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'E.T.' Murder Inspired Neighbor to Write Acclaimed Play

By James Fanelli | October 30, 2015 7:48am
 Gail Mark
Gail Mark
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Courtesy of Gail Mark's Family

MURRAY HILL — The plot thickens.

The unsolved murder of a housewife 33 years ago by an assailant wearing her daughter's “E.T.” mask inspired a former neighbor to write an acclaimed play.

Playwright and novelist Laurence Klavan lived in the East 28th Street apartment building where Gail Mark was stabbed and garroted on Dec. 30, 1982. Mark’s husband, Franklin, owned the building and the married couple lived in a duplex there.

Klavan moved out of the unit he had above theirs a year before the killing, but said his experience living in the building and the grisly murder served as fodder for “The Summer Sublet,” a one-act play he wrote in 2001.

“It was clearly something that had an impact on me,” Klavan told DNAinfo New York.

Gail’s killing has never been solved, but NYPD detectives decided to re-investigate the case earlier this month after DNAinfo New York reported that Franklin’s sister believes he is responsible for Gail's death.

“The Summer Sublet” and the real-life killing share many similarities.

Klavan’s play is about 20-something tenant Lloyd who hears his landlord, Frank, and his wife, Bernice, fighting each night in the unit below him.

Franklin and Gail had a rocky relationship and she told a confidante she feared he would stab her, according to court documents.

Lloyd and Bernice — who acts as the building super making repairs in apartments — begin an affair unbeknownst to Frank, who works in the garment industry, has dubious ties to the mob and is being menaced by unidentified men.

Franklin worked in the garment industry and neighbors said strange men would come by the duplex and shout menacing things to him from the street.

The play ends with men who are possibly mob connected killing Bernice in her apartment after locking her and Frank’s young daughter in the bathroom.

Frank discovers his wife’s body and frees the girl.

Gail and Franklin had a 3-year-old daughter, Dawn. Gail's killer, wearing Dawn's "E.T." mask, locked the girl in a bathroom during the murder.

While the play pins Bernice’s murder on mob-connected figures, NYPD detectives who investigated Gail’s murder have always eyed — but never arrested — Franklin.

Klavan said he never spoke to Franklin but got to know Gail because she worked as the super in the building, donning overalls as she made repairs in the building’s units.

“She used to bring the kid up and the baby would be in the stroller,” he recalled of her fixing water damage in his apartment. “It was kind of unusual and quirky that she was the super.”

Klavan described Gail, who was 28 when she was killed, as beautiful and “salt of the earth.”

He learned about the killing when he saw it on the front page of the Daily News.

“Obviously, I was quite shocked,” he said.

Klavan, who has written two mystery books and graphic novels, said the killing stuck with him and it finally bubbled up from his subconscious when he wrote “A Summer Sublet” in 2001.

The play was produced that year as part of a one-act marathon at the Ensemble Studio Theater in Hell’s Kitchen. It was also collected in an anthology, “The Best American Short Plays 2000-2001.”

Klavan never mentioned that the play was inspired by Gail’s murder because he took liberties with the plot — and because by 2001 few people remembered the killing.

Gail’s sister Joan Fitzgerald was surprised when DNAinfo told her about the play’s origins but was eager to read it.

Fitzgerald said Gail, a high school dropout who was extremely bright, had literary ambitions of her own. She said she and Gail once even wrote a one-act they entered in the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival.

Gail also wrote a chilling poem called “Death March,” which talked about dying young and feeling empty, Fitzgerald said.

“I believe it was a premonition,” she said.