at her hotel:
Jim Krygier is coming to interview you late Tuesday
morning at your B&B concerning the incident of Sunday night.
You are to remain at your B&B and not attempt to go to RAL
You are to follow Jim's instructions to the letter.
We need to pause here and really focus on the implications of Freeman's email to Franki. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that after having a number of drinks, Franki really did enter Krygier's room and rape him. Rape is grievously wrong no matter who does it to whom. But to learn that the father of the man she was accused of raping was about to come into her B&B room and tell her what to do would have been deeply traumatizing. Now let's assume, as Franki claimed from the very beginning, that Krygier had raped her. Now, the father of the man who raped her was coming to her room to tell her what to do. The trauma from that prospect would have been even greater.
Fortunately, for reasons that have never been fully explained, Freeman and Jim Krygier thought the better of the plan, and Andrew's father never made an appearance at the B&B. Why they changed their minds has never been made clear, although the OSU investigators later found the idea to have been inappropriate and told Freeman so. In extensive email exchanges with me, many of which were off the record, Freeman never satisfactorily explained the change of mind either.
Instead, working with a colleague in the UK, Freeman arranged for Franki to return to OSU as quickly as possible. She was given no chance to talk to the local UK police, and in fact Freeman and others actively discouraged her from doing so. Franki, with a hazy memory of what had happened and still clearly in shock, did as she was told.
Franki, accused of rape and still in shock, returns to OSU to face an investigation
After her divorce from Rex, Franki's mother Pamela married Shellie Crandall, who works in what is known as the cash logistics industry (the handling of large amounts of cash, such as in armored trucks.) Pamela is still in too much pain over Franki's death to talk about her daughter, but she designated Shellie to relate what happened next.
When, on Freeman's instructions, Franki returned to Columbus, Ohio, home of OSU, Pamela and Shellie were there to meet her at the airport. "Franki told us that she and Andy had taken the flight to the UK together. They were both drinking on the plane, but at a certain point Franki stopped drinking. Andy kept on and became very inebriated. The stewardess had to cut him off." Franki told Pamela and Shellie that Krygier had, for some reason, talked about a date rape drug.
Franki told them that the morning of August 5, after she had supposedly raped Krygier, she went to the B&B lobby to meet up with him and other colleagues who were going to participate in the experiments at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. John Morrison, a former student of Freeman's who was going to work on the experiment with them at the RAL, said, "Franki there is a problem." She then got both a call and email from Freeman telling her she had to come home right away.
Pamela and Shellie were in Ohio at the time. "We had a small house in Cleveland, we spent summers there," Shellie says. Franki came to stay with them while they figured out what to do. Franki told Pamela and Shellie right away that she had been sexually assaulted. Pamela, a lawyer, arranged for tests to be done, including a test of Franki's hair to detect the possible presence of a date rape drug, but her hair tested negative.
"Franki was an emotional wreck," Shellie recalls. "We were not sure what had happened, whether she had been drugged or was intoxicated. Franki was doing everything she could not to get kicked out of the program."
Franki stayed in the Cleveland house for at least a week, during which she got emails from Freeman that were "very disturbing" to her, Shellie says. Franki also mentioned Freeman's plan to have Jim Krygier come to her B&B, a traumatic turn of events that she would tell friends about for much of the rest of her life.
"Franki got totally bullied," Shellie says. "She said, 'I didn't do anything, I was the one sexually assaulted.' She felt trapped and very pressured. It was like she was an embarrassment to Ohio State. She felt so ashamed and distraught. She knew that the Freemans and Krygiers were good friends."
In one of his email exchanges with this reporter, Freeman made a big point of the alleged fact that Franki did not tell him or others at OSU that Andrew had raped her until at least a couple of weeks later. Freeman claimed that Franki told everyone she did not remember anything. The implication was that Franki had made up her story that Andrew raped her to cover for what she had done. But there is another interpretation, of course: Andrew Krygier was the son of one of Freeman's best friends. Franki no longer trusted him.
While Franki was trying to understand what was going on and her family was trying to help her, OSU's disciplinary machine lurched into motion. On August 8, Justin Moses, director of the university's Student Conduct office, created a charge sheet on which Franki was accused of violating OSU Rule 3335-23-04, a long list of prohibited behavior. The specific charge was "Non-consensual sexual intercourse."
On August 9, Moses wrote to Franki, informing her of the charges--a second count of "Non-consensual sexual contact" had been added--and directing her to contact Student Conduct to make an appointment to discuss the charges.
