Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
The Atlanta Georgian
Monday, July 14, 1913
*Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the Night Edition under the headline “Mincey Tells of Confession.”
Tells How Conley Confessed Killing Girl
‘I AM SEEKING ONLY TO DO MY DUTY FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE’
The Georgian Secures Remarkable Statement From Chief Witness for Defense in the Trial of Frank. Declares Belief in Conley’s Guilt.
On Thursday, July 10, The Georgian published the exclusive story of an affidavit in the possession of the lawyers for Leo M. Frank, accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, made by W.H. Mincey, an insurance agent, the substance of which was to the effect that Jim Conley, the negro sweeper at the pencil factory, had confessed that he killed the little girl.
In his affidavit, Mincey declared that he met the negro Conley at Electric avenue and Carter street on the afternoon of the murder; that Conley was intoxicated and when approached by Mincey for insurance became angry and exclaimed, threateningly: “I have killed a girl to-day; I don’t want to kill nobody else.”
The Georgian has now secured from Mincey a complete statement of his connection with the Phagan case. It is as follows:
By W.H. MINCEY
If Jim Conley told the truth at a time he was most likely to do so, that is, when he was drunk, then I know he killed Mary Phagan, and I have known this for weeks.
I am not an insurance agent, as some of the papers have me, but I am a teacher by profession. I am a graduate of a branch of the State University, A.B. degree, hold a Georgia State Teacher’s license, and have been teaching in Georgia every year for the past twenty-five years. I am now teaching. But during my vacation I worked for an insurance company in Atlanta for ten weeks.
By this company I was assigned a territory west of the Terminal Station. Saturday, April 26, I worked in the office till noon. In the afternoon I went out on Peachtree street and saw the parade. After the parade I went over beyond Davis street on “back calls” and to make an effort to close some “prospects” I had.
I passed down Rhodes street, and when I turned back, I had calls to make back on Electric avenue and Mitchell street. From Rhodes street there is a trailway up a bluff to the junction of Carter street and Electric avenue. I went up this.
Passing the house that sits just on the brow of this bluff I noticed a negro man sitting with his head leaning down on his chest as if asleep. I passed on some twenty feet when this negro raised his head and said: “Who is that?” The sharp, quick, excited manner in which he said this attracted my attention. A negro woman passing by Conley said, “It is a policy man,” meaning an insurance man.
Said He Was Jim Conley
I stopped and got into a conversation with the negro about insurance. He told me his name was Jim Conley. He told me he lived at 172 Rhodes street. I saw at once there was something wrong with him. He was nervous and excited, and tried to put me off and get rid of me by telling me to come to 172 Rhodes street next week and he would take insurance. But as the negro had excited my curiosity by his incoherent, scattering way of talking and his nervous and excited manner, I remained standing there firing questions at him.
He told me he was in trouble. I asked him if they had had him in jail or the stockade. He said no, but he was expecting to be in jail, and that right away. I asked him what for.
He said: “Murder, I killed a girl to-day.”
I said: “Oh, I see! You are Jack the Ripper.”
The thought that occurred to me was that he meant he had[…]
Continued on Page 4, Column 1.
SCHOOL TEACHER TELLS REMARKABLE STORY TO THE GEORGIAN
Says He Only Desires to Prevent a Crime as Bad as Phagan Slaying
Negro Who Declared He Had Killed a Girl First Said His Name Was Jim Conley, Mincey Declares.
Continued From Page 1.
[…]killed some negro woman, and the only thing that seemded peculiar to me was that he said “girl” instead of “woman.”
I said: “Why did you kill her?”
He began to get angry and I saw he was drunk.
He said: “Now, that is for me to know and you to find out.”
Negro Seemed Suspiciously Nervous
I did not attach much to what he was saying, thinking it was the babbling of a drunken negro; but his restless, quick glancing around and his keeping his eyes on me, and the wild, unnatural glare in his eyes caused me to want to press him further to find out really what he had been doing.
I said: “Let me write your insurance this afternoon,” and started down to where he was.
He said: “Don’t you come down here,” speaking this in an angry, threatening manner. This caused me to press him the more.
I said: “No, I will take your application now,” and continued.
He said: “I tell you not to come down here.”
When he saw I was coming on anyway, he jumped up, and as he went round the corner of the house he said: “I have killed one to-day and I don’t want to kill another.”
I said: “Well, one a day is enough; that is 365 a year,” turned and walked off.
Now, if Jim Conley did not in fact tell me that he killed Mary Phagan on that day, then I don’t know what language is, and I am sure I know what language is. I suppose it can be established that Jim Conley was nowhere else than in Atlanta on that day. Mary Phagan was murdered in Atlanta that day.
No Other Girl Slain That Day
So far as is known, no other girl was murdered in Atlanta that day. Now, did Jim Conley not tell me he killed Mary Phagan? If he did not, absolutely, I do not know when I have reasoned out a proposition in algebra, geometry or logic. But I am sure I do know when I have solved a problem.
On Sunday morning after the murder I heard someone saw a 17-year-old girl had been killed the night before and dragged into a basement somewhere, supposed to be a girl of the streets and killed by some rowdies. I knew nothing further of this till Monday morning, passing down Forsyth street by the National Pencil Factory, I heard some one say “There is the place where the girl was killed,” and some men standing there said she was seen at 11 o’clock Saturday night on the corner there. This placed the murder after I had seen and talked to Conley.
But during the day Monday I saw a paper, and as no one about this child’s age saw her on Saturday, knowing that she would seek companions of near her age had she left the building, I at once decided she had never left the plant after going there.
