Conley Says Frank Took Him to Plant on Day of Slaying

by Archivist on August 30, 2016

Conley Says

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

Atlanta Georgian

Wednesday, May 28th, 1913

Negro Sweeper in New Affidavit Denies His Former Testimony and Makes Startling Assertions; Now Declares He Wrote Notes Saturday.

James Conley, negro sweeper, in an affidavit made Wednesday, said that he was lying when he said he went to the National Pencil Factory on Friday. He said that he made the statement that it was Friday when Frank (as he says) told him to write the death notes, because he was afraid he would be accused of the murder of Mary Phagan if he told the truth.

He said he felt that if he said he was there Saturday the police would connect him with the murder. Conley said he got up between 9 and 9:30 o’clock Saturday morning, he knew the time because he looked at the clock on the Atlanta University from his front door. He returned indoors and had breakfast.

He got three silver dollars from his wife to exchange for paper money so that she would not lose it. He continued:

“I told my wife I was going to Peters Street. I went to Peters Street and stopped at a beer saloon at Peters and Haynes Streets. I bought two beers in there, drank one myself and gave another to a man named Bob. I stayed in the barroom three or four minutes and then walked back to the pool table and shot dice with four men. One of them was named Joe Bobs and one Bob Williams. I won 90 cents.

Drank Some Whisky.

“I don’t know how long we had been shooting, but I think it was about fifteen minutes. I left there then went to Erier saloon on Peters Street. I bought a glass of beer there. I walked back to the rear of the place, rolled a cigarette, came back and bought a half pint of whisky. I drank part of the whisky. I started from there to the Capital City Laundry to see my mother.

“I met Mr. Frank at the corner of Forsyth and Nelson Streets. He stopped me and asked me where I was going. I told him I was going to the Capital City Laundry to see my mother. He said, ‘Wait ‘till I come back.’

“He said he was going to see Mr. Montague. He was gone about 20 minutes. He came back and told me to come to the factory, that he wanted to see me. I went with him, walking behind him. He stopped at the Curtis drug store at Mitchell and Forsyth and got a drink. I waited for him outside. Frank had a bundle in his hand.

“After we got to the factory he put the bundle in the trash barrel right near the steps. He put a box there for me to sit on and other boxes back further in the factory. He told me to sit there until he whistled. He told me not to let Darley see me.

Tells of Seeing Darley.

“Along came a woman down stairs, Miss Mattie, I think her name was. She had on a dark suit and a raincoat. She carried a parasol. (This was Miss Mattie Smith). Then Darley came down stairs. He wore a grey suit and had no hat. He stopped Miss Mattie at the front door. She was wiping her eyes like she was crying. I heard him say, ‘Don’t worry, I will see that you get that next week.’

“She went out and he went back up the steps. In a few minutes he came back down and left. Then came Holloway down stairs about five minutes after Darley left. Holloway stood on the sidewalk five or six minutes and then came back.

“Then a negro drove up to the factory in a wagon. He went upstairs. He had some bills in his hand. Holloway came back with the negro, who was pegleg. The negro drove away and Holloway went back upstairs.

“In a few minutes he came down and left the building for good. Then came another lady. She works on the fourth floor for Arthur White. She was upstairs six or seven minutes. Then she came back down with her money. She stood by me and tore open the envelop and counted the money. Then she left the building and for about fifteen minutes there was no one passing me.

Heard Frank Whistle.

“I sat down on the box and put my head against the trash barrel and stretched my feet out with my hat in my lap. I don’t know whether I went to sleep or not. The next thing I knew I heard Frank’s whistle twice. Just like this (imitating whistle). I went upstairs. The double doors were closed. Frank was standing at the top of the steps. He said, ‘I see you heard me all right,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’

“Frank grabbed me by the arm very tight and his hand was trembling. It was just like he was walking down the street with a lady. He carried me through the first office into his private office, came back and shut the door into the outer office. Then he came back to where I was. He didn’t say anything but grabbed up a box of sulphur matches and went into the outer office. When he came back he pulled out a round chair.

