Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
Atlanta Georgian (Hearst’s Sunday American)
July 27th, 1913
Dorsey Ready to Avenge Mary Phagan
Mystery of Months Is Still Unsolved
Most Bitter Legal Battle in History of Atlanta Courts Is Expected—Case Will Probably Last for Weeks.
After three months of mystery in the death of Mary Phagan, a climax is at hand more tense, more dramatic, more breathlessly interesting to Atlanta and all Georgia than any situation of fiction. Leo M. Frank, employer of the little girl whose tragic death, April 26, stirred a State, will be brought to trial Monday on the charge that he killed her.
Frank’s trial is the crowning event of the hundred thrilling circumstances surrounding the tragedy. Whatever the outcome, regardless of Frank’s conviction or acquittal, the incidents that follow the trial will come as an anti-climax. The prosecution has cast almost all its chances for solving the mystery into the case it has prepared against Frank. Its heavy guns are trained against the factory superintendent. It has opposed the indictment of the single other suspect, the negro Jim Conley. The enthralled interest of a public has been pitched about the question: Is Leo Frank guilty?
FRANK DRAMA’S CENTRAL FIGURE.
Even the pitiful figure of the little factory girl, mysteriously slain, has become subordinate in interest to that of Frank. The young man’s own personality, his steadfastly loyal and loving family, his friends who affirm his innocence in the face of a dark suspicion, all have become factors in making Frank the central figure of the crime drama.
At the last moment efforts have been made by Frank’s counsel to have the case continued until fall, bu the indications are that Judge Roan will order the trial to go on Monday.
A hundred ramifications have sprung out of the case, each one entailing bitterness, aligning factions, engendering a deeper mystery. Many persons, even before the trial, are ready to express a belief of Frank’s guilt. As many are firm in the conviction that he is innocent. But the great bulk of the public views the case through a haze of speculation and doubt which is as impenetrable as on the first day.
LEGAL TALENT BRILLIANT.
Everybody is in one of the three classes. It is likely that no one lives in Atlanta who is indifferent to the case, which has been the central topic of news and of conversation since the day the body of Mary Phagan was found.
The trial will be an event worthy of all the interest with which the public has invested it. The array of legal talent is most imposing. Already the defense and the prosecution have met in skirmishes, in the courts and in the newspapers. They were skirmishes so hard fought and bitter as to hold out the promise that the trial will be a titanic fight.
Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, Frank Hooper and Assistant Solicitor Stephens will conduct the case against Frank. The three are known as aggressive, tireless lawyers. The Solicitor General has put into the State’s case all the energy for which he is noted.
At the very first he took charge of the case with a masterful hand, and when the mystery seemed beyond solution he sent an army of detectives to work. Through all the stress of a veering public opinion, he has held firmly to the course he had set, defiant, obviously preparing for the great fight of his career as a public prosecutor. In most of the preliminary legal battles, especially in his hardest fight against the indictment of Conley, he has been successful.
The Solicitor General from the evidence in his hands, believes in the guilt of Frank. He will defend his conviction to the end.
The defense presents a corps of attorneys who are reputed to to be as able criminal lawyers as the South can produce. Luther Z. Rosser, county attorney, is the towering figure of the defense. He is a pitiless questioner of witnesses and cross-examinations which he conducts are generally productive of significant results. The defense will build its greatest hope, it is expected, on the charge that Jim Conley killed the Phagan girl. Jim Conley will be one of the witnesses against Frank, and all the force, all the ruthless power of Luther Rosser’s questions will be brought into play against the negro. The public expects a wonderful psychological demonstration on the hour the negro takes the stand.
Arnold Striking Figure.
No less powerful as a criminal lawyer is Reuben R. Arnold, who was retained by the defense to co-operate with Mr. Rosser. Arnold is a brilliant lawyer, and always a spectacular and compelling figure in the criminal cases with which he is connected. Associated with Rosser and Arnold in the case will be Herbert Haas and Sam Boorstin, who were employed by the Frank family when Leo Frank first was arrested, and who have been zealous in conducting the score of investigations that were made necessary by the unexpected turns which incidents took time after time.
