Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
July 29th, 1913
Negro Nightwatchman Who Found Mary Phagan’s Body in National Pencil Factory on Stand—Girl’s Mother and Newsboy Examined
Newt Lee, the negro nightwatchman who found Mary Phagan’s body in the pencil factory basement, was hammered by the defense for over two hours, on the witness stand Monday afternoon.
Mrs. J. W. Coleman, mother of the murdered child, and George W. Epps, a playmate who came to town with her on the fatal day, testified in that order. Mrs. Coleman being the first witness called to the stand when the trial started.
Newt Lee was the third witness. The testimony of the others had been brief, under direct and cross-examination. Newt Lee’s direct testimony was not extensive, but his evidence under cross-examination by Attorney Luther Rosser filled out the rest of the afternoon, and he still was on the stand under cross-examination when court recessed for the night.
At 3 o’clock court re-convened.
The jury, which had lunched in a downtown restaurant under guard of two deputy sheriffs, and then had been locked in its room, entered court.
Leo M. Frank, the accused, re-entered court and resumed his seat between his wife and his mother.
Mrs. J. W. Coleman, mother of Mary Phagan, the murdered girl, was called as the first witness. She took the stand at 3:05 o’clock.
Attorney Arnold had announced that the defense might call a number of newspaper men. He might call every man at the press table, he said. Solicitor Dorsey agreed to suspend the rule and to allow them to remain in court.
Mrs. Coleman was attired entirely in black, with a black veil.
Solicitor Dorsey asked Mrs. Coleman what relation she was to Mary Phagan.
“Her mother,” said Mrs. Coleman.
“When did you see her alive last?”
“April 26, Memorial day.”
“At a quarter to 12 o’clock.”
“At my home, 146 Lindsay street.”
DESCRIBES HER DAUGHTER.
Continuing her testimony, Mrs. Coleman stated that Mary had helped her to do the morning’s work; that she left home to go to the National Pencil factory on Forsyth street for her pay; that Mary had eaten her lunch of cabbage and bread before she left. Mrs. Coleman testified that her daughter would not have been fourteen years old until June 1 of this year; that she was unusually large fore [sic] her age. Describing Mary, the mother said:
“She was fair, heavy set, very pretty, and with dimples in each cheek.”
Mary was dressed that day in a lavender dress, trimmed in lace, said the mother.
The solicitor handed a suit case to Newt Garner, special deputy in his office, Garner extracting the clothing in which Mary Phagan’s body was found and began arranging it on the witness stand at the feet of Mrs. Coleman.
At her first glance upon the blood stained dress Mrs. Coleman put a fan before her face and began to sob audibly. Many spectators in the court were affected. Mrs. Frank, mother of the accused, put her own hand before her own face and bowed her head. Deputy Plennie Miner offered a glass of ice water to Mrs. Coleman. She sipped it and continued sobbing.
Solicitor Dorsey cut his examination short immediately.
“The witness is with you,” said he, turning to the defense.
SHE IS CROSS-EXAMINED.
Attorney Luther Z. Rosser cross-examined Mrs. Coleman for the defense.
“Is that her hat?”
“Well, didn’t it have something else on it when you saw it last?”
“Yes, a blue ribbon and some pink flowers.”
Mrs. Coleman said she lives two blocks from the point where Mary boarded a trolley car that day. There is a store at the corner run by Mrs. Smith, she said. The witness admitted she had no way of knowing how long it was before Mary caught a car. Mrs. Coleman said she knows a little boy named G. W. Epps. He was a friend of Mary’s, but not a special friend, she said.
Attorney Rosser said, “You talked to a gentleman on May 2 and isn’t this what you said——?”
Solicitor Dorsey objected. The question would be admissible only in case the defense was seeking to impeach the witness, said he. The defense contested that view. After argument, the question was admitted by Judge Roan.
“Did you on May 2 say to L. D. Whitfield that Mary detested Epps?”
Mrs. Coleman did not remember. She was excused, and G. W. Epps was called. He is a fifteen-year-old boy, employed as a newsboy.
GEORGE EPPES [sic] ON STAND.
