Use of Dictaphone on Frank and Negro is Denied by Police

Leo M. Frank

Leo M. Frank [On early Monday morning (April 28th, 1913), Leo Frank already had his lawyers present to answer questions from the police; the most expensive criminal defense lawyers in Georgia, somehow secured over the weekend, just one day after the murder and before Leo Frank was even seen as a major suspect. On Sunday, Frank told the police he was alone with Mary in his office at 12:03pm, but on Monday, with his lawyers at his side, he changed the time to between 12:05 and 12:10pm, a habit Frank would later fall into during subsequent questioning and trials. — Ed.]

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

Atlanta Journal

Wednesday, April 30th, 1913

They Decline to Say, However, Whether Conversation Between Superintendent and Watchman Was Overheard


J. L. Watkins Says He Saw Her Near Her Home—Chemist’s Tests Shows No Blood Under Negro’s Finger Nails

A report that there was a Dictaphone in the room in which Leo M. Frank talked with Newt Lee, the negro night watchman, at police headquarters Tuesday night in a supposed effort to wring a confession from the negro, was denied Wednesday by both Chief of Detectives Lanford and Chief of Police Beavers.

Neither official, however, would say that the conversation between the factory superintendent and the negro was private. They were asked directly if any member of the police or detective departments heard what was said between Frank and the negro but declined to say.

There is a strong belief that the meeting between the superintendent and the negro was arranged by the detectives in the hope of obtaining evidence without the knowledge of either Mr. Frank or the night watchman. The report spread that sensational evidence was obtained in this manner, but no confirmation could be obtained at headquarters.


Despite the negro watchman’s statement that he passed every half hour through the machine room, where it is presumed Mary Phagan first battled to save her honor and her life, an examination of the clock’s record which was brought to police headquarters Tuesday afternoon, developed that the clock had not been punched from midnight Saturday until long after the body of the murdered girl was found.

The time clock record shows that the instrument was visited regularly up to 9:25 o’clock Saturday night. It was next punched at 10:29 o’clock. Next the instrument records a visit from some-one, presumably the night watchman, at midnight. The clock was not punched between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the morning.

Considered of far more importance that the irregularity of the visits of the watchman to the time clock, despite the fact that his previous record shows that almost invariably he punched the clock each half hour on past nights, was the finding by City Detective John Black and Harry Scott, of the Pinkertons, of a bloody shirt stuffed in a barrel at the negro watchman’s home on Hendrix avenue.

Between the irregular adjustments of the clock the negro would have had ample time to visit his home, it is said.

Still the detectives argue, the evidence against Lee might have been planted. Lee was confronted with the bloody shirt and he says that he hasn’t worn it in two years, and that when last he saw the shirt it had no blood on it. His wife declares that he left the house Saturday wearing the shirt he now has on at police headquarters.


J. L. Watkins, a blacksmith at the corner of Bellwood avenue and Ashby street, is positive that he saw Mary Phagan about 5 o’clock Saturday afternoon, and he is the first witness who is positive that the murdered girl left the Forsyth street factory after she went there Saturday about noon to collect the $1.20 due her for two days’ work in the place.

Watkins lives near Mary Phagan’s home, and says that he has known her for years.

Saturday afternoon about 5 o’clock, he tells The Journal, he saw her walking up Bellwood avenue in the direction of her home on Lindsay street. He was walking behind her, he says, and was only ten paces away.

“I am positive that it was Mary Phagan,” said Mr. Watkins, “and I have known her as a neighbor for many years.

“When I last saw her she was cutting across a vacant lot towards Lindsay street and her home. She was dressed in a blue skirt and white shirtwaist and was bareheaded.”

Watkins was located by the detectives Tuesday and made substantially the same statement to them that he has to The Journal.


A chemical analysis was made Tuesday night at the direction of Chief of Detectives Lanford of the dirt under the finger nails of Newt Lee. The analysis proved a point in the negro’s favor rather than against him, since it developed absolutely no trace of blood.

It developed Wednesday that on an investigation by the detectives the supposed “blood finger prints” on the dead girl’s arm were proved to be “paint finger prints,” and according to Chief Lanford, the paint might have been on the arm for weeks.

All efforts to break Lee down and force a confession or more complete statement failed Tuesday night. Francis E. Wright, of Pulliam street, salesman, assisted the detectives in “sweating” Lee during the evening, and emerged from a long conference with the statement that the negro must be innocent. There is also a growing impression among the rank and file at police headquarters, that the watchman, despite the circumstantial evidence against him, did not commit the crime.

Walter Graham, a young white man of 75 Marietta street, smuggled a derringer revolver into a cell at headquarters next to Lee, and Tuesday night discharged the weapon. Lee was badly frightened by the report, but when visited shortly afterwards by the detectives had not weakened.


Leo M. Frank, superintendent of the factory, a thin, wiry man, who wears eyeglasses with thick lenses, and who


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does not appear to be in the best of health, is taking his imprisonment very calmly.

When he was told by The Journal of the result of the examination of the time clock record of his factory, he showed great surprise.

“I don’t remember ever having heard of Lee’s failing to punch the clock at regular intervals,” he said.

“While I do not examine the record each day, if the negro failed in his duty, it would have been reported to me immediately. Lee has been unusually faithful about his duties.”

Numbers of Frank’s friends visited him at the police headquarters during Tuesday afternoon and evening, and it was not until shortly after midnight that they left. He, with a guard by his side, went to sleep on a cot in the office of detectives and slept soundly for several hours.

[J.] M. Gantt, whose attorneys, Gober & Jackson, took him before Judge George L. Bell, of the superior court, on a writ of habeas corpus Tuesday afternoon, has been transferred at the judge’s order to the Tower.

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Atlanta Journal, April 30th 1913, “Use of Dictaphone on Frank and Negro Denied by Police,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)