Three Handwriting Experts Say Negro Wrote the Two Notes Found by Body of Girl

by Archivist on April 29, 2016

At the top is a photograph of writing done by Newt Lee, the negro night watchman after his arrest. At the bottom is a photograph of two lines of a note found beside the body of Mary Phagan in the pencil factory cellar. Three handwriting experts—Frank M. Berry, assistant cashier of the Fourth National bank; Andrew M. Bergstrom, assistant cashier of the Third National bank and

At the top is a photograph of writing done by Newt Lee, the negro night watchman after his arrest. At the bottom is a photograph of two lines of a note found beside the body of Mary Phagan in the pencil factory cellar. Three handwriting experts—Frank M. Berry, assistant cashier of the Fourth National bank; Andrew M. Bergstrom, assistant cashier of the Third National bank and Pope O. Driver, chief bookkeeper and head of mail departments, of the American National bank, unhesitatingly declare that the same hand penned them both. Detectives are satisfied that Lee knows all about the killing of the girl. The only question in their minds is whether he is alone involved.

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

Atlanta Journal

Tuesday, April 29th, 1913

Frank M. Berry, of the Fourth National Bank, Andrew M. Bergstrom of Third National, and Pope C. Driver, of the American National, Examined Notes at Journal’s Request And Found Same Person Wrote Both

ALL THREE ARE EXPERTS AND MADE MICROSCOPICAL EXAMINATIONS

Their Investigation Shows He Wrote Both Notes and Seems to Prove Conclusively That Either the Negro Committed the Crime or Knows Who the Guilty Party Is

Through its own investigations The Atlanta Journal has proven conclusively that Newt Lee, the negro night watchman for the National Pencil company, either himself mistreated and murdered pretty Mary Phagan, or that he knows who committed the crime and is assisting the perpetrator to conceal his identity.

Locked in this negro’s breast is the key to the murder mystery, which has shocked the entire south.

Three handwriting experts who Tuesday compared the notes found near the girl’s body in the factory basement with notes written by Lee after his arrest and at the instigation of the city detectives are positive that the same hand penned them all.

The experts who made a microscopical examination of these notes and who are unanimous in declaring that the same person was the author of them all are:

FRANK M. BERRY, assistant cashier of the Fourth National Bank.

ANDREW M. BERGSTROM, assistant cashier of the Third National bank.

POPE O. DRIVER, chief bookkeeper and head of the mail department of the American National bank.

ALL AGREE THAT NEGRO WROTE BOTH.

These men have for years made a study of handwriting and they turn their knowledge to account in detecting all manner of forgeries. In examining the notes submitted to them Tuesday they employed powerful magnifying glasses and minutely analyzed the slant of the writing, the shape and size of the letters, the peculiarities of spelling, the method of expression, and the punctuation.

Two notes were found nearby the corpse of the mutilated girl. One of these, written on a yellow scratch pad, read as follows:

“Mam that negro fire down here did this I went to get water and he push me down thro hole a long tall negro black that hoo it woke long sleam tall negro I wright while play with me.”

The second note was written on a coarse-fibred pencil tablet, such as is used by school children. This note read:

“he said he wood love me (land dab n?) play like nigh witch did it but that long tall black negro did boy his slef.”

Shortly after Lee was arrested Chief of Detectives N. A. Lanford caused him to write the last line of the second note, dictating it to him word by word.

COULDN’T DISGUISE HANDWRITING.

Although the negro was very nervous and very naturally sought to disguise his handwriting he was unable to do so. With the exception of the use of four capital letters in the note written at police headquarters and the insertion of an extra e in the word negro this note was identical with the last two lines in the note found in the basement of the pencil factory.

The experts agreed that the size and slant of the writing was the same, that the mode of expression was identical, that there were characteristic peculiarities in the formation of the o’s, y’s, g’s, t’s, b’s, k’s, n’s and other letters used in the two notes.

In both the negro writes boy for by and slef for self. These and a number of other similarities convinced the experts that Lee wrote the notes found beside the dead girl.

MARY PHAGAN DID NOT WRITE THEM.

They examined the handwriting of Mary Phagan and positively declared that she could not have written these notes, even while delirious and suffering great pain. She wrote smoothly, used good grammar, capitalized, punctuated and spelled properly, and it is pointed out that under no circumstances would she have lapsed into an illiterate style of writing.

It is plain that the notes found in the factory cellar were written by an ignorant and illiterate person. It is also plain that the person who wrote them sought to cast suspicion upon the fireman at the factory; and that they were very particular to describe the man which they alleged to have committed the crime, for in the same sentence of one of them the perpetrator is described as a long, tall, black negro.

The other refers to the intention of the perpetrator to fix the crime on the night watchman. It is believed that Lee deliberately described another negro and that he endeavored to divert suspicion from himself by writing into one of the notes that the guilty man would “play like the nigh witch did it.”

Neither of these notes could have been written by Mary Phagan, even though she were still alive when dragged into the cellar, for the cellar was dark as pitch night. And it is not to be supposed that while in a dying condition she would have found it convenient to have obtained a pencil and two different kinds of tablet paper. Further than this she would not have written two notes.

The detectives are satisfied that Lee wrote both notes, but are of the opinion that he wrote them at different times. After writing the first he evidently thought of something else which he believed would divert suspicion from himself and then wrote the second.

Only one question now puzzles the detectives—

Did Lee murder the girl himself or did he undertake to dispose of the girl’s body and to shield some one else?

* * *

Atlanta Journal, April 29th 1913, “Three Handwriting Experts Say Negro Wrote the Two Notes Found by Body of Girl,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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