Best Detective in America Now is on Case, Says Dorsey

Miss Nellie Pettis, at top, who testified against Frank at the inquest. At the bottom, Mrs. Lillie Pettis, her sister-in-law, former employee at the pencil factory.

Miss Nellie Pettis, at top, who testified against Frank at the inquest. At the bottom, Mrs. Lillie Pettis, her sister-in-law, former employee at the pencil factory.

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

Atlanta Georgian

Friday, May 9th, 1913

Solicitor Dorsey Says He Has Secured Powerful Aid in Search for Slayer of Girl—Woman Says She Heard Screams in Pencil Factory.

Shelby Smith, chairman of the Fulton commission, declared Friday afternoon that the board would back Solicitor Dorsey in any and all expense he might incur in the state’s exhaustive investigation into the Phagan murder mystery. Smith said;

“We have instructed Dorsey to obtain the best possible detective skill for his probe and he would be backed by the county commission to the last ditch in the money the spent.

“The fact that he hired a good detective Friday is news to me, but he has the sanction and backing of the board in the matter.”


Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey said Friday afternoon that he had the best detective in America working on the mystery of the Mary Phagan strangling.

Important developments had ensued already, he declared, and he was confident that an early solution of the case would be reached by the new expert of national reputation who had been placed at work on the clews.

The solicitor is understood  to have the affidavit of a woman who swears that she heard a girl’s screams as she was passing the factory at 4:30 o’clock the afternoon of the tragedy. The cries were shrill and piercing, she says, and died away as she stopped an instant to listen.

The woman was sure they came from inside the factory, but she gave little attention to her startling experience until she read of the strangling of Mary Phagan. Then it occurred to her that she very likely had heard the dying cries of the little girl and she reported the matter to the authorities.

Solicitor Dorsey, as his first action after the holding of Leo M. Frank and Newt Lee to the Grand Jury for the murder of Mary Phagan, put out the dragnet for witnesses.

A batch of subpoenas were issued for the witnesses to appear in his office to give testimony in the case of “The State vs. John Doe.”

After a long conference with Detective Starnes and Campbell, Solicitor Dorsey asserted that action on the part of the Grand Jury might be expected any time after Friday. He plainly intimated that a special session of the jury might be convened Saturday to consider the Phagan murder.

The Solicitor declared as he left the court house with a private detective whose name he refused to divulge that he anticipated the development of startling evidence before night, which, he said, would clear matters materially.

Dorsey Questions Newt Lee.

With the private detective the Solicitor went to the Tower and was closeted with Newt Lee, the night watchman, for more than an hour.

The form of the subpoena is taken to mean that many of the witnesses will submit their sworn testimony before the Solicitor General, who will thus have it in documentary form, instead of going before the Grand Jury to give oral testimony. However, it will be necessary for the material or indicting witnesses to go before the Grand Jurors in person.

“The investigation has just begun,” said Chief of Detectives Lanford Friday, in discussing the action of the Coroner’s jury. “We were confident we had presented sufficient evidence to warrant the holding of the two suspects in the case, but we will have much more when the case gets into the courts.

Have Strong Theory Already.

“We are going to continue right on with the investigation and try to dig down to the full truth of the mystery. We have a strongly supported theory as to who committed the crime, but we are ready at any time to change our opinions as soon as the evidence points in another direction.

“It will be possible, with the rush and hurry of the Coroner’s jury


passed, for my men to work with more deliberation and care and to sift with a greater thoroughness every bit of evidence that comes into their possession. Even if nothing new should develop, we have enough leads to keep half a dozen detectives busy for a week.”

Detectives Rosser, Campbell, Black, Starnes and Bullard are still working with the chief on the case and probably will continue until the mystery is cleared.

Lemmie Quinn, foreman in the tipping department at the National Pencil factory, was the first of the witnesses to be examined by the Solicitor. He was in Mr. Dorsey’s office a considerable part of the forenoon and underwent a rigorous examination.

