Burns Agent Outlines Phagan Theory

by Archivist on May 19, 2016

Burns Agent Outlines

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

Atlanta Georgian

Monday, May 19th, 1913

Famous Detective’s Aid, C. W. Tobie, Issues First Statement on Work in Slaying Case.

C. W. Tobie, manager of the criminal department of the W. J. Burns Detective Agency, Monday made public his theory of the murder of Mary Phagan. For the first time the man who is representing Burns in Atlanta’s greatest mystery until the noted detective arrived consented to see reporters.

Tobie’s theory is that Mary Phagan was murdered inside the National Pencil plant, by some one familiar with the premises, and that her body was dragged to the basement for purposes of concealment and probably destruction. He scouted the idea she was killed on the outside and dragged inside, and declared that too much buncombe has been given out by men who have only muddled the waters.

While no new arrests are expected immediately, Tobie declared the mystery is not all impossible of solution, and that the guilty man will be apprehended in due time. Meanwhile, he promised to issue statements telling the progress made from time to time.

Burns Expert’s Theory.

Here is Tobie’s theory as he outlined it to a Georgian reporter today:

Mary Phagan, while in the pencil factory, was approached by some one who made an improper proposal. She resented it and the man asked her to remain silent. She refused, saying she would report the affair to the proper authorities, and the man struck her, hurling her against a machine, the impact causing the skull wound.

Seeing the injury he had inflicted, the assailant became desperate. If the girl revived she would tell the story of the assault and he would be sentenced to the penitentiary. Actual murder and prompt disposition of the body offered the only possible escape, and this he concluded to do. He completed his work by tying a cord around the 14-year-old girl’s neck and strangling her.

Intended to Burn Body.

The body was then taken to the basement of the factory, Tobie thinks, because the murderer intended to incinerate it.

There was no fire in the furnace, or not enough, or time was too short. The next possible ruse was to manufacture evidence that the murder had been committed on the outside and the body dragged in. The guilty man then pulled a staple out of the back basement door and dragged the body to make it appear it had been brought in from the outside.

“The door was opened from the inside,” said Tobie. “All the abrasions are on the inside, and all the evidence points to the fact the door was forced from the inside. The murder was committed by some one familiar with the factory, one who had probably worked there, and the body was taken to the factory basement to hide the crime. The note found there was written for this purpose, also.”

Big Developments Rumored.

Hurried conferences Monday at noon between Solicitor Dorsey and Chief of Detectives Lanford and then later between Chief Lanford and Pinkerton Detective Harry Scott led to persistent reports about the police station that important developments in the Phagan case were expected during the afternoon.

Neither of the officials, however, would divulge the nature of the conferences, further than to declare that “we were merely going over evidence in the case.”

Notwithstanding this reticence, however, the two conferences, one directly following the other, caused the

Burns Theory in Phagan Case Outlined

Famous Detective’s Aide Scouts Idea That Girl Was Slain Outside Factory.

Continued From Page 1.

general belief that they were significant and that some new plan was being determined.

More Arrests Are Denied.

It was positively denied by the trio of officers, however, that any new arrests were to be made.

“I don’t know who it would be,” replied Chief Lanford when asked a direct question.

The first conference was held when Solicitor Dorsey summoned Chief Lanford to his office. The two were closeted for nearly an hour. Then Chief Lanford called Detective Scott to the police station. The Pinkerton man, when he arrived, declared he had no idea what the chief should want with him. He and the chief were behind closed doors for fully an hour or more.

“We have merely been looking over the evidence in a general way,” said both officers when they emerged from the office.

Asked as to the nature of his conference with the Solicitor, Chief Lanford made the same reply.

“We were just going over the evidence,” he said.

No Friction, Chief Asserts.

Chief Lanford also denied that there had been any friction among the officials over the work on the mystery, or that the conferences had any bearing along this line. As to a report that he had withheld evidence from the Solicitor, Chief Lanford said:

“I don’t remember of having withheld any evidence. Mr. Dorsey didn’t ask me anything about this report at all.”

The Solicitor and the Pinkertons have held no conferences. Detective Scott makes reports to Chief Lanford and these are submitted to the Solicitor.

Detective Scott said Monday that he still has five men at work on the mystery, but refused to discuss any particular line on which they are working.

Colonel Thomas B. Felder announced Monday morning that he had received word from William J. Burns that he would arrive in America before June 1 and would probably be on the scene of the Phagan slaying before that date.

Colonel Felder said the great detective had taken an unusual interest in the Phagan mystery and he would not be surprised to hear from him in America any day soon.

“Burns is more interested in this case than I have known him to be in another,” said Colonel Felder. “I am advised that he will hasten his return from Europe on this account and be in America some days before June 1. He will, of course, come direct to Atlanta.

“The meantime developments since his investigator has been here are more than satisfactory. The Burns detective convinced Mr. Dorsey Sunday afternoon the he had touched upon heretofore overlooked evidence of importance, and in his report today we expect valuable information.”

Search Grows More Active.

With investigation into the mystery more active Monday than it has been at any time during the last two weeks, the Solicitor was hopeful that important developments would be made during the day.

The special representative of the Burns agency was reported to have struck upon an important and heretofore overlooked clew that throws a new light on the case. He will make a definite report at 11 o’clock this morning at the office of the Solicitor, when it is not unlikely some announcement will be made.

Leo M. Frank, the factory superintendent, received a large number of visitors at his cell in the Tower Sunday. He would not discuss the case, or even comment on it. He said his health was fine and he had accustomed himself to the daily routine in prison.

The examination of the handwriting of the negro, James Connolly [sic], held at the police station in connection with the murder of Mary Phagan, failed to connect him with writing the notes found near the slain girl’s body in the basement of the pencil factory, according to City Detective John Black, Monday morning. The detective said that unless the negro could be connected with the crime in this way there was nothing against him.

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Atlanta Georgian, May 19th 1913, “Burns Agent Outlines Theory of Phagan Case,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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