The trial will be called Monday morning in the Superior Court room on the first floor of the courthouse, at South Pryor and Hunter streets. The room, which is the largest available to the State courts, is expected to be all too small for the crowd that will come, eagerly curious and expectant. A strict police supervision of the crowds will be necessary, and arrangements already are being made by court officials to prevent congestion or disturbance.
Special deputies will be employed for the occasion, and altogether it is expected that twenty officers will guard the courtroom. The little army will be in charge of Deputy Sheriff Miner, who will be stationed at the main entrance. According to the plan, all principals in the case, all who are interested as lawyers, relatives, witnesses and press representatives, will be admitted before any spectators are allowed to enter. After them the spectators will be admitted, one by one, until the seats in the room are filled. Then the doors will be locked.
It has been suggested in the Sheriff’s office that every person admitted to the courtroom will be searched for firearms, but whether this course will be followed has not been decided.
Judge L. S. Roan will preside at the trial. He announced in a telegram from Covington, where he is spending a short vacation, that the case will be called Monday morning without fail. There is little probability that an attempt will be made to obtain a postponement, although it has been hinted that there are one or two causes which might tend to bring about delay. One is excessive heat, another the fact that certain attorneys in the case are engaged simultaneously in other litigation hardly less important. But the court officials and all who are interested vitally are ready to scout the idea of a postponement.
The ground thus is laid for what is confidently expected to be the greatest battle of Atlanta’s legal history. A mysterious death, a chain of damaging circumstances pointing to the guilt of the accused, a coterie of lawyers for the defense who are given to surprises and who are known for inexhaustible resources, a Solicitor who is determined and a fighter—everything points to a great struggle.
Considerable difficulty will be entailed at the first, it is expected, when the jury must be drawn. From indications, it is likely that the preliminary jockeying will consume the first day of the trial, or even more. So widespread has been gossip concerning the Phagan case, so thoroughly have citizens of Atlanta had the details recalled, so much as it become a part of the city’s life that men will be hard to find. It is expected, who will be willing to view the evidence coolly, without prejudice or without bias. Then, too, the lawyers, knowing the men from whom the jury must be picked, will select the men with the utmost care.
The defense, it has been announced, will ask that a jury be selected from the Grand Jury venire. Whether this request will be granted is altogether in the discretion of the trial judge. It is expected, however, that it will be refused unless significant reasons are brought to bear by the defense.
Trial Will Last Days.
Then the case will start. Evidence probably will not be taken until the morning or afternoon of the second day. It will be taken slowly, in great detail, at such length as to insure a trial of many days’ duration. If the length of time consumed in examining the witnesses at the Coroner’s inquest is any indication.
Surprises will come, surely. It is likely that most of the surprises will be those of the defense; the public generally crediting that side with more evidence hitherto hidden than the prosecution.
The State’s case has been perpetually before the public. The agencies of the State have been crossed at times, and out of the antagonism has grown publicity that was not good for the privacy of the prosecution’s lines of attack. The defense, on the other hand, has kept quiet. When the Mincey affidavit was published last week, favoring the defense, it came as a surprise to the public, and led everyone to expect further surprises.
The Frank trial absorbs the public interest for more than one reason. The revolting nature of the crime by which Mary Phagan went to her death, the mystery surrounding its circumstances, the uncertainty that came with new revelations day after day, pointing first to one and then to another suspect, the final centering of all suspicion on the two prisoners—Frank and Conley—the charges and countercharges that have been bandied back and forth—all make the case one to attract and to hold the interest of every man or woman who can hear or read.
At Factory Short Time.
Mary Phagan, an employee of the National Pencil Factory, was a girl 14 years old. Her father was dead, and she lived with her mother and her stepfather, W. J. Coleman, at No. 148 Lindsay street. This is in that suburban section of Atlanta known as Bellwood. She was a gay, friendly, loveable girl, well liked by the children of the neighborhood and by the grown folks as well, according to every revelation of her personality that has come since her death.
The little girl had worked for some time, driving her to that necessity. She had been employed at the pencil factory on South Forsyth street only a short time.
