Leo Max Frank (April
17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was an American man who became the only known Jew to
be lynched on American soil.
The manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, Frank
was convicted in the rape and murder of a pencil-factory worker, 13-year-old
Mary Phagan. The case is widely regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice.
It was the focus of many conflicting cultural pressures, and
the jury's conclusion represented in part, class and regional resentment of
educated Northern industrialists who were perceived to be wielding too much
power in the South, threatening southern culture and morality.
The trial was sensationalized by the media. The Georgia
politician and publisher Tom Watson used the case to build personal political
power and support for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after Frank's conviction, new evidence emerged that
cast doubt on his guilt. After the governor commuted his death sentence to life
imprisonment, Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a group of
prominent citizens who called themselves the "Knights of Mary Phagan". The group
is reported to have included the son of a senator, a former governor, lawyers,
and a prosecutor.
Leo Frank was born in Cuero, Texas, to Rudolf
and Rae Frank. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, shortly after his birth.
He was a student at Brooklyn Public Schools and Pratt Institute, and graduated
from Cornell University.
Leo Frank earned an engineering degree at
Cornell in 1906, and married Lucille Selig in 1910. Lucille came
from a wealthy family of industrialists who two generations
earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta. An uncle of
Frank's was a Confederate veteran who owned a large share of
National Pencil Factory. Through that connection, Frank was hired
and promoted to factory superintendent. He had traveled to
Massachusetts, New York, and Germany for further apprenticeships
in pencil manufacturing. He was president of a local chapter of
the B'nai Brith. The Franks moved in a cultured and privileged
milieu whose leisure pursuits included opera, bridge and tennis.
Relation to Mary Phagan
Mary Phagan had begun working from a young age to support her
widowed mother and five siblings. By age thirteen, Phagan was living in an
Atlanta suburb. The week before her murder, a shortage of supplies at the
factory had led to a reduction in her hours. Her wages for the week came to
April 26, 1913,
celebrated locally as Confederate Memorial Day, she came to the factory to claim
her pay before going to see the parade. Her pay was issued to her by Frank.
At 3:00 a.m. on April 27, the police received a
call from the factory's night watchman, Newt Lee, reporting the
discovery of a dead girl.
When the police arrived at the factory, they found Phagan's
body in a dark, dirty basement. Phagan had been strangled with a 2-cm (3/4-inch)
cord, and apparently raped. Some evidence at the crime scene was lost, including
bloody fingerprints, and a trail in the dirt along which Phagan had been dragged.
At first Frank said that Lee's time card was complete. It was
supposed to be punched every half hour during the watchman's rounds. Later Frank
said Lee had not punched the card at three intervals.
The police investigated a variety of suspects, and arrested
both Lee and a young friend of Phagan's for the crime. Gradually they became
convinced that they were not the culprits. A detective sneaked into Lee's
apartment and found a blood-soaked shirt. The prosecution later claimed that the
shirt had been planted by Frank in order to incriminate Lee.
Suspicion did not at first fall on Frank. The police later
noted that he had not answered the phone when they called his house at 4 a.m.,
and that he seemed extremely nervous when they forced him to go to the factory
with them before dawn. They took his detailed answers on minor points as a sign
of suspicion. Frank was trembling so strongly that he could not carry out simple
physical tasks. Frank pointed out at the trial that the police had refused to
tell him the nature of their investigation when they came to his house and made
him accompany them.
The Atlanta Constitution broke the story. Soon there
was a frenzied competition for readers between the Constitution and the
Georgian, a formerly sedate local paper that had recently been bought by
the Hearst syndicate and revamped to compete using the standard Hearst formula
of yellow journalism. As many as 40 extra editions came out the day Phagan's
murder was reported. The Georgian published a doctored morgue photo of
Phagan, in which her head was shown spliced onto the body of another girl.
Some evidence went missing when it was 'borrowed' from the
police by reporters. The two papers offered a total of $1,800 in reward money
for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer. The reward offer
elicited many leads that the police found to be false or irrelevant.
Two notes were found in the plant, supposedly written by
Phagan as she was dying and accusing a "Negro" of killing her. These came to be
known as the "murder notes". Jim Conley, the plant's black janitor, later
claimed that the notes were dictated to him by Frank.
Suspicion falls on Frank
Phagan's friend, 13-year-old pencil factory
worker George Epps, came forward to say that Frank had flirted
with Phagan and had frightened her.
The police appeared to intimidate and influence witnesses,
such as Nina Formby, the madam of a bordello, and the Franks' housekeeper. They
both recanted statements made to the police after they were away from them,
Formby indicating the police had "plied her with whisky."
Frank hired two Pinkerton detectives to help him prove his
innocence. Some observers interpreted this negatively, as the Pinkerton agency
had a reputation as the violent enforcers for American industrialists. Frank
produced alibis for the entire time during which the crime could have been
committed. Suspicion was aroused by the fact that he waited a week to bring
forward one crucial witness, Lemmie Quinn, saying that he had forgotten.
Gradually, however, the Georgian began to take Frank's side, responding
to outrage from Atlanta's Jewish community. Meanwhile, the Constitution
continued to criticize the police for their lack of progress.
May 1, Jim
Conley, the pencil factory's janitor, was caught by the plant's
day watchman, E.F. Holloway, washing a shirt. Conley tried to hide
the shirt, then claimed the stains on the shirt were from rust.
Conley denied under oath that he had a grade-school education and
could read and write. This fact was crucial later with regard to
the murder notes. He had a record of drinking and violence and had
served a sentence on the chain gang.
The factory foreman Holloway told the Georgian that he
believed Conley "strangled Mary Phagan while about half drunk," resulting in a
May 28 headline reading "SUSPICION TURNED TO CONLEY; ACCUSED BY FACTORY FOREMAN."
Seeing the headline, Conley provided a new story: an agitated Frank, in a
dramatic meeting in the dark, made him hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by
two women, dictated the murder notes to him, gave him cigarettes, and told him
to leave the factory. Afterward, Conley went out drinking and saw a movie.
Phagan's $1.20 in pay had also disappeared, leading the police to wonder if
Conley might have killed her for the money. The police asked Frank to confront
Conley. Frank refused because his lawyer was out of town. Even when Rosser
returned, no meeting took place.
Under further pressure from the police about the
discrepancies in his story, Conley gave another version. In this account, Frank
asked Conley for help in moving Phagan's body and gave Conley $200. When the
police asked where the $200 was, Conley said that Frank had taken it back.
Conley also said that Frank told him on the day of the murder, "Why should I
hang? I have wealthy people in Brooklyn."
The Georgian hired William Smith to be Conley's lawyer
and offered to pay his fees. Smith was known for specializing in representing
black clients. Although this put Smith at the bottom of the professional totem
pole, he had successfully defended a black man against an accusation of rape by
a white woman. He had also taken an elderly black woman's civil case as far as
the state Supreme Court. Although Smith believed Conley had told the truth in
his third affidavit, he became concerned that Conley was giving long jailhouse
interviews with crowds of reporters. Smith was concerned about reporters from
the Hearst papers, who had taken Frank's side. Smith arranged for Conley to be
moved to a different jail. He also severed his own relationship with the
Two witnesses came forward to incriminate Conley. Will Green,
a carnival worker, said that he had been playing craps at the factory with
Conley and had run away when Conley had declared his intention to rob a girl who
walked by. William Mincey, an insurance salesman, had met a drunk Conley on the
street. He said that Conley, trying to brush Mincey off, said, "I have killed
one today and do not wish to kill another." Mincey had thought it was a joke.
Neither man testified in court.
On May 24, 1913, a murder indictment was
returned against Frank by a grand jury. The grand jury included five Jews and
author Lindemann suggests, "they were persuaded by the concrete evidence that [prosecutor]
Dorsey presented." Lindemann notes that none of Conley's testimony was presented
to the grand jury and that at criminal trial, Dorsey "explicitly denounced
racial anti-Semitism" and "indulged in ... philo-Semitic rhetoric."
Frank's trial began on July 28. A description and analysis of
this trial was given in The Trial of Leo Frank: An Account. Because of
the heat, the windows were left open. In addition to the hundreds of spectators
inside, a mob gathered outside the city hall to watch the trial through the
windows, a circumstance that became important as a factor in witness and jury
The prosecutor was Hugh M. Dorsey. Frank was
represented by eight lawyers (some of them jury selection
specialists), led by Luther Rosser. The defense used peremptory
challenges to eliminate the only two black jurors.
The prosecution's theory was that Conley's last affidavit was
true, Frank was the murderer, and the murder notes had been dictated by Frank in
an effort to pin the crime on Lee. The defense's theory was that Conley was the
murderer, and that Lee helped Conley write the notes. The defense brought
numerous witnesses who attested to Frank's alibi, which did not leave him enough
time to have committed the crime.
Conley reiterated his testimony from his final affidavit. He
added to it by describing Frank as regularly having sex with women in his
upstairs office on Saturdays while Conley kept a lookout. Another witness who,
like Conley, had a criminal record, testified to the same thing. Although Conley
admitted that he had changed his story and lied repeatedly, this did not damage
the prosecution's case as much as might have been expected. Conley admitted to
being an accessory, so it wasn't surprising that he had lied at first. Also,
many white observers did not believe that a black man could have been
intelligent enough to make up such a complicated story.
The Georgian said, 'Many people are arguing to
themselves that the negro, no matter how hard he tried or how generously he was
coached, still never could have framed up a story like the one he told unless
there was some foundation in fact.'
Defense witnesses testified that there were too many people
in the factory on Saturdays for Frank to have had trysts there. They pointed out
that the windows of Frank's office lacked curtains. A large number of female
factory workers testified for the defense of Frank's good character when it came
Frank spoke on his own behalf, by making an unsworn statement
as allowed by Georgia Code, Section 1036; it did not permit any cross-examination
without his consent. Most of his 4-hour speech consisted of an extremely long
and detailed analysis of the accounting work he had done the day of Phagan's
murder, meant to show that the act was too time-consuming for him to have
committed the murder. He ended with a description of how he viewed the crime,
including an effective, and by some accounts moving, explanation of his
Gentlemen, I was nervous. I was completely unstrung.
Imagine yourself called from sound slumber in the early hours of the morning
... To see that little girl on the dawn of womanhood so cruelly murdered — it
was a scene that would have melted stone.
In its closing statements, the defense attempted to divert
suspicion from Frank to Conley. Lead defense attorney Luther Rosser, said to the
jury: "Who is Conley? He is a dirty, filthy, black, drunken, lying, nigger." Leo
Frank himself had issued a widely publicized statement questioning how the "perjured
vaporizings of a black brute" could be accepted in testimony against him.
The prosecutor compared Frank to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He
said that Frank had killed Phagan to keep her from talking.
With the sensational coverage, public sentiment in Atlanta
turned strongly against Frank. The defense requested a mistrial because it felt
the jurors had been intimidated, but the motion was denied. In case of an
acquittal, the judge feared for the safety of Frank and his lawyers, so he
brokered a deal in which they would not be present when the verdict was read. On
August 25, 1913, Frank was convicted of murder.
The Constitution described the scene as Dorsey emerged
from the steps of city hall:
The solicitor reached no farther than the sidewalk. While
mounted men rode like Cossacks through the human swarm, three muscular men
slung Mr. Dorsey on their shoulders and passed him over the heads of the crowd
across the street."
Hugh Dorsey was later elected governor of Georgia.
Frank's appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court
failed in November. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar
denied a writ of habeas corpus sought by Frank's lawyers, and
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes also denied habeas
corpus, although he wrote a short opinion stating that "I very
seriously doubt if the petitioner ... has had due process of law
... because of the trial taking place in the presence of a hostile
demonstration and seemingly dangerous crowd, thought by the
presiding Judge to be ready for violence unless a verdict of
guilty was rendered."
Subsequently, Lamar granted a writ of error allowing Frank to
appeal to the full U.S. Supreme Court, which heard Frank's appeal in April 1915.
On April 19, in the case of
Frank v. Mangum Frank's appeal was denied on a 7-2 vote. Holmes and
Justice Charles Evans Hughes dissented, with Holmes writing that 'Mob law does
not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury.'
Populist politician and journalist Tom Watson continued his
campaign against Frank. He used the Jeffersonian to write, "If Frank's
rich connections keep on lying about this case, SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN."
Frank applied for clemency from the departing Governor of
Georgia, John M. Slaton. Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents and
examined new evidence that tended to incriminate Conley, including studies
comparing Conley's speech patterns to the language of the murder notes.
Convinced that Frank was innocent, on June 20, 1915, Slaton
commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison, "assuming that Frank's innocence
would eventually be fully established and he would be set free". "I can endure
misconstruction, abuse and condemnation," Slaton said, "but I cannot stand the
constant companionship of an accusing conscience which would remind me that I,
as governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right ... It means
that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing
in a field than to feel that I had that blood on my hands."
However, in his written decision, Slaton said of the US
Supreme Court opinion that there was "no error of law" in Frank's trial and that
"there was sufficient evidence to sustain the [guilty] verdict." On this latter
point, he said the Court had ruled "correctly in my judgement."
Furthermore, Slaton explicitly stated he was "sustaining the
jury, the judge, and the appellate tribunals." His reason for commuting Frank's
sentence to life imprisonment was that the Frank verdict fell in that "territory
'beyond a REASONABLE DOUBT and absolute certainty,' for which the law provides
in allowing life imprisonment instead of execution." On the matter of bias
against Frank as a Jew, Slaton wrote, "The charge against the State of Georgia
of racial prejudice is unfair."
The commutation was issued six days before the new governor
was to take office. According to Steve Oney, "I think Slaton made a decision of
conscience... That said, there was a clear and troubling appearance of a
conflict of interest." (Slaton was a law partner of Rosser, Frank's lead defense
Watson railed against the decision and urged the lynchings of
both Frank and Slaton. A mob threatened to attack the governor at home. A
detachment of the Georgia National Guard under the command of Major Asa Warren
Candler, along with county policemen and a group of Slaton's friends who were
sworn in as deputies, dispersed the mob. Around the same time, a fellow inmate
attempted to kill Frank, slashing his throat, but he recovered.
