Seek Clew in Queer Words in Odd Notes

by Archivist on April 29, 2016

Seek Clue in Queer Words in Odd NotesAnother in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian

Tuesday, April 29th, 1913

Who Would Be the Most Interested in Saying That the Night Watchman Did Not Do It?

While the tendency of the police straight through has seemed to be to doubt that Mary Phagan, the murdered girl, really wrote the small notes found beside her body purporting to give a clew to her murderer, the girl’s stepfather, W.J. Coleman, thinks it possible that she may have written one of the scrawls.

That one is the note written on the little yellow factory slip—so faintly traced it is almost impossible to read it. It is the one that says:

mama that negro hired down

here did this I went to get water

and he pushed me down this hole

a long tall negro black that has it

woke long lean tall negro I write

while play with me.

“Somehow, it looks like her handwriting to me,” said Mr. Coleman. “But, of course I can not be sure. Now, about the other note I am doubtful. It seems to be written too well for the child to have done it in the almost insensible condition she must have been in at the time. Whether she wrote either of the notes of her own accord, though, or whether she was forced to do it by her murderer to turn suspicion from himself, of course is mere speculation. Only time can tell, if anything.”

Doubts Other Note’s Authorship.

The other note whose authority Mr. Coleman doubts is the one scrawled on a notepad. It reads as it was at first translated:

He said he wood love me, laid

down like the night witch did it

but that long tall black negro did

it by his self.

This note, however, brings up an argument advanced by several people who have studied it carefully. They have found that in some way, one word, “play,” was omitted in the first translation, and they think that instead of “night witch” the words were meant to mean “night watch,” which is relative to the subject. With these changes the note would read:

“He said he wood love me laid down play like the night watch did it, but that long tall black negro did it by his self.”

They ask: If the murderer told the child he was going to “play like the night watch did it,” and then the child goes on to explain that it wasn’t the night watchman at all that did it, but another negro, wouldn’t that appear that the child was endeavoring to shield the night watchman?

Argue Against Watchman.

They also ask: Would a child in the predicament Mary Phagan was supposed to be in, insensible and her mind wandering, be thinking of trying to shield a night watchman in her note, even before she described the man who had treated her so cruelly?

Again they ask: Who would be the most interested person in the world in saving the hide of the night watchman?

Did the child write the notes herself, was she forced to write them, or did somebody else write them? The notes are written to throw suspicion off of the night watchman.

Translated in that way, the argument would go to bear out the expressed belief of the girl’s stepfather that the negro committed the crime.

Ollie Phagan, the 18-year-old sister of Mary, said that, while she did not know, of course, she did not believe that Mary wrote either of the notes. She knew her handwriting well, and the rough letters did not look like hers, although they might possibly be.

Real Scene of Struggle Found.

Excitement prevailed to-day among those interested when it was found that the scene in which the fearful struggle between the dead girl and her assailant took place was not on the second floor of the pencil factory, as it was thought, where a few strands of her hair were found in the cogs of a steel lathe, but in the dressing room of the place. This was made certain by drops of blood all over the floor of the room, and a rag of her dress that was picked up and which showed that it had been used to gag her. The strip was of silk, and had been cut with a knife from the front of her lavender dress, which was new, and which the child was wearing for the first time.

It was said that the discovery was made by some of the girls employed at the factory, who slipped upon the blood which, in one place, had formed a small pool. They ran out excited by the appearance of the place. The dead girl’s hair had only caught in the steel lathe when her murdered had dragged her by it.

This would go to corroborate the belief of several persons acquainted with the tragedy’s various angles that Mary Phagan never left the building, or at least only for a short while from the time she entered it to get her money Saturday until her lifeless form was picked up and carried from the basement by the authorities. They say she might have either been accidentally locked in, or purposely taken back in the building by her murdered, who obtained entrance either by a key or went in by prying off a staple from an alley door.

Logic Involves Negro.

In either instance, the assailant had been keeping close tab on her actions, and either procured a key for himself to go in, or bribed the watchman to pass him. This would also bear out their insistence that the negro Newt Lee, in jail, knows more than he pretends to about the tragedy. Certain it is that it seems strange, it is argued, that if a livery stable man next door to the factory could hear the girl screaming at midnight, any one in the building could have heard cries very clearly, unless he was asleep or away from his post, which the watchman does not claim he was. The livery stable man had paid no attention to the cries, as he thought it was negroes carousing.

The dead girl’s sister said that the child’s mesh handbag, which was of silver and which has not yet been found, did not contain any valuables and she had very little money in it. When she had started off to town Mary had told her mother she needed only a dime—that she was going to get her pay and wouldn’t want any more. Her hair ribbon and other little belongings, along with her parasol, the child’s sister had also seen and recognized.

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Atlanta Georgian, April 29th 1913, “Seek Clew in Queer Words in Odd Notes,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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