Saturday afternoon, April 26, she went to the factory to draw her weekend pay. It was the day of the Confederate Memorial parade. Forsyth street was deserted. The factory was quiet. The little girl went alone to the big building at about 12:10 or 12:15 o’clock, according to the statement of the street car men who took from her home to the down town section.
Watchman Finds Body.
Early Sunday morning, at about 3 o’clock, Newt Lee, the negro watchman at the factory building, found the girl’s body in a dark corner of the basement, bloody from a dozen cuts and bruises. The clothes were torn, and every evidence pointed to the fact that there had been a struggle in which the little girl fought vainly against her assailant. Her neck was discolored, where a rope had been used to lower her body down an elevator shaft from the first floor.
Later, on the third floor, in the bathroom of the factory, blood, strands of hair and other evidences of a struggle were found, pointing to the fact that the child had been attacked first.
Few men were in the factory building between the last time Mary Phagan was seen alive and the hour her body was found by the night watchman. The men were Leo Frank, the factory superintendent; Jim Conley, a negro sweeper; Newt Lee, the negro night watchman; John Gantt, a former employee of the company who entered with Frank’s permission, that he might get a pair of shoes he had left behind, and two workers, Harry Denham and Arthur White, who were on the fourth floor and who remained in the building until 3 o’clock. At that time Frank, who had left the building at 1 o’clock, came in and let them out. Frank was alone in the factory until 4 o’clock by his own admission. When Conley came in, or when he left, no one knows.
Newt Lee Suspected.
After the first discovery of the body suspicion fell on Newt Lee, who had reported the discovery of the body. He was arrested. The negro, frightened to within an inch of his life, protested his innocence. The police were not satisfied that he was the murderer, and began the search.
Information came thick and fast and of every variety. The first tangible statement was from Ed Sentell, a groceryman, who said he had seen Mary Phagan walking by the side of a tall young man as late as 12:30 o’clock Saturday night. Later he identified the young man as Arthur Mullinax, a street car worker. Mullinax was arrested.
Developments came fresh with every hour that day. Gantt, the young man who was in the factory late Saturday afternoon, was arrested on suspicion, which deepened when it was announced that he had been in love with Mary Phagan.
Monday morning following the discovery of the body an inquest was held, and as a result of revelations that he had been alone in the factory building much of Saturday afternoon. Superintendent Frank was arrested on suspicion. Detectives asserted their conviction that the guilt lay between Lee and Frank. Gantt and Mullinax, proving alibis, were released.
The third day of the mystery a young man named Paul Bowen was arrested in Houston, Tex. on the charge that he had killed Mary Phagan. It is said that he had acted in a suspicious manner upon being confronted with news of the girl’s death. He was arrested by the Houston police, but later was released when he established an alibi. Out of his arrest grew a scandal in the Houston police circles.
That Lee killed the girl was assured by the detectives for several days. By the side of the girl’s body had been found several dirty scraps of paper, on which were written almost undecipherable words. They were supposedly from the unfortunate girl. One note was as follows:
“He said he wood love me laid down like the night witch did it, but that long, tall, black negro did it by hisself.”
The other was:
“Mama, that negro hired down here did this I went to get water and he pushed me down this hole a long tall negro black that has it woke long lean tall negro I write while play with me.”
Experts declared positively that these notes were in Lee’s handwriting.
The inquest, stretching through several days, was productive of one result, at least. The bulk of the suspicion veered to Frank. The negro Lee made a number of candid statements which afterward were found to be true, and thus much of the suspicion against him lightened.
Elevator Boy Arrested.
Testimony tending to show that Geron Bailey, a negro elevator boy in the factory’s employ, had been seen lurking around the building the fatal Saturday evening, brought about his arrest. Lee and Bailey still are held in the Tower, although suspicion against them is negligible.
Until several days after the body of the unfortunate girl was found no one had thought of Conley as a man to be suspected. But while the inquest over Mary Phagan’s body was in progress E. F. Holloway, an employee of the factory, found the negro sweeper in a secluded spot on the fourth floor washing a bloody shirt. He told detectives and Conley was arrested on suspicion.
Days passed, days that were full of theories speculation, but productive of no real result. Eyes were turned to Frank as the guilty person, with an inconsiderable number of people suspecting Newt Lee.
