Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 6th, 1913
Sweeper’s Grilling Ends After 151/2 Hours, His Main Story Unshaken
MYSTERY OF GIRL’S MESH BAG EXPLAINED BY NEGRO ON STAND
That Mary Phagan’s silver-plated mesh bag, mysteriously missing since the girl’s bruised and lifeless body was found the morning of April 27, was in Leo Frank’s office a few minutes after the attack and later was placed in the safe in Frank’s office was the startling statement made by the negro Conley Wednesday in the course of his re-direct examination by Solicitor Dorsey. At 11:10 the negro left the stand after being questioned for fifteen and one half hours.
This testimony was the sensation of the forenoon. Throughout the more than three months of the murder mystery an unavailing search was made for the mesh bag, the city and Pinkerton detectives being convinced that the finding of the bag would go a long distance toward pointing out the person guilty of the Phagan girl’s murder.
“Did you ever see a silver mesh bag that Mary Phagan carried?” inquired the Solicitor.
“Yes, sah,” replied Conley. “I see it right on Mr. Frank’s desk when I went in there.”
“What became of the mesh bag?” continued Dorsey.
“He went and put it in his safe,” the negro said.
First Word of Mysterious Bag.
It was the first information, authentic or otherwise, that had come to light regarding the disposal of the mesh bag. The homes of Newt Lee and Jim Conley had been searched high and low for the bag or any other clew to the perpetrator of the crime. Except for a vague rumor that a mesh bag had been found by a negro in a shop on Decatur street, a story which later was found to have no connection with the Phagan mystery, not the slightest clew ever was discovered to the whereabouts of the bag which so strangely had disappeared.
Attorney Rosser’s manner was angry and threatening when he arose for the re-cross examination. He began at once a vicious attack on Conley’s story of the mesh bag. He asked when Conley first told this remarkable tale. Conley said he couldn’t remember.
“Why didn’t you tell all this when you were telling ‘the whole truth’ to the detectives?” Rosser shouted.
The attorney apparently sought to create the impression that the mesh bag story was an afterthought and that it was manufactured by the negro when he heard of the search the detectives were making for the bag.
On Grill Over Thirteen Hours.
When Rosser turned Conley back to Dorsey for the redirect examination, the negro had been under the grill of Rosser’s cross-questioning for a total of thirteen hours. His main story of Frank’s admitting the killing and of the disposal of Mary Phagan’s body at Frank’s direction was unshaken except by his own admissions of previous falsehoods. He had been on the stand a total of fifteen and one-half hours. Of this time the Solicitor had questioned him only about two hours.
Conley was called from the stand at 11:10 o’clock.
Conley was taken into an anteroom. He removed his coat and lit a cigarette someone had given him.
“How did you like it?” he was asked.
“I liked it all right,” he replied, grinning.
Sheriff Mangum then interrupted the questioning of the reporters, saying that under the judge’s orders no one could speak to him.
The next moment Conley picked up a newspaper and became intently interested in the story of his own testimony.
As soon as court opened Mr. Rosser asked the judge if he was ready to hear argument on the proposition to eliminate parts of Conley’s testimony. He said he was prepared to support his motion with authorities.
Judge Roan replied that he would postpone his decision until 2 o’clock.
Sol[i]citor Dorsey declared that he had witnesses he expects to put on the stand Wednesday morning to substantiate the part of the negro’s testimony in dispute. He said:
“I just want the court to understand that I am going to do this.”
Judge Roan replied:
“I’ll give you the benefit of whatever you bring out.”
Conley was then recalled to the stand for the conclusion of his cross-examination.
Questioned About Affidavit.
Rosser’s first question was:
Q. You made this statement just as I read it, didn’t you, Jim?—A. Yes.
Q. It’s all correct?—A. Yes.
Q. No, Jim, you signed this statement, too, didn’t you? (Showing another affidavit.)—A. Yes, sir.
Q. You made this one the day after the one I just read? Now, listen, […]
CONLEY SAYS FRANK TOOK MARY PHAGAN’S MESH BAG
Lies Down on Floor to Show Jury How He Left Girl’s Body in Cellar
NEGRO’S LONG GRILL ENDS AFTER 15 HOURS, HIS MAIN STORY STILL UNSHAKEN
[…] and see if this is what you said?
Mr. Rosser read how Jim Conley for the first time told the story of carrying the body of Mary Phagan to the basement. These were the concluding words:
“The reason I have not told this before is that Mr. Frank said he would get me out, but it don’t seem that he is going to get out and I have decided to tell the whole truth. I gave him back the $200. He said he would fix it all right Monday.”
Q. This is what you swore, isn’t it, Jim?—A. Yes, sir; I swore it.
Q. Jim, didn’t Miss Carson ask you on Monday while you were working around her machine when they were going to get you, you answered that you hadn’t done nothing?—A. No, sir.
