“Becker of South” Lanford is Branded by Col. Tom Felder

Becker of South

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

Atlanta Constitution

Sunday, May 25th, 1913

System of Corruption as Poisonous as That of the Mafia Exists in Atlanta, According to Statement Made by Attorney Accused of Trying to Bribe Secretary G. C. Febuary to Steal Affidavit in the Phagan Case—Says Detectives Are Trying to Shield Murderer of Girl.


A. S. Colyar, Leading Figure in Bribe Charges, Is Placed Under Arrest on Warrant From Knoxville, But Is Released on Bond—Connally [sic], Negro Employee of the National Pencil Factory, Tells Officers He Wrote Notes at Dictation of Frank—Police Believe These Were the Ones Found by the Body of Mary Phagan.

Branding Detective Chief Newport Lanford as the “Lieutenant Becker” of the south, and charging that there exists in the Atlanta police department a “system” of corruption that is as poisonous as the deadly society of Mafia, Colonel Thomas B. Felder has issued counter charges to those of attempted bribery made against him Friday afternoon.

He declares that every bit of his sensational accusations can be supported by substantial evidence. He even asserts that the charges against him were made in an effort to shield and protect the murderer of Mary Phagan, whom the detective department are alleged to be assisting by the destruction of damaging evidence and by procuring witnesses.

First, and the most important of Saturday developments, was the indictment by the grand jury of Leo M. Frank, the suspected factory superintendent. The true bill was returned before noon. He now will be tried before Fulton superior court on the direct charge of Mary Phagan’s murder.

Second, was the confession of James Connally, a negro sweeper in the pencil factory, who declares that he wrote, at the dictation of Frank, notes which the detectives believe to be the ones found by the body of Mary Phagan. After making complete acknowledgement to Detective John Black and Harry Scott, he made an affidavit supporting the confession.


The arrest of A. S. Colyar, Jr., the adventurer, who is said to have engineered the dictagraph [sic] trap, was a third most important development. He was taken into custody early in the afternoon on receipt of a telegram from the Knoxville, Tenn., police, who want him on forgery charges. He was later released on $1,000 bond.

A dictagraph report has been made public of a conversation between Edward O. Miles, Secretary Febuary and Colyar with Mayor James G. Woodward, in which the chief executive is charged with having sought evidence with which he could impeach Chiefs Lanford and Beavers. He makes strong denial of the report, saying he is a victim of conspiracy, and says the report was either faked or “padded.”

Chief Beavers, in a ringing statement, declared to a reporter for The Constitution that underhand forces were working secretly to remove him from office, and that a giant conspiracy was on foot to oust him by crookedness and treachery. He said, further, that he would assist the grand jury in any manner to prosecute those charged with the bribery attempts.

Harry Scott, assistant superintendent, of the Atlanta Pinkerton branch, admitted to a Constitution reporter last night that his organization is in the employ of Frank’s defense and that reports of his daily progress are submitted to Luther Z. Rosser, counsel for the suspected superintendent.

Scott Makes Explanation.

He said, however, that he was retained for the apprehension of Mary Phagan’s murderer, and that his efforts were being directed to obtain evidence supporting the theory that Frank is the slayer. His testimony before the grand jury Saturday morning was said to have been damaging to Frank. He assisted in procuring the confession from the negro, Connally.

On the other hand, Chief Beavers and Detective Lanford are equally defiant. They assert that the employment of Mr. Felder in the Phagan case is only a part of a scheme to undermine the present police administration because of its war on vice. In this scheme, Detective Lanford said last night there were others involved besides Mr. Felder, and he intimated that bribes had been offered by other prominent men in connection with the investigation of the Phagan case whose names would come out before the fight was over.

“Felder is making himself a laughing stock,” said Lanford.

Political Fight Certain.

One thing, it was generally agreed, is certain as the outcome of the day’s developments. It means war to the finish between the present police administration and those who are opposing it. It means in all probability the beginning of one of the bitterest political fights for supremacy in the control of the city government that Atlanta has ever known. A singular fact it is that this war of factions should have grown out of the murder of an innocent child and the puzzling solution of the mystery.

“I would have the people of this community know,” says Colonel Felder in his statement, “that from the day and hour of the arrest of Leo Frank, charged with the murder of little Mary Phagan, Newport Lanford and his conspirators have left no ‘stone unturned’ in their efforts to shield and protect the suspect, and I shall demonstrate later on the truth of this statement with so much clearness that ‘he who runs may read.”

Throughout the entire statement rings a tone of caustic denunciation. Frequently, the detective chief is referred to as “Lieutenant Becker” Lanford. In furthering and effectuating the conspiracy he alleges they have hatched, the attorney avers that the detectives have winked at forgeries, suborned perjury and employed every base agency their low and grovelling criminal instincts could contrive and conjure.

Asserting that Newt Lee, the negro nightwatchman suspect, will give incriminating testimony against Mary Phagan’s slayer, Bernard Chappell, the negro’s attorney, states that before he will allow his client to be liberated from jail, he, himself, will issue a warrant for his arrest and detainment, to prevent his being tampered with. The reported testimony to be given by Lee, the lawyer says, has never yet been revealed.

