Conley Reported to Admit Writing Notes Saturday

Conley Reported to Admit

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

Atlanta Constitution

Wednesday, May 28th, 1913

Negro Sweeper, It Is Stated, Acknowledges That He Erred in Former Statement to the Detectives.


Conley Is Taken to Frank’s Cell, But Prisoner Refused to See Him Except in the Presence of His Lawyer.

In a gruelling three-hour third degree at police headquarters last night, James Conley, the negro pencil factory sweeper, is reported to have made the statement that he erred in the date of his original confession and that he wrote the murder notes at Leo Frank’s dictation at 1 o’clock on the Saturday of Mary Phagan’s disappearance instead of the preceding Friday.

In an effort to confront the suspected pencil plant superintendent with this acknowledgement, Chief Beavers, Chief Lanford and Harry Scott, of the Pinkertons, took the negro to the Tower at 8 o’clock, where they tried to gain admission to Frank’s cell. Sheriff Mangum refused entrance unless permitted by Frank.

When word came to him that the police chiefs and the Pinkerton man desired to confront him with Conley, the prisoner positively refused them an audience, declaring that he would have to first consult his counsel, Attorney Luther Rosser.

Secrecy Shrouds Confession.

Secrecy shrouds the negro’s reported confession amendment. All three men who subjected him to the third degree admit that he has made a statement of importance, but will neither deny nor affirm the rumor of his change of dates. Chief Lanford was seen by a reporter for The Constitution at police headquarters a few minutes after the negro had been returned to his cell.

He admitted that an important admission had been made by Conley, and, that as a result, he would be used as a material witness against Frank.

He was asked if the negro had revised the date on which he declared he wrote the Phagan murder notes.

“I can’t say at present. I will not be able to talk for some time yet. Not until the negro makes another affidavit at least,” he replied.

Judging from this, Conley will be required to attest to a new sworn statement of his confession. Chief Lanford would not commit himself on that subject.

Saying that he was not entirely surprised at the result of the examination under which Conley was placed last night, the detective chief said that it was one of the most significant developments of the entire investigation, and that it was valued as highly as any evidence now in his possession.

Harry Scott, assistant superintendent of the Atlanta branch of the Pinkertons, who assisted the police officials in the third degree, would not commit himself regarding the rumored amendment to the negro’s admission. He said, though, that an acknowledgement of importance had been gained from the prisoner, and that it was damaging to Frank.

Police Were Worried.

Throughout Tuesday police headquarters was worried over the negro’s statement that he had written the notes he says were dictated by Frank on Friday, and had reached the conclusion that he was either lying or had confused his dates. On the latter theory, he was subjected to the gruelling examination at night.

Ever since it was sworn to in an affidavit made in the office of Solictor General Dorsey last Saturday, the detectives have been sorely puzzled over Conley’s confession. It did more to muddy the waters of their investigation than any other phase of the case. Supporting, to a large degree, the rumor that the dates had been changed was the statement by Chief Lanford that he now was satisfied with Conley’s story.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, he had stated to a reporter for The Constitution that he was not pleased with Conley’s confession because of the day—Friday—on which he claims to have written the notes for Frank. He admitted being mystified.

Last night, however, he said

“One thing—I’m no longer puzzled.”

Chief Beavers said that inasmuch as the detective department was conducting the investigation into the Phagan case, he did not deem it prudent to give out information which they evidently intended keeping secret. This he gave as a reason for not committing himself on the rumor of Conley’s new confession.

He told the reporter who talked with him that Conley had not changed his affidavit, laying emphasis on the word “affidavit.” He was asked if the negro had changed his statement in any manner.

“I did not say statement,” he answered, “I said affidavit.”

It is an admitted fact that Conley has not made a fresh affidavit.

Hour Is the Same.

Chief Lanford says that Conley did not change the hour in which he originally declared the notes were written, which was four minutes to 1 o’clock in the afternoon. It will be recalled that he stated in his affidavit that Frank had called him to his office at 12:56 o’clock. He was positive of the hour, he said, because, on his way to the office he had glanced at the time clock in the hallway just outside the office entrance.

If he has altered his original statement, as rumored, it is now to the effect that Frank summoned him to write the murder missives less than forty-five minutes after Mary Phagan had entered the factory building to draw her pay envelope.

Chief C. W. Tobie, the Burns agent, left the city Tuesday afternoon. He goes to Chicago to return to his office as manager of the criminal department of his agency.