A group calling itself the "Knights of Mary Phagan" began
openly organizing a plan to kidnap Frank from the state prison farm and take him
to Marietta, 240 miles (386 km) away, to lynch him. They recruited between 25
and 28 men with the necessary skills. The ringleaders were:
Joseph Mackey Brown, (d. 1932) the former
governor who had threatened lynching during the clemency
Judge Newton (Newt) Morris
Eugene Herbert Clay, (d. 1923) son of a U.S.
senator, Alexander S. Clay, and former mayor of Marietta
John Tucker Dorsey, a lawyer and state
Fred Morris, a lawyer
Bolan Glover Brumby, owner of a furniture
Among the participants in Frank's lynching, the Washington
Post reported, 'Herbert Clay, son of a U.S. senator,... was perhaps the most
prominent person on the list. He was identified as one of the lynching's 'planners,'
as were Moultrie McKinney Sessions, a lawyer and banker, and John Tucker Dorsey,
a Georgia legislator and prosecutor. Others named as among the lynchers were
Gordon Baxter Gann, later mayor of Marietta and a state legislator; ... In all,
26 names were on the list, some of whom may never be adequately identified.
In addition to these leaders, the group also included a
doctor, another lawyer, and the former sheriff of Cobb County. John Tucker
Dorsey was also the solicitor general for the Blue Ridge Circuit and would
theoretically have been in charge of prosecuting the lynchers, none of whom were
On August 17, the Knights of Mary Phagan kidnapped Frank from
the prison farm. The kidnapping was highly organized. They forced their way into
the prison with a display of their weapons, and took Frank. The lynching site at
Frey's Gin, two miles (3 km) west of Marietta, had already been prepared,
complete with a rope and table supplied by conspirator Sheriff William Frey.
Frank's only requests were that they allow him to write a note to his wife, that
they return his wedding ring to his wife, and that they cover his lower body
before hanging him, since he was wearing nothing but a nightshirt. Frank's last
words were, "I think more of my wife and my mother than I do of my own life."
Frank's body was eventually transferred to an undertaker and
buried in the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing New York.
After Frank's lynching, approximately half of Georgia's 3,000
Jews left the state. Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Alfred Dreyfus.
The intensity of the national and international attention focused on the case
was comparable to that in the Lindbergh kidnapping. Frank's arrest and trial led
to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913.
Southerners who believed Frank was guilty saw similarities
between the Frank trial and The Birth of a Nation. Watson used sentiments
aroused by sensational coverage of the Frank trial to build up power. There was
class and sectional resentment against educated northern industrialists for whom
many southerners worked in factories. Some members of the lynching mob decided
to create a new Ku Klux Klan. The new Klan was inaugurated in 1915 at the top of
Stone Mountain, led by William J. Simmons, and attended by a few aging survivors
of the original Klan, along with members of the Knights of Mary Phagan.
Throughout the south, postcards featuring pictures of the Knights of Mary Phagan
posing with pride in front of Frank's dead body were made and sent to friends
and relatives. Pieces of cloth from the clothing Frank was wearing when he was
murdered were torn off of his body as souvenirs and bought and sold as
In keeping with fears of rapid social change in
America, including the waves of new Catholic and Jewish immigrants
from southern and eastern Europe that poured into late 19th and
early 20th century United States, the new Klan had an antisemitic,
anti-Catholic, and nativist slant. The Klan was able to tap into
fears aroused by staggering rates of population growth and
industrialization in major cities of the Midwest, such as Detroit,
Chicago, and Indianapolis, where the Klan grew rapidly. The Klan
also grew in Southern industrializing cities that grew rapidly
from 1910-1930, such as Dallas and Houston. In all these cities,
neighborhoods changed quickly, people moved from farms into cities
for the first time, competition for jobs and housing was fierce,
the housing market could not keep up with demand, and competition
led to violence among groups struggling for place. After World War
I, the Klan also grew as a result of postwar social strains, and
the effort to assimilate thousands of veterans in the job market.
In 1982, Alonzo Mann, by then an old man, volunteered that he
had seen Jim Conley dragging Mary Phagan's body at the factory. Mann swore in an
affidavit that Conley had threatened to kill him if he reported what he had seen.
Alonzo Mann died in 1985.
After a 1983 denial of a pardon, with Mann's testimony the
Anti-Defamation League convinced the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles
to grant Frank a posthumous pardon. On March 11, 1986, a pardon was issued by
Without attempting to address the question of guilt or
innocence, and in recognition of the State's failure to protect the person of
Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal
of his conviction, and in recognition of the State's failure to bring his
killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, the State Board of
Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory
authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon
Phagan's family continued to insist on Frank's guilt, even
after Conley's repeated confessions were revealed. They disassociated themselves
from the Klan's use of Phagan's murder to further its own purposes. Mary
Phagan's great-niece, also named Mary Phagan, wrote a book about the case in
The Leo Frank story has been explored in various art forms.
Most recently, the story was portrayed in The People v. Leo
Frank, a film by Ben Loeterman, which premieres on PBS on November 2, 2009.
Murder in Harlem (1935), by director Oscar Micheaux,
was one of three films Micheaux made based on events in the Leo Frank trial. He
portrayed the character analogous to Frank as guilty and set the film in New
York, removing sectional conflict as one of the cultural forces in the trial. In
this version the Frank character was instead a "Boston Brahmin". Micheaux's
first version was a silent film The Gunsaulus Mystery (1921). Lem
Hawkins Confession (1935) was also related to the Leo Frank trial.
The film They Won't Forget (1937) was inspired by the
Frank case, with the Leo Frank character portrayed as a Christian.
After the publication of 1980s testimony by Alonzo Mann, the
case was revisited in the 1988 made-for-TV movie, The Murder of Mary Phagan,
starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Gallagher, and Kevin Spacey.
David Mamet explored the case in his novel The Old
Religion (1997), using it to look at Jewish-American experience and history.
Playwright Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown
dramatized the Frank story in the musical Parade, produced on Broadway in
1998. It won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical.
Although it received mixed reviews and had a short run in New York, the
production started a national tour in 2000. Uhry, who grew up in Atlanta, had
personal knowledge of the Frank story, as his great-uncle owned the pencil
factory run by Leo Frank.
Leaders in the Jewish community worked to have the site of
Frank's lynching officially recognized. On March 7, 2008, a historical marker
was placed in front of the building at 1200 Roswell Rd in Marietta, near the
location where Frank was lynched:
"Rabbis, news crews, local politicians and onlookers
attended the unveiling of the marker Friday afternoon. Keynote speakers
included Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League;
Cobb [County] Chairman Sam Olens; former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes; state
Senator Steve Thompson; Rabbi Steven Lebow; Georgia Historical Society
President Todd Groce; and attorney Dale Schwartz."
The Trial of Leo Frank:
By Douglas O. Linder
The discovery of the body of a thirteen-year-old girl
in the basement of an
Atlanta pencil factory
where she had gone to collect her pay check shocked the citizens of
that crime-ravaged southern city and roused its public officials to
find a suspect and secure a conviction. Unfortunately, it now seems,
events and the South's anti-Semitism conspired to lead to the
conviction of the wrong man, the factory's Jewish superintendent, Leo
Frank. The case ultimately drew the attention of the United States
Supreme Court and the Governor of Georgia, but neither the
Constitution nor a Governor's commutation could spare Frank a violent
death at the end of rope strung from a
Georgia oak tree....
The Murder that Shocked
Around 3 a.m. on April 27, 1913, Newt Lee, the night
watchman for the National Pencil Factory, carried a lantern with him
to the factory basement to help him light his way to the "Negro toilet."
When his light fell upon a prone human form, Lee called
Atlanta police, who
arrived ten minutes later. The body was that of a thirteen-year-old
girl. Her skull was dented and caked with blood. A piece of jute
rope was wrapped around her neck. A worker at the factory called to
the scene identified the body: "Oh my God! That's Mary Phagan."
The murder of Mary Phagan shocked a city already reeling from crime,
violence, and desperate working conditions. Within the previous
Atlanta had experienced a
serious race riot and recorded the highest arrest rate of any major
city in the country. Child labor laws were widely ignored and children
worked for as little as 22 cents a week. The Mary Phagan murder
unleashed a pent up frustration with the pathological conditions of
the city. Ten thousand mourners lined up to view Phagan's body and an
angry citizenry demanded that the young girl's murder be avenged.
Atlanta's mayor told
police: "Find this murderer fast, or be fired!"
The crime scene investigation turned up two puzzling notes scrawled on
scraps of yellow paper. One seemed to identify the murderer ("a long
tall negro black that hoo it wase"), while the other suggested that
the writer was told by the actual murderer to throw suspicion
elsewhere ("he said he would love me...play like the night witch did
it but that long tall black negro did buy his slef.") Oddly,
detectives initially paid little attention to the notes, which would
later play a critical role in the trial and its subsequent review by
the governor, and focused more on other physical evidence. Detectives
seemed even less interested in another piece of evidence that would
influence later assessments of guilt: a human feces ("something that
looked like a person's stool," as it was later described) at the
bottom of the elevator shaft near where the body was found. When the
elevator descended to the basement, the foul odor that was released
eliminated doubts as to the nature of the substance. The sloppy
investigation also left untested bloody fingerprints on a basement
door and on the dead girl's jacket.
Ignoring some of the more obvious clues, authorities instead developed
a theory that the murder took place near a lathe in a workroom outside
Leo Frank's office and that the body was dragged to the elevator and
taken to the basement. The theory was based on what appeared to be
bloodstains near the lathe, as well as hair in the work area that
seemed to match that of Mary Phagan's.
Although suspicion at first had focused on the watchman, Newt Lee (who
was arrested, grilled for three days, and locked in the city jail),
testimony at a Coroner's inquest began to make police think that Frank
might have been the actual perpetrator. A young friend of Mary's,
George Epps, said that Mary said that Frank had made advances towards
her. Several other employees at the factory also claimed they had
seen Frank flirt with various females at the plant. An additional
development convinced Solicitor Hugh Dorsey that the time had come to
seek a murder indictment against Leo Frank. It came in the form of an
affidavit from Nina Formby, the owner of a "rooming house," stating
that Frank had made repeated calls to her on the day of the murder
attempting to reserve a room for himself and a girl. (Formby's claims
were later contradicted by the maid at the rooming house, who said no
calls were made that day and, if they had been made, she would have
picked up the phone.) On May 24, a grand jury granted the indictment
sought by Dorsey.
Even as the jury was indicting Frank, reports surfaced that a 27-year-old
black sweeper at the factory named Jim Conley admitted to having
written the murder notes found near Mary's body. Conley was the same
man who had been observed washing blood from a shirt by a foreman at
the plant--a piece of evidence that detectives were surprisingly
incurious about when they heard from the foreman two days after the
crime. Conley claimed that he wrote the murder notes at the behest of
Frank who, he said, had called him into his office the day before the
murder. The improbability of the plant superintendent taking a black
sweeper into his confidence concerning a murderous plot, and asking
him to pen such strange notes, was apparent to some in the press and
even to authorities who had trained their suspicion on Frank. Long
sessions with Conley produced a second, and then a third, affidavit
modifying the tale told in his original May 24 statement. In his
revised story, Conley claimed that Frank had asked him to guard the
door while he, presumably, engaged in some sexual activity with Phagan.
But things went wrong and Phagan fell against a machine in the metal
room and then Frank requested Conley's help in disposing of the body.
Together the two men dragged the body to the elevator, took it to the
basement, and dumped it in the corner. Only then, to throw police off
the track, did Frank ask Conley to write the two murder notes.
Authorities, seemed to view Conley's third affidavit as the nail in
Frank's coffin, calling it "the final and conclusive piece of evidence...against
Frank." Conley's admission caused the grand jury to move to indict
the sweeper, but it dropped the matter after Dorsey convinced them
that an indictment might jeopardize the state's case against Frank.
Hate for Leo Frank came easily for many in
was a Yankee Jew; Mary Phagan was (as one local man said) "our folks."
He became, in the words of historian John Higham, "a symbol of the
northern capitalist exploiting southern womanhood." The fact that the
violation occurred in the very factory where the young Mary worked
long hours for pitiful wages made the crime seem all the more
The Trial of Leo Frank
As the July 28 date for the opening of the Frank trial
Solicitor Dorsey, and Conley's own lawyer, William Smith, engaged Jim
Conley in what later be called "midnight séances": late-night sessions
designed to turn Conley into the most effective possible prosecution
witness. The men smoothed and refined the content of the sweeper’s
testimony, as well as educated him on the importance of maintaining
eye contact with the jury and other fine points of polished delivery.
Smith played the role of Frank's lead lawyer, Luther Rosser,
subjecting Conley to test-runs of what was expected to be one of the
roughest cross-examinations in
criminal trial history. Smith later candidly stated his primary goal
was "to render Conley impervious to cross-examination."
Judge Leonard Roan called the case of the State versus Leo M. Frank
under the tin ceiling of a courtroom in
Atlanta's City Hall.
After each side used its twenty peremptory challenges (the prosecution
struck all veniremen expressing opposition to capital punishment,
while the defense used two of its challenges to remove the two African-American
veniremen), a jury of twelve men, mostly under forty and married, was
Atlanta newspaper declared
the jury "much above average."
Fannie Coleman, the mother of
Mary, testified as the prosecution's first witness. She told jurors
that her daughter rose about 11:00 on Saturday, had a breakfast of
cabbage and bread, and left home for the pencil factory "about a
quarter to 12:00." The witness hid tears behind a large palm-leaf fan
as she identified the blood-stained clothes worn by Mary on the day
she last saw her. Fifteen-year-old George Epps followed Coleman to
the stand. Epps testified that on the day of the murder he rode the
streetcar with Mary to a stop near the pencil factory, where she
disembarked at 12:07.
Newt Lee provided the most important
testimony of the trial’s opening day. Lee testified that at 7:00 p.m. on the
evening of the murder he received a call from Frank (something that had never
happened before) asking if things were okay at the plant. After
telling jurors about his discovery of the body, Lee recalled what Frank told him
during a break in a joint late-night interview with police two days after the
murder. Complaining to Lee about his denials of any involvement with murder,
Frank said: “If you keep this up, we’ll both go to hell.”
