Bowen Still Held by Houston Police in the Phagan Case

by Archivist on May 6, 2016

Bowen Still Held by the Houston Police

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

Atlanta Georgian

Tuesday, May 6th, 1913

Atlanta Police Do Not Believe He is Implicated in Tragedy—Letters From Women and 50 Photographs of Girls Found in Prisoners Trunk.

The Atlanta police and State officials say they place little importance in the arrest of Paul P. Bowen, the former Atlanta youth who is being held by the Houston authorities.

In Bowen’s trunk was found a mass of clippings telling of the Phagan killing, and at least 50 photographs of girls and young women. Several times while he was being questioned, Bowen is said to have contradicted himself.

Bowen stoutly maintains his innocence. Relatives and friends of his in Atlanta say his arrest is preposterous.

Atlanta detectives have investigated thoroughly Bowen’s history in Atlanta and declared Tuesday afternoon that they have virtually established an alibi for him. Having satisfied themselves of the probability of Bowen’s innocence, they are continuing on their original line of investigation and have abandoned the theory that Bowen could have been involved.

The local authorities have asked, however, that Bowen be held until a more complete investigation can be made. They think he will be able to prove his innocence and say that they have letters in their possession which practically establish that Bowen could not have been in Atlanta on the date of the crime.

One letter, addressed to Charles Kimball, a clerk in the Southern Railway office, was postmarked April 23 at Lukin, Texas, and did not reach Atlanta until April 27, the day after the killing in the National Pencil Factory basement.

Another letter, which is in the possession of Solicitor Dorsey, was written by Bowen to an Atlanta friend and was mailed at Tyler, Texas, April 20 as Bowen was on his way to Texarkana, Ark. These letters lead the local authorities to believe that Bowen can not reasonably be supposed to have come the hundreds of miles just in time to commit the crime and then immediately jump a train to return Westward.

HOUSTON, TEXAS, May 6.—Paul P. Bowen, arrested because of the suspicion of the local authorities that he was connected with the murder of Mary Phagan in Atlanta, denied Tuesday all knowledge of the girl and the crime except as he read of it in the newspapers.

A score of clippings telling the story of the little girl’s death were found in the young man’s room. His only explanation was that Atlanta was his home town, and he was particularly interested in the crime because of that.

The police here regard as more significant than the clippings, the stories of Bowen’s actions in his room at the St. Jean Hotel, and later at a rooming house. Roomers in adjoining rooms are said to have been disturbed by his moans and mutterings and by his constant pacing of the floor.

“Why did I do it? Why did I do it?” he is declared to have repeated to himself incessantly. Complaint was first made to the hotel authorities and later the police were notified.

Bowen was arrested last night by Chief of Police Davison, Chief of Detectives Peyton and Detective Hilton at 1520 Texas Avenue.

“A night of terror,” as officers term it, led to the detention of Bowen.

Sunday night in room 214, at the St. Jean Hotel, the young man paced the floor and moaned. Persons in adjoining rooms were unable to sleep, and reported to the management that something was wrong in the room. An investigation disclosed Bowen poring over letters and newspaper accounts of the murder and crying aloud.

“Oh, why did I do it?” he is said to have cried.

“I would not have done it. I ought not to have done that. If I had it to do over I wouldn’t do it,” were repeatedly heard by those who listened and who frequently walked through the hall in an effort to ascertain some cause for the peculiar actions of the man.

Monday the young man was shadowed and the matter was reported to the detective department. About 5 o’clock he registered off and moved to Texas Avenue and Crawford Street. There he engaged a room for a week.

Man Held by Houston, Tex., Police as Phagan Suspect Denies Knowledge of Crime

Continued From Page 1.

Last night, shortly after midnight, two officers went to the place. Bowen answered a knock at his room door, and then straightened himself and looked directly at the officers.

Holds Knife in Hand.

“Who are you fellows and what do you want here?” he asked.

The officers answered that they wanted to talk to him and he then invited them into his room. He kept a distance from them, however, and held an open knife in his right hand. Bowen appeared nervous throughout the conversations of perhaps fifteen minutes, but replied to all queries promptly and to the point.

