Pinkertons Hired to Assist Police Probe the Murder of Mary Phagan

by Archivist on April 29, 2016

John M. Gantt, former bookkeeper of the National Pencil company, and acquaintance of Mary Phagan, who is under arrest, and was put through a gruelling [sic] third degree last night at police station. He maintains his innocence.

John M. Gantt, former bookkeeper of the National Pencil company, and acquaintance of Mary Phagan, who is under arrest, and was put through a gruelling [sic] third degree last night at police station. He maintains his innocence.

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

Atlanta Constitution

Tuesday, April 29th, 1913

For Hours Detectives Labor With John M. Gant [sic], Former Employee of National Pencil Company and Alleged Admirer of Pretty Mary Phagan.

SISTER OF PRISONER ADMITS SHE DECEIVED ATLANTA DETECTIVES

Told Them Gant Had Not Been Home When He Declared He Was in Bed. Now Admits Story Untrue. Gant Caught in Marietta, With Suit Case Filled With His Clothes.

Despite the fact that four suspects in the Mary Phagan case are held at police station, two white men and two negroes, the detective department is not satisfied, and the city is being scoured for evidence that will lead to the arrest of the guilty party.

Last night the Pinkerton detective department was engaged by Leo M. Frank, president of the National Pencil company, to aid the local officers in the search for the man responsible for the brutal murder, committed Sunday morning in the plant of his company on Forsyth street.

All day Monday detectives worked diligently for evidence which would throw light upon the mysterious killing, and when night came they were baffled. The most careful investigation failed to show that any one had seen the girl since she left the factory, where she drew her pay Saturday afternoon. Several people said they thought they had seen her, but none were positive. All the evidence too, proved the good character of the victim. Members of her family, neighbors and her fellow workers united in paying tribute to her good qualities.

Gant Given Third Degree.

Desperately striving to force the confession that he is the murderer of Mary Phagan, third degree experts of police headquarters labored until midnight Monday with John M. Gant, the young bookkeeper arrested in Marietta yesterday afternoon on the direct charge of murder.

He stoutly protests innocence:

“I was at home Saturday night by 10 o’clock—in bed and asleep.”

His sister, Mrs. F. C. Terrell, of 248 East Linden street, with whom he lived, told detectives Sunday night:

“Mr. Gant left here a month ago for California. I haven’t seen him since. He has not been here at any time within the past four weeks.”

Sister Admits Deceiving Detectives.

Monday afternoon, however, she told a reporter for The Constitution that Gant had ben at her home Saturday and Sunday nights. She also admitted having told the detectives a story to the contrary.

“I knew they were detectives—I lied. John was here Saturday night.  He was here Sunday night, too. I didn’t want the detectives to know it, though.”

Gant left Atlanta early Monday morning. Police headquarters learned he had caught a Marietta trolley car. The police of that place was notified. He was arrested the moment he stepped from the car.

Detective Haslett rushed him to police headquarters at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Immediately, he was closeted with Chief Lanford. A squad of detectives and criminal experts pulled off their coats, rolled their sleeves and prepared for a determined siege, which they vowed would not end until they had been convinced that Gant was either guilty or innocent.

They were still locked with the suspect at midnight. Evidently, he was undergoing the ordeal with fortitude. Had an admission been made, he undoubtedly would have emerged from the office. The charge against him is murder. He will not be allowed [1 word illegible] or communication with the outside world.

Developments in the [1 word illegible] mystery came thick and fast Monday, arrest followed arrest. Five were made in all. Three were made Monday. The first of them was the taking into custody of Leo M. Frank, president of the pencil factory.

His detainment was made in the nature of an [1 word illegible]. After an hour’s interrogation, he was released. Upon his appearance at [1 word illegible], he was accompanied [2 words illegible] and refused to talk [10 words illegible].

It was [several paragraphs illegible].

They were being assisted by P. Y. Brent, of the W. E. Treadwell company. The negro [1 word illegible] was an employee of Mr. Brent’s, who had volunteered to assist in the investigation.

After three hours of grueling third degree, Mr. Brent said to the prisoner:

“I know what’s the trouble. Someone you are faithful to killed that girl. You know all about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have a hand in it yourself. You don’t want to tell because you want to shield whoever murdered her.

“Your Loyalty Or Neck.”

“I’m going to tell you this—it’s just a question of loyalty or your neck. You can’t keep but one.”

“Yessir, Mr. Brent; that’s a fact. I know that.”

His lips were trembling and he shifted nervously. It was apparent that he was collapsing. His questioners waited eagerly for an expected confession. The negro checked himself, moistened his lips, realized the import of his words, and recovered.

“But I don’t know nothing. I don’t know a thing.”

His replies to the thousands of questions hurled at him was an incessant reiteration of his first story—the story of the body’s discovery. When this failed to check the onslaught of queries, he fell to answering them with the stereotyped reply:

“I don’t know. I don’t know a thing.”

He was sent back to prison. Hereafter, he will be confined to the dungeon. The police are confident of their suspicion. The negro either was implicated in the murder, they say, or was acquainted with the slayer.

After an all-night hunt for Gant, police headquarters was notified early Monday morning that the hunted man was seen at an early hour, departing hurriedly from a saloon directly across the street from the building in which the murder occurred. Herbert Schiff, assistant superintendent of the plant, was sitting in his office when he spied the ex-bookkeeper hurrying from the saloon.

In the upper picture is shown the victim's mother, Mrs. Fannie Coleman; stepfather, J. W. Coleman, and sister and two brothers; next an artist's sketch of Mary Phagan; and in the bottom picture the curious crowd that thronged in front of Bloomfield's undertaking establishment, to which the body had been taken.

