State Will Build Case Against Frank Around Conley’s Story; Defense Will Undertake to Show that Negro Alone is Guilty

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

Atlanta Journal
July 27th, 1913

Defense Will Ridicule Conley’s Story and Endeavor to Show That It Was Made to Save His Own Neck


Though Attorneys Are Silent, The Journal Presents Below Outline of What the Defense Is Expected to Be

Complete innocence on the part of Leo M. Frank, the young superintendent of the National Pencil factory, and absolute guilt on the part of James Conley, the negro sweeper at the factory, are the two cardinal points upon which Frank’s defense will be based when he is called to trial for the murder of Mary Phagan, the little girl, whose body was found in the pencil factory basement on Sunday morning, April 27.

Frank’s attorneys, Luther Z. Rosser and Reuben R. Arnold, two of the south’s ablest lawyers, have carefully concealed the plans of the defense, but enough has come to light to conclusively indicate that they not only expect to convince the jury that Frank is innocent and that it would have been a physical impossibility for him to have committed the murder without detection, but that Conley, the negro, did have such an opportunity and that robbery was his motive for killing the girl.

The defense evidently holds to the idea that to satisfactorily establish Frank’s innocence and bring about his exoneration it is necessary to clear up the murder mystery. This it will attempt to do by convincing evidence as to the guilt of the negro.

Ever since Conley made his last famous affidavit of confession in which he swore that at Frank’s instance he helped to carry the dead girl into the basement and wrote the notes found by her body Frank’s attorneys have worked on the theory that singlehanded Conley murdered Mary Phagan and that he sought to implicate their client as the principal in order to save his own neck.

The alleged inconsistencies in Conley’s confession will be stressed and its alleged improbabilities will be dissected before the jury. A piece of Mary Phagan’s pay envelope and a bloody club, said to have been found in the dark recess near the factory stairs, where Conley admits he was in hiding on the morning of the murder, will be produced as corroborative evidence, as will an affidavit from W. H. Mincey, an insurance agent, who swears that on the afternoon of the murder Conley, stupefied with drink, told him that he had killed a girl.

A vigorous attack will be made upon the state and the Atlanta city detectives for the alleged “protection” which has been accorded Conley since he made his confession and it will be asserted by the defense that had not the negro been so “wet-nursed” as it has been charged, he would have long ago admitted his guilt and exonerated Frank.


The main effort of the defense will be to break down Conley’s statement, which makes Frank the principal in the murder. It will be contended that the girl was killed on the first or ground floor of the factory instead of on the second floor, where Conley said he found the body when he was called up by Frank.

By Conley’s own statement it will be shown that he was in hiding behind a pile of boxes, near the staircase on this floor, from 9 o’clock on the morning of April 26. In his statement the negro claims to have gone to the factory at the suggestion of Frank whom he says he met at the corner of Nelson and Forsyth streets, some time between 10 and 11 o’clock that morning.

He describes a number of persons who came in and out of the factory while he was secreted there. Some of these persons will be introduced by the defense to prove that they came in and went out of the factory between 9 and 10 o’clock, more than hour before the time Conley says he left Nelson and Forsyth streets to go to the factory, and before Frank ever left the factory to go to Montag Brothers, on Nelson street.

Various different versions of the negro’s story will be submitted to the jury to show that he began by lying and only admitted that he had knowledge of the crime after he had been caught in lies. It will be claimed that Conley is a cunning negro; that he was perfectly familiar with the factory and its operations; that he has kept posted on everything that has been printed in connection with the murder and that he has shaped his confession to fit the published facts.

The defense will insist that with Frank under indictment for the murder and that with a considerable public sentiment aroused against him the negro sought to clear himself by fixing the crime upon Frank.

Conley’s statement will be analyzed in detail. He declares that Frank told him on the day before the murder to meet him at Nelson and Forsyth streets about 10 o’clock next morning. It will be asserted that Frank could not have premeditated the murder for he had no knowledge that Mary Phagan would come for her pay on Saturday or at what hour she might come.

