Negro Sweeper Tells Officer Frank Asked Him to Write Some Notes Day Before Tragedy

Negro Sweeper

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

Atlanta Journal

Saturday, May 24th, 1913

He Thinks These Notes Are the Same as Those Found by the Body of the Murdered Girl, but Had Not Seen the Original Notes When He Made His Sensational Statement to the Detectives Saturday Morning


Conley Voluntarily Sent for Detectives to Make His Statement, It Is Declared — He Told the Detectives That He Wanted to Confess the Whole Truth, That Frank Called Him Into His Office and Told Him He Wanted to See His Writing

Saturday morning, James Conley, the negro sweeper formerly employed in the pencil factory where Mary Phagan was killed, and who was arrested on suspicion and has been held in jail since as a material witness for the state, sent for Detective John Black and declared that he wanted to tell the truth.

“Boss, I wrote those notes,” said he, referring to the mysterious notes found beside the dead body of Mary Phagan.

He declared that he could not identify them positively, inasmuch as he had never seen the originals, but that as they were read to him out of the papers he believed they were the ones he wrote.

On Friday, the day before the murder, said he to detectives, Leo M. Frank called him into his (Frank’s) office at the factory and said he wanted to get some samples of his handwriting, and dictated for him to write—dictating, said the negro, what he remembered as substantially the notes that afterward were read to him out of the newspapers.

The negro was taken immediately to the courthouse.

Conley was arrested during the coroner’s inquest, when some one saw him washing a shirt at the factory. His defense was that it was his sole and only shirt, and that he was washing it so that he would appear clean at the inquest, wither he had been summoned as a possible witness.


The following affidavit was made by Conley and is in possession of the city detective department:



Personally appeared before the undersigned, a Notary Public in and for the above State and County, James Connally [sic], who, being sworn on oath says:

On Friday evening before the Holiday, about four minutes to 1 o’clock, Mr. Frank come up the isle and asked me to come to his office. That was the isle on the fourth floor where I was working, and when I went down to the office he asked me could I write and I told him yes I could write a little bit, and he give me a scratch pad and told me what to put on it, and told me to put on there, “dear mother, a long tall black negro did this by himself,” and he told me to write ot [sic] two or three times on there. I wrote it on a white scratch pad, single ruled. He went to his desk and pulled out another scratch pad, a brown looking scratch pad, and looked at my writing and wrote on that himself, but when I went to his office he asked me if I wanted a cigarette and I told him yes but they didn’t allow any smoking in the factory, and he pulled out a box of cigarettes that cost 16c a box, and in that box he had $2.50, two paper dollars and two quarters, and I taken one of the cigarettes and handed him the box back and he told me that it was all right I could keep the box, and I told him he had some money in the box, and he said that was all right I was welcome to that for I was a good working negro around there, and then he asked me where was Gordon Bailey (Snowball they call him) and I told him he was on the elevator, and he asked me if I knew the night watchman and I told him no sir I didn’t know him, and he asked me if I ever saw him in the basement and I told him no sir I never did see him down there, but he could ask the fireman and maybe he could tell him more about that than I could, and then Mr. Frank was laughing and jollying and going on in the office, and I asked him not to take out any money for that watch man I owed, for I didn’t have any to spare, and he told me he wouldn’t, but he would see to me getting some money a little bit later. He told me he had some wealthy people in Brooklyn, and then he held his head up and looked out of the corner of his eyes and said “why should I hang” and that’s all I remember him saying to me. When I asked him not to take out money for the watch he said you ought not to buy any watch, for that wife of mine wants me to buy her an automobile but he wouldn’t do it; I never did see his wife. On Tuesday morning after the Holiday on Saturday, before Mr. Frank got in jail, he come up the isle where I was sweeping and held his head over to me and whispered to me to be a good boy, and that was all he said to me.


Sworn to and subscribed before me this 34th day of May, 1913.


Notary Public, Fulton County, Georgia.


Immediately after the grand jury, with which he had been engaged closely, finished its work temporarily by returning a true bill charging Leo M. Frank with the murder of Mary Phagan, Solicitor Dorsey entered his own office, where the negro sweeper from the factory, James Conley, was being detained by several detectives.

There the solicitor was closeted with the negro and the detectives for considerably more than an hour.

It was evident that the negro was being subjected to a rigid examination. It seemed that he was not wavering under it, however, from his sworn statement that he wrote some notes at the dictation of Superintendent Frank on the day before the murder.

All of the detectives, except one, were members of the city detective force. The one exception was Harry Scott, member of the Pinkerton office in Atlanta.

James Conley has never seen the two notes, which he claims to have written at Leo M. Frank’s dictation. The notes reposed in a safety deposit vault in a local bank throughout the day Saturday, and Solicitor Dorsey did not have them produced before the negro.

Conley stuck to his story that he had written the notes at Frank’s dictation.

The detectives had dictated the notes from copies to the negro, and he wrote them out early Saturday morning. Before the solicitor, he identified the two notes written by himself Saturday morning, and declared that they were copies of the ones he wrote for Frank, so it is said.


When the negro, Conley, was brought back to the police headquarters he was immediately locked up and reporters were not allowed to see him. This led to the belief at headquarters that the negro had confessed more than had yet become known. It was stated that he chemist’s analysis of stains on the shirt he was washing to wear to [t]he inquest[t] might have shown that the stains were from blood and not rust, as at first supposed. The chemist’s report is in the solicitor’s possession. He refuses to say what that report is.

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Atlanta Journal, May 24th 1913, “Negro Sweeper Tells Officer Frank Asked Him to Write Some Notes Day Before Tragedy,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)