Prosecutor Dorsey and
defense attorney Rosser fought each other to a rough draw over the several
detectives who took the stand. Dorsey elicited testimony that supported his
theory of the crime. He got officers to describe where Frank might
have obtained a cord such as the one found around Mary’s neck and how Frank
might have bolted the second-floor area in which the murder might have taken
place. He secured testimony concerning red spots, presumably blood, found on the
second-floor near the alleged murder site. He found a witness to report that
Frank’s wife had said her husband had downed whiskey on the night following the
crime. For his part, Rosser managed to raise doubts that the red spots were in
fact blood, got detectives to concede that the basement door was crowbarred (suggesting
the crime took place in the basement, not the second floor), and produced
testimony that a cord similar to that found on Mary could be found at many
places in the building.
Rosser, however, blew a great chance to
explode the prosecution’s theory of the murder. Rosser argued that Frank and
Conley took Mary’s body down the elevator shaft to the basement, and then dumped
it in a corner. The opportunity to challenge the theory came when detective
Boots Rogers testified what happened when they traveled down the elevator to
begin their investigation: “When we went down on the elevator, the elevator
mashed [human excrement]. You could smell it all around. It
looked like the ordinary healthy man’s excrement.” In his
statement to police, Jim Conley admitted depositing the excrement in the shaft—before
the time of the murder. Thus, if Rosser had been on his game, he might have
observed that the elevator, which always touches the bottom of the shaft, could
not have been used to carry Mary’s body if Conley’s time line was accurate.
But the moment passed.
Dr. Henry Harris, the doctor who conducted
the autopsy of Pagan, identified strangulation as the cause of death “beyond a
doubt.” He also concluded from nearly intact cabbage found inside the girl’s
stomach that Mary was killed only 30 to 45 minutes after finishing her late
breakfast at home. Harris also testified that “an injury had been
made in the vagina some little time before death.” He also claimed to have
found “evidence of violence in the neighborhood of the hymen.” (However,
another prosecution doctor on cross-examination said he "saw no indication of
injury to the hymen.")
most eagerly anticipated prosecution witness, the witness upon which the whole
case ultimately hinged, was Jim Conley. On the morning of his testimony, a
quarter-mile long line of would-be spectators stretched from the courthouse to
the state capitol. Conley, usually a man of shabby clothes and fifthy appearance,
wore new clothes and sported a neatly combed fresh haircut, as he walked to the
witness stand. Dorsey began his examination: "Do you know Leo Frank?"
A rapt courtroom listened as
Conley told his tale of the last hours of Mary Phagan’s life. Conley testified
that Frank told him that a girl would be coming by for “a chat” and that he
should listen for the superintendent’s foot stomp, which would be his signal to
lock the front door. When he heard Frank whistle, he was to unlock
the door. Conley told jurors that sometime after Mary arrived and went upstairs,
he heard a scream coming from the direction of the metal room.
Conley claimed to have then fallen asleep, to be woken by Frank’s stomping foot.
Later, after hearing a whistle, Conley said he went up to Frank’s office where
he found “Mr. Frank standing up there at the top of the step and shivering and
trembling and rubbing his hands.” Conley said his boss “had a
little rope in his hands” and “right funny” large eyes. According to Conley,
“I wanted to be with the little girl, and she refused me, and I
struck her and I guess I struck her too hard and she fell and hit her head
against something, and I don’t know how she got hurt. Of course
you know I ain’t built like other men.”
Mary Phagan was dead. Conley claimed Frank
said “there would be money in it for me” if he helped dispose of the body.
He claimed to have rolled the girl up in cloth and, with Frank’s help,
took the body to the basement by way of the elevator. The murder notes were
Frank’s idea, Conley testified. “Frank dictated the notes to me,”
Conley claimed. He testified that Frank looked to the ceiling and said, “Why
should I hang? I have wealthy friends in
Brooklyn.” Conley said that he promised to
return to the plant later and burn Phagan’s body in the basement furnace, but
that he ended up a saloon, got drunk and fell asleep, and so the final disposal
of the body never happened.
Conley testified that Mary Phagan was not
the first female he had known Frank to approach sexually:
had seen...a lady in his office, and she was sitting down in a chair and she had
her clothes up to here, and he was down on his knees, and she had her hands on
Mr. Frank. I have seen him another time there in the packing room with a young
lady lying on the table..."
Over three days and for sixteen
hours, the defense hammered away at Conley. They succeeded in getting Conley to
admit they he had lied several times to investigators and demonstrated that his
memory, except for events specifically asked about by the prosecutor, was
exceptionally poor. Still, however, for all of Luther Rosser's assumed prowess
as a master cross-examiner, Conley remained unshaken when it came to the key
parts of his testimony.
The defense had several goals.
First, they hoped to cast serious doubt on the prosecution's time line and show
that Frank had no opportunity to commit the murder at the time Conley said he
did. Second, the defense planned to produce a series of character witnesses who,
it hoped, would convince the jury that Leo Frank was not the type of man to
assault a thirteen-year-old worker at his plant. Third, it hoped that by
putting Frank himself on the stand they could present a more plausible account
for Phagan's murder, laying the deed squarely on Frank's principal accuser, Jim
the defense's time line witnesses managed to account for all but about eighteen
minutes (from 12:02 to 12:20) of the period of time in which the Phagan murder
had to have taken place. Witnesses directly contradicted Conley's account by
placing Frank at his home around 1:30 on the day of the murder.
Over one hundred defense
witnesses either attested to Frank's good behavior or Conley's bad behavior.
Nearly twenty witnesses testified that Conley had a reputation for lying. The
prosecution's attempted to undercut the defense effort by posing questions so
outrageous that even if met with a firm denial by the witness (as they almost
always were) they might damage Frank's reputation. For example, Dorsey asked
one witness if he'd ever heard of Frank taking a young girl to a park, setting
her on his lap, and "playing with her"? (This question prompted an outraged
Lucille Frank to rise and defend her husband, shouting at the prosecutor: "No,
nor you either--you dog!") Another witness was asked whether he had heard
stories of Frank "playing with nipples." Dorsey also hinted through his
questions on cross-examination that Frank was a homosexual, such as when the
prosecutor inquired of a young office boy whether Frank had made improper sexual
advances toward him.
On August 18, 1913, a pale Leo Frank, with hands clasped,
began four hours of testimony that included a personal history and explanation
of his supervisory duties at the pencil factory. On the day of the murder,
Frank said, he checked a large number of invoices to ensure their accuracy. He
was so occupied when Mary Phagan visited his office to collect her pay envelope.
Frank told jurors that at the time, he didn't even know her name: "I only
recognized this little girl from having seen her around the plant." Phagan took
her paycheck and left his office. Frank told jurors that he never saw Mary
alive again. He admitted to being "completely unstrung" by the discovery of the
body. He said the sight of "that little girl on the dawn of womanhood so
cruelly murdered" was "a scene that would have melted stone." Frank called
Conley's testimony "a tissue of lies from first to last" and said the story of
women coming to him "for immoral purposes is a base lie." He finished his
testimony with the words, "I have told you the truth, the whole truth."
Closing Arguments and the Verdict
Rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution testified
that Frank had a reputation for lasciviousness. Time and time again,
Dorsey asked a parade of female former employees at the pencil
factory to assess Frank’s reputation concerning “his attitude toward
women,” and witness after witness replied, “bad.” Most
damaging, sixteen-year-old Dewey Hall told jurors that she saw Frank
talking to Mary Phagan “sometimes two or three times a day” and that
she also saw him “put his hand on her shoulder.” Another witness
reported seeing Frank and a female worker slip into a dressing room
and “stay in there fifteen to thirty minutes.” None of
what the many female rebuttal witnesses had to say concerned the day
of Mary Phagan’s murder, but they left little doubt in jurors’ minds
that Frank was hardly a picture of moral rectitude.
In his closing argument for the prosecution,
Frank Hooper called Frank a “Dr. Jekyll” who, “when the shades of night come,
throws aside his mask of respectability and is transformed into a Mr. Hyde.” He
told jurors to secure justice for young Mary Phagan who “went blithely to get
her $1.20…not knowing the horrible death that awaited her.” Hooper
employed the region’s racial stereotyping to his advantage, arguing “You know
these negroes” and suggesting the thought that Jim “would have written those
notes by himself is absurd.”
Defense attorney Reuben Arnold argued that
Frank was a victim of rampant anti-Semitism. Frank’s great misfortune in this
Arnold said, is that he “comes from
a race of people that have made money.”
Arnold told jurors that “if Frank
hadn’t been a Jew he never would have been prosecuted.”
Turning to the prosecution’s
Arnold dismissed the
testimony of Frank’s lasciviousness as the bitter words “of
disgruntled former employees.”
“Deliver me from these prudish fellows that never look at a girl and
never puts his hand on her and is always talking about his own
virtue.” He reminded jurors that “we are not trying this man for
everything that might have been said about him; we are trying him
for murder.” The real criminal,
Arnold insisted, was Jim
Conley who “lay in his cell and conjured up” the “monstrous story”
he has told. The story was preposterous, he said, and contradicted
on numerous points by the evidence.
Arnold suggested that
the murder was committed by “a drunken, crazed negro, hard up for
money.” He theorized that when Conley grabbed for Mary’s bag, she
might have fallen and then been pushed into the nearby elevator
shaft. The several witnesses who placed Frank’s
whereabouts around the time of the murder made in “as clear as a
holy writ that Conley was lying.”
Luther Rosser followed his defense
colleague with an even more venomous, and undeniably racist, attack on the
prosecution’s chief witness. Rosser told jurors: “Conley is a plain, beastly,
drunken, filthy, lying nigger with a spreading nose through which probably tons
of cocaine have probably been sniffed.” The prosecution tutored
Conley and tried to “make him look like a respectable negro,” but the jurors
shouldn’t allow themselves to be fooled by “a trained parrot.” He concluded by
telling jurors that if they believed Jim Conley “it will be a shame on this
Hugh Dorsey, for the state of
Georgia, had the last word.
He accused the defense attorneys of appealing to racial prejudice to salvage a
losing case. He denied that Frank was prosecuted because he was a
Jew, observing: “This great people rise to heights sublime, but they sink to the
depths of degradation, too, and they are amenable to the same laws as you or I
and the black race.” Later in his argument, Dorsey faced Frank and stated the
prosecution’s theory of the murder: “You assaulted her, and she
resisted. She wouldn’t yield. You struck her and you ravished her
and she was unconscious.” You killed Mary Phagan, Dorsey told Frank, “to save
your reputation, because dead people tell no tales.” Concluding,
Dorsey said “there can be but one verdict” and that, he told the jury twelve
times between the rings of the bells of a nearby church as it signaled noon, is
The jury, balloting twice, deliberated less
than two hours. Asked by Judge Roan whether the jury had reached a verdict,
jury foreman Fred Wilburn replied: “We have, your honor. We have
found the defendant guilty.”
People leaving the courtroom were greeted
by an astonishing spectacle. For blocks around, cheering people filled the
The next day, Judge Roan pronounced
sentence. He ordered that on October 10, 1913, Leo Frank “be hanged by the neck
until he shall be dead, and may God have mercy on his soul."
Evidence and Appeals
While Frank settled into his cell at the Fulton County Tower,
his lawyers prepared a motion listing 115 reasons he was entitled to a new trial.
The reasons included Judge Roan's decision to leave Jim Conley's explicit sexual
testimony in the record and the alleged pre-trial bias of two of the jurors.
One of the jurors, buggy salesman Atticus Henslee, was quoted as telling fellow
members of the Atlanta Elks Club, two days after the indictment against Frank
was returned by the grand jury, "I'm glad they indicted the goddamn Jew. They
ought to take him out and lynch him, and if I get on that jury I'll hang that
Jew for sure." (The prosecution later countered the defense statement
concerning juror Henslee with surprising statements by fellow jurors that
Henslee was the lone hold-out for Frank on the first ballot.) The defense
motion also focused on the murder notes which Reuben Arnold described, in
arguments on the motion before Judge Roan, as "negro notes from beginning to end."
Arnold argued that it would make no sense for Frank to have ordered the notes
written since, according to Conley, he had also told Conley to burn the body in
the basement furnace to prevent its discovery. Arnold concluded his argument
with the words, "As God is in the heavens above, I believe that in yonder cell
rests an innocent man." Roan rejected the defense motion, but he added an
unusual personal statement. Roan said: "Gentlemen, I have thought about this
case more than any other I have ever tried. I am not certain of this man's
guilt...But I do not have to be convinced. The jury was convinced."
On February 17, 1914, the Supreme Court of Georgia, in a 142-page
decision, rejected Frank's appeal by a 4 to 2 vote. The two dissenters
concluded that Conley's testimony about Frank's sexual encounters was designed "to
prejudice the defendant in the minds of the jurors and thereby deprive him of a
In the weeks after the bad news from the Georgia's Supreme
Court, Frank took heart from developments that pointed towards his eventual
vindication. First came word that the hair found near Frank's office which the
prosecution claimed came from the head of Mary Phagan actually came from another
girl. The doctor who performed the microscopic examination of hair specimens
told reporters that he had informed the prosecution of his findings before the
trial, but that Hugh Dorsey said "he would let the matter end there." Then came
retractions. Nina Formby, who had in a May deposition said that Frank had
called her seeking a room for a romantic liaison with a girl, admitted that no
such call was ever made and claimed that two detectives had encouraged her to
swear falsely. Young George Epps also said that he was urged by investigators
to testify that Mary had told him that she was worried about Frank's sexual
advances. Also strengthening the defense case was a statement by a pencil
factory worker that Conley had attempted to sexually assault her, but that she
managed to escape by jumping to the stairs "and running as fast as I could." At
his March sentencing hearing, Frank confidently told the judge, "I am innocent
of this crime and the future will prove it."
Newspapers, previously silent on the question of Frank's
guilt, began to take sides. The Atlanta Journal ran a headline, "Frank Should
Have a New Trial." The New York Times crusaded for Frank's cause, running
twenty-five articles on the case over the course of a month, including one
headline that read: "Frank Convicted by Public Clamor." Meanwhile, Tom Watson,
publisher of a populist (and popular) magazine campaigned non-stop for Frank's
execution. Watson argued that Frank, the "decadent offshoot of a great people,"
was suggesting that he was getting special treatment "because
of his race."
While the debate over Frank's guilt or
innocence intensified, Jim Conley was tried and convicted for his role as an
aider and abettor in the Phagan murder. Conley received a one-year sentence.