On May 25 came a statement from a woman named Mrs. Mima Formby, the keeper of a rooming house. Mrs. Formby declared that the night of the murder Frank had telephoned her with the request that she rent him a room for himself and a girl. She declared in her statement that she refused him, that he insisted, later becoming desperate and announcing that it was a matter almost of life and death with him. The statement was pretty generally discredited by the public.
Conley Admits Writing Notes.
After three weeks Frank was indicted by the Grand Jury.
Then came a startling and unexpected thing. Jim Conley, silent under a siege of questions, suddenly issued an affidavit, in which he declared that he had written the notes at Frank’s dictation, on Friday before the Sunday on which the girl’s body was found.
Not until then was Conley suspected with any degree of strength. But when the affidavit came, with its inconceivable charge that Frank had plotted the death of the girl more than a day before he killed her, Conley was suspected of having had a hand in the murder. It was recalled that Mary Phagan’s visit to the factory had not been anticipated Friday, and that there would have been no reason for a murder plot. Conley, it seemed, had destroyed himself.
The next day he issued a revised affidavit, declaring that he wrote the notes on the morning of Saturday, the day before the body was found. Then came his third affidavit, that he had dragged the body of the girl to the cellar, where it was found, at the instance of Frank.
The three affidavits seemed to contradict one another, and to make charges that were unbelievable. It was not until then that suspicion against the negro solidified.
Public speculation and doubt deepened. Then, after two weeks, it developed that W. H. Mincey, a school teacher, in conversation with a negro on the afternoon of April 26, when the murder occurred, had been told by the negro:
“Go away, I’ve killed a girl this evening. I don’t want to kill anybody else.”
Mincey Identifies Conley.
He identified this negro as Conley.
Against every statement and every affidavit that has been published, charges of untruthfulness and misapprehension have been made by one side or the other. Mincey’s statement has been attacked, Conley’s affidavits are declared false, Mrs. Formby’s declaration is said to be without foundation. Refutations come for every bit of evidence, revealing plainly that the trial itself will be a fight of veracity and of reasonableness of testimony.
And so the case stands to-day. Brilliant detective talent has been engaged. Pinkertons were first retained to reinforce the local detectives, and later the Burns men were called in. But out of that incident grew another scandal, another of the unpleasant incidental features that have made the Phagan case the most notable of Georgia’s crime annals, even beyond the fact that it is the greatest mystery.
Last week it was announced that the Pinkertons believed Frank innocent, after weeks of announcing that he was guilty. Later the declarations came that they had not made the statement. This incident was valueless in unfolding the mystery, but is indicative of the turmoil in which the case has been from the first.
* * *
Chronology of Phagan Case
April 27—Body of Mary Phagan found in factory. Arthur Mullinax arrested. Newt Lee arrested.
April 28—J. M. Gantt arrested. Geron Bailey arrested. Leo Frank held.
April 29—Pinkertons declare Lee guilty. Eliminate Gantt, Mullinax and Bailey.
May 1—Coroner issues commitment against Lee and Frank. Jim Conley, negro sweeper, arrested.
May 8—Coroner’s verdict orders Frank and Lee held for grand jury.
May 12—Burns put on case, through agency of T. B. Felder.
May 23—Grand jury considers case. Dictograph scandals revealed. A. S. Colyar accuses T. B. Fedler of attempts to corrupt policeman. Frank indicted. Conley says he wrote notes at Frank’s dictation, Arpirl 25. Newt Lee indicted.
May 25—Mrs. Mima [sic] Formby says Frank asked her for room night of killing.
May 30—Conley says he helped Frank dispose of body. Re-enacts crime at factory.
June 6—Conley denies he confessed killing to A. S. Colyar.
June 15—Mrs. Frank, in statement to Sunday American, stands by her husband.
July 10—W. H. Mincey’s statement first published, that he heard Conley boast of killing.
July 15—E. F. Holloway, factory employee, says he was told of negro’s boast just after killing.
July 23—Frank says he is ready for trial. Search for Will Green, Conley’s companion, said to have seen killing.