Mother’s Sorrow and Newsie’s Wit Play on Emotions at Frank Trial

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

Atlanta Journal
July 29th, 1913

Each of First Three Witnesses In Case Shows Distinct Personality and Entirely Different Side of Human Nature, Some Character Studies

Three of the witnesses who testified Monday afternoon at the Frank trial were more distinct as personalities than the characters you could see portrayed in any theater, except that very tragic one of a criminal court room.

Much testimony and such individuality as that of these witnesses, has kept the court room crowded by at least 200 people during every minute of the Frank trial—crowded with well dressed men who lean forward in their seats, intent on every detail of the trial, every question that the attorneys ask, every answer that the witnesses give.

They are first attracted to the court room by different reasons for curiosity: but they remain because of their common interest in “character.” In having a glimpse of distinct personalities, in seeing the stubbornness with which Newt Lee adheres to his testimony while lawyers try to confound him.


Mrs. J. W. Coleman, mother of Mary Phagan, was first of the three witnesses who testified Monday afternoon. She spoke in a low voice, telling of how her daughter had left home on the day of the murder, and she seemed to have finished her testimony, when a court officer drew forth a suitcase which had been hidden behind several chairs.

Before the mother, he undid the satchel, and took up in his hands the dress and the shoes that Mary Phagan had worn when her mother last saw her. The officer first laid the dress upon the witness stand, almost under the mother’s feet and placed the shoes beside it. Everyone had leaned forward when the satchel had been brought from behind the chairs; everyone, the lawyers, the audience, the jury, waited as the torn clothing and shoes were placed by the mother for her identification.

After the most hurried glance at the clothing almost touching the hem of her dress, she covered her eyes with a fan and began to sob. The solicitor general asked her no further questions, and, after a moment she left the stand and the audience leaned back. This was the mother, without speaking, identified the clothing of her murdered daughter.


A witness next testified who was like Samuel Weller in the freshness of youth. He was George Epps, a bare-footed, tow-headed newsboy, whose impudence made the audience turn from seriousness to chuckles, and caused many to lean forward and rub his knees with the palms of his hands.

“It was seven minutes after 12 o’clock when Mary and me got off the car that Saturday morning,” he said.

“Have you a watch?” asked Attorney Luther Rosser.


“How’d you know?”

“Tell by the sun.”

“Tell to the minute, eh?”

“Sure. Tell now, if the sun was shinin’ in here.”

“Couldn’t have been mistaken, could you?” suggested Mr. Rosser.

“Well, I guess not.”


The last witness to testify in the afternoon was Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, who discovered Mary Phagan’s body. He speaks with the tongue of a negro but with a wit, and a doggedness that was invincible to all cross-examinations by Attorneys.

This untaught negro remained upon the witness stand for an hour or more Monday afternoon, answering question after question, but never wavering in his story of how he discovered the body of Mary Phagan.

When he was pressed hard about the truthfulness of his story, he sometimes became argumentative and proved his questioners to be wrong.

“You all don’t mind if I get up?” he would ask casually of the jury. “I can show you better standin’ up.”

At times he thought that attorneys were interfering with his story by their questions.

“Now, Newt,” asked Solicitor Dorsey, “what did he say?”

“Well, if you’ll just wait a minute,” answered Newt, “I’ll tell you.”

Later on, when Solicitor Dorsey had summed up the answers that Newt had given in discussing one incident, and drew his conclusion from them, Newt sighed and leaned back.

“Yes, sir,” he said, with humor which he may or may not have meant, “now you got it right.”

At another time he was trying to describe to Attorney Rosser the appearance of a light in the cellar at the pencil factory.

“Wait a minute, boss,” he said. “Have you ever seen a lightning bug? Have you ever knocked it down with your hat when you tried to catch it? You know how it looks then. That’s the way it was.”

He Will Be Freed, Says Mrs. Frank of Husband; Few Women Hear Trial

Mrs. Leo M. Frank says of the trial of her husband:

“I’m sure that he will be acquitted. I look for nothing less than an acquittal. I know that he is innocent, and I believe that the jury also will be convinced.”

“I would rather not talk about it,” says Mrs. J. W. Coleman, mother of Mary Phagan. “I don’t want to express an opinion.”

“I’m like my mother in not wanting to talk about the trial,” says Miss Ollie Phagan, sister of Mary Phagan. “The trial is almost more than my mother can bear. She was the youngest of us—Mary. I mean—she was the life of our home. Now everything is different.”

Few women, except those interested by relationship with parties to the case, have attended the trial. The number of men in the court room is always about 200. The number of women has never been more than seven. And the few who came out of curiosity lingered but a short while.

No one is admitted to the court room unless there is room for him to be seated. By this restriction, overcrowding has been prevented.