George Epps was barefooted. He made a good impression by his straightforward answers.
He had known Mary Phagan for a year before the murder. He met her coming to town on the street car on the morning of April 26. He said that he rode with her to Forsyth and Marietta streets, leaving her there about 12:10 o’clock. She went toward the pencil factory, said he, to get her money. The continued that he had an appointment to meet her at Elkin-Watson’s drug store at 2 o’clock. After leaving her, he sold papers there. He waited for her until 4 o’clock, said he, and when she hadn’t appeared by that time he went to the baseball park, selling more papers there.
Epps created a rippled of merriment by some of his answers. Attorney Rosser, cross questioning him, asked how he knew what time it was when he got on the car at Olive and Bellwood to come to town. The boy said he looked at a clock and the clock said it was 10 minutes to 12 then. Attorney Rosser attempted to shake this statement by asking why he hadn’t related this incident at the coroner’s inquest. Young Epps said, “Maybe I didn’t tell about it, but it was there.” Attorney Rosser asked: “How did you know what time it was when you got off the car?” The boy said: “I looked at the sun.”
The boy was excused from the stand after having been there perhaps ten minutes.
Newt Lee, the negro night watchman at the pencil factory, who found the body of Mary Phagan, was called as the next witness.
The negro was examined in detail by the solicitor. He stated that he had been night watchman at the factory about three weeks before the murder. Before that he was night watchman for several months at the factory of the company in East Point.
He said he knew Leo M. Frank as the superintendent in the Atlanta factory. When he came to work as night watchman at the Forsyth street factory. Frank carried him over the building, showed him everything, and told him he must report during the week days at 6 o’clock in the evening and on Saturday afternoons at 5 o’clock. On Friday night, April 25, Frank told him that the next day was to be a holiday, and directed him to report for work at 4 o’clock as he, Frank, desired to get off himself a little earlier than usual. The negro said he arrived at the factory about three or four minutes before 4 o’clock; that the front doors of the factory were closed and appeared to be locked; that he took the key from his pocket and inserted it in the lock, discovering then that the door was not locked. He entered, and half way up the stairs he found the inside double doors of the steps were locked. He had to use his key to get through them.
The solicitor inquired how he happened to have the keys, where he got them, etc.
The negro said he was accustomed to get the keys to the doors every Saturday at noon when he came to get his pay so that he could lock them Sunday morning and get in again Sunday night. On this particular week he got his pay Friday evening about 6 o’clock, he and the other employees having been advised that they would pay off at that time on account of Saturday being a holiday. He did not know whether the other employes were paid off then.
A battery of half a dozen cameras flashed in the court, startling every one and the negro in particular.
MR. FRANK MEETS HIM.
About the keys again, the solicitor caused him to repeat how he found the daors [sic]. It was the first time he ever had found the inside doors on the stairs locked, he said. He went on upstairs to a little desk in the hall where he was accustomed to stop and call to Mr. Frank “All right” as he took charge. On this occasion he put some bananas that he had down on the table, and as usual he called to Mr. Frank. Almost immediately Mr. Frank “came bustin’ out” of the office, rubbing his hands.
“’Newt,’ he says to me,’” testified the negro, “’I’m sorry you’ve come so soon. You could have been home asleep.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Frank, I sure do need some sleep.’ Mr. Frank says to me, ‘Go out in town, Newt, and have a good time.’ I said, ‘I’d rather sleep, Mr. Frank.’ And he said, ‘No, go out and have a good time.’”
The negro said that was the first time Mr. Frank ever had told him to go out and have a good time. There was a place in the factory, said he, where he could have slept. The negro said that Mr. Frank insisted that he needed to have a good time, however. Mr. Frank told him to stay about an hour and a half, and to come back not later than 6 o’clock; that he himself would be in the factory until then.
“I offered him some bananas,” said the negro, “but he wouldn’t take any. Then I went on out.”
The solicitor wanted to know from the witness if Mr. Frank appeared to be nervous.
The negro answered that he did not “look at Mr. Frank’s face,” but Mr. Frank was rubbing his hands. He stayed out until about four minutes to 6 o’clock, said the negro, and returning found the doors unlocked just like he left them.