Based on the new evidence, the defense
filed what was called in Georgia practice an extraordinary motion. The defense
motion cited the recent wave of retractions, the revelation about the hair
evidence, and an affidavit by Annie Maude Carter, who said that in return for
her accepting his jailhouse offer of marriage, he confessed to murdering Mary
Phagan. Carter said that Conley admitted to striking Mary with his fist, "knocking
her down" and "dropping her through the [scuttle] hole" to the basement, and
then hitting on a plan to lay the blame on the night watchman, Newt Lee. A
statement by the pastor at the Plum Street Baptist Church was also included in
the defense document. The pastor said that he had overheard Conley confess his
crime to another man in an alley two nights after the murder. Unfortunately for
the defense, the pastor later admitted that his statement was false and that he
offered the statement because defense attorneys and investigators "were just
handing money out." The fiasco with the pastor, and the resulting publicity
concerning the techniques of defense investigators, doomed the defense's
extraordinary motion. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the denial of
a new trial. One dissenting justice found merit in the defense claim that the
enforced absence of Frank from the courtroom at the announcement of his verdict
(a move proposed by Judge Roan to protect the defendant's safety from the mob)
violated Frank's right to due process of law.
The defense's next step was to file for a
writ of habeas corpus in federal court arguing that the prejudicial courtroom
atmosphere and Judge Roan's exclusion of Frank from the courtroom violated the
U. S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. Following the expected rejection of
the writ in federal district court in Georgia, the United States Supreme Court
agreed to hear the case. On April 19, 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that errors
of law, such as cited by the defense in its brief, could not be reviewed by
habeas corpus. Justice Oliver Wendell Homes and Chief Justice Charles Evans
Hughes dissented. The dissenters found "the presumption overwhelming that the
jury responded to the passions of the mob." Holmes wrote that "Mob law does not
become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury."
and the Case's Tragic End
After Georgia's Prison Commissioners voted
2 to 1 to refuse clemency, Frank's last hope lay with Georgia's soon-to-be-departing
governor, John M. Slaton. The defense case for clemency was bolstered by the
unusual admission by Jim Conley's own lawyer, William M. Smith, that his client
had murdered Mary Phagan. Smith said that with his client convicted for a crime
that he could not be re-tried, he now saw it as his duty to step forward and try
to save an innocent life. Over 100,000 letters requesting commutation poured
into the Georgia Governor's office. On the other hand, firebrand Tom Watson
warned that if the decision of the jury and the courts were to be undone "there
will almost inevitably be the bloodiest riot known in the history of the South."
Privately, Watson let it be known to Slaton that he would throw his important
support behind a Senate bid if only the governor would let Frank hang.
Slaton, however, took his responsibilities
seriously. He carefully reviewed the record and he considered a letter from
Judge Roan asking him to rectify the mistake he had made in sentencing Frank to
death. He paid special attention to Smith's statement concerning Conley's
alleged confession and to Conley's murder notes. Finally, after completing his
review, Slaton told his wife: "I may mean my death or worse, but I have ordered
the sentence commuted." Before public announcement of his decision, Governor
Slaton ordered Frank transported from the Atlanta jail to Georgia's prison farm
at Milledgeville, where he believed Frank could be better protected. Slaton's
order commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison. Privately, Slaton told
friends that he believed Frank was innocent, and that once the public came
around to the same conclusion, if would be safe for the next governor to grant
Frank a full pardon. When the announcement of the commutation came, protesters
demonstrated and burned Slaton in effigy. A dummy hanging in Phagan's hometown
of Marrietta bore a sign: "John M. Slaton, King of the Jews and Georgia's
Traitor Forever." A battalion of the state militia surrounding the governor's
home fended off a stone and bottle-hurling mob.
For four weeks, Frank worked on the prison
farm, wrote letters, and dreamed of the freedom that he thought was now sure to
come. "Right and justice," he wrote to a friend, would soon hold "complete sway."
More immediate concerns soon pressed in when a fellow convict took a butcher
knife to the throat of Frank as he slept on a cot. Quick work by prison doctors
stopped the flow of blood from the seven-inch long slash wound and Frank, to the
surprise of many, survived the attack. Frank declared his recovery "little
short of miraculous" and saw it as sign that "the good Lord must have in store
for me a brighter and happier day." Such was not to be.
One month after the near fatal attack, on
August 16, 1915, a mob of twenty-five men from Marietta stormed the prison farm
at Milledgeville. The band included a clergyman, two former judges, and an
ex-sheriff. Some men captured and handcuffed the prison's superintendent and
warden while others overpowered the two guards on duty. The mob seized Frank
and drove several hours through the night to a grove near Marietta. An effort
was made to secure from Frank a confession, but the captive continued to protest
his innocence to a degree that unnerved some of his captors. The lynching plot
might even have been abandoned, several involved later reported, had the problem
of driving Frank back to Milledgeville, in the face of a statewide manhunt, not
been apparent. Several of the more determined lynchers took Frank to a large
oak tree and placed a rope around his neck. Frank refused the offer of a last
statement, but removed his wedding ring and asked that it be returned to his
wife. The abductors hoisted Frank to the top of a table placed under the tree
and then kicked the table out from underneath him. Later, hundreds of people
would come to see Frank's suspended body and tear pieces of his nightshirt to
save as souvenirs.
The case spurred an interest in forming
organizations. A short time after the lynching of Leo Frank, thirty-three
members of the group that called itself the Knights of Mary Phagan gathered on a
mountaintop near Atlanta and formed the new Ku Klux Klan of Georgia. Meanwhile,
members of an outraged Jewish community met to create the Anti-Defamation League
to combat anti-Semitism.
The trial also helped catapult Hugh Dorsey
to the Georgia governorship in 1916.
Condemned an Innocent Man to Die?
Is Leo Frank Guilty
of Murder or Has Race Prejudice Blinded Justice?
"Caught as a bird in a net"
Kansas City Star
January 17, 1915
Leo M. Frank, a Jew, graduate or
University, president of
the B’Nai Brith of Atlanta, Ga., is under sentence of death in that city for the
murder of a 14-year-old girl who worked in a pencil factory of which he was
Frank is 30 years old. His wife is a member of one of the best
Jewish families in
It is the contention of Frank and his friends that he is innocent’
that there was and is not any evidence that points to his guilt, or that even
points the fingers of suspicion to him; that the real murderer is a negro who
gave the testimony that convicted Frank; that the trial of Frank established
beyond doubt the guilt of the negro that the police and the newspapers of
Atlanta well know this to be true; but that the authorities and the newspapers
of Atlanta were goaded on by public sentiment and a mob spirit to the sacrifice
of Frank largely because he was a Jew accused of murdering a Gentile girl.
Franks and his friends contend that this racial prejudice and
passion for his sacrifice dominated the court that condemned him, and that his
trial was unfair; that the jury knew it would be lynched had it acquitted him;
that his same inflamed prejudice spread throughout the state of
influenced the supreme court that denied him a new trial.
Frank’s case is in the supreme court of the
United States. If it
refuses to interfere he will surely be hanged.
The Frank case is attracting wide attention throughout the Northern
states. Jewish men of greatest prominence have interested themselves in his
behalf, solely because they believe he is innocent and was convicted largely
because of racial prejudice. The case will go down in history as
one of the most remarkable in American jurisprudence.
The Star sent a reported to
Atlanta to investigate the Frank
case, to learn if his trail measured up to the American standard of fair play to
which every man accused of crime is entitled, no matter what his race, creed or
condition in life.
This reporter, in his investigation, paid no heed to gossip or
rumor. He went for his facts to the court records and to newspaper files.
By A. B. McDonald.
Chapter 1—The Crime
Mary Phagan was 14 years old. She was unusually attractive. She
had appeared as “The Sleeping Beauty” in a play in her church. Everyone in her
neighborhood liked her. Mary lived in a suburb of
Atlanta and worked in a pencil
factory downtown. She operated a machine that put metal tips on pencils.
Saturday, April 26, 1913, was a holiday. It was “Confederate Day,” when the
veterans of the Southern army paraded and decorated the graves of fallen
comrades. That morning Mary’s mother dressed the girl in a new
gown and tied new ribbon bows on the braids of her golden hair that fell below
her waist. and sent her to town to see the parade.
Mary had worked only one day that week, Monday, because the factory had run out
of metal pencil tips, and she had $1.20 in wages coming to her. She went first
to the factory to get her money. Saturday was the regular pay day, but this
being a holiday the factory help had been paid Friday, and the factory was
closed. Mary did not know that until she reached the factory.
She went in the front door, which opens of the sidewalk, went in to the foot of
a stairway and up it to the second floor, where Leo M. Frank was busy on the
books, trying to catch up with his work. She asked him for her pay envelope; he
gave it to her from the safe, and, he says, she went out turning at the office
door to ask him if the metal for the tips had come. He answered
“No,” and went on with his work. He says he heard her footsteps go down to the
head of the stairway. A little later he thought he heard a woman’s
voice, but was not sure.
Mary was never seen alive again.
The next morning, at 3 o’clock, Newt Lee, negro night watchman in the pencil
factory, found the body of the murdered girl in the rear end of the basement of
the pencil factory. Her face was so blackened with ashes, cinders and blood
that he could not tell whether she was a white girl or a negress.
He called the police by telephone and told them.
The police who got that there first could only tell that she was a white girl by
raising her dress and looking at her knee, the cinders of the cellar had been so
ground into her face and hands. Her mouth and nose were filled with ashes which
she had breathed in her struggle for life. Cinders were packed
beneath her finger nails.
This would seem to indicate that she had been killed in the basement, which was
unfloored and covered with cinders and ashes form the boiler.
Upon the left side of her head was a long gash made with a club or by falling
against some sharp cornered thing. It ripped the scalp open and the blood that
flowed from it had matted her hair, but all the doctors agreed that while this
blow stunned her is would not have killed her.
She had been strangled to death. The murderer had first torn a strip form her
underskirt and wrapped it around her face and neck, probably as a gag, and had
then looped a cord around her neck and drawn it so tightly that her tongue
One of the girl’s undergarments was torn open on the seam from the bottom of its
leg up almost to the waistline.
It was established at the trial that she had not been outraged. There were no
wounds except the one upon the head.
Beside the body were two noted written upon in lead pencil in a scrawl that was
deciphered with difficulty. The pad from which one of the papers was torn, and
the pencil with which it was written, lay close to the notes.
One of the notes, with two words stricken out read:
Mam that negro hire down here did this I went to make water and he
push me down that hole a long tall negro black that hoo it was, long sleam
tall negro. I wright while play with me.
The other note read:
he said he wood love me, laid down, play like the night witch did it, but that
long all black negro did buy his self.
Near the boiler, several feet from the body, one of the girl’s slippers and her
had was found. But the bunch of red flowers was gone from here hat and it and
her mesh bag and pay envelope were never found.
The murderer of Mary Phagan had escaped by
the back door of the basement which opened upon an alley. He had pried off the
lock and staple with a piece of iron pipe, and there were bloody fingers prints
upon the door where he had laid his hand upon it to slide it back.
Passion and Prejudice.
To understand the public hysteria which followed the discovery of Mary Phagan’s
body, one must know that there had been a series of mysterious murders in
Atlanta. There had been a “Jack the
Ripper” who went about tat night slashing women with a sharp blade.
He was never discovered. Several murders had been done, and the
mysteries unsolved. The police were in bad repute.
And here was another murder, more revolting and pitiful than any that had gone
before, and as the horror of it grew, so grew the public frenzy and the demand
the police find the murderer. The newspapers of Monday after the body of Mary
was found said that ten thousand persons surrounded the morgue where her body
lay, and they clamored for vengeance.
The murder was done at noon, on a main street, in the heart of the business
section, only a black from the office of the Atlanta Constitution. While the
girls as being strangled to death persons must have passed on the sidewalk only
a few feet away.
The very boldness of the crime added fuel to the public delirium and the demand
upon the police to find the murderer.
And the police, in their eagerness to solve the mystery, went at it in a
blundering and floundering way. This is proved by the fact that at first they
attached no importance to the noted they by the body. There
actually given to a newspaper reported to copy and then thrown into a
wastebasket, but were afterward recovered. And yet, everyone knew now, and an
astute detective would have known then, that to find the murderer it was only
necessary to find the man who wrote the notes.
A few hours after the girl’s body was found the police took Frank to the
undertaker’s to identify her if he could. He was suddenly aroused in his home
and taken without breakfast to a dark room, a light was flashed on and he saw
the girl found murdered in the cellar of his factory and murdered, too, while he
was in the factory. He was nervous.
The news of his nervousness spread over the city, magnified an hundred fold as
it went from mouth to mouth, Frank had lived in
Atlanta only four years, coming there from
Brooklyn. This “sweat-shop Jew, employer of
the white girls of the South.” was nervous when confronted with the body of one
of his “white-slaves” found strangled to death in his factory.
They said he would not look at her, that he hung back and dodged into a side
room, that he trembled and shook.
It was evidence of his guilt then. It was the principal evidence, outside of a
negro’s testimony, at his trial.
And yet it was proved at the trial that he did go a second time to the morgue,
alone, to examine for himself the rope about her neck.
When this came out during the trial they aid he went there to gloat over his
His nervousness that Sunday morning was his first undoing. His calm demeanor
during the trail was one of the damning things against him, emphasized by the
The murder was on a Saturday, Frank was arrested Monday, the two chief points
against him being his nervousness at the morgue and that he as the last person
known to have seen the girls alive.
No one, as yet had attached any importance to the notes found by the body. The
police were busy upon one theory only—that Frank was guilty.
The mayor called upon the police to find the murderer or quit their jobs. The
Atlanta Constitution printed on its first page a cartoon with
Atlanta as a woman pointing at a
door marked “Detective Department” and saying: “I wonder if they are all asleep
The newspapers screamed. The most incredible stories were told, the city was in
The will tell you now in
Atlanta that there was no prejudice
against Frank because he was a Jew.
Watson’s Magazine, with a wide circulation in
Georgia, reviewed the Leo
Frank case in its January issue of this year, 1915. From that article is taken
the following extract:
Leo Frank came down form
New York, to take charge of a
factory where young Gentile girls worked for Hebrews, at a wage scale of $5 to
$6 a week.
Leo Frank was a typical young Jewish man of business who loves pleasure, and
runs after Gentile girls. Every student of sociology knows that the black man’s
lust after the white woman is not much fiercer than the lust of eh licentious
Jew for the Gentile.
