Strand of Hair in Machine on Second Floor May Be Clew Left by Mary Phagan

Strand of Hair in Machine on Second Floor May Be Clew Left by Mary Phagan 2

1—Mary Phagan’s own handwriting, as shown in her address she wrote for Sunday School teacher. 2—Written by Lee at suggestion of detectives for purpose of comparison. 3—One of notes found in cellar. 4—Also written by Lee at suggestion of detectives.

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

Atlanta Journal

Monday, April 28th, 1913

It’s Discovery Leads to Theory That She May Have Been Attacked There and Then Dragged to Factory Basement

The finding of half a dozen strands of hair in the cogs of a steel lathe in the metal room on the second floor of the National Pencil company’s factory and the discovery of blood splotches on the floor, early Monday morning, aroused the belief that this was the scene of the murder of fourteen-year-old Mary Phagan, Sunday morning. There were no other evidences of a death struggle here, but there was little in the room that could have been disturbed by a combat.

The hair is of the same shade as that of the murdered girl.

A cunning effort has been made to conceal the blood stains on the floor by the smearing of some kind of a powder over the surface. A single drop of congealed blood was found, however, by a Journal reporter, and a further investigation revealed more.

In the absence of contradictory evidence, it is now the belief that the girl was killed in this room and her body then dragged in the opening in the first floor, where it was lowered to the basement. This tends to implicate more than one murderer, as the weighed nearly 150 pounds.


Miss Phagan formerly worked in the very room in which she is believed to have met death. She and four other girls were employed there in manufacturing the metal caps which fasten the rubber erasers to the ends of pencils.

On last Tuesday, because of a shortage in material, she and her companions were laid off by L. A. Quinn, foreman of the shop. They were to return to work when metal arrived.

On Friday, Foreman Quinn endeavored to locate Miss Phagan and her three companions. He wanted to tell them to call for their pay on Friday, as Saturday, the regular payday, was a holiday. Owing to the fact that the dead girl could not be reached by telephone, she was not notified of the change in payday, and on Saturday she went to the factory expecting to get her money.

What she did after her arrival has not yet been determined by the police.

Miss Phagan was the stepdaughter of J. W. Coleman. Her mother was prostrate with grief on Sunday when, after spending a sleepless night, worrying over her daughter’s unexplained absence, she was told that the girl was the victim of one of the most atrocious murders in the criminal history of Atlanta. Sunday night she became hysterical, and physicians were summoned.

The girl also has three brothers. Two live in Atlanta, and one joined the navy but six months ago.


Newt Lee, negro night watchman, discovered the body of the girl at 3:30 o’clock Sunday morning. He called the police, who hastened to the scean [sic] in an automobile. The black met the machine and told an almost incoherent story of how he had stumbled on the body in the darkness of the basement. His manner aroused immediate suspicion in the minds of the officers, and he was later taken into custody. He denies knowledge of the crime, however.

The limbs of the corps [sic] had grown rigid, but the blood which had flowed from the deep wound on the girl’s head was still damp.

Other evidences of murder were all about. The handkerchief of the victim was found forty feet away. It was saturated with blood. Another handkerchief—a man’s—was found beside the body. It too, was soaked in blood.

A hat and a parasol, later identified as belonging to the murdered girl, were found in the elevator shaft.


Her mesh handbag, said to have contained a few dollars in cash and valuless personal effects, was missing, however, though she was said to have taken it from home with her.

On her wrist was a plain gold bracelet. It was bent, and was splotched with blood. Upon a finger of her left hand was a small signet ring upon which was engraved “W.”

It was 6 o’clock Sunday morning before the girl was identified. Miss Grace Hicks, one of the girls employed in the factory, was brought to the scene in an automobile. She swooned as soon as she saw the senseless form and battered face of her former companion.

“It’s Mary Phagan,” she sobbed a moment later, “Poor Mary!”

A few hours later detectives reached the conclusion that the girl had been dragged before the murder, either while in the factory or before her arrival there. An examination showed that a criminal assault had preceded the homicide.

A crude garrotte, manufactured of two strips of underclothing torn from the girl’s body, had been used to choke her. Apparently it had been placed about her neck and then twisted.

One of the theories of the police is that the girl and her later murderer (or murderers) entered the building through the Forsyth street entrance, and that the perpetrators of the crime left through a rear door. This theory is borne out by the fact that a door permitting egress through an alley to West Hunter street was forced open. The staple holding the lock was torn from the woodwork.

Strand of Hair in Machine on Second Floor May Be Clew Left by Mary Phagan 1HANDWRITING NOT KNOWN.

Efforts to identify the penmanship of the notes found by the dead girl’s side failed. Samples of her handwriting, of Mullinax’s and of that of the negro watchman, all failed to agree with it. If either of the men wrote the messages they successfully disguised their handwriting; if the girl really did write the missives, she did so in the throes of approaching death. One of the notes was penciled on an order blank of the factory.


Newt Lee, negro nightwatchman, held as a suspect in solitary confinement, denied absolutely any knowledge of the crime. Without weakening or changing his first statements, in any way, the black stood several severe grillings at the hands of the police Sunday. His story was not shaken.

Accompanied by reporters and detectives, he was taken Sunday to the basement in the pencil factory where he discovered the remains of the pretty girl. In pantomime he re-enacted the finding of the body.

A detective lay on the floor in the exact spot where the body was found. The lights were turned out and the negro told to depict his actions earlier in the morning. While the small audience looked on, the black descended the ladder through the trap door outside. He remained there a few moments and then walked over to the side of the detective.

“That’s the way it happened,” he said. The police admit that the negro’s tale of the finding of the body is plausible and possible.

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Atlanta Journal, April 28th 1913, “Strand of Hair in Machine on Second Floor May Be Clew Left by Mary Phagan,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)