Old Police Reporter Analyzes Mystery Phagan Case Solution Far Off, He Says

Old Police Reporter Analyzes Mystery Phagan Case Solution Far Off He Says

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

Atlanta Georgian

Sunday, May 4th, 1913

Problem of Slaying in Pencil Factory One That Never May Be Cleared, Declares Crime Expert.


Perhaps as many of the great murder mysteries of history have been solved through the efforts of police reporters—men assigned by newspapers to “cover” criminal cases—as have been solved by detectives. At any rate the police will always admit that police reporters have had a large part in unraveling the knotty problems. In a case of this sort the police reporter’s analysis is particularly good, for he is simply seeking the truth. He, unlike the police, is not held responsible for the production of the criminal, and therefore whatever line of thought he pursues is solely in the interests of clearing up a baffling mystery. As such the accompanying article is presented.

One week ago today a pretty fourteen-year-old girl, Mary Phagan, was found dead in the basement of the National Pencil Company, at 39 South Forsyth Street.

In the week that has elapsed, little, if anything, has been discovered tending to show who committed the crime.

I say this without reserve, but without knowing that information the detectives and police force may have that has not yet been made public.

What has been made public is far from convincing. And in an attempt to consider this most mysterious case in a calm and judicial way, we can deal only with such facts as we have before us, not with facts that may come later.

It should be said at once that this statement is not for the purpose of reflecting in the slightest degree upon the probity of the police or detectives, or to attempt to fasten the crime upon an individual, or to give to the public statements that are not true, or to inculpate or exculpate any person now under suspicion.

I am simply trying to set forth here a plain statement of the case as it was unraveled during the past week without adding anything to, or taking anything from, a mystery that is still as dark and deep as any mystery that has ever puzzled detectives anywhere.


The police and detectives have acted just as police and detectives always act in criminal cases. They have arrested and held the persons last seen or known to be on the premises; have held them pending an investigation and sifting of testimony by the coroner’s jury.

Policemen and detectives always work in a circle. Now and then some pioneer, a braver man, with imagination, breaks out of the circle and takes a straight line, pursues a clew not before considered seriously, and really solves the mystery.

It was the most natural thing in the world, therefore, for the police and detectives to hold Frank and Lee. Lee’s testimony has been heard. What he has told would not be considered very strong legal evidence in the courts, if, indeed, it would be considered seriously at all.

I am assuming that Lee has told nothing that has not been made public, and it is upon the belief that the worthlessness of his statements is founded.

Frank has been questioned by detectives and police, but so far as the public knows, has said nothing, has given no clew, and has maintained a calm attitude in the face of all cross-questioning. He stoutly maintains his innocence.

The inquest to be resumed on Monday may clear the whole mystery and again it may not.

Without in any way desiring to seem to anticipate the action of the coroner’s jury, it would seem likely that the police will hold both Lee and Frank for the grand jury, where there will be a final sifting of all facts brought out, under the masterful hand of Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, and if sufficient evidence is produced, indictments will follow.


At present, on the evidence now before the public, there is little or nothing to lead to the belief that the mystery has been solved.

Will it ever be solved?

My own guess is that it will not.

Please remember that I am setting forth my own views and they may be utterly valueless, and I may be entirely mistaken.

What I am writing is based upon what is known of the case.

And I may say, too, that never in all my experience as an old police reporter in many cities have I ever known of a mystery that is so many-sided, and so difficult for the public to understand.

Usually, in cases like the one under consideration, the newspapers publish all the rumors, true or untrue, all deductions of police officials, valuable or valueless, as the case may be, and an effort is made to lay before the public everything, column upon column is written, so that the public may know as much as the newspapers know, and thus be able to form an opinion for themselves.

While it is true that no newspaper in Atlanta has suppressed a single fact in this case, it is also true that what has been published has been most carefully considered and scrutinized until there was eliminated every statement that did not bear the name of the person making it. Statements that were valueless because of prima facie absurdity were not published.


It was perfectly clear on Sunday and Monday last that the public was willing to put the extraordinary act in the category known as “negro crimes,” and the sentiment of the streets was that Lee was guilty or knew the guilty man.

But a second turn of the kaleidoscope, and it was easily seen that while it might be classes as a “negro crime,” nevertheless Lee’s story was unshaken; it was clear and circumstantial and he did not act in a guilty manner, for it was he who notified the police instead of running away, as a scared rabbit, as nearly every negro does when he is guilty or even accused of crime.

This, of course, does not eliminate Lee from the case. But the fact that he has told the same story so far as the public knows and that he did not run away, has shifted some of the suspicion from him.

The Phagan case is not a “white man’s crime,” or if it is a white man’s crime, it is extraordinary and most unusual.

What is known of Frank’s past is in his favor. There may be pages in his life that the police and public know nothing of. But on the facts as they have been given through the newspapers, his connection directly with the crime is not yet sufficiently placed.


The public will have a better idea, after hearing his story at the inquest, what, if any, part he had in the crime, or what, if any knowledge he had of it.

In the meanwhile, in spirit of fair play and the spirit of justice that is inherent in everybody should lead to the withholding of any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of either Frank or Lee.

Nobody knows.

But we do know, all of us, that the law is supreme; that tried and faithful police officials and detectives are working on the case, and that every effort is being made to solve the mystery.

Will it ever be solved?

That is the question many people are asking themselves to-day, for after all the crime does not seem to be either a “negro crime” nor a “white man’s crime,” nor the crime that a young man in the flush of vigorous manhood, would stoop to.

It seems to be more the act of a “Jack-the-Ripper”—a page taken from the East End of London, from Whitechapel.

But whatever it is, may we not wait with calmness for the law to take its course? May we not consider carefully the facts as they are brought out by investigation, and not condemn the police and detectives, not condemn men under suspicion until they have been tried, not condemn the newspapers, on the one hand for being too sensational, and on the other hand condemn them for “suppressing the news,” when, as a matter of fact, no newspaper has suppressed anything; and the police and detectives have worked faithfully and earnestly in a mystery that would puzzle even a Sherlock Holmes?

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Atlanta Georgian, May 4th 1913, “Old Police Reporter Analyzes Mystery Phagan Case Solution Far Off, He Says,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)