Leo Frank was reared in the environment of “the gentleman friend,” whose
financial aid is necessary to the $5-a-week girl. he lived many years in that
atmosphere. he came in contact with the young women who are paid
the $5-a-week, and who are expected to clothe themselves, find decent lodgings,
and pay doctor’s bills of the regular wage of $5 a week.
Leo Frank knew what this system meant to the girls. In fact, we all know what
it means, but we don’t like to say so.
Doctor McKelway analyzed the crime for the
Atlanta and wrote: “If children of
such tender years were not forced to work in sweatshops Mary Phagan might yet be
The newspapers of
Georgia have been full of
that sort of argument since the day Frank was arrested.
The most outrageous stories about him have been printed and told, and are yet
believed and told.
Only last week , in an article written for an Augusta paper appealing against
any interference with the death penalty, a former governor of Georgia spoke of
the “double crime” committed against Mary Phagan.
It is believed everywhere that she was
outraged. But the evidence at the trial proves that she was not.
To even mention all the stories that were told, and are yet told, would fill a
newspaper, and all of them were false. They said that the assailant of Mary
Phagan had stabbed her body in many places with a knife, a Durant had done to
his victim in the church tower in
“There was no mutilation at all on the body,” was the testimony of W. II.
Ghoosling, the undertaker.
Dr. J. W. Hurt, county physician, testified: “There was no lacerations, no
mutilation on the body. I found no signs of outrage.”
Stories were told, then and now, and believed, that Frank drank heavily: that he
had killed one wife in
Brooklyn and that he had several children born
out of wedlock.
But the most cruel story of all was that Frank was a pervert. This is believed
everywhere to this day in
Georgia, but there has
never been a word of proof of it, and a reward of $5,000 has been offered for
proof that Frank was ever guilty of one act of perversion, or even immorality.
Detectives have followed his trail form schoolboy days up to now, and not one
act or word that would reflect against his good character has eve been found.
If it had been found it would have been produced against him at his trial.
An examination of the files of the newspapers of
Atlanta in the days between his
arrest and conviction show in what manner they fed the fire of slander and
falsehood against Frank. A day or two after his arrest flaming headlines told
how a man had caught Frank with a girl in Druid Hill woods and how Franks had
begged off. The author of this story posed for his picture, which
was a first page sensation that day.
Yet a day or two later the man who told the story pointed out a young lawyer as
the man was Frank.
Then came the Formby woman’s affidavit, which was heralded in the papers. She
kept a disreputable house and swore that on the evening of the murder Frank
telephoned her frantically that he wanted a room” he had a young girl and “it
was a matter of life and death.”
Another version of this story, circulated on the streets, was that after Frank
murdered the girl he carried her in a sack to this woman’s house, but she made
him carry it out again, and he took the body back to his factory.
Later it was proved that at the time the woman said Frank telephoned her he was
at a card party in his own home, that his telephone was in plain hearing of his
guests, that his telephone was on a system different from that in the woman’s
house, and he could not have telephoned her if he wished to.
Then she repudiated here affidavit and made another in which she swore that the
police who had here in their power plied her with liquor and got her to swear to
the first one incrimination Franks. But the story had already done its part in
creating prejudice against Frank.
The air was filled with a welter of rumors
which continued to grow and spread. He as a rich Jew, they said, although the
fact was proved at this trial that his salary was only $15 a month, and his
invalid father had to mortgage his home for money to hire lawyers to defend him.
One of the stories, believed everywhere in
Georgia, is that for a
week after Frank’s arrest his wife did not go near him, and that the reason was
she knew he was guilty. Added to this was the rumor that she had already
consulted a lawyer about suing him for divorce before the murder.
The truth is that the very moment Mrs. Frank learned of her husband’s arrest she
hurried to the police station, but was advised by her pastor, Rabbi Marx, to
return to her home. He told her Frank would be out before night.
In proof of this the following paragraph is taken form the Atlanta Constitution
of that day:
“While her husband was being sweated by the detectives, the beautiful young wife
of the factory superintendent, tearful and anxious, came to police headquarters.
She was accompanied by friends. Denied admission to the floor on
which her husband sat, she was led, weeping bitterly, into “the
probation officer’s room. Frank was not aware of her presence at
When Frank was taken to the jail she was there at the door waiting for him. She
has been with him every day since, throughout the trial and all.
In this period of public hysteria Minola McKnight, servant in the home of
Frank’s father-in-law, where Frank and his wife lived, made an affidavit in
which she said that the night after Mary Phagan was murdered Frank told his wife
to get up and get his revolver, he had got in trouble with a girl at the factory
and intended to kill himself, and that he forced his wife that night to sleep on
This, on the first pages of the newspapers, caused tremendous excitement and
prejudice against Frank.
But at the trial Mrs. McKnight testified that none of this was true. She said
the police arrested her, took in the patrol wagon to headquarters and made her
sign the affidavit.
“They told me if I didn’t sign it they were going to keep me locked up. That
man there (indicating) and that man made me sign it,” is her testimony taken
from the court record of the trial.
A boy, George Epps, told that he rode to town with Mary on the street car the
day she was murdered and she told him Frank had made advance to her and she was
afraid of him. This was a newspaper sensation, too, but later it was proved
beyond doubt that Epps lied, and even the police had to say so.
They sent him to the workhouse.
There are only a few of the stories now admitted to be false, circulated against
Frank in those days of excitement. They fixed the crime upon him in the public
mind. The South was ready to believe anything bad about this Jew
from the North who employed their girls. They forgot all of his past good
character and saw him only as a fiend. There were too frenzied,
too much controlled by bitter hate to sift the false from the true and see the
inconsistencies in the framework of evidence being built up against Frank.
The Police Net
It is important to know that Frank himself was the first one to tell the police
that he was at work in his factory office and that Mary came to him for her pay
at noon that Saturday. He concealed nothing. He made a full
statement to the police Sunday morning of all his movements that day. He
repeated that statement to the police Monday and it was put in writing.
He made it again under oath at the inquest that week and the newspapers
printed it. He told it again to the court and jury in his trial, and, note this,
it was the same story from beginning to end. When he came to trial
it was not necessary for him to change even a minute of the times and incidents
of the story as he first gave it under the stress of excitement that Sunday
morning when the police came to his home, before breakfast, before he was
dressed, and fist broke the news to him that a girl had been found murdered in
One of the first things that Frank did in the week following the murder was to
induce the factory owners to hire a Pinkerton detective to help the police find
the murderer. This was used against him, as an evidence of his guilt.
But it was proved that Frank said to the detective: “You find the
murderer, not matter who it involves.
It was also told, and generally believed, that at first Frank tried to run
suspicion toward Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, and to J.M. Gantt, a
workman he had discharged for being short on his accounts.
The court records show that the police first suspected Lee and arrested him and
that Frank did and said nothing to throw suspicion upon him. Frank had given
orders to his men to keep Gantt out of the factory. Gantt had come
to the factory the Saturday of the murder and met Frank on the sidewalk as he
was leaving for the day and asked permission to go up into the factory and get a
pair of shoes he had left there: Frank did not want him to go in, but finally
let him go with Lee, the watchman, and cautioned Lee to watch him and stay with
him until he came out.
Frank told this in his statement to the police and they arrest Gantt.
Another argument made by those who believe Frank is guilty is this:
“Why didn’t Frank tell that Jim Conley was at the factory that Saturday of the
murder. He concealed that fact, which proves that Conley helped him carry the
body from the second floor to the cellar, and that Frank was trying to steer the
police away from Conley.”
You hear that argument everywhere you go in
But the court records prove it is not true. Frank did not know that Conley was
at the factory that day. Conley had no business there. He was a
roustabout and sweeper. The factory was shut down.
Conley is a dissolute, degraded, brutal person. By his own testimony he as
drunk that day, and he went to the factory to sleep it off. He
went in the street door and hid among some empty boxes piled between and behind
the elevator and the stairway going up to the second floor. More than twenty
men and women entered and departed from the factory that day and did not see him.
One woman and two men saw him lurking there in the shadows. Frank says
he did not know he was there. Outside of Conley’s own testimony
there is no evidence that Frank did know it. He had no reason to suspect Conley.
Conley was arrested Thursday after the murder.
A foreman to the factory saw him washing stains from his shirt.
Conley said they were rust stains. The man notified the police, and Conley was
That no importance was attached to the arrest is shown by the newspaper mention
of it. The Atlanta Journal had a mere line about it, away down in a mass of
stuff about the case saying: “The detectives will hold him until a
chemical analysis is made of the stain on his shirt, which he says is rust. The
police believe his story.”
The Atlanta Georgian said about the same. The Constitution mentioned it on the
second page and said: “Little importance is attached to his arrest.”
Conley told the police he could not write and the police believed him and went
on working up evidence against Frank.
For eighteen days thereafter the name of Conley does not appear in a newspaper
Atlanta, and in that eighteen days
Conley, simply lounged in his cell while the storm against Frank rages.
The police had satisfied the public that they had caught the murderer. They
were giving interviews to the newspapers that were printed with big headlines.
Here are a few of those headlines, printed in big type clear across the front
“We Have Sufficient Evidence to Convict the Murderer, Say Detectives.”
“Leo Frank on the Grill.”
“Evidence Against Frank Conclusive, Say Police.”
“Police Say They Have Frank in the Net.”
Conley’s statement that he could hot write was not printed in any paper. There
is no reason to believe that Frank knew Conley had denied it. The
police believe Conley. But there were to detectives, Whitfield and McWorth, who
saw that the two murder notes were the crux of the case and they set out quietly
to find out who wrote them. They went to the pencil factory and
the girls there told them Conley could write. They had seen him write.
The girls there had suspected Conley from the first, and two days after the
murder they accused him of it. They were more astute than the police.
Note the testimony of Miss Mary Pirk, given at the trial: “I am one of
the foreladies at the factory. I am head of the polishing
department. I have been there ___ years. I talked with Jim Conley
Monday morning after the murder. I accused him of the murder. He
took his ____ and walked right away. I mentioned ____ to several
of the girls standing around.”
And the testimony of Miss Dora _____ who accused Conley Tuesday after the murder,
“because he acted so different.” He borrowed money from her ____ which to buy
extra newspapers, and sat around reading of the murder, _____he had on a jacket
“buttoned close to the neck” as if to hide his shirt when he had always “gone
around open before.”
Whitfield and McWorth, convinced that Conley could write, went to Frank in his
cell in the jail.
“Of course Conley could write, he doesn’t deny it, does he?” said Frank. He
told them where they could find specimens of his writing. Conley
had bought a watch on installment payments, and the collector used to call
weekly to Frank’s office to collect a dollar out of Conley’s pay.
“You go to that watch dealer and see if Conley didn’t sign a contract for the
watch,” said Frank. The detectives found it and confronted Conley with it
Sunday, May 18. Conley then admitted that he could write. But
denied that he had written the notes or that he was in or near the factory the
day of the murder. The police made him write the words in the
note, it was the same handwriting: anyone could see that. But the police
concealed that fact from the public.
The police reporters saw the detectives busy with Conley and suspected something,
and the next day had some mention in their papers of it. But the police
continued to deny that anything of importance had occurred.
Meantime the police had evolved and give out a theory that Frank had killed the
girl in the metal room in the rear end of the second floor and had carried her
body on the elevator to the cellar. Around this theory they had woven a web of
evidence. They had found a big “splotch of blood like a sunburst”
in front of the girl’s dressing room on that floor, a splotch that turned out
afterward to be red paint. They had found on the handle of a lathe on that
floor three strands of hair, which they said was Mary’s hair, although it
disappeared before the trial. The coroner’s jury had recommended
that Frank be held for the murder, and, on May 24 the grand jury indicted Frank
Before the grand jury indicted Frank the
police and prosecutor had positive proof that Conley had written the two murder
notes, and had a confession from him that he had written them, but this evidence
was withheld form the grand jury, and it knew nothing of it when it indicted
Frank. Later on the grand jury learned these facts and it wanted to return an
indictment against the negro, Jim Conley, but the prosecution induced the jury
not to do it, assuring it that he had positive evidence of Frank’s guilt.
They had to Convict Frank
Why did the police and prosecutor center their efforts upon a conviction of
Frank unless the preponderance of evidence pointed to his guilt? When the
negro, Conley, confessed that he wrote the murder notes, and that he carried the
body into the basement, why did not the authorities abandon the theory that
Frank was guilty and prosecute Conley?
Those questions have often been asked, and used as an argument of Frank’s guilt.
It would have been easier to convict the negro after he confessed: that was the
easy route to follow. The evidence all tends to prove the guilt of
the negro and to prove the innocence of Frank. Why did not the authorities
follow the easier road?
Hugh Dorsey had been appointed solicitor general to succeed a man who died.
Later Dorsey had been elected to the office. The solicitor general
has the same duties in
Georgia that the prosecution
attorney has in
Missouri. It was Dorsey’s duty to
prosecute the murderer of Mary Phagan if he was found.
Dorsey is a young man. He was a good civil lawyer, but was not experienced in
criminal cases. His friends advised him not to take the office of
solicitor general. They predicted that he would fall there.
Dorsey is able and ambitious and a bull dog in tenacity. When he takes hold he
never lets go. His chance to make good came when Mary Phagan was
murdered. Here was an opportunity to make a great reputation, and he grasped it.
He took hold of the case himself right after the murder, working with the
police and detectives, getting statements from all the witnesses, preparing the
case for trial.
There can be no doubt that Dorsey believed during the first eighteen days after
the murder that Frank was guilty. He went after him with all the intensity of
his nature. He gave out interviews and the newspapers printed them.
“Dorsey Says Frank Is First In the Net.”
These are headlines that appeared ever long interviews with Dorsey.
At about the time the police discovered that Conley had written the murder notes
Thomas B. Felder, a clever lawyer and politician, and a political enemy of the
police department, came out in a public statement charging that the police had
been bought up by “Jew money.” This was the beginning of the cry about “Jew
money.” It has never ceased.
At this time the feeling against Frank was at its height. The public, clamoring
for vengeance for the murder of the little Southern girl, had pounced upon Frank
as a tiger upon its prey. Felder charged, and al the papers
printed it, that the public was about to be cheated of its prey. He made the
direct public charge that the police had been bought by “Jew money from the
North,” and , that they were seeking to extort a confession from Jim Conley, a
poor harmless negro.
