Detectives Seek Corroboration of Conley’s Story

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

Atlanta Journal

Thursday, May 29th, 1913

They Declare That They Are Anxious to Get at the Truth of the Murder Case, Regardless of Who Is Guilty

Little if any credence is placed by the city detectives in the theory of the officials and employes of the National Pencil factory that Mary Phagan was killed by James Conley, the newro [sic] sweeper, and that his motive was robbery.

The detectives have accepted as true Conley’s second affidavit, in which he swears that he wrote the notes found by Mary Phagan’s body, and that he did so about 1 o’clock on the day of the murder, at the dictation of Superintendent Leo M. [F]rank, who is now under indictment by the grand jury.

However, they are somewhat puzzled by the discrepancies in the time of certain occurrences as sworn by Conley and testified at the coroner’s inquest by other witnesses.

Harry Scott, the Pinkerton detective who is working with the city detectives on the Phagan murder case and who developed the fact that Conley could write, notwithstanding his denials, declared that the shortest route to a complete solution of the mystery is to bring the negro Conley and Superintendent Frank face to face. He says the negro insists that he is anxious and willing to confront Mr. Frank with his story, and that if Mr. Frank and his attorneys agree, they (Conley and Mr. [F]rank) will be brought together to discuss the truth or falsity of the negro’s declarations.

Thursday afternoon the detectives will put Conley through another vigorous interrogation, and it is said will question him as if they are convinced that he committed the murder. Failing to bring out any further incriminating admissions from him, they will, it is said, dwell upon what appear to be the weak points in his second affidavit.


The detectives are satisfied that Conley wrote the notes, which he admits writing. They consider the handwriting of these notes identical with specimens written by Conley, Wednesday, photographs of which were reproduced by The Journal Wednesday afternoon.

No doubt is entertained by the detectives concerning Conley’s admission that he was hiding in the pencil factory on the morning of the murder, for they claim to have corroborated thoroughly from other witnesses certain incidents which occurred at the factory that morning, as detailed by Conley. The negro must have been there in order to observe these incidents, the detectives assert.

That portion of Conley’s latest statement which the detectives so far have been unable to corroborate, and in which the negro’s declarations directly conflict with the testimony of inquest witnesses concerns his alleged visit to Superintendent Frank’s office on the day of the murder.


Conley swears that, after remaining in hiding on the first floor just back of the stairs for nearly two hours, he was summoned upstairs to the office by Mr. Frank, who whistled for him to come up; that, as he passed the clock on the way to the office with Mr. Frank, who had him by the arm, he noticed it was exactly four minutes to 1 o’clock; that no one was in either the outer or inner office at the time; that almost immediately after he and Mr. Frank had arrived in the office and the latter had closed the doors leading into both offices, footsteps were heard, and Mr. Frank bundled him into a wardrobe in the inner office and went out and conferred with two ladies who, Mr. Frank told him, were Miss Corinthia Hall and Mrs. Emma Freeman, employes that he overheard the conversation between Mr. Frank and these ladies, and that Mrs. Freeman said she had come for her coat, which she had left in the dressing room upstairs.


Conley swore that when these ladies left the office, which was within a minute or two after they arrived. Mr. Frank followed them out and was gone for about a minute, after which he returned and closing the doors of the offices left him (Conley) out of the wardrobe and dictated the two notes to him, saying he wanted a sample of his handwriting; that Mr. Frank was very much excited at the time; that he kept running his hands through his hair and remarking in an undertone, suppose[d]ly to himself: “Why should I hang when I have got rich relatives,” that after the notes were written Mr. Frank pulled out a cigarette box and handed it to him; that when he opened the box he found it contained $2.50; that he called Mr. Frank’s attention to this and the latter told him to keep it, saying: “You are a good boy; I am going to send these notes to my mother in Brooklyn, N. Y., who is rich and who will probably send you something.”

According to Conley’s second affidavit, he then was escorted to the stairs by Mr. Frank; he walked on down and out the front door and to a nearby saloon where he drank some beer, it being about 1:30 o’clock when he reached the saloon.

Mr. Frank in his statement to the coroner’s jury, testified that he left the factory to go to lunch about 1 o’clock, after having warned Arthur White, Henry Denham, machinists at work on the third floor, and Mrs. White, who was up there with them at the time, that he was going and intended to lock the front door, and if any of them desired to leave they had better do so. Mr. Frank and Mrs. White came down and went away.

In her testimony at the inquest Miss Corinthia Hall, one of the young ladies the negro Conley swears came into the office while he was in hiding in the wardrobe, stated that she and Mrs. Freeman left the factory about 11:45 on the day of the murder; that they were there but a few moments; that when they arrived Mr. Frank was standing in the office door and that a stenographer and Mrs. White were inside the office; that when she and Mrs. Freeman went upstairs to get the latter’s cloak Mr. Frank called to her to tell Mr. White that his wife was downstairs awaiting him; that she delivered the message and Mr. White came downstairs to see his wife; that up on the third floor she found Mrs. Mae Barrett and Messrs. White and Denham.

Conley swears in his second affidavit, that Mrs. Barrett came downstairs before he was called up to the office; that she wore a certain kind of dress and that she stopped just inside the street entrance to remove some money from a pay envelope which she transferred to her handbag.


