Police Hold Conley By Court’s Order

by Archivist on March 29, 2017

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

Atlanta Georgian

Wednesday, June 11th, 1913

Judge Roan Gives Suspect Chance to Show Why He Should Not Be Released.

The Phagan case took a queer turn Wednesday afternoon when Judge Roan, apparently stirred by Luther Z. Rosser’s ar[r]aignment of the way Jim Conley has been “petted” by the police, issued notice to suspects in the mystery that they will be given opportunity Friday to show cause why the negro should not be released from custody as a suspect.

However, the move is strictly legal in character, Conley, through his attorney, W. M. Smith, having signed a written statement to stay in the custody of the police as a principal witness if previous orders are vacated and he is legally freed as a suspect.

Agrees to Remain.

Judge Roan informed Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey that he wanted to withdraw his previous order committing Conley to the police station so that the negro’s status could be definitely fixed and so that he could perhaps be sent back to the county jail. Both Conley and his attorney announced that the prisoner wanted to stay at police headquarters.

Smith also came forward with the agreement that Conley would remain in custody of the chief of police.

Sensations Ahead.

Judge Roan then issued what is known as a rule nial, informing Frank, Gordon Bailey, an elevator boy, and Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, that they could be given a chance Friday to show why Conley should not be released.

Sensational developments may follow Friday if the Frank defense is allowed to present facts against Conley for Attorney Rosser is firmly convinced that the negro is the guilty man and has so announced.

Whether the negro shall be indicted as an accessory after or to the fact, or be continued to be held as a witness, will then be determined.

Napier Analyzes The Phagan Case.

The Georgian publishes the following letter written by George M. Napier, the well-known lawyer, on the Phagan case, as it gives for the first time a legal analysis of the case for and against Frank:

To the Editor of The Georgian:

This section of our country has held very few criminal cases so profoundly interesting as the Phagan case. Indeed, it is questionable whether the entire South has ever had enacted within it a crime which has created such intense and widespread interest.

Personally, I have no concern in the case, save as a citizen of the State, desiring that the guilty party or parties may receive condign punishment.

Profoundly Interested.

As a lawyer, being interested more intimately perhaps than those not of that profession, certain aspects of the case—the procedure taken in the efforts of those immediately charged with ferreting out the facts of the crime, and the varied and swiftly changing developments in connection with it—I find these to be of profound interest.

One thing has been made evident: The people generally are disposed to ascribe guilty to one who has the opportunity to commit crime. This was shown by the widely-accepted conclusion that Leo Frank and Newt Lee, colored, were guilty of the murder of the Phagan girl, as soon as it became known that they had been at the pencil factory on the day of the homicide.

This conclusion was fixed in the minds of many by reason of the evident inclination of the detectives to believe Frank guilty. And there is little doubt that if the two men had been imprisoned in an unprotected town jail they would have been lynched while suspicion and excitement were at their height.

Praises Newspaper.

This mental state of the community did not last, however. The remarkable success of the local press in obtaining and publishing every detail of the evidence of the detectives enabled the reading public to weigh the testimony by piecemeal. It is safe to say that there lately have been many accessions to those who from the first hesitated to accept the theory of the guilt of Frank, or of the night watchman who found the body, upon the sole basis of their opportunity to commit the crime, and with all the circumstances going to negative motive to kill the young girl, especially on the part of the white man.

The zeal of the secret service men in trailing to cover criminals who effect getaways is to be commended, but the work of building a successful prosecution upon a mere case of suspicion will, in many instances, fail.

The testimony of Frank before the Coroner’s jury, in which he gave, with conspicuous consistency and openness, an account of his actions and whereabouts on the day of the killing, created a favorable impression on the public mind.

Strengthened by Witnesses.

This was strengthened by the corroboration of his statements as to the time of his movements by impartial witnesses of unquestioned veracity.

The indictment of Frank by the Grand Jury seems to have been seized upon as the psychological opportunity for the negro Conley to admit that he wrote the notes found by the dead girl’s body, and the comparison of his handwriting with that of the notes proves that fact beyond peradventure. But the network of lies in which Conley has become enmeshed seems not to have given the forces conducting the prosecution any serious impression as to his own guilt as the actual murderer of Mary Phagan.