This inflamed the public mind. The atmosphere, already charged with a cloud of
blood, became surcharged. There was imminent fear that a mob would
storm the jail and lynch Frank. The public did not want Conley.
The dramatic sense of the people would have been deeply offended by the
discovery that all their baiting of this Jew as wrong and that a negro was the
murderer. They would not listen to that. There was no man in the
police department big enough to face that storm. Anyway, the police had gone
too far to draw back now. To have admitted no grave an error, such blundering at
this state would have been political and official suicide for the police, and
for Dorsey, too. They had to “stand pat” and they did. Dorsey
quieted the public uneasiness around by Felder’s charge with a statement to the
newspapers, which appeared in the Georgian under this heading: “Dorsey says the
state’s case is complete and will not be changed: he will go into the trial with
Frank and not the negro as the accused.”
The trial was a bitter fight between Dorsey, alone on one side, and two of the
ablest and oldest lawyers in
Georgia on the other side.
They made the mistake of sneering at Dorsey and his inexperience and
youthfulness. They called him “sonny” and “young man.” They
aroused his ire and his determination to win over them. He fought,
as a tiger fights at bay, to convict Frank and thus win fame.
Making Good Their Third Degree
One need not go outside the court record of the trial of Leo Frank to prove that
the evidence against him was “framed up.” And it was such a clumsy “frameup,”
so full of contradictions and “airholes” that a man accused of murder would
never have been brought to trial under it in ordinary times.
The first statement made by Jim Conley, the negro, written by the police at his
dictation, and signed by him, is a part of the court record. It was made May
18. In it he tells of drinking hard all day, the day Mary Phagan
was murdered, and says he was not at the pencil factory that day.
Bear in mind that up to this time the police did not know he could write.
Conley’s next statement, also a part of the court record, was made May 24. At
this time it was known that Conley could write and that his handwriting was
exactly like that in the notes. In this sworn statement he
admitted that he wrote one of the murder notes, at Frank’s dictation, and Frank
wrote the other one, not on the day of the murder, but the day before. He says
in this statement that Frank was planning murder and got him to write “A long,
tall, black negro did this by himself,” to throw suspicion on a negro, and that
Frank said: “Why should I hang?”
Conley’s next statement was May 28, and in this he admitted that he was at the
factory the day of the murder, that Frank had him there to watch while he was
with a girl on the floor above, that he saw several persons go up as he sat in
the shadows at the foot of the stairway, that he saw Mary Phagan go up, and that
a little later Frank called him up, told him he had hit the girl and hurt her,
and that the found her dead and helped Frank carry her to the elevator and put
her in the basement. He said he wrote both notes at Frank’s dictation.
The next day May 29, he amended his statement to conform to certain facts with
which it was inconsistent, and at the trial he still further corrected it so
that everything he said might fit the theory of the prosecution as to how the
crime was done.
Harry Scott, a detective, testified at the trial, and explained how he and other
police officers worked upon Conley to make him give statements that would “fit”
the theory of the police that Frank was guilty. The following extracts from
Scott’s testimony are from the official record of the trail:
“We talked very strongly to him. We used a little profanity and
cursed him. He was carried to Dorsey’s office and went over his statement with
Dorsey. We had him again May 27 in Chief Lanford’s office. He
tried to impress him with the fact that Frank would not have written those notes
Friday. That was not a reasonable story. That showed
premeditation and that would not do. We pointed out to him why the
first statement would not fit. We told him we wanted another statement.
May 28 Chief Lanford grilled him five or six hours again, endeavoring to
make clear several points that were far-fetched in his statement. We pointed
out to him that his statement would not do and would not fit. May
29 we talked with him almost all day. We pointed out things in his story that
were improbable and told him he must do better that that. Anything
in his story that looked to be out of place we told him wouldn’t do.”
And so on. The police kept after Conley, coaching him and pressing him until his
statement fitted in with every theory of the police as to how Frank killed the
girl, and he was drilled in that until he had the story so perfect that he could
rattle it off glibly, as he did at the trial.
Frank’s trial lasted thirty days. It was held in August, in a small courtroom,
the windows of which on one side opened upon a street, and on the other opened
on an alley. The mob dominated the trial. There can be no doubt
The motion for a new trial certified to by the trail judge as correct in its
statements, cites many instances of loud and continuous applause by the
spectators when any ruling adverse to Frank was made, or when a point was made
against him. There were sneers and hisses, the demonstrations always being
against Frank. The judge refused at any time to clear the
courtroom, although requested many times by Frank’s attorneys to do so.
The alley and street outside as always filled with a mob through which the jury
was led daily, and through which Frank was taken daily by armed guard, with
It was a nosy mob. Some reviewers of the trial have said there were cries to
the jury of “Hang the Jew or we will hang you.”
There is no proof that this occurred, but it is true that the spirit of the mob
breathed upon the jury and the court, and that the jurors knew their lives would
be in danger if they acquit ed Frank. The judge knew it and aid so.
As an instance of the methods of the prosecution in creating an impression upon
the jury, the following is the from the verbatim report of the trial:
Phillip Chambers, a youth of 15 years of age, questioned
by Mr. Dorsey:
Q. You and Frank were pretty good friends, weren’t you?
Here Mr. Arnold, attorney for Frank, moved the rule out questions and answers.
Dorsey reports: “We are entitled to show the relations existing
between this witness and Frank, your honor.”
Mr. Arnold replies: “It is a vile slander and fatigues the indignation to all
here and hear things like this suggested. No man can get a fair trial with such
innuendos and insinuations as these made against him.”
Mr. Dorsey: “That is all I wanted to ask him. I will bring Gantt in to impeach
A. Well, just like a boss ought to be to me.
Q. What was it that Frank tried to get you to do that you told Gantt about
A. I never did complain to Mr. Gantt.
Q. What proposition, was it that Mr. Frank made to you and told you he was going
to turn you off if you didn’t do what he wanted you to?
A. He never made any proposition to me.
Q. Do you deny that you talked to Mr. Gantt and told him about these improper
proposals that Frank would make to you and told you he would turn you off unless
you did what eh wanted you to do?
A. I never did tell Gantt anything of that sort.
Q. Didn’t Frank tell you he was going to turn you off unless you would permit
him to do with what he wanted to do?
A. No, sir.
But Gantt was not brought in to impeach him, and this prejudicial insinuation of
Frank’s perversion must have had its effect on the jury.
There were many such broad insinuation, but no proof outside the testimony of
the negro Conley. There is not one word of testimony that Frank was pervert
beyond Conley’s statements.
Several girls who worked in the factory were put on the stand by the state, and
each was asked the same questions, if they knew the reputation of Frank for
Each answered “Yes.”
“Is it good or bad?”
“Bad was the answer.
Frank’s lawyers did not cross-examine them because under the law those girls
could have told all they had ever heard or read, all the false rumors, and that
reeking mess would have been dumped into the courtroom.
Several of the factory girls testified that they had seen Frank grin at the
girls and try to flirt with them. Several afterward made affidavits that their
testimony was false.
To be fair, anyone who reads the record must admit that Frank’s character was
not blackened at the trial. Many witnesses, including those who had known him
at school and in
Atlanta, testified to his high
Georgia laws a man cannot
testify in his own behalf, not can his wife testify for him when charged with
homicide. Frank made a long statement to the jury, and the papers said it
brought tears to many eyes.
Conley, the negro was almost three days on the witness stand. He was dressed in
a new suit. He talked glibly, contradicted himself often then laughed and
admitted he lied.
Georgia you m ay hear it
said that Conley must have told the truth because Luther Z. Rosser, one of the
best lawyers in that state, failed to break him down on cross-examination. It
is true that he did no force, the negro to get upon his knees and confess that
he killed Mary, but he did tangle Conley, and trip him and make him confess
himself to be a liar over and over.
It was not evidence that convicted Frank. It was the mob and Dorsey’s speech to
Dorsey spoke for three days. His speech has been printed in a pamphlet for
distribution. The speech was an appeal to the prejudices of the
jurors and the mob, as anyone may see who wished to read it. At the outset he
attacked Frank as Jew in these words:
When Becker wished to
put to death his bitter enemy, it was men of Frank’s race he selected. Abe
Hummel, the lawyer, who went to the penitentiary in
New York; Schwartz, the man accused of stabbing
a girl in
New York, who committed suicide;
and others that I could mention, show that this great people are amenable to the
same laws as you and I and the black race. They rise to heights sublime, but
they sink to the depths of degradation.”
He went over the Durant case, and likened it Frank’s case to his, and to other
lust murders, to the case of Oscar Wilde, and other perverts.
He spoke of Judas Iscariot. He denounced Frank as “lust murderer: and a
degenerate. He said Frank’s wife had not visited him because she
knew he was guilty and a ravisher of young girls. He even conveyed to the jury
by the following innuendo the passion of the mob, end the threat of its
vengeance if it should acquit him:
I tell you Frank knew, and you know that there would have been men who would
have sprung up in this town, had that little girl lived to tell of that brutal
assault, that would have run over ten thousand men like you, would have stormed
the jail or done anything.”
Mary Phagan had eaten cabbage for luncheon the day of her murder, and the
undigested cabbage was taken from her stomach after death and shown in a bottle
to the jury to try and fix by it the exact time she was killed. One doctor
testified that she must have died within an hour afterward, otherwise the
cabbage would have been digested. Several doctors testified that
the cabbage proved nothing of the kind, because it often takes from three to
five hours to digest.
In arguing to the jury Frank’s lawyers brushed aside the cabbage testimony as of
In his argument Dorsey said:
“And Mr. Rosser says he don’t care anything about cabbage, I’m not
going back on my raising here or anywhere, and I tell you, gentlemen, that there
is no better, no more a wholesome meal than cabbage. I tell you
gentlemen of the jury, that cabbage, corn bread and buttermilk is good enough
for any man,” and so on, making it appear that Rosser had sought to slur poor
little Mary Phagan because her humble meal had consisted of cabbage and corn
Such a mob surrounded the courtroom on Saturday while Dorsey was speaking that
the editors of the three newspapers of
Atlanta, supposing that the case
would to the jury that day, joined in a written request to Judge Roan to not
permit a verdict to be returned that day, as they feared mob violence in any
But Dorsey carried his speech over into Monday, and when he finished it the
crowd sent up a cheer and lifted Dorsey upon shoulders and carried him in
triumph in the streets.
Amid such a scene the jury retired to consider a verdict.
Judge Roan called Frank’s lawyers to him. He told them it would be unsafe for
Frank or either of them to be in the courtroom when the verdict was returned.
He told them he feared the mob would kill them, and he advised them to
stay away. Frank’s lawyers agreed, if Judge Roan would poll the jury.
The judge promised he would do so.
The judge also sent for E.E. Pomeroy, colonel of the local militia, and warned
him to have the militia ready to put down a riot.
That much is all in the court record, certified as correct by the judge himself,
Frank’s lawyers say, but it is not in the record that Judge Roan asked of them
at that time: “What do you think the verdict will be.” “Guilty, of course,”
replied Mr. Rosser.
“Yes,” said Judge Roan. “If Christ and his angels came down here and showed
this jury that Frank was innocent, it would bring him in guilty.”
The jury did find him guilty, and the crowd of thousands set up such a cheering
that Judge Roan, as he certified, could not hear the responses of the jurors as
an effort was made to poll them.
Frank was in his cell a half mile away, and not a lawyer representing him was in
court when the verdict was returned.
The theory to the prosecution is that Mary Phagan entered the front door of the
factory (see diagram) at 12:05 o’clock, that she went up the stairway to its
head (fig. 3), and turned and went to where Frank sat at his desk (fig. 3),
Frank got her pay envelope from the safe and gave it to her and she went back to
the metal room, two hundred feet, Frank followed her, and assaulted her, she
screamed, he either hit here with something or knocked her head against
something, and she fell unconscious at the point marked “3” on the diagram.
Frank tore a strip from her underskirt, gagged her, went to the front of the
factory and got a cord and looped it around her neck. Then he went
to the head of the stairway (3) and called Conley, who was sitting on a box at
(1). Conley went up, Frank trembling, excited, “shaking all over,”
told him he had hurt the girl back there. Conley went, looked at her, returned,
told Frank she was dead and Frank told him he must take her into the basement
and burn her. Conley agreed. He lifted her and carried her to
(6), where she fell with a heavy thump to the floor. Conley went
up front again, got a cloth, wrapped her body in it, “tying the four corners
like a bundle of washing” and he at her head, and Frank at her foot, carried her
to the elevator. Conley dumped here in on the elevator floor, Frank started the
elevator, they took her to the basement, Frank running the elevator and standing
astride the body. Arrived there Conley carried her on his shoulder
back 175 feet to (12), where her body was found later.
Then he and Frank returned by the elevator to the second floor and went into
Frank’s office, Frank sitting at (15), Conley at (16). They had quite an
extended conversation. Frank looked out the window and exclaimed:
“My God, here comes Emma Clark and Quiney Hall. Get in this wardrobe, damn it
He put Conley in the wardrobe (17), Conley heard the two women come in and the
conversation between them and Frank, and after they departed Frank let him out,
gave him a cigarette and lighted one himself, gave him $200 to pay him to come
back later and burn the body, and then took it back again, promising to pay
after the body is burned. Then Frank and Conley wrote two notes found with the
body, and Conley went away.
That is Conley’s testimony, in brief, and that is the testimony upon which Frank
Now, to do all of that would take considerable time. After Conley had told that
story several detectives and newspaper men took Conley to the factory and had
him enact the thing all out in pantomime, and repeating all the conversations.
Conley moved and talked rapidly in acting this pantomime, and it took
forty minutes. That was the testimony at the trail. In reason it
could not have been done in less time.
An analysis of the testimony at the trial shows that Frank worked at the factory
six hours the day of the murder. Several members of the office force were with
him part of the morning. More than twenty persons saw and talked
with him in the factory that day. He was under observation every moment of the
time except for a very brief space.
This is not mere theory. It is proved by the testimony at the trail of all the
persons who saw him, and the following statements are taken from the official
brief of the testimony filed with the supreme court of
Georgia and certified by
the trial judge as correct. Anyone may confirm the truth of them by consulting
Mary Phagan must have been murdered between 12:15 and 12:30 o’clock. Both the
prosecution and the defense agree on that. The time she arrived at Frank’s
office is well known. Her mother and the street car men, who knew
her well, testified that she took the 11:45 car from home. The Carmen testified
she got off at 12:07: it was a 5-minute walk to the factory. Frank
says she arrived at 12:15, got her money and went right out of his office.