Conley said that when he met Frank according to appointment the superintendent told him to go over to the factory and hide in some boxes until he called him; that he wanted him to do some work, but that he didn’t wish Manager M. B. Darley to know about it because Darley had forbidden work in the factory on holidays. This statement will be ridiculed on the ground that Frank being the superintendent and a stockholder in the factory there was no necessity for him to observe secrecy in the performance of any work which he deemed advisable.


Conley says that he came back to the factory with Frank from Nelson street. Witnesses will be introduced to show that Frank came alone.

Conley says that he remained in hiding until about 1 o’clock, and that while he was secreted in the boxes he saw a number of persons come in and go out of the factory. This portion of the negro’s confession will be accepted as a fact, for it will be proven by persons described by Conley that they did enter and leave the factory during the morning of April 26. Some of these, however, will swear that they were there long before the hour when Conley says he came to the factory.

Conley says that Frank whistled to him to come upstairs and when he obeyed the superintendent informed him that he had picked up a girl back in the metal room and had let her fall and that her head had struck against something; that Frank had directed him to move the girl and that when he approached the body he found that the girl was dead. He says a moment later he returned to the front of the building and noticed it was four minutes after 1 o’clock.

The defense will introduce witnesses to show that Frank was not alone more than five minutes at a time up to 1 o’clock, when he claims to have left the factory to go home to lunch, and will contend that this being true, he could not have had opportunity to kill the girl up to that hour.

Conley declares that he never saw the Phagan girl enter the factory. He was very positive about having seen others who came and went, and was able to describe their clothing, but says he must have dozed off when the Phagan girl come in.

The defense holds to the theory that the negro did see the girl enter the factory; that he remained in hiding until she came down swinging her mesh bag, and that knowing that she had come for her week’s pay he stole up behind her, hit her in the head and after grabbing her handbag containing the pay envelope, shoved her through the elevator shaft which was only a few feet from the foot of the stairs.

Conley says that after he came back to Frank and told him that the girl was dead the superintendent ordered him to go and get the body and bring it out; that he stopped in the cotton room and got a gunny sheet in which to tie the body, which was lying face downward in an areaway near the women’s lavatory.


It will be contended by the defense that on the day of the murder there were no empty gunny sheets in the cotton room; that the only sheets there were filled with cotton and that these were still in place on the following Monday.

Conley says that after trying the body in the gunny sheet he shouldered it and started toward the front of the building, but that when he reached a point just in front of one of the dressing rooms it became so heavy that he dropped it. At the place where he says he dropped the body the floor was stained with what appeared to be blood, but at the spot where he says he first found the body there was no evidence of bloodstains. This fact will be cited by the defense, which will insist that if the negro is telling the truth there would have been bloodstains where the body was first found and where it must have lain for some time. Witnesses will be introduced to show that there was a wound on the girl’s head which must have bled profusely.

Little credence will, it is said, be placed by the defense in the alleged blood spots near the dressing room door where the negro says he dropped the body. It will be argued that these spots may or may not be blood. And to explain them if they are blood it will be shown that several times each week employees cut their hands and fingers in the machinery and that the wounds frequently bleed upon the floor.

Witnesses will testify that large quantities of anilines and paints resembling blood are used in the factory and that possibly the spots upon the floor near the dressing room are nothing more than paint.

Conley says that after he dropped the body he called Frank to his assistance and that together they carried it to the elevator and upon which they lowered it into the basement.

Evidence will, it is said, be submitted which will prove beyond a doubt that the elevator did not and could not have been operated on the day of the murder. Just what this evidence will be has never been revealed.

Conley says that after the elevator reached the basement Frank assisted him to take the body off the car and helped him carry it for a few feet; that he then took the body on his shoulder and carried it back to the sawdust bin in the rear of the basement where it was found.

Conley says that he and Frank ran the elevator back up to the second floor and that after Frank washed his hands he took him into the office and that while he was there two young women employees, whom he names, came in for their pay envelopes; that while they were there Frank shut him in a wardrobe.