Tuesday morning, passing the factory, I walked in and up the steps to the second floor. Some man walked up to me and asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted to see Mr. Frank.
Mincey Calls at the Factory
He said Mr. Frank was not in, that he could attend to what I wanted.
I told him I wanted to see where that little girl was killed and how many negroes worked there. The man did not want me to look over the building, but told me about the negroes. I asked him what negroes were there on Saturday. He said there were no negroes there on Saturday. I asked him if he was there. He said he was; that he was the day watchman. I asked him what time he left. He said at 11:45.
I said: “That was just a few minutes before that little girl came, then.”
He said: “Yes.”
I said: “Didn’t you see a negro here when you left?”
He said: “No, I told you there were no negroes here; it was holiday and they did not work that day.” I kept asking him about negroes and talking till he was out of patience. All this time I kept walking and looking. He followed me everywhere I went. I learned later that the man’s name to whom I was talking is Holloway, and he is the only one connected with the plant to whom I ever talked.
My talk with Jim Conley on Saturday afternoon convinced me that he had killed some one, or thought he had; but knowing it was impossible for him to be connected with this unless he was there, I got out of patience with Holloway as much as he was out with me.
I saw everything was disturbed and torn up, and Holloway was mad. I was mad, too. At last I turned on him and told him that that little girl never left that building after she came in there, and that some one in the building who knew the building killed her. Things were becoming more confused in the building, and after another parley with him about a negro being there, I turned and left the building, thoroughly disgusted.
Well, this seemed to me to eliminate Jim Conley, yet his words, sets and looks continued to haunt me as if I had seen a ghost. Well, things rocked on, and I worked on. But I believed all the time that there was a missing link somewhere.
Later I saw that some lady saw a negro in the building the day of the murder, but I took no further trouble with it. I did not want to get mixed up in it at all.
Goes to the Police Station
Later, when I learned that a Jim Conley was there on the day of the murder, I one afternoon went down to the police station to see if this was the same Jim Conley I saw the afternoon of the murder.
I did not know any of the detectives, but a very nice, courteous gentleman came out, and I told him I would like to see the negro they had, to see if he was the same I saw on Carter street the day of the murder. He asked me if he seemed excited any way. I said: “Very much so.” He told me to come in.
I went in. To the best of my knowledge and belief, this was the negro I talked to the afternoon of the murder.
I got into a conversation with him. Conley looked just the same. The same dark clothes, the same hat; the voice had mellowed down much, the glare had faded from his eyes; but the voice and eyes were there the same.
I tried to make Conley remember me, but he said he had never seen me before; that he was not on Carter street that afternoon; that he did not know anyone on Carter street.
Now, whether the negro was lying or was so drunk he did not remember, I don’t know; but it is the one or the other.
I did not tell him he was the negro; I told him he looked like the negro.
When I was convinced that Conley was going to deny everything, I said: “Jim, you were pretty drunk that afternoon, were you not?” He said he had been drinking, but was not drunk. At this juncture one of the gentlemen in the room got up and opened the door. He said nothing, but I understood this to be a signal for me to go; and they had been as nice to me as I could have asked, so I said: “That is all. I only wished to see him.” I told the detectives nothing; I just walked in and had a few words with Conley and walked out. I saw they were at something. I did not know what, but I did not care to “butt in.” On the outside of the room some newspaper boys came up to me at once and began to ask me questions, but the newspaper is the last place I want to get into, and I said: “Nothing for the papers.” I walked down.
Writes Anonymously to Dorsey
Later I wrote Mr. Dorsey a letter, but did not sign my name to it. I asked to not have Jim Conley indicted for anything other than murder, as I had from his own lips that he had killed a girl the afternoon of the murder. I never told any detective or policeman anything. As I stated to Mr. Dorsey, my conditions were such that I could not afford to be caught up there and held as a witness. It was my intention to give the information I had to someone, but who was the proper one and when was the proper time I had not yet decided.
When I noticed a movement, as it seemed, to turn Conley loose, I knew that was not the thing to do, so I went to Mr. Rosser. I told Mr. Rosser I had information I would give him, but I would first have to ask him not to hold me there as a witness, or give out anything to the newspapers. I was assured that I would be safe on this line.
Mr. Rosser told me he would like to hear the statement, no matter whom it was against. That he wanted the murderer of Mary Phagan convicted, no difference who he is. After making the statement he asked me if I objected making the same and swearing to it. I told him I did not. I stepped out in another room and made the statement to be written.
Knows No One in the Case
Now, I know none of the people concerned in this. I saw Jim Conley, I saw one man at the National Pencil Factory, who I learn is Holloway, I saw Mr. Rosser but once.
I have only done what I believe any true citizen would do. I believe any other citizen would do as I have done. I have faith in the people of Georgia. I suppose I know as many people in Georgia as nearly any other man in the State. There are no people anywhere more generous, more noble, or more fair.
Now so far as I know I have told it the best I can, and I am willing to leave everything to the courts and the people.
If Jim Conley did murder little Mary Phagan, I will not remain quiet so far as what I know and let him make me and you and every other citizen a party to another crime just as bad.
I am at work and had much rather never be called as a witness, but should I be called no power can prevent me from doing my duty as a true citizen.
I have criticised no one and shall not do so; and I, as a citizen of Georgia, claim the right to perform a duty to my State and fellowman unmolested.
* * *
The Atlanta Georgian, July 14th 1913, “Mincey’s Own Story,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)