Before that happened, however, Franki, together with Pamela and Shellie, went to see a student counselor to discuss the situation. Shellie remembers it very well.
"We were in the counselor's office," she says. "A lady gave Franki an email from Andrew saying various things. I never liked Franki and she raped me. The counselor said, 'Here's the other side of the story.' I was floored that the counselor would do that. It seemed the counselor was not neutral."
It was the first time Franki had seen the actual accusations from Krygier. "Franki was extremely distraught when she saw read that," Shellie says. At that point, Franki, along with Pamela and Shellie, decided to officially report Andrew for raping her.
The Student Conduct appointment took place on August 23, with Moses himself as the "Hearing Officer." Moses memorialized the meeting (or hearing, the notes refer to the session both ways) in six pages of "Meeting Notes." This would be the most detailed account of events reported by Franki herself, just 18 days after the events in Abingdon. Although what Franki said was inevitably filtered through Moses's note taking, some key points come through clearly:
-- "Franki commented that she barely knows Andrew Krygier... their interactions outside of work were pretty limited."
-- "Franki commented that she and Andrew Krygier left Columbus OH on August 3rd around 2:30 pm in the afternoon from the Columbia Airport... Prior to leaving the airport they did go to the bar and she had 1 drink (Columbus Brewing Company IPA--22oz) and Andrew had 2 drinks."
-- "Franki and Andrew arrived in a Washington D.C. airport between 3:30 and 4:00pm... [during their three hour layover before the flight to London Heathrow Airport] "she had two beers, and Andrew had approximately 4-5 alcoholic beverages..."
-- "During their time at the Columbus and DC airports Andrew spoke about his ex-girlfriend and he also made note of sexual relationships and encounters he had while he was in Europe in the past."
-- "Franki commented that he specifically discussed having to search for condoms while he was there on his last trip to Europe and provided some details about his sexual encounters on his previous trip... He also made a comment noting that he has had to buy some more condoms since he doesn't have a girlfriend right now."
-- "Prior to boarding the airplane to London, Andrew suggested that she sit next to him as there was more room in the section that he had bought a ticket in... [Franki told Moses that she did not sit next to him but in a seat nearby. Andrew continued to drink until the flight steward cut him off.]
(In the next page or two of notes, Franki describes the arrival at the hotel in Abingdon and the drinks she and Krygier had with colleagues, the party in the B&B, and so forth. These details are fairly consistent with Krygier's own account in his email to Freeman.)
-- "Franki commented that after she went to her room she did not leave her room nor did she enter or break into Andrew's room... Franki commented that she did not assault Andrew in any way and did not rape him or force herself on him sexually."
-- "Franki commented that when she woke up the next morning she was in her bedroom and she was nude.... She commented that she recalls Andrew being in her room that night and that he did not have any clothes on.... She also recalls some stains on her comforter but does not know the source of the stains. She does not remember the stains being there before she went to bed.... She also mentioned that she had bruisees on her arm and inner thigh."
-- "Franki commented that she feels that Andrew came into her room.... She noted that she believes she was the victim of a sexual assault and not Andrew."
The rest of the notes detail Franki's recollections about the aftermath, including Freeman's instructions to her to stay put until Jim Krygier arrived, her return to Columbus, and the efforts by her mother and Shellie to have the appropriate tests done. Franki described how they went to a hospital emergency room to get a rape kit done, but were told that too much time had passed. About the same time, she learned from an OSU physics department faculty member and a staff member that Krygier's allegations against her had already begun circulating in several OSU offices. Franki also asked why, if she had really raped Krygier, he and others in the UK, or Freeman, had not alerted the police.
A few further issues from Moses's notes:
-- "[Franki] also noted that that Rick Freeman seemed to believe Andrew's story and that no one asked her side of the story or explained any details of the allegation."
-- "The window in question to Andrew's room only opens a short distance and it would seem to be impossible for her to climb into the window. Franki also noted that at 5' tall it would not seem possible for her to be able to reach into the window and be able to unlock it."
Finally, the last entry in Moses's notes:
-- "Franki feels that by urging her to leave the country, not giving her details of the allegations, not contacting the authorities and telling her everything would be fine and this whole incident would go away, that University faculty members have made it impossible for her to collect evidence to properly defend herself."
A couple of weeks later, Franki was presented with the choice of accepting responsibility for the allegations against her or denying responsibility and requesting a formal hearing before the University Conduct Board, which included faculty members. Franki chose the latter course. That hearing took place on September 27, 2013.
On that same day, Frances "Franki" Aymond was exonerated of all charges against her.