Burns’ Investigator Outlines His Theory of Phagan Murder

Burns' Investigator

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

Atlanta Journal

Monday, May 19th, 1913

It Coincides In Practically Every Feature With Theory Held by Solicitor Dorsey, Detectives and Pinkertons


He Holds Long Conerence [sic] With Solicitor, Who Has Welcomed Him Into Case, Urged to Contribute to Fund

The theory of the murder of Mary Phagan entertained by the city detectives and outlined in The Journal first on Sunday a week ago is the theory in which C. W. Tobie, manager of the criminal department of the William J. Burns agency, believes.

Mr. Tobie, who has been employed by Attorney Thomas B. Felder, has assumed charge of the investigation of the Phagan case for the Burns’ agency pending the arrival of his chief.

To The Journal Monday morning he outlined his theory of the case in the office of Colonel Felder.

“The Phagan murder is not in my opinion a hopeless or impregnable mystery,” he said, “and I am confident that we will find and convict the guilty man.

“There are several features of the case which I do not care to mention which have not been worked out. I am going right after these ends of the affair, and believe that I will get results.”

Mr. Tobie, who appears more of a prosperous business man than a detective, leaves a long record of success behind him, and has worked on a number of the most famous mysteries which have been solved through the Burns agency. He does not consider the Phagan case as even an unusual mystery, and declares that many more clues have been left to work from than in some cases where he has successfully hunted a murderer.

As a premise, Mr. Tobie says that the murder was evidently committed by some one who had either been connected with the factory at some time or was connected with it on Saturday, April 26.

When asked for his theory, he declared that in his opinion the murder was not premeditated.


“I believe that an insulting proposal was made to Mary Phagan,” he said, “and she rejected it. When she would not promise not to speak of the matter, I think her assailant became angry and struck her. The force of the blow, together with the force of her falling body caused a fracture at the base of her skull, when her head struck the iron lathe handle.

“Her body was carried into a nearby closet, where attempts were made to revive her. When she failed to revive the man reasoned that he would certainly be charged with a heinous crime when she recovered, so, panic stricken, he tied the cord around her neck tight enough to cause strangulation if she should revive.

“I believe that later the body was carried to the basement, the murderer taking it there with a view to cremating it in the furnace. Then realizing that the sight of smoke would probably cause comment, as it was known that the factory was not in operation that day, he gave up the attempt.

“In an effort to throw suspicion from himself he wrote the notes and pulled the staple out of the rear basement door to make it appear as if the body had been carried in from the outside.


“The idea that the murder was not committed in the factory is preposterous. Not only was the crime committed there, but some one very familiar with the place is responsible. Further, I do not believe the girl left the factory after she went for her pay.”

The Burns man came directly here from Chicago with orders to drop everything in making his search for Mary Phagan’s slayer. He is working directly for Mr. Felder, who is raising a fund by public subscription to pay for the investigation, which, he says, he is certain will result in the conviction of the murderer.

Mr. Tobie declares that he is hampered in no way in his work and is going to give his best efforts towards bringing to justice the criminal, regardless of who he may be.

Mr. Felder again urges the people to support the Burns fund. “If the people want to see this mystery solved the Burns people will do the work,” he said. “And we must ask the support of the people. If they respond to the appeal for funds, William J. Burns himself will come here at the earliest possible moment. If Mr. Tobie has not found the evidence to convict the murderer before he arrives from Europe.”

The Burns man has no criticism of anything that has been done in working the case, and says that the unworked features to which he is devoting his attention, were overlooked probably because the officials were thrown off the track by the many false rumors and clues, which presented themselves soon after the crime was discovered.


The Burns agent has already had a lengthy conference with the solicitor general, who gave him considerable information on the investigation.

“Mr. Dorsey,” he said, “informs me that I am to be accorded just the same treatment given other detectives on the case, and in this he assumes a very proper attitude. We want to do our work from the ground up, and it is only proper that we should.”

Solicitor General Dorsey on Monday was in conference for some time with Chief of Detectives Newport Lanford, and during the morning he interviewed several witnesses in the case. While Mr. Dorsey is said to be preparing to submit the testimony in the case to the grand jury in the briefest form possible not to injure the case, it will probably take that body more than a day to dispose of the matter.


James Connolly [sic], a negro sweeper at the National Pencil factory, who was arrested two weeks ago, when found washing a shirt in the factory, has never been released. The police are detaining him because of their belief that he, like Newt Lee, knows more about the murder of Mary Phagan than he has told the officers.

Connolly, who has been sweated regularly by the officers, was given the handwriting test on Sunday. He wrote from dictation the words on the notes found by Mary Phagan’s body, and his writing will be placed in the hands of the solicitor general to be compared by his experts with the original.

Connolly’s wife, who is not in custody, was recently summoned to headquarters, where she stoutly defended her husband.

Connolly claims absolute ignorance of the crime.

Suspicion was first directed against him two weeks ago, when he was seen washing a shirt, which was though to be bloodstained.

When questioned about his action he told the police the very plausible story that he was simply washing his only shirt because he desired to “clean-up” in honor of the inquest, before which he had been ordered to appear that afternoon.

Connolly has never been seriously considered as a suspect.

Leo M. Frank, superintendent of the National Pencil factory, who was held by the coroner’s jury, was visited by more than a score of friends Sunday, many of whom remained several hours. Frank has adapted himself to the routine of the prison and his health and spirits remain good.

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Atlanta Journal, May 19th 1913, “Burns’ Investigator Outlines His Theory of Phagan Murder,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)