New Witnesses Sought.

Best Detective in America Now is On CaseDetectives Starnes and Campbell also were with the Solicitor, and two of the Solicitor’s assistants. Newton Garner and Dan Goodlin were dispatched the first thing in the morning to hunt up new witnesses of whom Mr. Dorsey had information.

Foreman Quinn was called, it is understood, to clear up the discrepancies in his testimony and the statement he is said to have made to the detectives and to several of his acquaintances. In his testimony before the Coroner’s jury he declared that he visited the factory between 12:10 and 12:30 o’clock, the afternoon of the killing of Mary Phagan. He said he talked with Frank for two minutes in the superintendent’s office.

Detectives declared that Quinn had told them and other persons that he did not visit the factory at all Saturday and that he was not there from the time he left Friday until the following Monday.

Frank Expected To Be Held.

“That’s about what I expected at this time,” was the comment with which Leo M. Frank, with little trace of emotion, received the news of the action of the Coroner’s jury Thursday night.

Deputy Sheriff Plennie Minor was the officer who informed both Frank and Newt Lee that the jury had recommended that they be held under charges of murder for further investigation by the Fulton County Grand Jury.

The night watchman received the news indifferently and had nothing to say.

Frank and Lee are held under charges of murder, as the following verdict of the Coroner’s jury will show:

Atlanta, Ga., May 8, 1913.

We, the Coroner’s jury, impaneled and sworn by Paul Donehoo, Coroner of Fulton County, to inquire into the cause of the death of Mary Phagan, whose dead body now lies before us, after having heard the evidence of sworn witnesses, and the statement of Dr. J. W. Hurt, County Physician, find that the deceased came to her death from strangulation. We recommend that Leo M. Frank and Newt Lee be held under charges of murder for further investigation by the Fulton County Grand Jury.



DR. J. W. HURT, County Physician.

Solicitor Dorsey said Friday he would give the Phagan case all of his attention and present his evidence to the Grand Jury as quickly as possible.

The solicitor has shown an anxiety to avoid delays of any nature in hunting down the slayer of the Phagan girl, and now that the Coroner’s jury has turned the case over to the Solicitor and the Grand Jury it may be taken for granted that the investigation will be hurried along with all possible speed.

Case in State’s Hands.

“The case now is fully in the hands of the State,” said the Solicitor Friday morning. “It will not be presented to the Grand Jury Friday, but I shall endeavor to present it at the earliest possible moment. The instant that I have a complete case I shall bring it to the attention of the Grand Jury. It is my desire to bring the slayer of Mary Phagan to justice with the greatest dispatch. A great crime has been done and I am no less eager to see the guilt determined than the general public.”

It required the Coroner’s jury about twenty minutes to frame its formal verdict Thursday night. The jurors received a brief charge from Coroner Donehoo and filed from the Commissioners’ room in the police station at 6:08 o’clock. At 6:28 they were back with their verdict.

Coroner Donehoo admonished the jurors to be as ready to hold a person who they thought might be withholding information of the crime as to hold a person they regarded as the possible culprit. A person possessing knowledge of the crime and withholding it, he said, was an accessory after the fact.

An immediate hush fell on the packed room when the jurors returned. There was a dead silence except for the voice of Homer C. Ashford, foreman of the jury, when the verdict was read.

Girls Testify Against Frank.

Best Detective in America Now is on Case 2The most damaging testimony against Frank in regard to his treatment of employees at his factory was saved until the last hours of the hearing. Girls and women were called to the stand to testify that they had been employed at the factory or had had occasion to go there, and that Frank had attempted familiarities with them.

Nellie Pettis, of 9 Oliver Street, declared that Frank had made improper advances on her. She was asked if she ever had been employed at the pencil factory.

“No,” she answered.

