New Conley Confession Reported to Jury

by Archivist on December 14, 2016

George Gentry, operator of the dictograph, alleged to have trapped Colonel T. B. Felder and Mayor Woodward. Gentry now is missing.

George Gentry, operator of the dictograph, alleged to have trapped Colonel T. B. Felder and Mayor Woodward. Gentry now is missing.

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

Atlanta Georgian

Thursday, June 5th, 1913

Probers Question Colyar and Febuary About Alleged Admissions by Negro.

Chief Lanford, in discussing the near-fight between himself and Attorney Felder in Solicitor Dorsey’s office Thursday morning, characterized his opponent as all bluff.

“Felder is a coward and void of all truth,” declared Chief Lanford. “If I had been left with him alone for one minute I would have showed the rascal up. I wouldn’t have cared if he had a dozen pistols. Felder hasn’t the nerve to pull the trigger anyway.

“I would have taken a thirty-day suspension just to have given Felder what he deserves. Felder knows that I meant to do it, too, and he did not rise out of his chair to face me until he saw that there were plenty of men about to prevent a conflict.”

It became known this afternoon that the Grand Jury Thursday had investigated a sensational story that A. S. Colyar, the dictograph man, had been trying to dispose of what purported to be a confession from James Conley, negro sweeper, that he had killed Mary Phagan in the National Pencil factory.

The Grand Jury was told that such a document had been displayed to various persons and that Colyar had offered it to W. C. Tobie, the Burns man who worked on the case some time.

Colyar was summoned before the jury. G. C. Febuary, secretary to Chief Lanford, was also summoned because the Grand Jury had heard that he took down the alleged confession. Both Colyar and Febuary denied the existence of such an affidavit. Febuary, questioned very closely, said that every affidavit made by Conley and taken down by him had been made public and that in none of them did Conley confess to the killing.

Jury Probes Vice Reports.

In an atmosphere pregnant with excitement and at times so threatening that Solicitor General Dorsey was forced to appoint a deputy sheriff to preserve peace in his office, the Fulton County Grand Jury continued, its investigation of vice conditions in Atlanta Thursday morning.

Gathered in the ante-room to where the hearing is being conducted were the leaders of the opposing factions, Colonel Thomas B. Felder, for the one side, and Chief of Detectives Newport Lanford, Police Chief Beavers, A. S. Colyar and G. C. Febuary, for the other. Sympathizers with each were present, crowding the offices and adding to the general uneasiness that prevailed.

The first sensation of the morning occurred with the rearrest of Colyar on request of the Chief of Police of Knoxville, Tenn. Colyar was taken into custody by Deputy Sheriff Plen[n]ie Miner when he appeared, at the Thrower Building to testify before the Grand Jury.

The warrant is a duplicate of that served upon Colyar by Chief of Police Beavers some weeks ago charging forgery, and from which Colyar was released when requisition papers failed to be taken out for him. Colyar will be held this time without bail. He will be permitted to testify before the Grand Jury, and then will be thrown into a cell until the Knoxville authorities requisition him.

Chief of Detectives Lanford was the first witness to appear before the Grand Jury at the morning session. He was questioned concerning alleged existence of vice in Atlanta as charged by Felder. Just whether the tribunal questioned the chief concerning his own implication in the protection accusations made by the attorney did not become known. He remained in the jury room more than 30 minutes.

Mr. Felder followed the detective chief. The attorney carried with him a large portfolio of papers which he declared were conclusive evidence to support his charges.

Near Fist Fight.

Previous to the opening of the morning session of the Grand Jury, fistic encounters between Lanford and Felder were narrowly averted on two occasions. At one time the attorney, when suddenly confronted by the detective, made a dive for his hip pocket. Only the quick action of Dr. Horace Grant in catching the attorney’s hand forestalled what was afterward declared would have resulted in bloodshed.

Action against Colonel Felder for carrying a concealed weapon was indicated following the incident, Lanford demanded the attorney’s arrest.

Mr. Felder admitted that he had come to the Solicitor’s office prepared for an encounter with Lanford. He declared that he had been warned that the Chief of Detectives was going to assault him if the opportunity presented itself, and for that reason he had taken the precaution to meet the attack.

“I am not afraid of any man who meets me face to face,” Felder avowed. “I have been warned, however, that I may be attacked from behind. Lanford is not too low to attack me when my back is turned.”

The attorney then asked Solicitor Dorsey to provide him with a bodyguard that order might be preserved.