She was not there at 12:02 when Miss Hattie Hall, the stenographer, left the
It is important that this testimony about the time be carefully considered by
any person who cares to learn who killed Mary Phagan, and whether the state is
about to hang an innocent man. It tends to prove that Frank could not have
killed her, and that Conley did kill her, alone and unaided.
Nineteen witnesses testified that they saw Frank in his office that day. Each
of them differ radically from Conley while all of the nineteen reasonably agree
with each other. Nine were witnesses for the entire state and two
for the defense.
Their testimony fixes every move made by Frank that day, with the exception of
five or ten minutes and is that brief interval between 12:12 or 12:15 and 12:20
o’clock, a period of ten minutes at the most, Frank and Conley must have enacted
the crime, if the prosecution is correct in its theory.
All of that day Harry Deaham and Arthur White were making repairs on the top
floor. They were there when Conley says Frank murdered Mary, and a stairway led
down to within a few feet of where Conley says Frank killed her, at Figure 3.
This was proven and admitted by the prosecution.
Conley says that as he sat on a box at the foot of the stairway (fig. 1) he saw
Mary Phagan go up and she was followed almost immediately by Miss Monteen Stover.
Miss Stover testified that she arrived at exactly 12:05, for her pay, that she
did not see Frank in the office; she waited five minutes and left at 12:10.
She did not see Conley at the stairway; not one of the nineteen witnesses saw
him, except three who testified they saw a negro there, but were not sure it was
Conley, as it was dark back there.
It would seem that Miss Stover’s testimony would contradict Frank, who said he
was not out of his office between 12 and 12:30 o’clock. But it is a double
office. Frank’s desk was in the inner office, the safe was open,
it is a tall safe and its large door, standing open, would almost cover the door
to the inner office. He might not have been there and Miss Stover not seen him,
or he might, as he suggests, have stepped out to the washroom and forgotten it.
If Conley’s story is true Frank was strangling Mary in the metal room while Miss
Stover was in the front office. But the Carmen testified that at that moment
Mary was alighting from their car, five minutes’ walk away.
In all his statements before the trial Conley did not mention that he had seen
Miss Stover go up the stair way. The police knew she had bone in and they may
have “coached” Conley to say so to make his story look true, but that overlooked
this time element.
Lemmie Quinn foreman of the factory testified that he reached the office at
12:20 o’clock, stayed five minutes, talked with Frank in the office and left at
12:25. But Conley swore that Quinn went in and left before Mary Phagan went in.
Mrs. White testified that she entered the factory a second time at 12:30 to see
her husband on the top floor and saw Frank at work in the office. She saw her
husband and while she talking with him Frank came up, at 12:50 to tell her he
was gong home in a few minutes to luncheon and was going to lock the factory.
She went out at 1 and saw Frank in the office as she passed. Her husband
and Denham testified to the same thing as to time.
Coley testified that he did not see Mrs. White go.
The strongest most positive evidence that Conley’s story is false is this: he
testified that after the murder, after the body had been carried to the basement
and he saw Frank had returned to the office, Frank saw Quincy Hall and Emma
Freeman coming and put him in the wardrobe.
Those two women testified that they reached the factory at 11:35 and stayed
until 11:45, when they left.
They went there to get Mrs. Freeman’s coat and to call up Mrs. Freeman’s husband.
They got the coat from the top floor, where Mrs. Freeman worked, and talked to
her husband through the telephone in Frank’s office. Frank was
there writing and the stenographer, Miss Hall was there, too, and Frank was
taking to two men who were just leaving. Mrs. White was there, too, on her
first visit that day.
“As we were going up the steps Mr. Frank called to Mrs. Freeman to tell Arthur
White to come down, that his wife wanted to see him. On the fourth floor we say
Mary Barrett, Arthur White and Harry Denham. When we left the
factory the following people were still there: Arthur White, Mrs. White, May
Barrett, her daughter, Harry Denham, the stenographer and Mr. Frank.”
That is the testimony of Miss Quincy Hall. It is corroborated by Mrs. Matti
Hall, who left the office at 12:02, “just after the noon whistle.” It is
corroborated by Mrs. Freeman, by Mrs. White who testifies that she sent word
upstairs by Mrs. Freeman for her husband to come down. D.
Tillander and E K. Graham were the two men who were in the office at that time.
Conley knew from reading the report in the papers before he testified that Miss
Hall and Mrs. Freeman were there that day, therefore, he to make his story seem
truthful, he said he saw them go up, but his inferior mind could not grasp the
time element, and as he testified at the trial before they did he did not know
they talked through the telephone and he did not put that in his story. When
asked what he heard the women say he answered: “They said, Good morning, Mr.
Of course he was safe in saying that. As to the rest of the conversation he
said they were “talking low.”
Conley places the time they were there at an hour and a half later then they
were actually there. he says it was “four minutes to one” when he was in the
office with frank. He looked at the clock and was position.
Unless we believe then that there four
women, and Tillander and Graham, and Deaham and Freeman swore falsely we must
pronounce Conley’s story as false. But the stories of those witnesses fit
together sad first with the testimony of other witnesses like the pieces of
perfect mosaic. It is as prefect as mathematics. Its conclusion
is as certain as that two and two make four.
The Murder Notes.
Jim Conley, the negro, murdered Mary Phagan, and he described how he slew her in
the two notes he wrote and laid beside her body.
Conley is a low, dissolute, brutal negro. He had been in jail different times.
He lived with a negro woman not his wife. He drank heavily and was
always trying to borrow money from the girls in the factory, where he was a
roustabout. His brutal nature is shown by the glib, grinning
manner in which he told of carrying the body of the murdered girl to the
basement, dropping her with a “thump” upon the floor, handling the body of the
pretty, golden haired girls as coldly as if it had been a dead dog.
He was drunk the day of the murder. He had spent his last cent for a flask of
whisky which he took with him to the factory. That is his
testimony. He went there to sell off the effects of the drink. he
hid himself among the boxes there, in the deep shadows.
Mary Phagan came down the stairway with her mesh bag in her hand. it is easy to
think that she was opening her pay envelope as she came. She might
have had the money in her hand. Now, read those murder notes again:
Mam, that negro hire down here did this, I went to make water and he
push me down that hole. A long, tall, negro, black: that hoo it wase, long,
sleam, tall negro, I wright while play with me.
In the reproduction of this note The Star omits two words represented by the
blank space. The punctuation marks are not in the original. The
other note reads as follows:
He said he wood love me laid down, play like the night witch did it,
but that long, tall black negro did buy himself.
Within a few feet of where the negro was hiding among the boxes there is a large
hole in the floor, two feet square, and a ladder reaching down into the basement.
The hole is behind the walled-in elevator shaft.
Mary may have stepped back into the shadow there for the very purpose stated in
the omitted words in the note. Conley, crouching there, saw here and on the
impulse of the moment may have clutched her by the throat and choked her or he
may have hit her with something and laid her scalp open. then he thrust her down
the hole, head first, likely. At the foot of the ladder is a chuck
of log. Her head may have struck it and caused the wound in her scalp.
Conley hurried down the ladder after her. She was not dead. All
the doctors agreed that the wound on the head would not have killed her. There
was no skull fracture, no blood clot on the brain. She would have
been unconscious a few moments, she would have squirmed and clutched frantically
in the agony or returning consciousness. She might have screamed.
Mrs. J. B. Simmons of
Ala., states in an affidavit that she was
Atlanta and passed the pencil
factory the afternoon of the murder and heard a woman’s screams in the basement.
She heard a woman’s voice say “Please don’t.” She stopped to
listen. There was a grating there opening directly into the basement.
Screams in that basement could have been heard.
She swore that she went and told Prosecutor Dorsey of it and that he tried to
get here to change the time she said she heard the screams because Frank had
gone to his luncheon then. Dorsey denies this.
In justice to Dorsey it must be said that neither he not the defense places any
confidence in her story. She was not used as a witness.
Anyway, the wounded girls must have struggled hard. The cinders under her
finger nails and matted into her face prove that. It also proves
that she was alive when she was in the cellar. She breathed cinders and ashes
into her nose and mouth. There were no cinders on the office floor
where Conley says she was killed.
Conley says the cord was put around her neck upstairs by Frank, that she was
dead up there. All the doctors agreed that she was strangled to death by the
cord. Her face was black, her eyes starting out, her tongue
protruding. If that was done upstairs she could not have breathed ashes and
cinders in the cellar.
The ashes and cinders were breathed before she died in the cellar, while she was
fighting off Conley. In his drunken desperation lest she be heard and he be
discovered he ripped a piece from her underskirt and tried to gag her with it.
it was not strong enough. Then he grabbed the cord.
The testimony proved that cords like that were in the cellar. He tied it
tightly around her neck. It was proved at the trial that a piece
of the strip of underskirt was beneath the card, and beneath the strip of skirt
were cinders. That proves beyond doubt that both were put on in the cellar.
Having strangled her to death and eternal silence the negro had leisure to carry
her back and hide her body at where it was dark as midnight.
Then he sat down to write the notes. Against the wall opposite the boiler was a
small, rude table with paper and pencil. Scattered around in the
trash that came down from the floors above to be burned were sheets and pads of
paper exactly like those upon which the notes were written. The pad from which
one of the notes was torn was found by the body of Police Sergeant L.S. Dobbs,
who so testified.
Now mark this, it is proof of Frank’s innocence, that pad had printed on the top
of every sheet the name of the pencil company and a date. it was a pad used in
the office by Superintendent Becker, who preceded Frank as the factory head.
All of those pads were carried into the basement two years before, after
Frank became superintendent, and ask had new pads printed. There was no paper
in Frank’s office like that upon which that note was written. This
disproves absolutely the story of the negro that the notes were written in
The negro wrote these in the basement: denied for eighteen days after his arrest
that the could write, when confronted with proof that the could write, and this
proof furnished by Frank , he first said that Frank wrote the notes. Shown that
his could not be true, that positively they were in his handwriting, he said he
wrote them at Frank’s dictation. He swore that he “wrote them word
by word just as Frank told him.”
Frank was then believed guilty by everyone. Frank would naturally be the one
upon whom Conley would lay the crime. Under other circumstance, of
less public delirium, no one would have believed the negro’s story for a moment.
It is too absurd from any point of view.
After writing the notes the negro was afraid to to-up and out the street door.
He went by the back door, indicated by an arrow in the diagram. He
pried the locked staple out with a piece of iron pipe and went out.
His bloody finger prints were on the door. The authorities sawed out the boards
and took them to be examined by experts. The government expert in
charge of the Bertillon department as the federal prisons in
Atlanta says he could have
ascertained positively from those three distinct bloody finger prints whether
Conley’s fingers made them. The finger printed boards were never shown at the
trial. The prosecution said they had been lost.
It is possible that someone had them examined, found they corresponded with
Conley’s finger prints and destroyed them?
The three strands of hair found on a lathe in the metal room, which did so much
to center public suspicion upon Frank, also disappeared. Prosecutor Dorsey said
in reply to a question from the defense, during the trail, that he had lost them.
Yet, in his impassioned speech to the jury he referred to those strands of hair.
He said: “I tell you right now, gentlemen, that when Barrett swore he found that
hair on that machine he told the truth.
“I tell you right now, gentlemen, that when Barrett swore he found that hair on
that machine he told the truth.”
Mary’s hair was golden in color, easy to identify. But several who saw that
hair say it was dark. So it was lost.
Fair trial indeed!
The negro escaped by the back door into the alley, and Mary Rich, an old woman
who sold pieces and cakes at the mouth of that alley, and knew Conley well, made
affidavit that she saw Conley come out that back door into that alley that very
afternoon, right at the time Conley did go out. But before the trail she
repudiated her affidavit. She told friends that she had to make a
living and could not afford to antagonize the police.
Conley wrote the notes to direct suspicion away form himself and place it upon a
negro who fired the boiler in the basement, “that negro hire down here.”
Note that “down here” indicating that the notes were written “down here” not up
in the office.
Conley is short, stout and light colored. He wished to throw suspicion upon
someone the very opposite of him, and that the murderer “did it by his self,
“Conley did not help him. The negro that fired the boiler was
“long, slim, tall and black,” and so Conley described him that way in both notes
one was not enough. He emphasized in the second note that he “did it by hisself.”
“He pushed me down that hole.” Would Frank have written that after he had taken
her down in the elevator? It is pretty good proof that she was pushed down that
hole, and not carried down the elevator.
The drunken mind of the negro wished to make it appear that the girl wrote the
notes to her mother while the negro was not watching her write. “ I wright
while he play with me.” Whose mind but a negro’s would have
conceived such a silly explanation.
The second note “he said he would love me laid down, play like the night witch
did it,” evidently this: “He told me to play, or make believe or tell, that the
night witch did it.” Those words, “night witch” are negro pure and simple.
No white man would have used them, especially a white man for the North,
who had never lived among negros. The ”night witch” is an old negro
superstition prevalent among them over all the South. The “night
witch” comes in through the keyhole at night, gets upon the chest of a sleeping
person and takes his breath away. Persons who die in their sleep, who have bad
dreams and nightmares are victims of the “night witch.”
Nobody but a Southern negro would have written that.
In his speech to the jury Prosecutor Dorsey emphasized that an illiterate negro
like Conley would never have written “negro,”: but would have written “nigger:”
but would have wrote ten “nigger:” that he would have never written or aid “did
it,” but would have said “done it,” and that argument has great weight in
I have before me as I write the official stenographic report of Conley’s
testimony as he gave it in court. he said “did it” and “negro” many times.”
“I don’t remember what I did.”
“I don’t know what I did.”
“Well, I don’t know sir what I did that day.”
“I did some watching for him.”
Those are characteristic answers.
In his testimony he said “negro,” many times, and seldom “nigger,” and the court
stenographer has made affidavit sine that he wrote exactly as Conley pronounced
the words. Noting that both notes the writer has a distinct way of describing a
person “long, slim, tall, negro” “a long, tall, black negro.”
Conley’s testimony at the trial shows that his habit was to identify persons
with several consecutive descriptive words. The following are from his
“Well, she was a tall built lady, heavy weight.”
“Nice looking lady, kinder slim.”
“She was a very tall, slim built lady.”
“He was a tall, slim built, heavy man.”