“As I reached the desk upstairs, I called out, ‘All right, Mr. Frank.’ He came out of the office and asked me what time it was. I told him it was a few minutes to 6 o’clock. It took him about twice as long as usual to fix the slip. He fumbled with it and said something about not being used to putting them in.”
MEETING WITH GANTT.
Solicitor Dorsey again asked if Frank appeared to be nervous. The negro replied that he had never noticed to see if he was nervous Lee said he did not know how to put the time slips in the clock, for he never had put one in. Solicitor Dorsey asked the negro if Frank had mentioned Gantt to him. The negro said he saw Mr. Gantt at a little after 6 o’clock at the front door of the factory. After Mr. Frank fixed the slip, Frank went into the office to get his coat and the negro, he said, punched the clock and went on down to the front door. When he opened the door, said the negro, he noticed Mr. Gantt coming across the street from a beer saloon. Gantt told him he wanted to get inside to get a pair of shoes. He told Gantt that Mr. Frank was upstairs; that he would ask him about it. Gantt replied, “No, I’ll wait till Monday.” About that time Mr. Frank came out of the front door, said the negro, and when he saw Gantt he jumped back like he was frightened.
The negro got up from the witness chair and illustrated how Frank jumped back. Then Gantt spoke to Mr. Frank, saying, “How do you do, Mr. Frank?” and Mr. Frank returned the salutation. Gantt asked Frank’s repmission [sic] to go upstairs after the old shoes. “I don’t know about that,” the negro said Frank replied. “I think I saw the boy sweep them up in the trash the other day.” Gantt asked what sort of shoes he saw, and Frank said, “Oh, tan,” then Gantt said, “I had a pair of black ones, too. Can I go up and get them?”
For a moment, said the witness, Frank did not answer. He dropped his head and seemed to be thinking. Then he looked up and said, “Yes,” and turned to the negro.
“He says ‘You go with him, Newt, stay with him and help him find the shoes.’ We found them, both pairs, the tan and black ones, in the shopping room where Mr. Gantt said they were.”
“And they hadn’t been swept out, had they?” asked the solicitor.
FRANK PHONES HIM.
“No, sir,” replied the negro. The negro said Frank went on up Forsyth street toward the viaduct when he said Gantt went on into the factory. He didn’t know where Frank went, and he didn’t see him any more that night. Frank telephoned to him just a little before 7 o’clock, and just after he, the negro, had made his round of the building. On this round, the negro stated, he had gone into the basement.
LIGHT VERY DIM.
The negro was questioned about the lights. There was a light on the street floor which he usually lit when he went on duty Saturday afternoons at 5 o’clock. On regular working days when he reported for work at 6 o’clock, said he, it was always lit. That afternoon when he came in at 6 o’clock, the second time, it was burning. The solicitor asked him about the light in the basement. It was a rule, said the negro, that this light in the basement should be kept burning all the time. When he left there early Saturday morning it was burning brightly, said he. When he went down there the first time Saturday evening the light was burning dimly, said he. The solicitor asked the negro to explain the distinction he drew.
“You’ve seen a lightning bug flying around and then knocked down to the ground, ain’t you?” asked the negro. The solicitor admitted that he had. “That’s the difference,” said the negro. He further said there weer [sic] two little chains on the light. By pulling one, the light was turned on full blast. By pulling the other, it would become very dim and finally go out. The light was just as low as it possibly could be, said the negro.
Lee said he made his rounds regularly every thirty minutes. He said that never during his connection with the factory had he failed to punch the clock every thirty minutes except when the pump or the engine had gone wrong.
“Were the street doors open or closed when you came at 4 o’clock?”
They were closed, said the negro.
“Up to 3 o’clock Sunday morning, did anything go wrong?”
HE FINDS THE BODY.
No, said the negro, everything was all right until then. At 3 o’clock, he said, he went down into the basement. As he left, he said: “I looked around and saw something over by the bend. I thought, it being a holiday, some of those boys had put something there to scare we. I went over a little farther and looked, and then I left.”
“Tell us all about it,” said the solicitor. How did you get up the ladder? Tell us everything.”
