Seek Negro Who Says He Was Eye-Witness to Phagan Murder

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

The Atlanta Georgian

Sunday, July 13, 1913

Fugitive, Reported to Have Been Traced to Birmingham, Declares That He Witnessed the Attack on the Girl Slain in the Pencil Plant.


Loser at Dice, He Declares, Planned to Rob Victim as She Came From Getting Pay—Tried to Prevent the Crime and, Failing, Fled.

Report that a negro who has declared that he witnessed the attack by another negro upon Mary Phagan, which resulted in her death in the National Pencil Factory on the afternoon of April 26, has been apprehended in Birmingham, became known Saturday night.

If this information is substantiated, its substance is of such startling character as to revolutionize the present status of the Phagan case, casting down practically every bulwark which has been erected in the prosecution of Leo M. Frank for the murder.

In its present form, however, The Sunday American does not vouch for the correctness of the report. Only the fact that it comes from a source which is so near the defense of the pencil factory head as to make it authoritative and the admission by those connected with the actual legal defense of Frank, prompts this newspaper to present the sensational story, asking that it be taken for what, on its face, it is shown to be worth.

Negro Hunted Since May.

It is known that a search has been made for the mysterious negro ever since a message came from St. Louis early in May, telling of his boast first made in that city.

The negro’s name is said to be Will Green, and he is described as light yellow, about 39 years of age and about 5 feet 9 inches tall.

The essential part of his story, in effect, is said to be like this:

“I was in Atlanta for a few days. I was shooting craps on the first floor with this negro that Saturday. This fellow was half drunk and was losing money to me. He got mad and cursed his luck.

“Before long a little girl went upstairs. This negro said he was going to take her money away from her when she came down. I thought he was fooling at first, but when she came down he started for her. I yelled at him not to do it, but he kept right on. Then I skipped out, for I didn’t want to get mixed up in any trouble. I stayed around town until the next Monday, and then I read all about how a little girl had been killed in the National Pencil Factory, and I knew that she was the one I had seen come downstairs at the factory.

“I got out of town right away and went back to St. Louis. They were surprised to see me back there, and I told a few of them how I happened to come back. That’s how they found out that I had seen what I did.”

Wired Clew to Atlanta Police.

Frank Morrow, of St. Louis, formerly connected with the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, is reported to have been the first one to take notice of the negro Green. Morrow was seriously injured a few years ago, and Green is understood to have assisted in caring for him for several months. In this way Morrow came to know the negro well.

Morrow, on hearing the negro’s astounding tale, wired immediately to Atlanta. Little attention was paid his message at first, as it came along with many others which palpably were from persons seeking the rewards or who were offering evidence of no value. He repeated his wire and this led to an investigation of Morrow himself. His former connections were ascertained and it was found that he had a reputation for reliability.

He was authorized to locate the negro. The delay, however, was unfortunate. Sometime in the few days, Green vanished from St. Louis. Morrow telegraphed that he belived [sic] there was yet a chance to trail Green, and the chase began.

Dispatches to The Georgian and The American from time to time that the trail was growing warm and that Morrow, with his detectives, was just on the point of capturing the negro. Green, however, seemed to be able to slip out of their grasp as they were about to put their hands on him.

The trail led southward from St. Louis. The American’s[…]

Continued on Page 4, Column 4.


Fugitive, Reported Trapped in Birmingham, Lays Crime to Drunken Black Man.

Continued From Page 1.

[…]correspondent in Cairo, Ill., wired that Green had been seen in that city by negroes, but that he had duplicated his former performance by disappearing before he could be apprehended.

Down in Kentucky the negro made his way, the detectives close on his heels. The trail grew warmer in Tennessee and finally led into Alabama. The detectives believe they reached Birmingham on the train behind Green, and that they have him trapped in the city.

One report to The American was that Green was actually in the custody of the detectives, who were awaiting instructions from Atlanta.

Attorneys for Leo Frank denied Saturday night that they had received word of the capture of Green, but admitted that they had been advised that the negro had been trailed to Birmingham. They declined to say what dependence they would place in the negro’s story until they had interviewed him personally.

They said that the negro had been trailed on the representation that his testimony would be of the utmost value, but they refused to vouch for it before reviewing it thoroughly on their own account.

Says Women Heard Conefssion [sic].

Saturday’s other important development was the statement of Attorney J.H. Leavitt that several negro women heard Jim Conley make his alleged angry boast to William H. Mincey, the insurance agent, that “he had killed a girl to-day, and didn’t want to kill nobody else.”

Attorney Leavitt indicated that the defense will be able to call these women at the trial of Frank to support Mincey’s affidavit and testimony as to the conversation of Conley on the afternoon of the crime.

By an agreement between Solicitor Dorsey and Graham & Chappell, attorneys for Newt Lee, who has been held in jail technically as a “suspect” but actually as a material witness in the Phagan mystery, the habeas corpus proceedings brought in behalf of the negro were dropped.

Solicitor Dorsey promised to take steps which would give Lee his rightful status as a material witness, and Sheriff Mangum advised the court that he would give Lee all the freedom to which a material witness in custody is entitled.

* * *

The Atlanta Georgian, July 13th 1913, “Seek Negro Who Says He Was Eye-Witness to Phagan Murder,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)