Denies Alarm While Sweeping.
Q. Didn’t you say that Mr. Frank was innocent and the real murderer of little Mary Phagan was the man Mrs. White saw near the steps? You dropped your broom and quit sweeping when she said that?—A. No, sir.
Q. Didn’t you say to Mr. Herbert Schiff on Monday after the murder that you were afraid to go out of the factory and that you would give a million dollars to be a white man? A. I didn’t say just that, but I told him if I was a white man I would go on out.”
Q. He told you to get on out, asking you what you had to be afraid of?—A. Something like that.
Q. Jim, you talked with Julia Fuss on that day and asked her if she had another extra? You asked her if she got one to let you see it?—A. No, sir.
Q. She told you that Mr. Frank was innocent, didn’t she? And you said he was innocent as the angels in heaven?—A. No, sir; I didn’t say that.
Mr. Rosser closed the cross-examination and Solicitor Dorsey began the redirect examination.
Tells of Prison Record.
Q. Jim, where were you in prison? A. Police headquarters.
Q. Were you ever in jail?—A. Yes.
Q. What were you charged with?—A. Just because I was washing my shirt.
Q. I mean those other times you were arrested. Were you in the county jail then?—A. No, I was in headquarters.
“The charges are in writing, your honor. They are the last evidence.”
“It’s a poor rule that doesn’t work both ways,” said Dorsey. “Can’t we exclude the evidence?”
Judge Roan: “You can show where he was.”
Q. What were you arrested for the first time?—A. I was throwing rocks.
Q. Who arrested you?—A. A police named Edmonds.
Q. The second time?—A. I was fighting.
Q. A white man or a woman?—A. No, I never had any trouble with white folks.
Q. Jim, did you try to see Mr. Frank in jail?
Judge Roan—Don’t lead him, Mr. Dorsey.
Q. Did you ever see Frank after you went to the pencil factory?—A. No.
Q. Why not?
Rosser objected to the question as immaterial. Dorsey changed his question.
Last Saw Frank at Station.
Q. When was the last time you saw Frank before you saw him here?—A. Over there at the police station.
Q. Did he say anything?—A. No, he just smiled and bowed his head.
Q. When you wrote those notes, did you sit down, and, if so, where?—A. I was sitting at the desk.
Q. Where was Frank sitting?—A. At the other desk.
Attorney Rosser objected. “He went into all that before,” he said.
Judge Roan—Did you, Mr. Dorsey?
“No, it is something I omitted,” said Dorsey.
Q. What did Frank do when he you wrote those notes?
Rosser objected to the question as leading.
Q. Did Frank touch your pencil when you were writing?
Rosser objected again, declaring that the question was leading.
Judge Roan said the question could be asked without leading.
Q. What, if anything, did Mr. Frank do when you were writing?—A. He took the pencil out of my hand and told me to rule out that “s” on the “negro.”
Q. What hour was it Friday Frank came up on the fourth floor and spoke to you?—A. About 3 o’clock.
Says Frank Took Girl’s Bag.
Q. How far was it from where you were Tuesday when he told you to be a good boy?—A. Almost the same place.
Q. How far was it from the water cooler to where her body was dragged?—A. I don’t know, sir.
Q. How far from the water cooler? A. I don’t know.
Q. Did you ever see Mary Phagan’s pocketbook or meshbag?—A. Yes, it was on the desk in Mr. Frank’s office.
Q. What did he do with it?—A. He put it in the safe.
Q. How long were you in jail before you wrote for the detectives?—A. About ten or fifteen days.
Q. How long would it take Frank to go down and lock that door?—A. About one minute.
Q. Where was Frank standing when you saw the clock at four minutes to one?—A. He was standing near those stair steps.
Q. Describe that scream you heard.
“He has gone into that before, your honor,” he said.
The question was sustained, Judge Roan saying: “The question cannot be asked because it is reopening a long cross-examination.”
Q. Jim, who has asked you the most questions, Mr. Black, Scott, Starnes and Campbell and myself or Mr. Rosser?
Tries to Show Court Grilling.
Dorsey: “Your honor, he has tried to bring out the fact that this witness has been grilled. I want to show that altogether he was not questioned as long or as much as Mr. Rosser has questioned him on the stand.
Judge Roan: “You can ask him how long he was questioned out of court, and what has gone on here is public.”
Dorsey put the question again.
Q. How long was the longest you was ever questioned before you came here?—A. Mr. Scott came and got me one day and I herd him tell the turnkey. It was fifteen minutes to eleven. It was dark when I got back.
Q. How long was that?—A. I’d say about three and one-half hours.
Q. How long has Mr. Rosser questioned you?
“Your honor, I want to get this answer in the records,” said Dorsey.
Judge Roan: “Do you object?” looking at Mr. Rosser.
“I do,” said Rosser.