Q. Do you know Leo Frank?—A. I have seen him once or twice.

Q. When and where did you see him?—A. In his office at the factory whenever I went to draw my sister-in-law’s pay.

Q. What did he say to you that might have been improper on any of these visits?—A. He didn’t exactly say—he made gestures. I went to get sister’s pay about four weeks ago and when I went into the office of Mr. Frank I asked for her. He told me I couldn’t see her unless “I saw him first.”

Says He Winked at Her.

“I told him I didn’t want to ‘see him.’ He pulled a box from his desk. It had a lot of money in it. He looked at it significantly and then looked at me. When he looked at me, he winked. As he winked he said: ‘How about it?’

“I instantly told him I was a nice girl.”

Here the witness stopped her statement. Coroner Donehoo asked her sharply:

“Didn’t you say anything else?”

“Yes, I did! I told him to go to h—l! and walked out of his office.”

Thomas Blackstock, who said that he was employed at the factory about a year ago testified as follows:

Tells of Frank’s Conduct.

Q. Do you know Leo M. Frank?—A. Yes.

Q. How long have you known him?—A. About six weeks.

Q. Did you ever observe his conduct toward female employees of the pencil factory?—A. Yes. I’ve often seen him picking on different girls.

Q. Name some.—A. I can’t exactly recollect names.

Q. What was the conduct you noticed particularly?

The witness answered to the effect that he had seen him place his hands with undue familiarity upon the person of girls.

Q. See it often?—A. A half dozen times, maybe. He generally was seen to become that familiar while he was touring the building.

Q. Can’t you name just one girl?—A. Yes. Magnolia Kennedy.

Q. Did you see him act with undue familiarity toward her?—A. No. I heard talk about it.

Q. Before or after the murder?—A. Afterward.

“Girls Tried to Avoid Him.”

Q. When did you observe this misconduct of which you have told?—A. A year ago.

Q. Did you hear complaints around the plant?—A. No. The girls tried to avoid him.

Mrs. C. D. Donegan said she was connected with the pencil plant for three weeks. Her capacity was that of forelady. She resides at 165 West Fourteenth Street with her husband.

Her testimony follows:

“State your observations of Frank’s conduct toward the girls and women of the plant.”

“I have noticed him smile and wink at the girls in the place. That was two years ago.”

“Did you make a statement to the detectives of undue familiarity you had witnessed?”

“I told them that I had seen Frank flirt with the girls and women—that was all I said.”

Charges Familiarities.

The testimony of Nellie Wood, a young girl of 8 Corput Street, came next.

In brief it was this:

Q. Do you know Leo Frank?—A. I worked for him two days.

Q. Did you observe any misconduct on his part?—A. Well, his actions didn’t suit me. He’d come around and put his hands on me when such conduct was entirely uncalled for.

Q. Is that all he did?—A. No. He asked me one day to come into his office, saying that he wanted to talk to me. He tried to close the door, but I wouldn’t let him. He got too familiar by getting so close to me. He also put his hands on me.

Q. Where did he put his hands?—A. He barely touched my breast. He was subtle with his approaches, and tried to pretend that he was joking but I was too wary for such as that.

Quit His Employ.

Q. Did he try further familiarities?—A. Yes.

Q. When did this happen?—A. Two years ago.

Q. What did you tell him when you left his employ?—A. I just quit, telling him that it didn’t suit me.

Frank’s testimony was looked forward to with keen interest, but when he was called to the stand in the afternoon, he merely answered additional questions as to his movements on the day of the crime and failed to add materially to the evidence in hand.

He appeared pale and haggard from his imprisonment, but he replied to all of the questions clearly and showed no hesitation or apparent fear. He was asked:

Testimony of Frank.

Q. What kind of elevator door is there to the shaft in the pencil factory?—A. Sliding doors.

Q. How many?—A. One on each floor.

Q. Are they latticed or solid?—A. Solid.

Q. Where was the elevator at 12 o’clock Saturday?—A. I did not notice.

Q. Were the doors open or closed?—A. I don’t remember.

Q. What protection would a person have from falling down the shaft if the doors were left open?—A. A bar which projects across the opening.

