Slayer of Mary Phagan May Still be at Large

by Archivist on May 4, 2016

Slayer of Mary Phagan May Still Be At Large

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

Atlanta Georgian

Sunday, May 4th, 1913

The mystery of the death of pretty Mary Phagan enters upon its second week to-day with the police authorities admitting that they are still without a conclusive solution. So far as the public has been permitted to learn, the detectives are not even certain that they have in custody the person or persons responsible for her death.

In the light of present developments, the police believe that no more arrests will be made, but they admit that the entrance of another theory might entirely change the aspect of the case. The detectives base their present belief that they have the guilty man or men on the well-supported theory that Mary Phagan never left the National Pencil factory from the time she received her pay envelope on Saturday noon until her lifeless body was taken from the basement of the building.

If this police supposition is correct, guilt can rest only on one or more of the men who were in the building after noon on the day of the tragedy. The police officers have been able to learn only five who were in the factory Saturday afternoon or night, most of the employees being absent because of the Memorial Day parade.

These five were Leo M. Frank, superintendent; Newt Lee, night watchman; Harry Denham and Arthur White, workmen, and J. M. Gantt, a former employee, who returned for a few minutes on Saturday evening to obtain a pair of shoes he had left in the building. Of these five it is possible for only two to have had any knowledge of their crime. These two, Leo M. Frank and Newt Lee, are in custody.

Tragedy That Grips People.

Atlanta for a week has been shocked with the horror and brutality of the deed. That everyone was following with intense interest the developments of the case was manifest in the eagerness with which the newspapers were bought up in the streets. It was a story that gripped and appealed, and it aroused an interest that will not die until the guilty person is apprehended.

The essential details of the case as developed through a week of investigation are these:

Mary Phagan, the 14-year-old daughter of Mrs. W. J. Coleman, of 146 Lindsay Street, was attacked and killed some time between noon and midnight Saturday, April 26. Signs of a struggle on the second floor of the National Pencil Factory, 37-39 Forsyth Street, indicated that this is the place she met her death.

The girl left her home Saturday forenoon to draw her pay at the factory. She arrived at the factory at about 12:07. Superintendent Frank has said that he gave her her pay envelope at this time. The detectives have been able to get no reliable testimony that any one saw her from 12:07 o’clock until shortly after 3 o’clock Sunday morning when the night watchman, Newt Lee, said he found her bruised and mutilated body in the basement as he was making his rounds.

Harry Denham and Arthur White were in the factory from 7:30 in the morning until about 3:15 in the afternoon. Newt Lee called at the at the factory at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, but was told by Superintendent Frank that he need not go to work until 6 o’clock in the evening.

Frank There in Afternoon.

Superintendent Frank left the building about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, returning about 3. From this time until 6:30 in the evening he says he was in the building. At 6 o’clock Lee returned and remained in the factory until he found the body and was taken to police headquarters. J. M. Gantt, the former employee, was in the factory at 6 o’clock, and the evidence shows he left about 20 minutes later. If there were any other persons in the building during these hours the authorities are as yet unaware of the fact.

The night watchman’s story is that he made his rounds regularly every half hour on Saturday night. At the inquest he told that it was not required of him to make a complete round of the basement, his main duty there being only to see that there was no fire. This he gives as his explanation for not seeing at an earlier hour the body of the girl. The undertakers say she had been dead for from six to eight hours when found. On his 3 o’clock round, the watchman went farther into the basement and there saw the body of the girl lying face upward.

He ran upstairs and called the police. Then he attempted, without avail to get Superintendent Frank on the telephone, he testified. The officers came and found the body lying face downward, although the watchman declared he had not touched the body. They also tried to call Superintendent Frank, but were unsuccessful, and finally notified Vice President Haas.

Four Men Are Detained.

Lee, the watchman, and Geron Bailey, elevator man, were taken to the police station. Both denied any knowledge of the crime. Arthur Mullinax, a former street car conductor, was identified by E. L. Sentell, 82 Davis Street, as the man he saw with Mary Phagan at about midnight Saturday. He was taken by the police Sunday night and held pending an investigation of Sentell’s story.

Superintendent Frank was summoned to police headquarters on Monday morning to tell what he knew of the girl and her fate. He offered to aid the police in every way, and later in the day announced that he had engaged the Pinkertons to assist the city [2 words illegible] in solving the mystery. He returned to his home after the conference.

The story of the friendship of J. M. Gantt, former bookkeeper in the factory, for Mary Phagan decided the officers upon his arrest. He was taken on Monday as he alighted from a car at Marietta, where he had gone to see his mother.

Mullinax told a straightforward story of his every movement Saturday night. He had been to the theater with Miss Pearl Robinson, he said, and afterward had gone to this boarding house and to bed. His alibi was established by the stories of Miss Robinson and his landlady.

Gantt was explicit in detailing his moves and was borne out by companions and by his half-sister, Mrs. T.C. Terrell, 284 East Linden Avenue, with whom he lived.

The sensation of the case came Tuesday when a hurried trip by automobile was made to the pencil factory by detectives and Superintendent Frank was brought to police headquarters. The officers denied at first that Frank was under arrest. He was brought to the station only throw additional light upon the mystery and for his own protection, they explained. Nevertheless, Frank’s liberties were soon curtailed and on Thursday night he was transferred with Lee to the County jail on the request of Frank’s attorney, Luther Z. Rosser.

Negro Sticks to His Story.

Frank and Lee were questioned at the police station. The watchman was put through the “third degree” again and again. All the efforts of the detectives were not productive of a confession of any sort.

Frank was firm in the statement of his absolute innocence. Lee broke down and wept on several occasions, but only protested his innocence the more volubly.

The inquest Thursday proved to be little more than an elaboration of the testimony that had been gathered previously by the detectives. Three or four of the witnesses declared they had seen Mary Phagan on the streets or near her home in Bellwood some time Saturday afternoon or night. The stories for the most part were found to be without basis and the theory that Mary Phagan was lured to the factory after once leaving it was abandoned.

Lee was called to the stand. The most damaging evidence brought against him was the testimony of a handwriting expert that two notes found by the side of the dead girl were in the same hand as the test note penned by Lee after he had been taken to the police station.

G. W. Epps, the boy sweetheart of Mary Phagan, created something of a sensation when he testified that Mary had told him that Frank had attempted to flirt with her and that she had asked him (Epps) to wait and go home with her. Gantt and Lee testified that Frank had appeared nervous when they saw him (Gantt) Saturday at the factory.

Gantt and Mullinax were liberated soon after the adjournment Wednesday.

The inquest was to have been resumed on Thursday, but was halted by the desire of the authorities to obtain more clearly defined evidence before they continued the presentation of the case.

The next day Solicitor General Dorsey announced that he had engaged private detectives to run down clews which he thought had been neglected or not sufficiently developed.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, May 4th 1913, “Slayer of Mary Phagan May Still be at Large,” Leo Frank newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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