When one of them told him to “consider yourself under arrest” he coolly answered, “That’s all right, but you’ve got the wrong man.”

Bowen closed his knife and handed it to an officer and sat on the side of the bed. To one officer he pointed out his trunk and suitcase—a small affair in the nature of a travelling man’s grip. As the officers opened the trunk they lifted out clothes—some nice ones that indicated a well-dressed man—and these, with letters, postcards and pictures, were piled on the floor.

“If I had a gun you never would go through that trunk,” said Bowen. “The things in there are mine, and not yours. I don’t know anything about this affair and you’ll have to show me strong.”

Stoutly Denies Crime.

Officers talked to him for more than an hour at the police station, but Bowen stoutly denied any knowledge of the killing of the young girl. He continued to show nervousness, though, and frequently inquired of the detectives why he should be treated the way they were doing him.

“If I had the least suspicion that this would happen to me, I would not have been in Houston this long,” he said. “I would have left here Sunday night.”

Bowen was taken from the rooming house to the police station and was placed in a cell across the hall from the Chief of Detectives’ offices. He slept but little and did not undress to lie down. This morning he was at the cell door early and looked haggard.

Bowen complained of being hungry. He declared that he was tired—almost worn out. He walked the floor nervously, then sat down on the side of his cot. Next he stepped to the grating and inquired if he was going to be allowed to starve to death or would he be given some breakfast. About 9 o’clock he was taken into a private office with Chief of Detectives Peyton and Detective Andrew F. Shelly. He admitted that he lived in Atlanta and had come from that city to Houston, but stoutly denied that he even knew Mary Phagan.

Only Interested, He Says.

When shown the pictures in his trunk and grip, he pointed out a number of persons, including several young women, though he declared that none of them was “Mary Phagan or any of her kinfolk.”

Bowen Well Educated.

Bowen is 22 years of age and has light hair. He is well dressed and well educated. He has been a bookkeeper and stenographer, and claimed that he worked in Atlanta for the Morrow Transfer Company. He gave his home address as 108 Ivy Street.

He claimed this was his first visit to Houston. He declined to talk to officers or to tell anything about his kinspeople or any of his business connections except as given above.

Bowen is slight of build, perhaps 5 feet, 6 or 7 inches in height. He weighs about 125 pounds and appears brisk and energetic.

He admitted to officers that he had lived in Atlanta nearly all his life. He denied, however, that he knows anything about the National Pencil Factory, Leo Frank, the manager, or any persons connected with or employed in the factory.

He talked freely about some matters and evasively about others. Efforts to corner the young man in every instance proved futile.

Letter Signed “M. J. P.”

A hundred pictures in his trunk show auto rides and picnic parties, individual pictures and groups and couples. When shown them he merely laughed and made a jocular remark about some girl “being pretty.”

There are batches of letters and postcards.

The letters were nearly all from young women, some of them were endearing ones. A few were from young men friends.

Many of the letters are signed “Mary,” but none is signed “Mary Phagan.” The signature to one letter is merely the initials, “M. J. P.”

This is believed by the Houston police to have been written by the Phagan girl.

Woman’s Bloodstained Vest.

Hanging from the window of room 214 in the St. Jean Hotel was found a woman’s bloodstained undervest. It was of small size, as if for a girl from 14 to 16 years of age. The discovery of the undervest was made yesterday morning. A guest at the hotel saw it fluttering from the window and advised an attaché of the place. It was wrapped in a paper and sent to the police station.

It is believed that an effort was made to throw the vest out of the window and that it caught on the hedge. It was not seen there before Monday morning, and two guests at the hotel declared that it was not there Sunday night. The vest was bloodstained toward the top of the breast and about halfway down the front. The vest is being held in connection with other properties by the detectives.

Bowen told the officers again and again that he had never heard of the girl, but admitted that he knew the place where she had worked. Bowen failed to explain the newspaper clippings containing accounts of the murder. He was shown them and portions of them were read to him. He admitted that he is familiar with the story of the crime, though reading the papers, and said his interest was simply because Atlanta is his home.