Two things, it seems to me, would be sufficient to clear Frank of the crime, in the absence of any proved motive to commit it. The first is the work done by him on his books at the pencil factory on the afternoon of the killing and subsequent to the time which is assigned by common consent for the occurrence of the deed.

How Could He Have Done Work?

That a man could go to the delicate and intricate task of spreading upon account books the record and figures of a week’s transactions of a factory employing a large number of hands, and involving numerous financial dealings, and requiring four or more hours of steady work; and that he could do this with his usual accuracy and celerity staggers belief.

The other fact is a piece of testimony by the negro Conley himself. He has made the statement that when he was assisting Frank in the disposal of the dead girl’s body he noticed the time clock in the factory and saw that it lacked four minutes of 1 o’clock. At that moment, he says, Miss Corinthia Hall and Mrs. Emma Clark Freeman, two employees, came into the factory and Frank told him to hid in a cupboard in the office.

But Miss Hall and Mrs. Freeman testified that they were at the factory one hour and eleven minutes earlier than that, and that they left the factory at 11:45 and did not return that day. The conversation they had with Mr. Frank is the same that the negro says he heard.

Discrepancy in Time.

The murdered girl reached the city by street car at 12:04. This has been definitely proved. She reached the factory and received her pay envelope at 12:10 or 12:15, so far as is known. Thus the negro adds this to his many other admitted lies—and if the girl was dead at the time he heard Frank talking to Miss Hall and Mrs. Freeman, she was murdered before she left her home.

To one who is sufficiently interested to look over the scene of the crime several things worth nothing will be revealed. Coming down from the office in the pencil factory, a young girl, unprotected, might well glance with nervous dread at the pile of large boxes under the stairway near the elevator shaft. In daytime the corner under the staircase is in semi-darkness. It is an ideal place for a would be criminal to screen himself.

If the girl left the factory after receiving her pay and came down the stairs, this dark corner was behind her as she walked down the steps. A woman who testified, but whose name I do not now recall, saw a negro lurking in this corner. Conley has admitted that he sat for some time near the elevator.

He had the opportunity to spring upon the poor girl as a spider would upon a fly. If robbery was his motive, an assault with a stick might have felled her. She could have been thrown down the elevator shaft or through the opening near the elevator, which has a ladder under it leading down to the dirt floor of the basement.

The place on the second floor where Conley says he picked up the body of the girl shows no trace of blood. Every circumstance indicates that she received the blow on her head before she died—and he says she was dead when he saw her there–so if she bled anywhere the strong probability is that the bloodstains would have been found where she had been picked up.

Even the mystifying fact that the staple of the rear door, leading out of the basement to the street, had been pulled from the inside could be easily explained on the theory that the criminal took the precaution to pull that staple so as to be able to run down the ladder and make his exit safely by the back street in the even any outcry was made by his victim.

Much emphasis is placed upon the dramatic manner with which Conley re-enacted the supposed work of carrying the body from the second floor to the basement that fatal day.

Might Not He Swear Falsely?

Does it tax our credulity greatly to believe that a cunning negro, who has been proved to have had unobstructed opportunity to commit the crime, and who admits having secreted the body, is capable of swearing that another man was with him when the crime was committed—a man behind whom he can hide from the law?

Would a drinking, irresponsible, perhaps criminal man of a low order of life be incapable of swearing away the life of any man if by so doing he could save himself from the gallows?

What is called the “humanity of the law” invests every person charged with crime with the presumption of innocence until his guilt has been proved, and proved to the extent of being irreconcilable with every hypothesis of his innocence. Guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

And the reasonableness of a doubt on the minds of the jury trying a given case might depend largely upon the state of the public mind regarding that case.

For this reason, if for no other, the people in a community where a crime has been committed should be reluctant to reach a conclusion of the guilt of any one, where only circumstantial evidence is adducible.

It would be a remarkable termination of the Phagan case, which is not now so mysterious as it once seemed, if Frank, the first man suspected by the detectives, should be acquitted, and his accuser, the negro Conley, should be brought to trial and convicted.

But stranger things have happened.

And if the evidence against Conley is as strong as it now seems assured it will be, will not the prosecution be greatly handicapped in the necessity of prosecuting Conley by reason of having put forth such strenuous and hopeful efforts to convict Leo Frank?