It will be insisted by the defense that the two young women named came to the factory and left it before 1 o’clock and they will be put upon the stand to testify to this fact.

Conley claims that after the young women left Frank let him out of the wardrobe and dictated two notes for him to write, explaining to him that he intended to send these notes to his (Frank’s) mother in Brooklyn and that she would send him something.

The defense will take the position that a negro of even lesser intelligence than that possessed by Conley would never have written those notes unless he were guilty, and only then in an effort to divert suspicion from himself.

Conley says that Frank handed him a roll of money but later took it back, saying that he would see him Monday. The defense will argue that if Frank had been guilty of murder and had allowed the negro to share his secret, he would not only not have taken back money given him but would have kept on supplying him with money, fearing that unless he did so the negro might expose him.


A brief and connected outline of the theory of the defense concerning the murder of Mary Phagan, which was printed in The Journal a day or two after Conley made his confession, and which it is said is still adhered to, follows:

After Mary Phagan got her pay envelope she immediately left the office on the second floor and proceeded down the stairs toward the street; that just as she reached the bottom, the negro, Conley, who was in hiding and who had seen her swinging a mesh handbag, stepped out from behind the boxes and struck her a blow on the head with a stick.

Attention will be called to the fact that the big doors leading to the street were closed, and it was entirely possible for the girl to have been felled without anyone outside on the street or anyone upstairs in the office being any the wiser.

Having knocked the girl down and rendered her unconscious, it will be contended, it is said, that the negro quickly pushed her through the elevator shaft. Fearing that the girl may have recognized him and apprehending that she was not dead, the negro climbed down the ladder through the cubby hole and quickly tore off the hem of her underskirt, which he knotted around her neck, it being the most available instrument to check any possible outcry; after which he hunted around the basement and found a length of cord.

Looping this cord around the girl’s neck so that when it was pulled the knot would tighten, the negro dragged her back to the sawdust bin in the rear of the basement, where her body was found, it will be contended.

When he went back to the elevator shaft he found her hat and her purse, it will be argued. He placed the purse in his pocket, took the hat and started back toward the rear of the basement. On the way he picked up one of the girl’s slippers, which had come off while she was being dragged. The hat and the slipper he tossed on the trash pile by the boiler.

In the darkness of the elevators shaft he overlooked the parasol, which he had tossed down with the girl’s body.


With a view, it is said, to directing suspicion to the other negroes employed in the factory, Conley wrote the two notes found near the body. The tablet paper upon which these were written, it will be asserted, can be found in all parts of the factory.

When the negro got ready to leave the factory it will be asserted he found that Frank had gone to lunch and had locked the front doors. Then there was nothing left for him to do but pull the staple from the back basement door and make his escape from the factory through it.

The defense will put Frank’s previous good character in issue to show that he was not the type of man who would commit such a crime, and it will call attention to the fact that so far the state has never been able to successfully challenge a single statement made by Frank during his three-hours’ grilling by the coroner.

Witnesses will be introduced to explain the circumstantial evidence which the state will offer against Frank and other witnesses will be put up to discredit the negro Conley’s story. The defense has carefully prepared its case and it will, doubtless, spring a number of surprises during the trial.

An Outline of the State’s Case Against Frank Is Given Here as Nearly as It Can Be Forecast


Statements of Drs. Harris and Hurt Carefully Guarded by Solicitor, May Have Important Bearing on Trial

When the preliminaries of selecting a jury and otherwise clearing the decks for action have been dispatched (and that may take one day, or two, or longer), the state, appearing as prosecutor of Leo M. Frank, and represented by Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, will attempt to prove by circumstances principally that Frank killed Mary Phagan, fourteen years old, on the afternoon of April 26, 1913, deliberately and with malice aforethought.

The state will not attempt to prove that Frank laid his plan to kill Mary Phagan long in advance of the actual deed that it charges against him.

