Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
Wednesday, May 28th, 1913
Police Secure Admission From Negro Sweeper During Examination for Phagan Clews.
Admission that he was in the National Pencil factory on the day of the murder of Mary Phagan was gained from James Conley, the negro sweeper on whom suspicion has turned, after cross-examination by detectives at police headquarters.
The negro, who became the center of attention with his amazing story that Leo Frank had told him to write the death notes, changed his narrative again to-day. Confronted by E. F. Holloway, a foreman in the plant, he admitted having been in the factory after having steadily maintained that he was on Peters Street between 10 and 2 o’clock that fatal Saturday and at home all other hours of the day.
Says Confession Is Near.
Holloway, after leaving the secret grilling at which the admission was obtained, declared he was sure it was only a matter of hours before Conley would confess. He asserted that if he had been allowed to put questions to Conley he could have gotten important information.
The police questions were, of course, all put with the idea of gaining information against Frank.
Chief Lanford had announced that he would go before Judge Roan with a request for an order allowing him to confront Frank with the negro, so that Conley’s statement would be admissible in court. Lanford, however, failed to carry out his plans, although he would not admit they had been abandoned.
Found Negro Falsified.
Conley told the officers when he was first arrested that he could not write. Later they found releases that he had written for watches, and he admitted he had been lying. He gave them an address on Tattnall Street when they took him in custody. It later was found that he had not lived there for six months or a year.
In his affidavit of last Saturday he swore that he wrote the notes found by the body of the dead girl at the dictation of Leo Frank the day before the crime. Tuesday night he repudiated this affidavit and said that it was on Saturday that he wrote them.
The result of this series of lies and misstatements was that suspicion was gradually shifting from Leo Frank to Conley in spite of the attitude of the police. The culminating action that pointed the accusing finger in his direction was his new statement of Tuesday night, which was utterly at variance with his affidavit in its most essential point—the date.
With his first affidavit repudiated and worthless, it will be practically impossible to get any court to accept a second one. If a second one is offered action will be taken at once to impeach it and it is regarded as most unlikely that it would be accepted in the circumstances.
Now Changes Date.
In his original affidavit Conley swore that he wrote on Friday, April 25—the day before the murder—the notes which he believes were found by the body of Mary Phagan. He swore that he wrote them at Frank’s dictation. In the revised statement that he made to the police Tuesday night. Conley declared that instead of writing the notes on Friday, he wrote them Saturday about four minutes before 1 o’clock.
His second statement is impeached by the fact that the negro has repudiated his first affidavit. It may be impeached further by the development that at the time he says Frank was dictating the notes to him Frank, as a matter of fact, was on another floor talking to Harry Denham, Arthur White and Mrs. White.
Frank and the other three persons all have testified that it was within a few minutes of 1 o’clock that Frank came upstairs and said that he was going to leave the building and that if the three did not wish to be locked in the building they would have to leave also. Mrs. White left at 1 o’clock. Frank and Denham and White remained in the building.
The negro in making the second statement described exactly who was in the building at the time, on what floors they were and waat [sic] they were doing, indicating that he must actually have been there or else has read the papers very carefully. Until his second statement he had denied repeatedly that he was in the factory on the day of the crime, and had told the detectives of his whereabouts at various times of the day.
Unable to Prove Whereabouts.
He was unable, however, to corroborate his declaration that he was on Peters Street between 10 o’clock in the forenoon and 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He could name no one he had seen between those hours.
Despite the new developments, the detectives, of course, stand firmly by their theory of Frank’s guilt. They assert that they have the testimony of four handwriting experts that the writing on the notes found by the body of Mary Phagan positively as that of Frank. This evidence is lessened in importance by the fact that three other handwriting experts have declared positively that the writing is that of Newt Lee, the negro night watchman in the pencil factory.
So far as is known no expert comparison has been made between the notes and the handwriting of Conley. If such a comparison has been made the results have not been announced.
The detectives are placed in a peculiar position by the new statement of Conley. If they are to believe a word of his statement that he wrote the notes at Frank’s dictation they are forced to discredit absolutely the testimony of their four handwriting experts that the notes are those of Frank. If they accept the testimony of the experts, on the other hand, they must take the position that both the first and second statements of the negro are worthless and have no bearing on the mystery.
Contradicted by Wife.
Maggie Conley, wife of James Conley, whose confession that he wrote the mysterious notes found at the side of murdered Mary Phagan at the dictation of Leo M. Frank, has developed into one of the most puzzling incidents of the case, made a statement to a Georgian reporter on Wednesday morning bearing on the whereabouts of her husband on the afternoon of the murder that is utterly at variance with statements made by Conley.
Conley has repeatedly told detectives that on the evening of April 26, the night Mary Phagan was murdered, he left his home at 172 Rhodes Street at 6 o’clock and went downtown, remaining there until 8, when he returned home.