“I am not afraid to meet Lanford here or anywhere, for that matter,” Mr. Felder said. “I only ask that the guard be given me for the sake of peace while I am waiting for the Grand Jury to call me. When I get down on the street I will stand my own ground, let come what may.”

The Solicitor then appointed Deputy Sheriff Miner as custodian of the peace.

Probe Queer Affidavit.

A sensational report came to light at noon to the effect that the Grand Jury had turned its investigation to the charge that Colyar had attempted to dispose of an affidavit purporting to come from Jim Conley, the negro sweeper in the Phagan case, for $300.

While no proof of the rumor was shown, it was declared that the tribunal has halted its vice probe and will make a thorough investigation of this report.

Colyar is said to have offered the affidavit for sale several weeks ago. To whom it was offered it was not made public.

Somewhat in line with this rumor came the dismissal later by the Grand Jury of all witnesses which it had summoned in the vice inquiry except Chief Lanford, G. C. Febuary and Colyar.

The first intimation of difficulty between the attorney and Lanford came early in the morning.

Felder had preceded Lanford to the Solicitor’s office and was there when the Chief of Detectives entered the room.

“You don’t want to speak to me?” asked Felder to Lanford after the latter had acknowledged the presence of all except himself.

Lanford surveyed Felder from head to foot and then replied with heat:

“You come over here and I’ll speak to you.”

“I’m sitting down,” answered Felder. “You come over here.”

With rapid strides, the chief walked over to where Felder was sitting.

“Now you get up from there.”

At this moment friends of the two crowded about. As Felder started to rise from his chair, Lanford was taken by both arms and drawn away. At the same time others caught the attorney, pulling him off in the opposite direction.

Warned of Attack.

“Let me go, and I will kill him,” Felder should repeatedly to his captors. Lanofrd had been taken from the room.

Then Felder told of the warning which he declared he had received, that Lanford was waiting to assault him.

“I received an anonymous letter yesterday afternoon to the effect that I would assaulted this morning,” the attorney said. “I was also warned over the telephone this morning to look out as I would be the victim of an attack.”

Later the two met at the door to the Solicitor’s office. Deputy Sheriff Miner intercepted them as Felder thrust his hand to his hip pocket.

Peace was not fully restored until Lanford was called before the Grand Jury. When chief came out Felder was summoned, and following the attorney came Colyar.

Lanford Thursday morning defied Colonel Felder, or anyone, to substantiate the charges of graft made against him and his department in the Grand Jury’s probe of vice conditions and alleged corruption in the detective and police departments.

“I defy Felder, or anyone, to prove to the Grand Jury that a penny of graft has ever gone into the detective department, and I defy him to substantiate one of his blackmailing utterances against me. He can’t do it, and he knows he can’t.”

“Opens Grand Jury’s Eyes.”

“I have given the Grand Jury a great number of facts in this matter and I think they are beginning to see things about like a great many people in Atlanta see them,” said Felder, in reply.

“In next Sunday’s issues of the Atlanta papers I will issue a statement setting forth in full foundation for every statement I have made and showing the people how corrupt their Chief of Detectives really is. I will not comment here on how great a failure he is as a detective. When William J. Burns reads of some of his marvelous deductions in the Phagan case, the great detective will bow his head in shame and pronounce himself a timid amateur.

“My statement will substantiate every charge I have made beyond any shadow of a doubt.”

A. D. Colyar, Jr., and G. C. Febuary were summoned at the request of Chief Newport A. Lanford, who was also in the Grand Jury witness room when the body went into executive session. Gentry, the dictograph stenographer, could not be located, but the deputy expected to find him during the day. Colonel Felder stated the young man had been run out of town by the alleged dictograph conspirators, but Chief Lanford said he knew where the young man was and would produce him at the proper time.

Colyar Seeks Freedom.

Colyar sought to obtain his release by the novel expedient of drawing up, without the assistance of an attorney, a write of habeas corpus, which he had taken to the court of Judge Pendleton.

Colyar asserts in the write that he was arrested at the instigation of criminal violators of the law in Georgia to make him inaccessible in the present inquiry into charges of bribery and other inquiries. He continues by calling attention to the fact that he was once before arrested on the same charge and that he was released when the Tennessee officers failed to come to this State to get him.

Later Colyar retained W. M. Smith as his attorney and Judge Pendleton set Saturday at 11 a. m. for the trial.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, June 5th 1913, “New Conley Confession Reported to Jury,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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