“I don’t know, boss. The next thing I remember I was calling the police over the telephone. I told them what I’d found. After I got the police, I tried to call Mr. Frank, but I couldn’t get him, and I kept on calling until the officers came. I gues[s] it was about eight minutes.”
“When did you next see Mr. Frank?” asked the solicitor.
“It was that Sunday morning, after I’d yeen [sic] locked up and then brought back to the factory. I was sitting in the office when Mr. Frank and Mr. Darley came in. Mr. Frank looked at me and dropped his head and didn’t say anything. Mr. Darley said, ‘Good morning, Newt. I don’t believe you did it, but you must know something about it.’”
The solicitor asked the negro about the time clock and the tape. The negro said he and Mr. Frank and Mr. Darley and Officer Rogers and Newport Lanford, chief of detectives, were present when the time slip was taken out of the clock. Mr. Frank, said the negro, said that the time slip was all right.
Solicitor Dorsey asked Lee what Mr. Frank meant by the statement. Attorney Rosser objected to the question. The question finally was put in amended shape, and the negro answered that in order to be “all right” the time slip must be punched every thirty minutes from 6 o’clock on.
He explained, on the solicitor’s question, that he had put his pencil in the time clock to prevent his punch putting one mark directly on top of another. The pencil had been there for some time, said the negro. Lee said he did not know what had become of the slip.
He explained that he had been locked up since the body of Mary Phagan was found.
TALK WITH FRANK.
“When I went down there with the officers,” he said, “one of them put the handcuffs on me and said ‘You done this!’ Then I stayed a while at the station house, and I’ve been in jail ever since.”
“When did you next see Mr. Frank?” the solicitor asked.
“That morning I rode down to the station house in the same automobile with him, but we didn’t speak.”
Lee was asked if he had talked with Frank on Tuesday night. He said he didn’t know what night it was, but while he was held at police station one of the officers came down to his cell at night and unlocking it said, “Let’s let Newt Lee and Mr. Frank have it out.”
“They carried me up to another room,” said Lee, “and sat me down and handcuffed me to a chair. Then they brought Mr. Frank in. Mr. Frank, he dropped his head. We was all alone.
“’It’s mighty hard to be handcuffed here for something I don’t know nothing about,’ I said to Frank, ‘What’s the difference?’ said Mr. Frank. ‘They’re guarding me. Newt, I believe you know something about it.’ ‘No, sir, I don’t. I had to go back twice where they say it was done, and I didn’t see anything.’
“’Well, let’s don’t talk about it,’ said Mr. Frank. ‘If you keep that talk up, we’ll both go to hell.’”
Abouth [sic] then, Lee said, the officers came back in and got him.
After Solicitor Dorsey closed the direct examination of Newt Lee, Solicitor Dorsey produced a large diagram of the pencil factory. It was framed behind glass, and measured about three feet by four. It appeared to be completed in detail, with a table containing the key to various marks on it. Also three photographs were produced by Solicitor Dorsey of locks and doors which figured in the testimony.
Attorney Rosser conducted the cross-examination of Newt Lee. He referred to a stenographic record of testimony by Lee at the coroner’s inquest.
“Did you tell everything you knew at the coroner’s inquest?” When Lee replied: “Yes,” Mr. Rosser asked him how many times he had repeated the story of the crime up to the time when he took the witness chair at the trial.
Lee said he didn’t know. Everybody had been asking him questions since he was arrested, it looked like, he said.
Mr. Rosser asked Lee if he had ever told before about Mr. Frank dropping his head when he came out of the factory on the day of the murder and met Gantt at the door. Lee said that he had told about it.
Mr. Rosser asked him: “Did you tell this to the coroner’s jury?” Lee replied, “Yes, sir.” Attorney Rosser then asked him about the shoes which Gantt came after. Mr. Rosser asked the negro if he didn’t tell the coroner’s jury that Frank said he had given them away to some one. Lee said “No, sir, I didn’t.”
He said he had told the coroner’s jury that he objected when Mr. Frank told him to return to the factory at 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon. Mr. Rosser produced a transcript of the testimony given by Lee before the coroner’s jury. He said he failed to find any of these points in it. “I can’t help what you’ve got there,” returned the negro.