“He brought the chair for me to sit in. Then he closed the door and asked me to address a letter ‘Dear Brother.’ Then he asked me to write some things for him. I don’t remember all of it, but I remember one of them was this: ‘That long tall black negro did it by hisself.’ I wrote these things at his dictation. Then Mr. Frank patted me on the back and said that I was a good boy. Then he handed me a box of cigarettes and I took them.”

Vital Evidence Kept Secret.

From this point the negro’s statement was similar to the affidavit published a few days ago. The negro said that he left the factory between five and ten minutes after 1 o’clock, went back to Peters Street and then went home.

Chief Lanford read the above which he said was about half of the affidavit. The chief said that he had only given out the unimportant details, leaving it to be inferred that Conley had given vital evidence.

Harry Scott intimated that the negro’s affidavit Wednesday morning had practically cleared the mystery and was the most important bit of evidence in the hands of the State.

At 2:45 o’clock the negro was taken into the chief’s office for another sweating.

Admission that he was in the National Pencil factory on the day of the murder of Mary Phagan was gained from Conley, after cross-examination by detectives at police headquarters.

The negro, who became the center of attention with his amazing story that Leo Frank had told him to write the death notes, changed his narrative again to-day. Confronted by E. F. Holloway, a foreman in the plant, he admitted having been in the factory after having steadily maintained that he was on Peters Street between 10 and 2 o’clock that fatal Saturday and at home all other hours of the day.

Says Confession Is Near.

Holloway, after leaving the secret grilling at which the admission was obtained, declared he was sure it was only a matter of hours before Conley would confess. He asserted that if he had been allowed to put questions to Conley he could have gotten important information.

The police questions were, of course, all put with the idea of gaining information against Frank.

Chief Lanford had announced that he would go before Judge Roan with a request for an order allowing him to confront Frank with the negro, so that Conley’s statement would be admissible in court. Lanford, however, failed to carry out his plans, although he would not admit they had been abandoned.

Later Chief Beavers said that the plan to confront Frank with Conley would not be carried out to-day and that its wisdom was doubtful, as, of course, Frank could not be compelled to answer any questions.

Refuse to Admit Suspicion.

The police refused to admit that suspicion was turning or should turned to Conley, who has told one falsehood after another since his arrest. They tried resolutely to construe every one of his statements as against Frank and would not admit that the continued contradictions of the negro made his value as a witness next to nothing.

The police declared that Conley had been asked to write the contents of the death notes and had spelled “night watch” as it was in the note, “night witch,” and “self” with the “l” and “e” transposed as in the notes. That all this shows, in view of the fact that the same officials had announced that they had conclusive evidence by “experts” and that Frank wrote the notes is not plain.

Conley was also confronted by General Foreman N. V. Darley in the presence of Detectives Black, Scott and Lanford and the negro made important admissions that will no doubt force him to admit his guilt.

Conley admitted that he sat at the elevator shaft on the first floor at 12:30 on the afternoon of the murder and saw Darley in company with Miss Smith descent the stairs. Conley described Miss Smith as wearing a raincoat and Darley with his coat on with no hat. Darley stated that both descriptions were absolutely correct in every particular. Strange to say, neither Darley nor Miss Smith saw the negro, for he was seated in the shadow of the steps and never made a sound.

Conley said that after Darley came down stairs with Miss Smith he walked to the door with her and then returned and ascended the stairs. This Darley says is true.

Shortly after this Mrs. Albert [sic] White went into the factory to see her husband and get some money to buy a dress. Her husband, Albert White, was at work on the fourth floor with the assistant foreman and machinist Harry Denham. Mrs. White says that she saw a negro who sat immovable at the foot of the elevator shaft as she entered the factory. She could not identify him because of the indistinct light. But as Conley admitted he was there five minutes before it is reasonable to believe that it was Conley that Mrs. White passed.

According to the statement of E. F. Holloway Conley had no business in the factory on the day of the murder, which was a holiday. Holloway says that the negro denied being there when questioned by him. Now Conley admits that he was there.

Holloway believes that had not Darley escorted Miss Mattie Smith down stairs that she and not Mary Phagan would have been the victim.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, May 28th 1913, “Conley Says Frank Took Him to Plant on Day of Slaying,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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