Bowen came to Houston Sunday night, presumably from New Orleans, although this has not been determined, as the prisoner declined to talk about his arrival as freely as he did other matters. He went directly to the St. Jean Hotel and asked for a dollar room.

“Sorry, sir, but we haven’t got anything less than dollar-fifty,” said the clerk. Bowen turned and walked to the door with his grip in his hand. The clerk called him, but he did not heed it and started out. The clerk ran to the door and explained that he had just discovered a dollar room vacant. The young man returned and registered. On the book he wrote  “Paul P. Bowen, Atlanta, Ga.,” boldly. There was no effort to conceal his identity or the city from whence he came.

The young man went to his room and few minutes later went out for supper. He had registered at 7:45 o’clock. Before 9 o’clock he was in his room. He did not retire at that hour, though.

Opening his grip, it developed, Bowen read and reread some letters. Most of them were from young women.

He wept and then threw aside the missives. Picking from among the contents of the grip a number of newspaper clippings, he pored over them as if eager to get every word of every sentence. Then he moaned aloud: “Oh, if I hadn’t done that! What did I do it for?”

A youth named Paul A. Bowen lived at the Atlanta Y. M. C. A. until February of 1912, when he left for Houston, Texas, according to Secretary J. C. Bell, of the Atlanta association.

Mr. Bell said Bowen was an ideal young man and stood high in the estimation of the Y. M. C. A. workers of Atlanta. He was a clerk at the Inman Yards of the Southern Railway.

Defends Bowen.

Charles Kimball, a clerk in the master mechanic’s office at the Southern Railway shops and a close personal friend of Paul P. Bowen’s, said this morning, when seen by a Georgian reporter, that he did not believe his friend could be in any way implicated in the murder of little Mary Phagan.

“I have just come back from the detectives office, where I went to carry a letter which I received from Paul on Sunday morning, April 27,” he said. “There is nothing unusual about the letter. It is simply a personal letter about affairs in which we were both interested and my only idea of showing it to the detectives at all is that it bears a postmark which might serve to divert suspicion from him. The letter is dated and postmarked Lufkin, Texas, April 22. I have the letter to Detectives Black and Harry Scott.

“As for Bowen, personally, he had a great many friends here in Atlanta and I am sure that they do not take any stock in the theory that he had anything to do with the murder or was even in Atlanta at the time.

“He left here in the early part of last spring and went to El Dorado, Ark., where he was employed in the offices of the Rock Island lines as a clerk. He later became private secretary to the superintendent of the St. Louis and Southwestern line, and spent a great deal of his time traveling over the lines in the superintendent’s private car.

“I have been in correspondence with him almost continually since he left here and have received letters from him from a great many points out West.”

All the local authorities were inclined to belittle the importance of the Bowen arrest.

Innocent, Says Lanford.

Chief of Detectives Lanford declared his belief in the innocence of Paul Bowen Tuesday. He said that the detectives of his department had been tracing the movements of Bowen since he left Atlanta about a year ago after he had left the employ of the Morrow Transfer Company, of which he was secretary. In all this time, said the chief of detectives, they were unable to find that he had returned to Atlanta.

On the contrary, Bowen had written to friends in Atlanta from various points and had never suggested returning home.

“Bowen didn’t know the girl,” said the chief. “He didn’t know the girl’s family. It is preposterous to think that he would make a hurried and secret trip into the city from Lufkin, Texas, where he was heard from in a letter bearing the date of April 23, and then make his way back to Houston, where he was captured.

“Our disbelief in his guilt, however, does not mean that we are going to overlook any possibility that he might have been concerned. He is being held for us.”

Another Defends Him.

Clarence Duncan, a student at the Atlanta Dental College, and Bowen’s room mate at the Young Men’s Christian Association, declared Tuesday afternoon that Bowen had not been in Atlanta, to his knowledge, since last June.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, May 6th 1913, “Bowen Still Held by Houston Police in the Phagan Case,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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