Mr. Rosser asked the negro about his habits on previous Saturdays. On the three Saturdays prior to the day of the murder, said the witness, he had reported at noon to get his pay and the keys, and then he had returned at 5 o’clock. Mr. Rosser asked him why he complained at coming just one hour earlier.
ANYONE COULD ENTER.
The defense then attempted to make the negro admit that anybody could have entered the factory through the front door, if it were unlocked, and roam around at will on the second floor unknown to Frank. The negro admitted that this could happen.
Mr. Rosser also sought to show that anybody could have entered the basement, even if the doors on the stairway leading to the second floor were locked. It would have been possible for anybody to do that, said Lee.
The negro testified that the shutters on the windows on the second, third and fourth floors were nearly all closed. On the second floor, he said, only a few at the front were open. This made it dark, he said. A light burned constantly close to a clock on the first floor, he said.
Mr. Rosser wanted to know how many time clocks there were in the factory. Two, said the negro—one running from 1 to 100 and the other from 101 to 200. Mr. Rosser wanted to know which clock he punched.
“Either,” said the negro, “whichever has got the slip on it.”
ORDERED TO WATCH GANTT.
Mr. Rosser asked Lee if he didn’t know that Mr. Frank didn’t want Gantt in the factory. Frank had told him he had discharged Gantt, said the negro, and for him not to let Gantt in the factory. He said ‘when you see him hanging around here, watch him.’”
Mr. Rosser asked him if that wasn’t the reason why Mr. Frank was startled when he found Gantt at the door that evening.
“That’s what went through my mind,” said the negro. “Mr. Gantt is a big man about seven feet tall.”
Lee then related how he had let Gantt out of the factory after he had obtained his shoes. After Gantt left, said he, he put his lantern down behind him and watched Gantt until he went into a beer saloon across the street. Then he went upstairs and punched the clock.
Mr. Rosser wanted to know if he knew where the officers claim Mary Phagan’s body was “found,”—probably meaning to ask where she was killed, for the negro answered “back in the machine room.”
“Didn’t you have to go by that place every half hour when you made your rounds?”
“Yes, sir.” He went by there every half hour up to 3 o’clock in the morning, said the negro.
Mr. Rosser questioned him for almost an hour regarding his trips to the basement—as to how frequently he made them, what his instructions were from Mr. Frank about inspecting the basement, and why it was that he just came down to the foot of the ladder on each trip except the one on which he discovered the body.
Lee stated that while Frank had instructed him to go over the building every half hour, he had told him to go down to the basement “every now and then,” to see if there was and fire down there and to see if the back door was closed. He testified that Frank had told him to stay away from the dust bin in the rear with his lantern, as it was dangerous and might catch fire.
Mr. Rosser wanted to know if Mr. Frank had given him any special instructions that night about making his rounds and going to the basement, and the negro replied in the negative. He admitted that if he had gone back to the rear door of the basement to see if it was locked, he would have had to pass the body. He insisted that if the door had been open, even slightly, he could have noticed it from the front part of the basement.
He said there was a big electric light burning outside the factory at the back, and that if the door had been open he could have seen it at once. He did not notice it open at all that night, not even when he found the girl’s body.
Mr. Rosser i[n]terrupted the witness at this point to know how soon the police arrived at the factory after he called them. Lee didn’t know, but he thought it was about ten minutes. He was still at the phone trying to get Mr. Frank’s phone to answer, when the police got there.
Mr. Rosser asked Lee if he went any closer to the back door than the point at which he found the body of Mary Phagan. The negro said no, and admitted that body was about sixty feet from the rear door. He insisted, however, that the door was closed, but would not say whether it was fastened.
Lee stated that he made his first trip to the basement on Saturday night about 7 o’clock, and that he made several other trips there, but that he didn’t go any further back than the light which burns at the elevator, until the trip when he found the body. He had been told to use that particular toilet, said the negro.
Lee said that he did not see Mary Phagan’s hat, shoes or umbrella as he went to the toilet. His lanterns was rather dim and dirty, he said.