How Rewards Would Be Shared.

Rich rewards will recompense the discovery of evidence to convict the slayer in this case. If Frank should be found guilty, the division of the large sums offered for evidence to convict will go to certain secret service men who first called attention to the opportunity of Frank to commit the crime, and who have directed their energies in the investigation of it on the theory of his guilt.

If Conley should be proved guilty, one of the foremen of the factory who saw the negro washing a shirt under suspicious circumstances, and who directed his arrest, will likely get the coin. But with the public it is not a question of rewards to be distributed; but it is the vital, the supreme question, who is the real murderer?

The law, if rightly followed, is a noble instrument of protection to society, including the ignorant, the weak, and those of little understanding. It points the finger of suspicion at no man, but demands evidence before guilt can be determined—either the clear and unmistakable proof of eyewitnesses, or an array of circumstances which excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

Lauds Frank’s Character.

In determining motive to commit crime, we have reason to regard the character and reputation of the individual. In the case under consideration, the man who protests his entire innocence and ignorance of the crime, but who now stands indicted as a criminal, has been for six years an exemplary citizen of this community, and the trusted manager of an important manufacturing enterprise.

He has sustained well the confidence reposed in him. A leader in the community life of his race, he has been highly honored for one of his years. The attachment of his friends to him in the weeks of his imprisonment has been rarely significant of an unshaken confidence in his complete innocence.

The high character of a large majority of his friends, who are men incapable of the desire to shield the perpetrator of so heinous a crime, removes the suggestion of a clannish defense of racial bias.

Is not the case against Leo Frank so far presented against him palpably weak? And does not the far greater weight of evidence now point unmistakably to the negro Conley as the sole perpetrator of the crime?

GEORGE M. NAPIER.

Lanford Lauds Sleuths’ Work in Phagan Mystery.

The extra labor falling on the detective department because of the Phagan mystery received special reference in the monthly report of Chief of Detectives Lanford, sent to Chief of Police Beavers for submission to the Police Commission. Chief Lanford also commends several detectives for their untiring work on the case. He said:

“It has been a very hard and laborious month on account of the Phagan case, and I wish to state that the men have been very vigilant and untiring in their efforts to run down this case. I wish especially to commend Officers Starnes and Campbell for their untiring, faithful and able work. I feel that the public will feel throughly satisfied with the results when wound up.

“I wish to thank each and every man, and especially yourself, for the services and valuable assistance rendered my department during the month.”

With the remark that she had been away on business of her own as the explanation of her mysterious disappearance of two days, Minola McKnight, negro cook at the Selig residence, returned to her work Monday. To every inquiry she replied:

“I’se jus’ been away on some business of my own,” and with this meager enlightenment Mrs. Frank and other members of the household were forced to be content. The negro woman was as positive on her return as she was before she mysteriously dropped out of sight for 48 hours that she had told the detectives nothing of the nature of that contained in the document purporting to be her affidavit.

Attempt to Remove Jim Conley Reported.

There were unconfirmed reports Wednesday that an effort would be made to have Jim Conley, the negro sweeper who made three conflicting affidavits accusing Leo M. Frank of the murder of Mary Phagan, removed from the police station to the county jail.

Solicitor Hugh M. Dorsey held a hurried conference with Superior Court Judge Roan and the negro’s attorney, W. M. Smith, but would tell nothing about the conference.

Just what was to be gained by the transfer was not plan unless it was to get the negro out of the reach of persons who may be interested in drilling him in his story. The police consistently have denied that Conley was drilled in his narrative.

The reports were evidently the result of the announcement made Tuesday by Luther Z. Rosser, who charged that the police had made no real effort to get the entire truth from the negro. He pointed out that after the negro had made two conflicting affidavits the police announced themselves satisfied with the third, which was just as patently unsatisfactory in the things it left unexplained.

Slain Girl’s Parents Subpenaed by Dorsey.

Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Coleman, parents of Mary Phagan, were subpenaed by Solicitor Dorsey Wednesday and appeared at the court house shortly after noon. The solicitor would not say for what purpose they had been summoned. It was, however, expected that they would be called before the trial of Frank.

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Atlanta Georgian, June 11 1913, “Police Hold Conley by Court’s Order,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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