“Well, Miss Delsy, she was a low lady, kind of heavy.”
“She was low and chunky.”
“He was a slim looking man, and tall with it.”
The word “slim” was a favorite with him.
Also he used often the word “like: as it is used in the note, “play like the
night witch did it.” And he used the words “hisself,” as it is used in the
notes. I quote from his testimony: “He went to the front door and
fixed it hisself, unlocked the front door hisself.”
“Looked to me like with pieces of velvet on it.”
“I said something like that.”
“Yes, sir, eh looks like he would weigh that.”
“He looked like it.”
And so on often and often
Since he has been in jail Conley has written many letters to a negro woman
prisoner. They are filled with the most unspeakable obscenity.
They prove, not only the lasciviousness and moral rottenness of his nature, but
they establish beyond question that he is a pervert. He writes plainly of his
When the negro wrote the notes his dull mind, sodden with liquor, did not
conceive that there were differences in handwriting. To his ignorant mind all
handwriting was alike. Experts say this is a common belief among
the ignorant. They think writing is writing and that it is impossible to tell
one man’s writing from another’s. Conley never thought that anyone
could detect that those notes were not written by the girl.
But Frank, the college graduate, the expert bookkeeper, would have known that.
he would have never resorted to so clumsy a subterfuge as using eh notes, even
had he been such a fool as to take a dissolute negro roustabout as accessory to
There are many other evidences, beyond those given here, that Conley murdered
Mary Phagan and that Frank is innocent. They can be touched on only briefly
The fact that the elevator did not run at all the day of the murder, proven by a
soft substance deposited early the morning of the murder in the bottom of the
elevator shaft and found intact Sunday morning after the murder. When the
elevator was run then it mashed the substance. The elevator floor
always hits the bottom of the shaft.
The two men working upstairs did not hear the elevator run, and it runs with a
loud noise and shakes the floors.
That Frank was not in the least nervous when seen by witnesses immediately after
Conley says the murder was done. He went home and ate dinner with his wife and
mother-in-law, returned to the factory and filled out invoice sheets for three
hours. Experts testified that it would take three hours to do it.
The handwriting was plain and not a sign of nervousness in the writer of it.
And Frank was extremely nervous and excitable at times. Witnesses swore that
once when a car on which he was riding struck and killed a child he was so upset
that he could do no work all day. A quarrel with his foreman made
him so nervous that he gave up work the rest of the day.
Conley says she was wrapped in a cloth when he carried her to the cellar. No
such cloth was ever found.
There was no blood at the spot where Conley said he found her on the second
floor, where she had lain at least twenty minutes, and none in the elevator.
And the undertaker and doctors testified that she “must have bled a great deal”
from the wound to the head.
Proof that Conley’s story was “made” for him, that he was coached in the telling
of it is found in his testimony that “Frank put a piece of cloth under her head
when he killed her to keep the blood off the floor.” A silly and impossible
If Frank wished her body burned why did he dictate the notes? There was no fire
in the boiler that day. To have kindled one would have exposed the
crime. It is a small boiler. The door is so small the body could
not have been put in. The negro would have had to chop it up and burn it piece
The girl’s mesh bag and the bunch of red flowers from her hat were never found.
The drunken negro probably carried them away to give to the negro woman with
whom he lived.
At the trial it was proved by Frank’s bankbook and the factory balance sheets
that there was not $200 in the office that day; there was less than $0, and
Frank had only a few dollars.
The murderer escaped by the back door, breaking it open first.. Frank did not
go out that way.
This one fact alone refutes the possibility that Frank murdered Mary Phagan.
The negro’s story is so incredible, so absurd, so inconsistent with all the
facts, that one wonders that anyone could believe a word of it.
The Poison of Unspeakable Things
The people of
Georgia honestly believe
that Frank is guilty and that the rich Jews of the North have raised a fund of
millions of dollars to save his life. it is not fair to criticize them for that.
They have been deceived and “fooled” by the clique of political office
holders who have worked the ruin of Frank.
A newspaper man of
Atlanta, who reported the Frank case
from its inception, told me that Frank was innocent. I repeated that to an
official who had helped convict Frank, and he put the hollow of his hand to his
mouth and whispered in all earnestness:
“He has been brought with Jew money. but don’t say I told you.”
I assured him that the reporter of another
Atlanta paper, who had attended each
session of the trail, had also told me that Frank was innocent.
“He got some of the Jew money, too. They’ve scattered it all around,” he
Anyone who raises his voice in favor of Frank is accused of being bought by “Jew
A young woman of unusual intelligence, connected with a photograph gallery in
Atlanta, said to me that she would like to see
Frank hanged by the tongue at the “Five Points,” the center of
“But I believe he is innocent.” I said. “Oh, you have gotten some of the Jew
money,” she reported.
The managing editor, associate editor, city editor, assistant city editor and
court reporter of an
Atlanta newspaper said to me they
knew Frank was entitled to a new trial; his trial was not fair.
“Then why don’t you say so?” I asked. “We dare not; we would be accused of
being bought by Jew money,” they answered.
Judge Roan, who tried Frank, said publicly from the bench when denying a motion
for a new trial:
“I have given this question long consideration. It has
given me more concern than any other case I was ever in, and I want to say right
here that, although I heard the evidence and arguments during those thirty days,
I do not know this morning whether Leo Frank is innocent or guilty.
But I was not the one to be convinced. The jury was convinced, and I
feel it my duty to overrule the motion.”
The next day the Atlanta Georgian, in a double-leaded editorial on the first
“When Judge Roan, the trial judge, is in doubt, and boldly says so, is
it not time to pause before legal murder is added to the long list of other
crimes in our state?”
But the public raised such a storm about this that the Georgian, form that day
to this, has not dared to say a word in Frank’s favor.
March 14, 1914, the Atlanta Journal, conscience stricken and determined to try
and undo some of the wrong done to Frank, printed, an editorial in large type,
filling four full columns, headed:
“Frank Should Have a New Trial..”
Here are a few paragraphs form that editorial:
“Leo Frank has not had a fair trial. He has not been fairly convicted and his
death without a fair trail and legal conviction will amount to judicial murder.”
“It was not within the power of human judges, human lawyers and human jurymen to
decided impartially and without fear the guilt or innocence of an accused man
under the circumstances that surrounded the trail. The very atmosphere of the
courtroom was charged with an electric current of indignation which flashed and
scintillated before the eyes of the jury. The courtroom and
streets were filled with an angry, determined crowd, ready to seize the
defendant if the jury had found him not guilty.”
A verdict of acquittal would have caused a riot such as would shock the country
Atlanta’s streets to run with
“Unless the courts interfere we are going to murder an innocent man by refusing
to give him an impartial trial.”
For this the Journal was accused of being bought with Jew money and was so
threatened with ruin that I dared not continue the policy it set out on, and it
has never said a word since then about unfairness to Frank nor a new trial.
The wife and daughter of L. Z. Rosser, who defended Frank, have been called on
the telephone many times and told that he was going to be killed unless he
ceased his efforts to save Frank.
W. J. Burns, the famous detective, who went to
Atlanta and investigated the Frank case and
declared he was innocent and that Conley was the murderer, had to leave the city
hurriedly to escape threatened indictment, and his agents were not permitted to
Atlanta, and he was forced to close
his office there.
Collier’s Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and
Baltimore Sun, which each sent a man to
Atlanta to investigate and who
asserted that Frank was innocent, are accused of having been bought with “Jew
The people of
Georgia resent bitterly
any criticism of their officers or the court which convicted Frank.
Hugh Dorsey, solicitor general, who prosecuted Frank, said publicly when a new
trial was sought:
“The Courts must keep the respect of the people. The Frank verdict must not be
upset if the administration of law is not to be brought into contemp.”
The Jeffersonian of Thomson,
Ga., said in its issue of January 7
“The state of
Georgia is under
indictment; her people stand arraigned at the bar of public opinion, and she is
made defendant before the world in a matter that is peculiarly her own.”
“If the efforts of Frank’s millionaire backers succeed in concealing the truth,
and giving immunity to a most hideous crime, then, hereafter the struggle for
the punishment of a convicted criminal will really begin outside the courthouse,
outside the state and outside of the methods of law and evidence, which were
built up by the painful labor of centuries, and which as every competent lawyers
knows, are so extraordinarily lenient to the prisoner, that it is practically
impossible to convict an innocent man.”
The evidence in the Frank case has never been reviewed by an appellate court,
although it is generally supposed that it has been. Under the
Georgia laws the
supreme court cannot review the evidence. It can only pass upon the rulings of
the trial court; it can only consider errors of law and not errors of testimony.
The Supreme Court of Georgia, in a recent decision, said it was not
satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to convict, but with that it could
not interfere; the jury was the sole judge of it, and the supreme court affirmed
Frank has been thrice sentenced to die and three times has come very near to the
gallows. The battle to get him a new trial has made his case one of the most
noted in criminal annals. His first appeal was denied by the
supreme court. His lawyers then filed an “extraordinary motion” for a new trial,
raising the point that he was not in court when the verdict was returned and
citing newly discovered evidence of his innocence, and further evidence of
perjury at his trial, and affidavits showing that several of the twelve jurors
had asserted before the trial their belief in his guilt, one, in particular,
having declared that he hoped he could get on the jury s he could “crack his
This motion was denied by the supreme court.
Then Frank was examined by a commission of experts who declared eh was sane and
normal in every way and not a pervert.
Another motion to annul the verdict was made and denied by the supreme court.
December 31, last, a motion for a certificate of “probably cause” for appeal was
denied by Judge Newman of the United States District Court in
Atlanta. This acts as a stay of
execution of the death sentence, which was to have been carried out January 23.
The point to be passed upon by the United States Supreme Court is whether at the
supreme moment of his trial, when the verdict was returned, Frank was denied his
constitutional right of being present and looking his condemners in the face.
The supreme court of this country has never decided this question before.
If the supreme court decides in his favor it will discharge him, a free man, he
cannot be tried again.
Throughout it all Frank has kept a brave front. His fortitude has been amazing,
in one of his statements, issued to the public from his cell, he said:
“Is the technical finesse of the law forever to preclude a hearing of
the facts, and human rights to be trampled beneath the judicial feet? If this
is so, and I cannot as yet believe it, then our Twentieth Century civilization
is but a myth and the divine spark in each beast a fairy tale.
Then in truth we hark back hundreds of years in human progress to when the arena
and ‘thumbs down’ were the last word of the law. It just cannot be that way”
When he was sentenced to death and was asked by the court if he had anything to
say he faced the judge and made a statement, which indicates his high mental
Clark said it was a wonderful statement and he
pasted it in his scrap book. Senator Borah said it touched him deeply and
almost impelled him to go at once to
Atlanta to Frank’s aid.
The statement follows:
“May it please your honor, I trust your honor will understand that I speak
impersonally, addressing my words more to the bench as representing the majesty
of the law of Georgia than to the gentleman now on the bench.
“In your honor’s presence, representing human law, and in the presence of the
Supreme Judge who at this very moment is casting the light of hi omnipotent and
omnipresent eye upon me from his throne on high, I assert I am innocent of
little Mary Phagan’s death and have no knowledge of how it occurred.
“Law, as we know it, your honor, is but the expression of man’s legal experience.
it is but relative. It tries to approximate justice, but being man-made,
is fallible. In the name of the law many grievous errors have been committed—error
that were colossal and irretrievable. I declare to your honor now
that the state of
Georgia is about to make
such an error.
“The law says that when one has lost his life through violence of another, the
perpetrator of the deed must answer with is own. That may be just.
But the law does not say that where one is killed a blood-sacrifice shall
be made of the next convenient individual. If this latter obtains, then the
taking of such life is not justice. It is but murder legalized.
Oh, what a terrible thing this is to contemplate!
“Your honor is about to pronounce words that
will thrust me over the abyss that separates our earthly existence from the
higher life, the life eternal. I may shortly stand before the tribunal of the
Higher Judge of whom human minds have but the slightest conception.
Before this tribunal I will be judged as I
now am innocent, and will receive the reward of them who suffer wrongfully on
“Your honor, as astounding and outrageous state of affairs obtained previous to
and during my trial. On the streets rumor and gossip carried vile, vicious and
damning stories concerning me and my life. These stories
concerning me and my life. There stories were absolutely false,
and did me great harm, as they beclouded and obsessed the public mind and
outraged it against me. From a public in this state of mind the
jury that tried me was chosen. Not alone were these storied circulated on the
street, but to the shame of our community be it said, there vile insinuations
crept into my very trial in the courtroom, creeping in insidiously; like a thief
in the night. The virus of these damning insinuations entered the
minds of the twelve men and stole away their judicial frame of mind and their
moral courage. The issues at bar were lost. The poison of
unspeakable things took their place.
“Your honor, in this presence and before God, I earnestly ask that God in his
mercy may deal lightly with those who unwittingly, I trust, have erred against
me, and will deal with them according to his divine judgment. If the state and
the law wills that my life be taken as a blood-atonement for the poor little
child who was ruthlessly killed by another, than it remains for me only to die
with whatever fortitude my manhood may allow. But I am innocent of
this crime and the future will prove it. I am now ready for your honor’s
I saw, the other day, a little group gathered in front of Frank’s death cell.
The young wife, her happiness cut short, her life ruined, her heart broken,
stood outside the bars through wwhich her husband’s hands were thrust in vain
attempt to soothe. Her lips quivered. Tears coursed down her
cheek. There was unutterable pathos and tragedy and agony in her
eyes that gazed vacantly beyond him to a bit of sunshine filtering through a
I thought of the Gethsemane through which she is passing, ,her father, dead of a
broken heart since this blow fell, herself crushed: of her long, lonely,
sleepless nights in the shadow of the gallows waiting for him out there on the
other side of that wall, and my heart went out in pity to her.
Beside her stood Rabbi Marx, kindly, cultured, “faithful unto death,:” and tears
filed her eyes too.
I was trying to say good-by, going out with a message that might help, some way,
lift the burden of their grief, and as I turned to go, her uncle, aged and white
haired, reached his hand to me and could only shake his head and say:
“Oh, it has been awful, awful.”
It is not “Jew money: that has brought
the nation-wide protest. It is the pity , the sympathy, the loyalty of a people
long oppressed, long harried and hounded, that reaches out to one of their race,
sorely pressed, and “caught as a bird in a net.”