It will endeavor merely to show that he injured her, accidentally or otherwise, and then deliberately tied the cord about her neck and left her to choke to death so that she might never regain consciousness and tell what he had attempted. This is the prosecution’s theory in a nutshell.

It is assumed that the public does not know all of the evidence which Solicitor Dorsey will introduce against Frank. The public knows the case generally from start to finish, because since April 26 the Atlanta newspapers have been full of developments. But nobody save Solicitor Dorsey knows it all in detail. Only one man knows the state’s theory from start to finish. And it is probable that he, the solicitor, has reserved some details which will become public at the same time that the jury hears them.

Some of these details, which may be of importance to the state’s case, are to be testified by the state’s experts. One of these, Dr. J. W. Hurt, the coroner’s physician, who examined the dead girl’s body shortly after it was found in the National Pencil factory basement, never has stated his conclusion except under the oath of secrecy. Dr. H. F. Harris, president of the state board of health, who twice exhumed and examined Mary Phagan’s body after it was interred near Marietta, is known to have testimony, which the state considers material; but it has been locked in the knowledge of two or three men, and no one else can do more than surmise it.

The confession of Jim Conley, the negro sweeper at the factory, who has told the officers that he assisted Frank to dispose of the dead body of Mary Phagan and that he himself wrote the notes whch were found beside her body, will be backed up by the state as strenuously as it will be assailed by the defense. Evidence intended to corroborate details of the negro’s story will be put before the jury by the state. The negro Conley will be the witness around whom the whole case will revolve.


In their proper sequence, here are related the essential circumstances which the prosecution will endeavor to prove:

That Leo M. Frank was in the factory that day. This can be shown by several witnesses, even if Frank’s own sworn testimony before the coroner’s jury is barred by objection of the defense.

That Mary Phagan called at the factory that day. This can be proven by implication, though Frank and the negro Conley are the only people who so far have stated that they saw her there, and the negro does not claim to have seen her until she was dead. G. W. Epps, the newsboy, playmate and neighbor of Mary Phagan, probably will be introduced at this juncture to swear that he rode to town with Mary that day on the trolley car, and that she left him to go to the pencil factory for her pay, and that she had an engagement to meet him in half an hour to witness the Memorial Day parade on Whitehall street, but that she did not return. The boy may testify also that Mary had told him she was afraid of Frank. Conley, the negro, will be the witness to testify that he saw her dead body in the factory. Save by Frank’s own statement or testimony, it can not be shown (so far as the public knows) that Mary Phagan was seen alive in the factory.

The state probably will endeavor to prove that after she left Frank’s office with her pay envelope Mary Phagan went to the women’s lavatory to the extreme rear of the building on the same floor with the office; that Frank followed her, accosted her in the machine room, attacked her when she resisted, and accidentally or otherwise knocked her head against one of the sharp points on a machine there; that then he realized what an awful thing had happened, and foresaw what fearful consequences might fall upon himself if it became known; that he tied a strip of the girl’s underskirt around her neck as she lay unconscious, and then sought a piece of cord and tied that too on her throat; that he removed her body from the machine room around into the more secluded corner near the lavatory; that then he hurried away.


But in the meantime, the state will endeavor to prove, someone had entered Frank’s office and found him absent from it. The witness on this point will be Miss Monteen Stover, who has sworn that she went to the factory for her own pay at 12:10 o’clock and found no one in or about the offices, and that she waited in Frank’s office for about ten minutes, until approximately 12:20 o’clock, and then left without having seen him. The inference will be drawn by the state that it was in this period while Miss Stover waited, that Mary Phagan was killed, and that Frank, hiding behind the doors at the rear, saw her leave and hurried back into his office, arriving there in plenty of time for Lemmie Quinn, one of the factory foremen, to find him there apparently at work—as Quinn has testified he found him.

