Bits of Circumstantial Evidence, as Viewed by State, Strands in Rope

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

Atlanta Georgian
August 8th, 1913


They call it a chain that the State has forged, or has tried to forge, to hold Leo Frank to the murder of Mary Phagan.

But isn’t it a rope?

A chain, you know, is as strong as its weakest link. Take one link out, and the chain comes apart.

With a rope, it’s different.

Strand after strand might be cut or broken, and the rope still holds a certain weight. Then might come a time when the cutting of one more strand would cause the rope to break.

The point is, the finished rope will sustain a weight that would instantly snap any one of its several strands.

Bits of Evidence Threads.

And that is what the various bits of circumstantial evidence might better be called—strands or threads.

Edgar Allen Poe, in “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” has nearly exhausted the philosophical phase of accumulative circumstance and its relation to evidence.

Applying the system of the well-known Dupin to the case in point—and REGARDING IT, BE IT UNDERSTOOD, STRICTLY FROM THE STATE’S VIEWPOINT—an analysis of part of the evidence against Leo Frank follows:

First off, the isolated circumstance of Conley’s ability to write would seem as futile as a smoke wreath in sustaining any weight of evidence, except against Conley himself.

But to the fact is added the fact that Frank knew Conley could write.

Still, the thread is flimsy, and even connected with the case against Frank, would appear worthless.

Six Deductions Seen.

But when it develops that Frank knowing Conley could write, and knowing the police were trying to find the author of the murder notes—when Frank, well aware of these things, did not inform the police that Conley was lying when he said he could not write, the following deductions appear:

(1) That Frank did not want to connect Conley with the murder notes which (2) would have been the natural and prompt inclination of a suspected man who knew nothing of the crime himself, so that (3) it appeared Frank knew something of the murder, and (4) knew that Conley knew he knew something of the murder, which (5) justified the conclusion on the part of the State that Frank feared to implicate Conley, lest (6) Conley, in turn, tell something that would implicate him.

Of course, this stand may be broken entirely by the defense, showing Frank never knew the police were ignorant of Conley’s ability to write before the police learned it themselves.

But there is one pretty substantial stand of evidence, as the State sees it—and all having its genesis in the simple fact that Conley knew how to write, and at first denied it.

But that strand of itself surely would fail to carry the burden of the case. There must be others.

Even Conley’s story is strong only by reason of many strands that surround and support it. Presented to a jury, round and unvarnished—tainted by the reek of false affidavits and weakened by the dry-rot of self-interest, Conley’s story never would win a verdict against Leo Frank.

But there is the shred of the murder notes—Conley’s story draws support from that. There is the time factor brought out by the expert testimony—Conley’s story twines itself about the prop of science. There is the agitation of Frank noticed by Newt Lee in the middle of the afternoon—Conley’s story provides for that. There is the visit of Monteen Stover, a tiny circumstance of itself—but of vast importance just so far as it strengthens Conley’s recollection of exact time.

And it is by reason of the rope already well along in the twisting that a hundred other little circumstances become significant that of themselves would be lighter than the air drawn dagger that troubled the dreams of Macbeth.

They fit in with the twisting of the rope.

Will the Rope Hold?

There is Frank’s agitation at home and at the factory. There is the ugly story of habitual “chats” at the factory, guarded by Conley as watchman. And the sending away of Newt Lee that afternoon. And the seeing of Conley by Mrs. White, “loitering” at the place he fixes for himself as watchman, and at the time. And the alleged reluctance of Frank to confront Conley at the jail.

And all the rest of it.

So many little incidents, and most of them small to triviality in themselves.

The point is, each strengthens the other, until the fragile threads become a rope.

Will it hold after Frank’s lawyers have presented their side of the case.

The jury must decide.

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Atlanta Georgian, August 8th 1913, “Bits of Circumstantial Evidence, as Viewed by State, Strands in Rope,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)