The woman who says she is his wife told a Georgian reporter that Conley came home at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of April 26, and REMAINED AT HOME UNTIL MONDAY MORNING AT 8 O’CLOCK. APRIL 28, when he went to work at the pencil factory. He returned home about an hour later, she said, and told her he didn’t have to work that day, because a white girl had been murdered.
Her Story of His Actions.
The woman told the following story of her husband’s action on the day of the murder.
“Jim left home about 9 or 10 o’clock Saturday morning and said he was going downtown. He came back somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 o’clock, and told me he had been at the near-beer saloons on Peters Street with a gang of niggers. I was in the kitchen when Jim came in the front door, and I heard him moving around in the front room several minutes before I called him. Then he began joking me and fooling like he always does. We sat in the front room and talked a little while and then I went back in the kitchen.
“I heard Jim moving around after I went into the kitchen, and I thought he was going out again. I went into the front room and couldn’t see Jim. I reached over to pick up a shawl that had fallen to the floor and Jim poked his head over the top of the dresser. He had been hiding behind it, just to see what I would say. We sat around all afternoon and talked, and Jim didn’t leave the house any more until Monday morning, when he went to work.”
Not Seen by Neighbors.
The woman said her husband did not appear nervous or excited when he came home on the Saturday afternoon of the murder. She said he is always fooling and joking, and was even a little more playful than usual. She said also that he said nothing to her about having written any notes for Mr. Frank, and said she had never heard him speak of his employer.
No negro could be found in the neighborhood where Conley lives who had seen him at home Saturday afternoon.
Hattie Crawford, a negress who lives at 170 Rhodes Street, next door to Conley, declared that she was at home all Saturday afternoon and Saturday night and that she did not see Conley. The first time she saw him was Sunday morning, when he was sitting on stump in his back yard, she says.
Accuse Negro Conley.
In an effort to discover how the negro Jim Conley, now the center of attention in the Phagan mystery, was regarded at the National Pencil factory by the girls employed in the trimming and finishing departments where Conley worked as a sweeper, two Georgian reporters late Tuesday afternoon interviewed six foreladies and some 50-odd girls at the factory, 37-39 South Forsyth Street.
Without exception, the ordinary workers said that they had no opportunity to ever judge Conley’s character as they were too busy and there were foreladies there to protect them.
Mrs. G. W. Small, a forelady of 37 West Fair Street; said that before the murder of Mary Phagan the negro Jim Conley was slow moving and negligent of his duties; taking his time about performing any task he was asked to do.
“After the Phagan murder,” said Mrs. Small, “I noticed a great change in the negro. He did the things I told him to do with much more promptness. His whole demeanor changed.
“I never did trust him,” declared Mrs. Small, “and he knew it. I certainly believe that if anyone working in this factory did that terrible deed it was the negro Conley. I said from the first that it was no white man’s job, and I have always believed that Mr. Frank was innocent.”
Several of the young women, however, defended the negro as a fairly good workman.
All Think Frank Innocent.
Every employee of the National Pencil factory, without exception, scouts the idea that Leo Frank had anything to do with the fate of Mary Phagan. Each one is loyal and is yet to be convinced that he had any part in the crime of which he now stands accused.
One woman who is employed in the finishing department asserted that the negro Conley was impudent several time[s].
A number of the girls stated that they had smelled whisky on the negro. Miss Eulah May Flowers told of her experience when she went to the storage room one evening and there stumbled over Conley, who was dead drunk, stretched on the floor.
E. F. Holloway, the timekeeper and foreman of the pencil factory, says he had just about made up his mind to discharge Conley when the crime was committed, but Conley showed improvement and that he kept him on, until he caught him washing the shirt which caused his arrest.
Making deductions from Conley’s first affidavit, here are a few facts which tend to throw suspicion on the negro:
Conley says that Frank, after dictating the notes, said to him: “Why should I hang?” If Frank intended committing a deed which would warrant hanging, it is preposterous to hold that he would so commit himself to as unreliable a person as a negro.
Conley did not say he had written the notes until after he had lain in jail for weeks. Yet, his confession was not in the least incriminating to himself.
Conley made his statement not until Frank’s case was under investigation by the Grand Jury. He made it voluntarily then.
Conley, the negro, was brought into close association with the factory girl employees. As sweeper he brushed the refuse from beneath the chairs in which they sat. As elevator conductor he operated the cage, crowded with girls, up and down the shaft.
Conley frequently was intoxicated while on duty.
On the afternoon of the murder Conley’s story as to his whereabouts lack corroboration. The negro states that he was on Peters Street for at least two hours, yet he can give the name of no one whom he saw there during that time to bear out his statement.
At the first address Conley gave as his home it was found he had not lived there for a year.
Mrs. Arthur White, wife of a machinist at the factory, declares she saw a negro sitting by the elevator shaft (which Conley operated) as she left the factory at 1 o’clock.
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Atlanta Georgian, May 28th 1913, “Conley Was in Factory on Day of Slaying,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)