Police Think Negro Watchman Can Clear Murder Mystery; Four Are Now Under Arrest

Police Think Negro Watchman Can Clear Mystery 1

Mary Phagan [Interestingly, according to testimony given before the Coroner’s Jury by Mary’s boy sweetheart, George W. Epps, Mary had requested that George walk her home from the factory after work a few days before the murder as the superintendent, Leo M. Frank, had a habit of watching for her from the front door, looking suspicious, and winking at her. — Ed.]

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

Atlanta Journal

Monday, April 28th, 1913

Developments in Case Have Come Thick and Fast Monday but No Evidence Has Yet Been Developed Which Fixes the Atrocious Crime — Mullinax Seems to Have Proved Alibi


He Was Closely Questioned for Several Hours Monday but Left Headquarters in Company With His Attorneys and Friends—Crime Was Committed in Metal Room on Second Floor—Sleeping Compartment Found in Factory Basement

Detectives expect to wring the secret of Mary Phagan’s murder from Newt Lee, negro night watchman at the National Pencil factory, 37-39 South Forsyth street.

Their theory is that he is innocent of the crime itself, but that he knows the murderer of the fourteen-year-old girl, and is shielding the man who strangled Mary Phagan with a piece of hempen cord on Saturday and dragged her body into the pitch black cellar of the factory.

The negro will tell nothing, but from him and from J. M. Gantt, the discharged bookkeeper, detectives expect to draw the story of how Mary Phagan was beaten into unconsciousness, assaulted, and then strangled to death.


Four men are under arrest: Lee, the negro night watchman; Gantt, who was discharged three weeks ago by the company; Arthur Mullinax, of 62 Poplar street, and Gordon Bailey, a negro elevator boy at the pencil factory.

L. M. Frank, superintendent of the pencil factory, was questioned by the police, and spent the better part of Monday morning at [the] police station. But he was not placed under arrest, and at noon returned home.

An alibi has practically been established for Mullinax by Jim Rutherford, with whom he boarded, and the police have no direct evidence against Gordon Bailey, the elevator boy.

They are depending upon Newt Lee, the watchman, and upon Gantt, the discharged bookkeeper, for a solution of the mystery which brands the murder of the fourteen-year-old girl.


An improved cot, fashioned from wooden boxes pushed close together and covered with crocus bags, was discovered in a separate compartment in the basement at the rear end near where the dead body of the girl was found. The compartment which is about eight or ten feet wide runs about half the length of the building and the ground is soggy with dampness.

Just inside, and to the left of the door at the back end, is the cot. In the ground near it were discovered two small footprints, that are believed to be those of a woman. The belief is now that the girl was lured here, assaulted and then murdered and her body dragged to the spot outside where it was found lying face downward in a pool of blood.

Through the discovery of this cot the police are led to believe that it has been used as a place of rendezvous.

The watchman discovered the place Sunday and pointed it out to newspaper men who discovered the tell-tale footprints through the aid of lanterns in the ill smelling, damp and dismal place.

It is the theory of the police that the negro, Newt Lee, knew of the place.

The negro fireman, William Nolle, who has been in the employ of the company for two months, denied most emphatically any knowledge of the existence of the rendezvous.

Police Think Negro Watchman Can Clear Mystery 2

The [diagram] above shows the lathe, where strands of woman’s hair were found. Also the machine room on the second floor, giving location of elevator shaft, stairway, etc. Diagram of basement (where the body was found) shows ladder to trap door and the door where a staple had been pulled. The big cross indicates the spot where the body was found.

Investigations Monday morning proved that Mary Phagan was murdered in the metal room, on the second floor of the factory, and that her body was lowered in the elevator to the basement, and was dragged across the oozy, slimy floor of the cellar to the corner where it was found lying face upward between 3 and 4 o’clock Sunday morning.

They are not sure of the time at which the child was murdered, but they believe that she met her death at midnight instead of Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening.


The negro night watchman was on duty during the later afternoon and throughout the night, and they are convinced that he must know how the crime was committed. As soon as he can be made to tell his story, detectives believe that they will have the full account of how the girl was murdered.

Blood upon the floor in the metal room, and strands of hair found in the machinery of a lathe, establish the fact that Mary Phagan met her death there instead of in the cellar.

With inhuman ferocity she was attacked, beaten into unconsciousness and her murder completed by the hempen rope twisted about her throat.

Newt Lee, the watchman, remained in the building throughout the night, but he says that he heard no screams, that he knew nothing of the murder in the metal room, and that he neither saw nor heard the murderer as the dead body of Mary Phagan was placed in the elevator, lowered to the cellar, and dragged across the wet damp floor to the corner where it was found.

The police place no belief in his professed ignorance. They think that he must know who murdered the girl and who bore the body to the cellar.

They are also entertaining the theory that the murderer must have had assistance in lowering the body to the basement, and that perhaps the negro watchman lent his aid.


The negro’s silence has been proof against all questions, but the police are confident that he has the whole story at his tongue’s end and that he will eventually clear the mystery.