“I sustain you,” said the court.
Dorsey continued the questioning.
Q. Jim, how did you leave the body in the basement?—A. I left her on her side.
Lies on Floor to Answer Query.
Q. How? (Conley got down on the floor and lay on his left side, his arms against his body. After the illustration he identified a photograph of the basement and pointed out just where he left the body).
Q. Now, Jim, tell the jury in detail everything you did after you looked at the clock at 4 minutes to 1.
Rosser objected, “He has gone into that, your honor,” he said.
“Have you, Mr. Dorsey?” Judge Roan asked.
“We have not gone into that detail,” Dorsey replied. “We want to show the jury how long it would have taken to do the things there and how long it would have taken Frank to get to his home. Mr. Rosser has brought out this detail to draw his conclusions.”
Judge Roan: “Have you asked that?”
Judge Roan: “Then I sustain the objection.”
Dorsey: “That’s all right, your honor. If you think the State ought not to ask these questions, it is all right with me.”
Promised Help in Trouble.
Q. What kind of paper were you talking about when you spoke of green sheets?—A. That one (identifying the white note).
Q. What kind of back did it have?—A. A kind of grayish pad.
Q. What did Frank say about taking you to Brooklyn?—A. He didn’t. He said he would take me away, and if I got into trouble he would get me out.
Q. Did you ever have any conversation with Mr. Mincey?—A. No; I saw him at police headquarters.
Q. What did he say?
Rosser objected, and the objection was sustained.
Q. What night at jail, did those newspaper men come on the inside?—A. No.
Q. What did they say? Wait a minute; I want those two men out. (Two newspaper reporters, H. W. Ross and Harllee Branch, of The Atlanta Journal, who were at the press table, retired from the courtroom.)—A. I can’t remember that.
Q. Did they offer you anything at all?
Rosser objected, and was sustained. Conley had answered the question, though, declaring that nothing was offered him but a paper.
Q. That day at the factory, were you nervous or not?—A. No; I was not.
Darley Knew He Could Write.
Q. What did Mr. Schiff say to you?—A. They were standing there by the clock and asked if there was a crowd at the front door. Mr. Schiff came in and I said I wish I was a white man; that I would go out from there. One man said he wished he had a pistol, Mr. Schiff said: ‘They’ve got Mr. Frank in jail. I don’t see that being white would help.”
Q. Did Darley know you could write?—A. Yes.
Rosser objected, “It is immaterial,” said he.
Dorsey: “We want to show that this man could write; that he was in jail several days without writing, and the detectives, the Pinkersons employed by the factory, knew he could write.
Q. Could you spell luxury?—A. Yes.
Q. Why?—A. I had to write it several times. Mr. Frank had me to write down the names of the different boxes that pencils were in, and give them to him, so that he could know when they were out.
“Wasn’t Asked Before.”
Attorney Rosser took up the re-cross-examination:
Q. Jim, you were questioned by Mr. Dorsey and myself and all the detectives, and this morning was the first time you ever mentioned that mesh bag.—A. You didn’t ask me.
Q. Do you know what I asked you yesterday?—A. Yes, sir; I remember some of the questions.
Q. What?—A. Well, I don’t remember just exactly.
Q. You don’t remember a single thing that has not been written down?
Dorsey objected. “He must give the witness time to answer,” said he.
Q. Jim, haven’t you answered my questions?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. You said this morning that Mr. Frank promised to get you out on bond and send you out of town?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Why didn’t you tell the detectives that when you told them you were telling all the truth?—A. I did thell [sic] them he promised to get me out.
Q. Mr. Dorsey saw you seven times, didn’t he?—A. Yes, sir; I think that’s right.
Q. Did he take down what you said? A. He took down something the first time.
Q. How about the next times?—A. I disremember.
Q. How long have you kept up with those boxes?—A. About a year.
Conley Tries Spelling.
Q. And you wrote Mr. Frank reports on these boxes?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Would you know “luxury” if you were to see it?—A. No, sir.
Q. How did you write it for Mr. Frank, then?—A. I can write it.
Q. Can you spell it?—I can try it. Well, let’s hear you spell ‘luxury.’—A. L-u-s-t-r-i-.
Q. Was that the only kind of pencil boxes up there?—A. No, sir. There was Uncle Remus, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and others.
Q. Did you write reports on them?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Let’s hear you spell ‘Uncle Remus?—A. O-n-e R-i-m-e-s.
Q. Let’s hear you spell ‘Thomas Jefferson’?—A. T-o-m J-e-i-s-s.
Q. Let’s hear you spell ‘George Washington’?—A. J-o-e W-i-s-h-t-o-n.
Q. What did Mr. Frank say about your spelling?—A. He laughed.
Q. How do you spell ‘Ox’?—A. O-x-.
Q. How did you write him notes to borrow money?—A. I just wrote them.
Q. Tell me what you wrote?—A. I just said: ‘Please let me have fifty cents.’
Q. When you were standing by that box talking, could Mr. Darley hear you?—A. Yes.
Q. Could Mr. Schiff?—A. Yes.
Q. Could that boy?—A. Yes.
Asked If He Could Write.
