Girl Slain After Frank Left Factory, Believed to be Defense Theory

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

Atlanta Georgian
August 1st, 1913

Was Mary Phagan killed at or very near the time she entered the National Pencil Factory April 26 to get her pay envelope or was she merely attacked at this time and murdered later?

The line of questioning pursued by Luther Rosser in his cross-examination of two of the State’s witnesses Thursday afternoon indicated this will be one of the questions the jurors will have to settle before they will be able to determine the innocence or guilt of Leo M. Frank.

Rosser was most persistent in his interrogation both of William A. Gheesling embalmer, and Dr. Claude A. Smith, physician and bacteriologist. Gheesling went to the pencil factory at about 4 o’clock the morning of the crime and took charge of the Phagan girl’s body. He told Solicitor Dorsey in the direct examination Thursday that the girl had been dead ten or fifteen hours and that rigor mortis was well established.

Gets Admission Before Jury.

Rosser at once began an attempt to break down this portion of the embalmer’s testimony, and succeeded in getting before the jury the witness admission that rigor mortis is extremely variable in the time it takes to set in and become well established in a body. Gheesling admitted that the surroundings in respect to dampness and temperature had their effect, as did the cause of the person’s death, and that the degree of rigor mortis could not be taken as an invariable indication of the time that a person had been dead.

Frank’s attorney made similar inquiries of Dr. Smith and from him obtained similar statements. The presumption is he will use the testimony of the State’s witnesses to supplement that of the defense, combining them to support the theory that the Phagan girl was attacked on the first floor by Conley and by him was thrown down the elevator shaft or carried down the ladder into the basement, but was not actually slain until after Frank had left the factory in the evening.

Two other points will be established by the defense before the State rests if Rosser is able to wring the information he wants from the witnesses called by Dorsey.

Says Frank Returned Alone.

One of them is that Jim Conley did not walk to the factory with or just behind Leo Frank Saturday morning, April 26, as Conley swore in his last affidavit that he did. E. F. Holloway, one of the State’s witnesses, testified Thursday afternoon that no one was with Frank when he returned from Montag Brothers that morning.

Rosser also displayed an unmistakable intention of making the detectives and officers admit that Frank was under virtual arrest when he was questioned Monday by the authorities, and that there was no reason why he should not have been aware of his status.

He succeeded in getting B. B. Haslett to make just this admission and undoubtedly will use it to explain the measures that were taken at once for the protection of Frank’s interests, measures on which the State has looked with suspicion because, the attorneys state, Frank was not placed under arrest until 11:30 the Thursday forenoon after the crime.

State Fares Better Thursday.

The State fared better Thursday than any other day during the trial. Harry Scott, Pinkerton detective, submitted considerable damaging evidence in respect to Frank’s appearance and actions during the first days of the investigation, although nothing that was startling or direct or even new.

He told that Frank was extremely nervous when the superintendent and Newt Lee were placed in the same room at the police station and that Frank squirmed about in his chair, rubbed his chin and lips in agitated manner, grew pale and trembling and in every way comported himself as one might who was guilty of a crime.

Scott said that he and John Black entered the room as Frank and Lee were finishing their conversation and that he overheard the latter part of Frank’s remarks.

Rosser immediately caught the detective up on this statement, referring him to his testimony before the Coroner’s Jury, where he testified that he had not entered the room until the conversation between Lee and Frank was completed and that he overheard nothing. Scott explained that he must have been mistaken when he testified before the Coroner.

Scott testified that Herbert Haas, one of Frank’s attorneys, early in the case had tried to persuade him to turn his evidence over to the defense before submitting it to the police, but this already had been aired at the inquest and was without particular effect, as Scott added, under the cross-examination of Rosser, that there was no attempt to have it suppressed or kept from the police authorities, but only to have it given first to the defense.

What had the appearance of being the most sensational testimony of the day was that given by R. P. Barrett, a machinist on the second floor of the factory, when he declared that he had found a pay envelope under the machine used by Mary Phagan. The pay envelope, however, when it was shown to the jury, was discovered to have on it no date, no amount, no name, with the exception of a loop of one letter, no number nor any other mark to identify it as the pay envelope that the Phagan girl received Saturday, April 26. Nor was any explanation suggested as to how she may have happened to be at her machine when there was no work being done that day and the machines were not in operation.

Barrett testified to the finding of the alleged blood spots on the second floor near the women’s dressing room and the strands of hair on the lathing machine. No more was developed out of the testimony then was already known to the public when Barrett announced his discovery a few days after the murder. Barrett also declared that a white substance had been used with the apparent intention of removing the splotches of red.

Sweeper Tells of Splotches.

Mel Stanford, a factory sweeper, corroborated Barrett in his story of the finding of the spots and the white substance that was spread over them. He said the spots were not there when he swept the factory Friday and that the first time he noticed them was when they were pointed out to him the Monday morning after the murder.

Monteen Stover, the 14-year-old factory girl, gave exactly the testimony that had been expected. She said she had entered the factory at 12:05 the day of the tragedy, and that Frank was not in his office. She said that she looked about in his office for him and on failing to find him left the building. She testified that she looked at the clock as she departed, and it was 12:10. Her story contradicts the statement of Frank that he was in his office all the time after he came from Montag Brothers at about 11 o’clock until he went to the fourth floor to see Harry Denham and Arthur White at about 12:50.

Dr. Claude A. Smith, city bacteriologist, testified that he found four or five blood corpuscles on one of the chips of wood that were brought to him. He could not tell whether or not it was human blood. These chips were the ones taken from the floor where the alleged spots were found. He said that in his opinion the blood-stained shirt found at the home of Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, never had been worn and that the blood on it was put on the inside of the garment and seeped through to the outside.