The third degree for the watchman and an examination of Gantt, the discharged bookkeeper, are the means through which the police mean to discover the murderer of Mary Phagan.

Their efforts Monday morning bore fruit chiefly in the arrest of Gantt, and the discovery of facts which seem to tassure the negro’s knowledge of the murder.

They first discovered that the girl had been murdered upon the second floor and her body lowered to the basement; they next found that Gantt had visited the factory on Saturday afternoon, and they finally effected his arrest at Marietta.


Other developments of the day were chiefly random investigations. L. M. Frank, superintendent of the pencil factory, was questioned at [the] police station during the greater part of the morning and stenographic record was kept of his answers. So rigid was this examination that Mr. Frank employed Luther Rosser and Herbert Haas to represent him in his appearance before the police. But no charges were made against him, and at the conclusion of his examination, he returned home.

The coroner’s jury met and made a personal investigation of the metal room where Mary Phagan was murdered and the cellar where her body was found. But the examination of witnesses was deferred until Wednesday.


At 12:15 o’clock Leo M. Frank, superintendent of the National Pencil company’s plant in which fourteen-year-old Mary Phagan was murdered some time Sunday morning, left police headquarters in the company of his lawyers and a number of friends. Before leaving, he had confronted Arthur Mullinax, the street car conductor, whom the police were holding under suspicion, and had declared that he never saw Mullinax before that moment. Also, he had helped the police to clarify the recollections


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of Newt Lee, negro night watchman, relative to one incident upon the evening preceding the crime. Lee had told the detectives that J. M. Gantt, formerly a bookkeeper at the plant, calling there Saturday afternoon and being admitted, had stayed in the office only three or four minutes. Under questions by Mr. Frank, the negro said Gantt stayed inside longer than that—long enough to wrap up his old shoes that he had called to get, and to telephone to some girl.


L. T. (“Charley”) Hall, in charge of the automobile trucks of the city sanitary department, told the detectives that he took his brother-in-law to the corner of Forsyth and Alabama streets, a block north of the pencil factory, at midnight Saturday to put him aboard the last East Point car. After the car left, Hall entered the soda and cigar establishment on the opposite corner, west side of Forsyth, and while there, at about 12:05 o’clock, he saw a couple going down the street toward the pencil factory. The man, said he, seemed to fit the description given to him of Gantt. He had seen the man before around the plant, said he, when he went there with the sanitary trucks. He had looked on him as some sort of an official. Recently for couple of weeks he had not seen him. He was with a girl, whose dress reached just to her shoe tops. Hall thinks the girl wore white shoes. He thought no more of it until he read of the murder.

A woman whom no one could identify, called detective headquarters upon the phone Monday morning and asked if Mullinax, the trolley car conductor, was under arrest. Detective Hollingsworth informed her in the affirmative, and asked if she knew anything of the case. She answered, “Yes,” said he, but hung up before he could get any further replies from her.


Owing to the feeling of unrest and intense excitement that prevailed among the women employees at the National Pencil company’s plant Monday morning while detectives were making further investigations into the brutal murder and assault of little Mary Phagan, Assistant Superintendent H. G. Schiff, ordered the machinery stopped and the place cleared for the day.

The girls and women lost no time in getting into their wraps and hats and leaving the scene of the mysterious tragedy that still baffles those investigating the case. All were told, however, to be sure and report on time for work Tuesday morning.


It is the belief of detectives that an important witness has been discovered in Magnolia Kennedy, the young girl who worked next to Mary Phagan in the metal or pencil tip room. She will testify that the hair found wrapped around a part of a lathe in this department of the factory was that of Mary. L. A. Quinn, foreman of the room, was also positive that the strands of hair had come from the head of the dead girl. Other operatives were of the same opinion but not being in the same part of the place were not so certain.

But the little girl who worked with Mary, said that she was not mistaken. She was asked point blank if she [was sure] the strands came from the head of her companion. “I am positive of it,” she said, “and will swear to it if necessary.”

While detectives, newspaper men and employees gathered about the lathe little Magnolia tiptoed up close to the machine and stared intently at the golden strands. She shuddered. Awe-stricken women stood away from her. Then her voice broke the silence, “It’s Mary’s hair,” she almost whispered. “I know it.”


Across the room from the lathe, spots of blood were found on the floor near a wooden closet built out from the wall near a door that opened into another department of the factory.

The largest spot was four or five inches in diameter and around it were smaller spatterings. Detectives and Chief of Police Beavers chiseled up shavings of the flooring to get a better light on the wood. An alcohol test was made by dipping the stained piece of wood into the liquid. It was not soluable [sic] as paint or grease would have been, and did not discolor the contents of the glass. This test satisfied the officers that the stains were blood from the body of the murdered girl.

Employers of the factory stated positively that the spots were not there Friday afternoon when the room was swept out.

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Atlanta Journal, April 28th 1913, “Police Think Negro Watchman Can Clear Murder Mystery; Four Are Now Under Arrest,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)