The state then will endeavor to imply that Frank remained in his office after Quinn had left, and thought over his predicament and realized its probably consequences if he did not hide the crime. If the body was found on the second floor, the state will argue that he reasoned, he would be implicated and suspected at once, because several witnesses would remember having seen him in the office; therefore the body must be moved.

This resolved, he began to lay his plan for moving it, the state will contend. He went to the fourth floor, where Harry Denham and Arthur White were at work, and where Mrs. Arthur White also was waiting, the state will attempt to prove. He ascertained that Mrs. White was about to leave, and hastened her departure, and locked the two men in the upper part of the building when they told him they would work until he got back from lunch.

Then, presumably with no one else (as far as the public knows) in the building, the state will contend, Frank followed Mrs. White down to the street door and locked it after her—and turned to find Jim Conley, the negro sweeper, who had been dozing in the corner by the staircase, behind the elevator. Mrs. White will testify that she had seen the negro there.

With his way to the basement thus shut off by the negro’s presence where he could see anybody go down, the state will try to prove, Frank, in confusion and perhaps panic, called the negro into the matter (as the negro will testify), telling him that he had dropped a girl “back yonder” and hit her head against something, and that she was unconscious and directing him (the negro) to go back and bring her out.


Here is where the testimony of Jim Conley becomes the case of the state.

By direct evidence again, the state will attempt to convince the jury, upon Jim Conley’s testimony, that the negro found the girl was dead, and not merely unconscious; that he called this out in fright to Frank, who was waiting on the guard near the front; that Frank told him angrily to pick up her body and come on; that the negro got a crocus sack and laid the body upon it, with the girl’s hat and shoe, which had been knocked off and dragged off; that the negro shouldered his gruesome burden and started around toward the front with it, but that it slipped from his shoulder at the little dressing room in front of which bloodstains were found on the floor; that Frank came and helped him from that point to the elevator; that Frank ran the elevator to the basement and directed the negro to take the body away back into the darkness, and stood guard in the trap door at the top of the ladder until the negro returned; that the negro ran the elevator up from the basement, Frank jumping aboard at the street floor and jumping off before the elevator had quite reached the second floor; that Frank went around behind the elevator and washed his hands and then took the negro into the office and dictated the notes and gave the negro money, but took it back, saying he would give it to him (the negro) later, and then gave him a small sum in a cigarette box, dismissing the negro. Conley there steps out of the case.

If Mrs. Arthur White swears that she saw the negro Conley sitting on the boxes behind the stairs when she left the factory, the state will doubtless endeavor to develop that point in argument and corroborative testimony if possible, for if the negro was there then, after Mary Phagan had disappeared in the factory, the state will seek to convince the jury that he could not possibly have committed the murder himself, as the defense will seek to show. It will probably be argued that no negro would kill a person, particularly a white girl, and then sit around aimlessly where he would be seen and suspected.

The state will endeavor to show that Frank’s behavior on the afternoon of the murder was unusual. The night watchman, Newt Lee, will testify that the superintendent let him off for several hours and told him to go out and enjoy himself; that Frank appeared agitated when at 6 o’clock, as he was leaving the factory, he met J. M. Gantt, a discharged bookkeeper, at the foot of the stairs; and that Frank called up the factory that evening by telephone to ask if everything was all right. Gantt’s testimony will be used by the state to corroborate that part of Lee’s testimony about Frank seeming agitated.


Further, the state will try to prove that the elevator was moved on April 26. It will introduce witnesses tending to corroborate portions of Conley’s statement. It will get before the jury, by the testimony of witnesses, that Frank was agitated on the following morning when the first investigation of the mystery was under way, and that he was afraid of the girl’s body. Minola McKnight, negro cook in the Frank household, may be called by the state as one of its own witnesses.

What more than this the state will attempt to prove is problematical, beyond establishing, of course, the fact that Mary Phagan was murdered. This will be proved by the testimony of Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, who found the body in the cellar an hour or two after midnight, and by the testimony of the police officers. The state may seek to establish further details implying motive or attempted purpose or accomplished purpose by the testimony of Drs. Hurt and Harris.