Q. After the crime was committed, where did the elevator stand?—A. I only know where it stood Sunday morning. It then was on the second floor.

Didn’t File Time Tape.

Q. When you last removed the tape from the time clock, what did you do with it?—A. Handed it to an officer in the building.

Q. Did you put it on file?—A. No.

Q. Are you sure?—A. Yes, positive.

Q. Do you remember a party at your house on the night of April 26?—A. Yes.

Q. Can you name the guests?—A. I don’t remember them all.

Q. When the police came to bring you down to the factory that Sunday morning, what was said about whisky?—A. I said I wanted something warm to drink. One of the detectives suggested whisky.

Q. What time was it?—A. Between 7:30 and 8 o’clock.

Says He Viewed Body.

Q. What did you say about dreaming?—A. I said to someone that I thought I had dreamed of hearing the telephone ring in the dead of night.

Q. When you went to the undertakers’, did you go in the water closet instead of the room in which the body lay?—A. No.

Q. Did you view the body?—A. Yes.

Q. Did you recognize the girl?—A. Yes.

Q. When did you first hear her name?—A. I don’t remember.

Q. What time did you return home that Sunday afternoon?—A. I don’t recollect.

Q. Did you telephone your wife before your return?—A. Yes.

Q. Was the murder discussed at home that afternoon?—A. Not much.

Q. What topic was discussed?—A. I don’t remember.

Often Does Not Remember.

Q. When did Quinn first mention to you his visit to the factory on the 26th?—A. I don’t remember.

Q. What did he say?—A. He said, “Don’t you recollect that I was at the factory Saturday about noon?”

Q. What did you tell him about withholding that information until your attorney had been consulted?—A. I don’t remember. I had so many visitors that I couldn’t recollect the exact words.

Q. Who suggested the conference with your attorney relative to Quinn’s visit?—A. I don’t remember.

Q. How long have you known you had counsel?—A. Since Monday.

Q. Why was it mentioned that Quinn’s visit he kept quiet until consultation with your lawyer?—A. I don’t remember.

Explains Locks and Doors.

Q. How can you lock the door between your office and the dressing room where the blood spots were found?—A. I have never seen it locked.

Q. Is it usually open or locked?—A. Closed.

Q. Is there any way of closing the doors on the back stairway?—A. Yes. They are locked.

Q. Describe your telephone conversation with Detective Starnes at the time you were informed of the tragedy?—A. He asked me if I was superintendent of the National Pencil Factory. “I’d like to have you come down here at once,” he said when I informed him that I was Leo Frank. He said he wanted me to identify a girl, and asked me if I knew Mary Phagan.

Q. Didn’t you say that the first time you had heard her name was while you were traveling in the auto on the way to the factory Sunday morning?—A. I don’t recollect that I did.

Q. Did you have any trouble with a girl in your office Saturday morning?—A. No. There was one incident where a mistake had been made in the pay envelope of Mattie Smith, but it was corrected without any trouble.

Tells of Callers at Office.

Q. What time was Mattie Smith in your office?—A. Between 9 and 10 a. m.

Q. Did any one enter while she was there?—A. I don’t remember.

Q. Give the name of every one in the office throughout the day Saturday?—A. Mr. Darley, Mr. Holloway, the office boy, Miss Hall, the stenographer; Mr. Campbell, Mr. Fullerton, Mrs. White, Lemmie Quinn, Mr. Gantt, Emma Clark, another girl employee, Arthur White, Harry Denham, Newt Lee and Mary Phagan.

Q. Did you see May Barrett?—A. I don’t know her.

Q. What did you say to Emma Clark?—A. I don’t remember saying anything to her.

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Atlanta Georgian, May 9th 1913, “Best Detective in America Now is on Case, Says Dorsey,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)