Q. When you went into the office to write those notes, Mr. Frank asked you if you could write, didn’t he?—A. Yes.
Rosser put the question again.
Dorsey objected to the repetition, and the objection was sustained.
Messrs. Hooper and Dorsey were with you in the jail together, were they not?—A. Yes.
Q. How long?—A. Two or three hours.
Dorsey Wins Ruling.
Q. How long after April 26 was it you saw this man?—A. About a month.
Q. At the time you saw him at the police station did you identify him?—A. I did not.
Q. What did you say?
Rosser: “I object. I wasn’t there.”
Dorsey: “Your representative, Mr. Scott, was there.”
Rosser: “I move to rule that out.”
A. I said he looked more like the one than any man I have seen.
Rosser: “I move to rule it all out.”
Dorsey: “We expect to show by this witness that this was the man. We want to show how he was dressed, his facial expression, etc., and we submit that it is material.”
Judge Roan overruled the objection.
Q. Describe the man you saw.—A. He was about the size of the one just brought before me whom I have been told is Jim Conley. He was in a dark place and I took him to be black. He had on dark clothes and I don’t know whether he had on a hat or not.
Q. Wade Campbell is your brother, and Arthur White your husband, aren’t they?—A. Yes.
Q. When did you tell them you saw a negro sitting in that hall?
Laughing Spectators Ousted.
The odd situation of the attorneys for the defense being in possession of the official court records were relieved when Mr. Arnold consented to it being read.
Mr. Rosser, however, found it first in the copy of the testimony of Scott.
Rosser: “You were right. Harry Scott did say Mrs. White told Frank about seeing this negro Monday after the crime.”
Several spectators were put out of the courtroom for laughing at Mr. Rosser’s admission of the error.
Rosser: “I will say it is the first time that you have been right. Your honor, we object. It is immaterial what time this witness made known the fact unless they go further and show she was delayed through the influence of Frank.”
The objection was overruled.
Dorsey—Your honor, I have already shown that Leo Frank knew on Monday, April 28, that she saw this negro there, and that it was May 7 before the State got into possession of this fact.
Rosser—I say that no such evidence has been introduced.
Dorsey—Call for the record of Harry Scott’s evidence.
Rosser—I say he has not introduced this evidence, and he saws he has. If your honor can not remember some of the things that happen here we are perfectly helpless.
Stenographer Parry was called. He said he was taking the testimony for Mr. Arnold and he wanted Mr. Arnold’s consent before reading it.
Jim Conley was the same cool, unafraid negro when he returned to the stand Wednesday morning in the trial of Leo Frank after almost two whole days under the cross-examination of Luther Rosser. He had passed through fire and didn’t seem to mind it. He had no fear of anything that was yet to come.
Mr. Rosser might threaten him or might joke with him; it was all the same to the negro. He had tried both and had established but one thing—that Conley is a liar, and Conley admits that.
Arnold might describe him as “that miserable wretch in the witness chair,” he could gaze calmly out the window was he had done before. He didn’t quite understand all those names they were calling him, anyway.
If, in all the time that Conley was under the raking fire of Rosser’s cross-examination, he was disturbed in the slightest degree, it was when he was being asked about that mysterious affidavit of William H. Mincey.
The declaration of Mincey that Conley had boasted the afternoon of April 26 of killing a girl was sinister and held in it the possibility that Rosser would finish by blazing forth with a direct charge of murder against the negro. Conley moved uneasily in his seat. He refused to meet the eye of his inquisitor. He fidgeted with his hands, but with his lips he framed a denial of every damning charge contained in the document.
The ordeal soon was over. Conley regained his composure, and when court adjourned a few minutes later a grin of triumph cleft his black face almost in twain.
Attorney Sees Conley.
Conley’s attorney, William M. Smith, provided him with supper and breakfast at the jail and talked for some time with the State’s star witness. He had been prevented from holding any sort of a conference with his client the night before, and protested at this procedure at the close of court Tuesday night. Judge Roan extended him the privilege of seeing Conley. Reuben Arnold asked that an exception be entered in the record.
Conley slept between nine and ten hours and arose much refreshed.
“I’se telling the truth now,” he said to a newspaper man who encountered him outside the jail. “That Mr. Rosser ain’t got no chance to get me mixed up because I’m telling just what happened.”
Frank occupied his usual cell on the second floor of the Tower. He was joined by his wife and mother as soon as he arrived at the courthouse.
* * *
Atlanta Georgian, August 6th 1913, “Conley Swears Frank Hid Purse,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)