Declaring his belief that factional wrangles, such as the one now existing between certain forces engaged in the Phagan mystery, impede the progress of operations, the Burns man explained his reason for withdrawal in this caustic remark:

“This is a hell of a family row, for a stranger like me to be mixed in.”

He commends the detective department of police headquarters for the progress they have made, and expresses belief that Frank will be convicted on the evidence now at hand much of which, he says, has never yet been revealed to the public.

He also said that, although the Burns organization was not connected with the mystery in any manner at present, it probably would work on the case later. In such event he declared, their connection would be secret.


Detective Chief Lanford Tuesday issued to a reporter for The Constitution a signed statement in which he proposed to rid himself and Atlanta of “two nuisances by sending A. S. Colyar handcuffed and in custody of a policeman to Knoxville Tenn., and Colonel T. B. Felder in charge of a detective to Columbia, S. C.

The Statement Follows:

“I will make this proposition to Colonel Felder. That I will handcuff A. S. Colyar and send him back to Knoxville, Tenn. without requisition papers if he (Colonel Felder) will accompany one of my men to Columbia, S. C. waiving requisition papers. Thereby I would get rid of two nuisances.

(Signed) N. A. LANFORD”

Difference, Says Felder.

Colonel Felder, when informed of the detective’s proposition, treated it lightly, but said:

“There is only one difference between those crooks Lanford and Colyar—one has been caught and the other hasn’t.”

Following Chief Beavers’ conference with Solicitor General Dorsey over the proposed presentation before the grand jury of charges made against Colonel Felder by the detective department and Felder’s counter charges of corruption, the attorney said that he was ready and willing to undergo investigation of any nature.

“No investigation would be too exhaustive,” he said. “I would be pleased to go before any committee organization or tribunal. I have done nothing wrong. There is nothing in my whole professional career of which I am ashamed. I wish an investigation would be started.”

Suspicion of the Phagan murder, which is freely reported to have been directed toward the negro James Conley, is scouted by the police and detectives. Chief Lanford intimates that the confession to having written the murder notes is either a plot to muddy the waters of the investigation, or an act of ignorance.

He also says, however, that in case the negro did pen the missives, it was done on the Saturday of the crime, and about the hour at which he declares they were written on the preceding day. “It is probable,” the chief says, “that the black has got confused in his dates and has mistaken Friday for Saturday.”

Confession Is Puzzling.

Conley’s confession is at present, the most mystifying phase of the whole mystery. In an effort to break his story the detectives are exerting in vain every possible scheme upon the negro.

The report that Mrs. Mattie White, wife of Arthur White, who visited her husband in the pencil plant on the day of Mary Phagan’s disappearance, had identified Conley as the negro she noticed loitering in the shadows of the first floor that afternoon, is erroneous. Mrs. White denies having seen the negro at all during the day. Her statement to this effect was made to detectives Tuesday.

Relative to the withdrawal of the Burns agency from the Phagan mystery, Colonel Felder said Tuesday that the usefulness of that organization was over, and that its agents already had performed the duty for which they had been employed. He says further that Tobie unearthed evidence firmly indicating the suspected superintendent’s guilt, and that the detective’s operations had been invaluable to the solicitor general.

Tobie, in an interview Monday night, took the detective department of headquarters to task for allying with Colyar in their operations. He said that it lowered the dignity of the department.

No new developments arose in the investigation Tuesday. Although he will not state it as a positive fact, Chief Lanford strongly intimates that the alleged telephone conversation between Frank and Mrs. Mima [sic] Famby [sic] has been verified by telephone operators who overheard the alleged message.

Conley Worries Detectives.

The mystery of Conley’s confession is the most baffling puzzle now confronted with by the detectives, they say. He was arrested on the Tuesday following the murder when E. F. Holloway, timekeeper and foreman of the pencil plant discovered the negro washing a shirt on the second floor of the factory building. Holloway immediately notified the detectives. Conley was arrested and since has been kept at police station.

The new theory entertained by the detectives is that Conley wrote the notes on Saturday instead of the Friday which he claims. He stoutly declares however that it was 1 o’clock Friday afternoon, the day before the tragic holiday. Nothing seems able to break his story.

Supporting, in a degree, the suspicion directed toward the negro, is the story of Foreman oHlloway [sic], who says that Conley had recently become addicted to drink and was on the verge of being discharged when his arrest was made. He had been transferred from the job of elevator boy, Holloway says because of drink, and was put to work sweeping on the second floor, where he came in contact with the girl operatives.

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Atlanta Constitution, May 28th 1913, “Conley Reported to Admit Writing Notes Saturday,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)