New Phagan Witnesses Have Been Found

New Phagan Witnesses

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

Atlanta Georgian

Saturday, May 17th, 1913

Solicitor General Dorsey Declares Work of His Greatest Detective Has Been Completed.


Solicitor Hugh M. Dorsey said Saturday that his “greatest detective in America” would not figure again in the Phagan investigation, and that it was extremely doubtful whether he would be recalled to testify at the trial.

“He has finished his investigation,” said the Solicitor, “and we have no further need for him. A detective is one thing and a witness is another. His investigation led us to witnesses. It is not necessary for him, or any detective, to tell the jury what a disinterested witness will tell.”

He would not say, however, whether his decision not to put the “greatest in America” on the witness stand would apply to the city, Pinkerton and Burns detectives.

Grand Jury Meets Wednesday.

The Solicitor announced that the Grand Jury would meet next Wednesday for an extra session, but said it was hardly probable the Phagan case would be considered then. He said there were a number of cases that demanded attention and the extra session would more than likely be called to dispose of everything on the calendar to prepare for the session Friday, when the Phagan case would more than likely be presented.

Mr. Dorsey said that his interview of Friday, in which he said the Burns men would work under the same conditions as the Pinkertons, had been misconstrued by some to mean that the services of the great detective were not needed.

Welcomes Burns’ Aid.

He said that he did not intend to create that impression, when as a matter of fact he would welcome Mr. Burns in the case and give him every co-operation, except giving out information or evidence that had already been secured. He will continue to examine witnesses up to the day the case goes to the Grand Judy [sic[, he said.

Bernard L. Chappell, attorney for the negro, Newt Lee, said Saturday morning that unless the Grand Jury acted on the Phagan case next week he would bring habeas corpus proceedings in an effort to secure his release.

Pursue Writing Clews.

With powerful microscopes, magnifying glasses and a series of reflecting mirrors Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey and the city detectives, assisted by a handwriting expert, who is said to be one of the best in the country, are minutely examining the “handwriting clews” in the Phagan mystery. They confidently expect important developments.

Solicitor Dorsey would not disclose the identity of the expert on penmanship because, he said, the man’s services were voluntary and given with the understanding that he was not to be known unless it became absolutely necessary to place him on the witness stand. The Solicitor said, however, that he was one of the best in the country, and the great detective agencies considered his tests infallible.

The two notes found in the basement of the pencil factory, specimen of the handwriting of the two men held in the Tower in connection with the murder, letters and notes written by the slain girl and the handwriting on the books of the pencil factory are being subjected to rigid tests. Accurate measurements of each letter and each word, the angle of the slant in forming the letters and the formation of certain letters that experts claim no two men write alike, are some of the tests applied.

Burns Man Works Quietly.

The Burns investigator who took up the case Friday morning has not yet reported to the office of the Solicitor. He is quietly and systematically working out his own idea of the case after a comprehensive outline given him by Colonel Thomas B. Felder. He has succeeded so far in keeping his identity secret.

Colonel Felder was confident the Burns agency would satisfactorily conduct and conclude the Phagan case.

“We will have the slayer in less than a month,” said Colonel Felder, “I am confident the Burns men will meet with every success. With Mr. Burns in Europe, the man he has sent to Atlanta is certainly the best detective in America. He has charge of the Burns work in this country and is his chief’s right-hand man. Mr. Burns himself will be on the scene shortly after June 1, and then I am confident the case will be cleared up beyond any shadow of a doubt.”

Believe Newt Lee Innocent.

Officers working to solve the Phagan strangling mystery Saturday declared they were more firmly convinced that Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, had no hand in the tragedy and that he has told all he knows, as the result of a conversation between the night watchman and two other negro prisoners in the Tower which was overheard by Deputy Sheriff Drew Liddell.

The deputy “shadowed” Lee’s cell for 35 minutes, while the night watchman, unconscious of the fact that an officer was secreted but a few steps away, casually discussed the great pencil factory crime with Oscar Dewberry, a negro under sentence of death, and Jack Wright, a negro murder suspect brought here from Gwinnett County for safe keeping.

To these fellow prisoners Lee time and again protested his innocence, and insisted that he knew nothing more of the tragedy than what he had told the officers, that he absolutely had no part in it beyond the finding of the slain girl’s body in the basement.

Whether this incident will figure in any way in the investigation before the Grand Jury has not been announced by Solicitor Dorsey.

Deputies Try Strategy.

Deputy Liddell first visited the Tower with Deputy Don Burdett and talked with the negro. Lee related the same story told to detectives and to the Coroner’s jury. The detective then determined on a ruse. He told the negro he would go back and talk to him again, and the second time returned with Deputy John Owens and J. L. Coogler, a court officer.

When Lee had again reiterated his same story the trio of officers left the cell. As Owens and Coogler walked away, Liddell, however, noiselessly stepped behind two big steam pipes just on the outside of the negro’s cell. The other two officers walked heavily enough to leave the impression that all three had gone.

As the footsteps died away in the distance on the metallic floor Jack Wright asked Lee:

“Say, why don’t you tell them white folks what you know about that killing? If you know who done it, tell ‘em, that’s the best way.”

Lee replied without hesitation:

“I ain’t going to tell no lie about it. I can’t help what they do with me; I ain’t going to lie.

“I’ve done told them all I know.”

None Secured Information.

The Gwinnett negro then asked Lee if he knew the girl’s body was in the basement before the time he discovered it at 3:30 o’clock in the morning.

“Good gracious, nigger, I’d tore that building down getting out of there if I’d known that body was in the basement,” exclaimed the night watchman.

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Atlanta Georgian, May 17th 1913, “New Phagan Witnesses Have Been Found,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)