In the upper picture is shown the victim’s mother, Mrs. Fannie Coleman; stepfather, J. W. Coleman, and sister and two brothers; next an artist’s sketch of Mary Phagan; and in the bottom picture the curious crowd that thronged in front of Bloomfield’s undertaking establishment, to which the body had been taken.

Schiff Calls Police Station.

Schiff called police station. The trail was lost, though, before sleuths could reach Forsyth street. Detectives were sent to every street and railway station, equipped with a description of Gant. An acquaintance notified the police that the wanted man had boarded a Marietta car at the Transportation building on Walton street.

Marietta was wired and ordered to arrest Gant by all means. He was caught and detained in the Cobb county jail until the arrival of Detective Haslett. He was equipped for a long journey, carrying a well-filled suitcase. He used it to shield his face from the battery of newspaper cameras that attacked him upon his arrival at police headquarters.

Mary Pirk, a girl employee of the pencil factory, said Monday that she had often heard gossip concerning Gant’s infatuation for the Phagan girl.

The negro watchman told detectives that Gant had remained in the factory building twenty or thirty minutes Saturday night. While searching for the shoes, Lee said, he had gone to the office on the second floor, and talked over the telephone in low tones with a girl or woman. The conversation was a lengthy one, the watchman declared.

Mrs. Terrell told Detectives Luther Brooks and Y. T. Allen Sunday night that Gant had been to California for a month, and that she had not heard from him any whatever during that time.

Worried Over Failure to Write.

She expressed worry over his failure to write. Usually, she declared, he had always sent her weekly letters or postcards whenever leaving the city. The story she told The Constitution reporter Monday, though, is contradictory to the statement she made to the detectives.

Telling the reporter that she intentionally had misled the detectives, she said it was done because she did not want them to arrest her brother.

Another phase was added to the tragedy when a sleeping couch was discovered in the basement in which the girl’s mutilated body was found. It is an improvised couch, constructed of boxes and covered with a number of cracker and tow sacks. Recent tracks of a woman’s shoe were found nearby in the sawdust flooring.

The murder evidently occurred upon the first or second floors. Strands of bloody hair of a shade comparing with the hair of the dead girl, were found on a lathe machine on the second floor. The instrument was also splotched with crimson.

Because of the intense feeling and excitement, naturally prevailing among the hundreds of female employees of the plant, the management Monday morning deemed it prudent to shut down for the day. The doors were closed and a policeman stationed at both the Forsyth and Hunter street entrances. Until dusk, large crowds of the morbidly curious flocked around the place, discussing the murder and seeking entrance to the basement in which the corpse was discovered.

Inquest Set For Wednesday.

The only persons allowed in the basement, however, were those who accompanied the coroner’s jury on its tour of investigation early Monday morning. Coroner Donehoo, after empaneling a jury, postponed the hearing until detectives were able to gather more definite evidence. The inquest will be held Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock in the Bloomfield undertaking establishment.

Mrs. Coleman Better.

Mrs. Coleman, mother of the slain girl, although not entirely recovered from the shock of Sunday, was much improved Monday. She was feeble and had to be confined to her home. Pleading with her husband to escort her to the undertaking establishment to view her daughter’s corpse, she insisted that she be carried there.

Her physician would not permit it. It is thought, however, that she will be able to attend the funeral today. Throughout Sunday and Monday neighborhood friends of the bereaved family flocked to the modest little home on Lindsay street, consoling the parents and brothers and sisters of the dead girl.

For a time Sunday afternoon and early that night fears were felt for the safety of the negro watchman suspected of complicity in the crime. Reports that a mob of white men was being formed, caused Chief Beavers to hold a reserve of a half hundred mounted policemen in headquarters until late at night.

The only trouble encountered, however, was by Chief Lanford, Detectives Starnes and Black, Boots Rogers, driver of the automobile in which the sleuths visited the factory, and a reporter for The Constitution who accompanied the party. It occurred shortly after daybreak.

The Constitution’s exclusive extra had drawn a huge crowd of men and boys to the pencil factory. The negro was being taken from headquarters to the scene of the crime. When he came from the building and was placed in the automobile, threatening remarks came from the crowd that thronged around the machine.

“He ought to be lynched,” said a heavy-set man who edged close to the rear seat, in which sat the detective chief and his prisoner.

“Yes,” said another, “and I’d help do it.”

The engines were running. Starnes and Black had not climbed into the machine. Lanford called to Rogers to hurry away. Without waiting for the two detectives or the reporter, the machine rushed down Forsyth street.

White Slavery Theory Advanced.

Equipped with evidence indicating that Mary Phagan was the victim of a white slavery plot that was foiled only by her brutal murder, detectives have turned their investigation to an entirely new phase of the baffling mystery.

Police headquarters has been informed of a garishly attired woman seen shortly before midnight Saturday in company with two youths and a reeling, weeping girl answering the dead girl’s description convincingly.

They were seen at Alabama and Forsyth streets, only a short distance from the building in which she was murdered. The girl was sobbing and was being led by the mysterious woman. The two youths followed close behind, murmuring coaxing words in her ear.

The woman was saying:

“Come along, now, dearie. Don’t create a scene.  You’ll attract the cops.”

“The girl was sobbing:

“I don’t care! I don’t care!”

The strange quartette turned down Forsyth street in direction of the pencil factory. They disappeared in the darkness of the plant building.

W. I. Gray, a conductor on the Buckhead trolley line, however, notified the detective department Monday afternoon of the mysterious quartette. Detectives were sent immediately to question him. Energy is being concentrated to investigation along this line.

* * *

Atlanta Constitution, April 29th 1913, “Pinkertons Hired to Assist Police Probe the Murder of Mary Phagan,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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