Colyar Under Arrest.

One of the most startling incidents of such a startling program of developments was the arrest of Colyar, the adventurer and world-wanderer. Ever since the first publication of the sensational turn of affairs in the Phagan mystery, he has been one topic of conversation. His career as revealed by The Constitution Saturday morning, was sufficient to make him an interesting character.

Shortly before 12 o’clock, Chief Beavers received a telegram from the Knoxville police ordering Colyar’s arrest on charge of a forgery said to have been committed in that city four years ago, when he is charged with fleeing an inmate of the tenderloin of a sum of money. He was found by Detective Norris and Chewing in the Williams House No. 2. Taking his arrest calmly he accompanied the officers to headquarters.

When questioned by reporters there, he refused to make a statement.

Chief Beavers was dramatic in his denunciation of the forces secretly working to remove him. To a small group of reporters and friends he often rose from the desk in his office at headquarters, reaching his full height and angrily smiting the desk with clenched fist.

“It is a fight to the finish. The battle is on. I am going to force the ‘vice gangsters’ into the open. This is the first gun in an attempt to get me out of office. They cannot do it with the sneaking, tricky methods they are employing. They’ll have to battle fairly, squarely and on equal grounds.

It Will Be Battle Royal.

“I have fired into their hole. My bullet hit its mark. The snakes have got to come out. And when they emerge it’s to be a battle royal that will strip some folks of their sheep’s clothing and show the lion skin that’s underneath. Felder was hit first. It was so warm for the others that they had to show their hand. The issue is now between the decent people of the city and the promoters of vice, who have controlled the city politically for years.

“The majority of the people of the city are with me. I know it. They are to fight with me to the finish, no matter how bitter it might be. All I want is the good-to-the-core and loyal support of respectability. It’ll win, and it won’t be long in the winning. This situation has outgrown a personal issue or an issue of the Phagan case, and has assumed the proportions of the hottest fight in the political history of Atlanta.”

Concluding his fiery statement, one of the first of its kind he has made since his election to office, Beavers said:

“I will fight them to a finish, even though I die in my tracks. They are trying to back me into a corner, and I fight when they try that. Even a rat will turn back and fight when cornered. I do not propose to wait until I am forced too far back into the corner before defending myself.”

Although incessant attempts were made to break down his story, James Connally, the negro sweeper, maintained it straight through a series of exacting cross-examinations to which he was subjected at both police headquarters and the office of Solicitor General Dorsey at the courthouse.

Says Frank Dictated Notes.

His tale will likely weave a new aspect to the tragedy’s theory. He declares that Frank dictated the notes to him on the afternoon prior to Mary Phagan’s death, and that he recognizes the wording of the murder notes as the dictation given him by the plant superintendent. His confession came about when he called Detective John Black, of headquarters, to his cell early in the morning.

“I wants to make a confession,” he told the detective, who was assisted by Harry Scott, of the Pinkertons. “I wrote those notes, and I’ll swear to it. I’m tired of keeping it secret.”

Chief Lanford’s Statement.

Chief Lanford’s statement, made to a reporter for The Constitution Saturday afternoon, was as fiery as the one issued by his superior chief.

“Felder is ridiculous. We have shown him to be the crook he is. The best thing for him to do is to go somewhere and hide himself. He is disgraced, as he should have been long ago,” the detective said.

“The police and detective departments are going to break up Atlanta’s ring of vice promoters. They have been dominant too long in the city’s political situation. It is now time for decent folk to rise and demand the rule. Atlanta is a clean town, morally, and hereafter it will be clean politically—that can be depended upon.”

In explaining Colyar’s connection with the dictagraph plot, the chief said that Colyar offered to engineer the plan, and that he voluntarily loaned his efforts. There is no truth, he said, that the man was being paid a large sum for his work. The city of Atlanta, declared Lanford, had not paid Colyar a cent, and did not intend to. He was drawing money from no source whatever, the detective asserted.

“Colyar’s interest in the entire case,” he said, “has been to obtain material for a story he is writing on the Mary Phagan mystery. That was his motive in engineering the dictagraph scheme. He had no other view in mind. At least, I am aware of no other.”

Colyar Free on Bond.

Colyar was released early last night on cash bond of $1,000. He will remain in Atlanta until next Thursday, when authorities from Knoxville will come to Atlanta for him.

Chief Beavers would not reveal the adventurer’s bondsman. He admitted that the bond was cash, and for $1,000, but beyond that would say absolutely nothing.

An attempt was made by Headquarters Detective John Black and Harry Scott, of the Pinkertons, Saturday to carry the Connally negro to the Tower, where they intended having him recite his confession before the white suspect in order to make the testimony admissible before trial jury.

When Scott sent word to Frank’s cell that he and Connally desired an interview, the prisoner replied by messenger that he would not see the detective or anyone else without first consulting counsel or having his attorney present during the transaction. Scott and Black retired without gaining entrance to the prison.

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Atlanta Constitution, May 25th 1913, “‘Becker of South’ Lanford is Branded by Col. Tom Felder,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)