Thursday morning the detectives planned to obtain affidavits from Miss Hall and Mrs. Freeman concerning the conversation which they held with Mr. Frank in his office on the day of the murder. This was done with a view to corroborating, if possible, what the negro Conley says he overheard.

The detectives took the position that if these ladies corroborated Conley’s account of what transpired then that there could be no doubt that he was hidden in the office as he claims to have been. Such corroboration they hol[d] would establish the truth of Conley’s statement.

After reviewing the evidence given by Miss Hall at the inquest the detectives Thursday afternoon admitted they were somewhat puzzled concerning the discrepancies in time as stated by Conley and Miss Hall. They offer no explanation of the further discrepancy in the statements of the two as regards the presence in the office of Mrs. White and the stenographer during the visit there of Miss Hall and Mrs. Freeman.

Discussing the case Thursday morning Detective Chief Lanford declared that he was investigating every possible theory and every phase of the evidence presented. He said he was not shutting his eyes to any fact, but was earnestly endeavoring to establish the truth or falsity of every conclusion reached.

“I am not trying to make a murderer,” he said. “I am doing my best to clear up a murder mystery and to establish beyond the question of doubt the guilt of the person who committed the murder.”

Police Chief Beavers also declared that the investigation was not being conducted with a view to fixing responsibility on some particular individual. “What we desire to do is convict the real murderer, be he white or block [sic],” said the chief.

Notwithstanding the apparent discrepancies in the negro Conley’s affidavit as compared to the testimony of the inquest witnesses the detectives are not included to change their theory. They will, it is said, during Thursday afternoon put Conley through another interrogation with a view to clearing up the weak poitns [sic] in his statement, and while doing so the detectives will, it is said, make another effort to ascertain if Conley knows more about the murder than he has heretofore admitted.


At variance with the theory of the detectives is the theory of practically all of the employes of the National Pencil factory, who have always maintained that Superintendent Leo M. Frank is innocent.

The factory employes charge the crime now to the negro Conley.


To a Journal reporter three officials of the place, Assistant Superintendent Herbert G. Schiff, E. F. Holloway, timekeeper, and N. V. Darley, general foreman, outlined their very plausible theory of the crime.

“The fact that Conley was in the building for several hours on the fatal Saturday, must be granted,” said Mr. Schiff. “He told how Mr. Holloway came down the steps and went to the front of the building during the morning to talk with a peg-legged negro employed by a certain glass company. Mr. Holloway, who did not see Conley, but who says that he might easily have missed him in the darkness of the first floor, corroborates the statement that he talked to the peg-legged negro.

“Conley told just how Miss Mattie Smith came up to the office and now she came down, talking to Mr. Darley about her sick father and the mistake in her pay envelope, and how he told her that he would fix it up all right next week.

“All of this corroborated by both Mr. Darley and Miss Smith. Conley has described the dress of Miss Smith and she says the description is correct.

“Now, the theory of the crime we entertain is simply this: Conley came in, following Miss Smith, and expected to rob her as she came down with her money.

“When Mr. Darley happened to come with her, Conley gave up his attempt, but continued to wait there in the darkness.

“Later, he saw little Mary Phagan come in and waited until she came down.

“Then he grabbed her and tried to get her purse. A scuffle by the elevator ensued and the negro knocked the girl down the elevator shaft.

“He quickly followed her, going down by the trap door. He found her cut and bruised and unconscious. Then he tied the cord around her neck and choked her to death. He wrote the notes himself, and then he pulled the staple off the rear basement door and left the place.

“Now, the double doors at the head of the second floor were locked, and Mr. Frank could have easily remained in his office without hearing screams or noise of a scuffle.


“It is unreasonable to suppose that an intelligent white man would have called in the negro and dictated those notes to him. Mr. Frank has been in the south a few years and does not know enough about negroes to dictate notes characteristic of the race.

“In addition, why would any intelligent white man try to write two notes to throw pursuers off the track when one would do just as well?

“Further, the negro says in his statement to the detectives that Mr. Frank said, ‘Oh, why should I hang; why should I hang?’

“Would any man of Mr. Frank’s intelligence and education, even under stress of excitement, make such a statement to a negro?”

Mr. Schiff points out that Mary Phagan’s purse and her pay envelope have never been found, and declares that this fact adds to the plausibleness of the robbery motive.


Another “disturbing statement” in the Phagan case has been eliminated by Detectives Starnes and Campbell.

Some time ago Mrs. A. A. Smith, of 198 West Peachtree street, wrote to the newspapers and the police that on the Monday following the crime she heard three women talking on the street of the tragedy, and that one of them remarked that she saw Mary Phagan at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the tragedy.

The lady who, Mrs. Smith says, was doing the talking, has been located. She is the mother of G. W. Epps, the little boy who came to town with Mary Phagan on the day of the tragedy.

Mrs. Epps dressed in the same clothes she was wearing when Mrs. Smith saw her on the streets, and both are satisfied that it was Mrs. Epps conversation which Mrs. Smith overheard. Mrs. Epps says, however, that Mrs. Smith misunderstood her and that she did not see Mary Phagan on the afternoon of the tragedy.

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Atlanta Journal, May 29th 1913, “Detectives Seek Corroboration of Conley’s Story,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)