Arrested as Girl’s Slayer


Photograph of Mary Phagan showing her in street dress. [The almost fourteen-year-old girl was found slain in the dingy basement of her work establishment, beaten and strangled to death. — Ed.]

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.


Atlanta Georgian

Monday, April 28th, 1913

J. M. Gant [sic], arrested in Marietta for the murder of Mary Phagan, gave to a reporter for The Georgian his story of his actions that led to his arrest. He protested his innocence, and declared he was home in bed at the time the crime is supposed to have been committed.

In striking contradiction to this statement is the assertion of Mrs. F. C. Terrell, of 284 East Linden Street, where Gant said he slept Saturday night, that she had not seen Gant in three weeks.

“I watched the Memorial Day parade in Atlanta,” said Gant, as he sat in the Marietta police station, “and after the parade was mostly over I went out to the ball game. After the game I remembered that I had left some old shoes at the pencil factory, and decided to go over and get them. I went over there at 6 o’clock and Superintendent Frank let me in.

“He told the negro watchman to help me find my shoes, and both of them saw me get them and also saw me leave the building.

“Then I went back to town and met Arthur White, who is employed in the pencil factory, O.G. Bagley, an employee of the Atlanta Milling Company, and Bagley’s brother. With them I played pool in the Globe pool parlor on Broad Street until 10:30 o’clock, and then I caught a car and went home.

“Yes, I knew the girl. I knew Mary Phagan quite well, but I swear to you I had not seen her since I left the plant as an employee three weeks ago. I am innocent and developments will prove it.”

Gant answers the description of the man Edgar L. Sentell says he saw with the Phagan girl shortly after midnight to a remarkable degree. He is about six feet tall, of slender build and dark complexion. His hair is dark and inclined to curl, and he wore a blue suit and a straw hat. He said that he is twenty-four years old and that his name was James, and not John, as Superintendent Frank had stated.

Gant was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Hicks on the 1 o’clock car. He did not appear particularly nervous and was confident that he would be able to demonstrate his innocence, but the detectives with him were equally certain that the slayer had been captured.

Here is told in chronological order the story of the mystery:

1—Mary Phagan, 14 years old, was strangled to death in the National Pencil Co.’s factory, 37 South Forsyth Street.

2—Newt Lee, negro night watchman, found her body in the basement a little after 3 o’clock Sunday morning and notifies the police. He was arrested.

3—Arthur Mullinax, identified by E. S. Sentell, 82 Davis Street, as the man who was with Mary Phagan at 12:30 o’clock Sunday morning, was arrested Sunday afternoon and is held in solitary confinement at police headquarters.

4—Leo M. Frank, superintendent of the National Pencil Co.’s factory, was summoned to police headquarters this morning and detained there to tell what he knows of the girl and of her terrible fate.

5—Hair, tangled and matted, but identified positively as the dead girl’s, was found clinging to a lathe on the third floor of the factory, which leads the police to believe that someone who had access to the factory is responsible for the crime.

6—Geron Bailey, the negro elevator boy employed in the factory, was also arrested.

7—E. S. Skipper, 224½ Peters Street, says he saw a girl answering the description of Mary Phagan being forced to accompany three flashily dressed youths, who took her to Whitehall, near Mitchell Street, at about 10 o’clock Saturday night. The girl was weeping and seemed weak and dazed.

8—When the girls employed at the National Pencil Co.’s factory assembled for work this morning they were so upset and excited from reading of the murder of Mary Phagan that the factory had to be closed.

9—J. M. Gant, former bookkeeper in the pencil factory, arrested in Marietta and accused of the murder.

10—Gant tells The Georgian he was home and in bed at 28 East Linden Avenue when the crime occurred. His land lady says he has not been there in three weeks.

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Atlanta Georgian, April 28th 1913, “Arrested as Girl’s Slayer,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)