Evidence Against Frank Conclusive, Say Police

by Archivist on August 19, 2016

Evidence Against FrankAnother in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian

Monday, May 26th, 1913

Chief of Detectives Newport Lanford Monday announced that the mystery of the Mary Phagan tragedy is solved, as nearly as is possible without the absolute, direct testimony of eyewitnesses, and expressed himself as perfectly satisfied with the evidence now in hand.

Accompanying this statement comes the authoritative announcement that the great strangling crime will be placed on Leo M. Frank, now under indictment on the charge of murder, and that Newt Lee, the suspected negro night watchman of the National Pencil Factory, will not be indicted. Lee will be held in jail until the trial as a material witness and will be placed on the stand to give evidence against the factory superintendent.

Lee has completely been eliminated from the case as a suspect, and is now counted as one of the strongest witnesses against Frank.

“There is not the slightest doubt of the innocence of Newt Lee,” said Chief Lanford. “I’m certain he has told all he knows of the death of Mary Phagan.”

Can Hold Lee Indefinitely.

No further action nor proceedings of any kind will be necessary to hold the night watchman for the trial. He was ordered by the Coroner’s jury held for investigation by the Grand Jury, and until the latter body either returns an indictment or a “no bill,” he can not be freed from jail.

It is the plan of the State, it is understood, to defer action on his case by the Grand Jury until after the trial of Frank. He will then be released.

The great advantage gained by the State in holding Lee as a material witness is that he can be cross-examined when he goes on the stand. By this means the State can bring out every possible circumstance against Frank that has been related by the negro.

Were he indicted as an accomplice, or on any other charge, and appear in court as a defendant, Lee would merely make such statement as he chose and could not be cross-examined by either the State or the defense.

The refusal of the Grand Jury to indict Lee is one of the shrewdest moves yet made by the prosecution. It came as a great surprise, as it generally had been conceded that both Frank and Lee would be indicted, either jointly or Frank as principal and Lee as accessory.

Lanford Is Satisfied.

Chief Lanford, in declaring himself satisfied with the status of the case, said that the real work of his detectives is now over, and that all that remains for them to do is to knit some of the circumstances together and strengthen a few of the weak points. He said he case was circumstantial, but felt sure the State would be able to convict Frank.

He added:

“With the evidence we now have we could convict Frank, with a recommendation to mercy, in ten minutes. This would mean a life term. It is going to be difficult in this case to impose the extreme penalty of the law, as so many people are opposed to capitol punishment on circumstantial evidence. The slaying of Mary Phagan, however, was straight murder or nothing, and the State will demand the limit.

“While the evidence is purely circumstantial, still I’m satisfied it is strong enough to thoroughly convince any jury.”

The confession of Jim Conley, the negro factory sweeper, that, from the dictation by Frank, he wrote the mysterious notes found beside the dead body of Mary Phagan in the factory basement, has added an unexpected phase to the case; and brought about much speculation. Detectives admit that they are skeptical of the negro’s confession, as they are unable to reconcile it with other circumstances.

Was Slaying Planned?

If his story is true, detectives say it means that the murder was premeditated and planned, as he declares the notes were written the afternoon before the tragedy. The accepted theory is that the murder was not planned, but resulted from unexpected conditions at the time.

Conley sticks to his confession. He told a Georgian reporter that he confessed because he considered it safer for him, that he feared if he didn’t tell the truth he might be hanged. He will be put through another rigid examination in the office of detectives Monday as a test of his truthfulness. He also will be shown the original murder notes for the purpose of identification. He has not seen these notes since his arrest three weeks ago.

Just what bearing the negro’s story will have on the case officers are not prepared to say.

Chief of Detectives Lanford Monday afternoon declared his belief that the confession of James Connally [sic], the negro sweeper, that he wrote the murder notes at the dictation of Frank, is absolutely false in every detail. He said he attached no importance whatever to the confession.

The lines on which the State will seek the conviction of Frank were carefully mapped out in a three-hour conference between Solicitor Dorsey and Chief Lanford the latter part of last week. The number of witnesses to be introduced, the order in which they will be called and all other essential details were agreed on.

Contentions of State.

The contention of the State, briefly outlined, will be this:

First. That the murder of Mary Phagan was an “inside job,” that it was committed inside the factory, and by a person connected with the place.

Second. That Leo M. Frank, in struggling with the girl, accidentally forced her against a machine, knocking her unconscious, and, fearing exposure, killed the girl by strangulation, and hid her body in the basement, where it was found by Newt Lee, the night watchman.

Third, Mary Phagan had worked but one day, Monday, in the week of the tragedy, and was not notified that the employees would receive their money Friday afternoon and that the factory would be closed Saturday, on account of Memorial Day; that she went to the factory at noon Saturday to get her money, finding Frank alone in the office. She asked Frank if the metal had arrived. She worked in the metal department and had been laid off because of the lack of material. Frank, the State will claim, probably enticed the girl back into the factory by remarking that they would go back and see if the metal had come.

Fourth. That Frank had ordered Newt Lee to report for duty at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and that when Lee arrived at the factory Frank told him to go away and have a good time and return at 6 o’clock. Frank appeared nervous and agitated and was wringing his hands. After the negro left, Frank removed the girl and carried her down the elevator. The girl revived after being taken from the closet, and Frank strangled her with a piece of twine, which probably he had used in binding her hands or feet in order that he might carry her more easily.

Negro Not Accomplice.

Fifth. That Frank left the factory shortly after 6 o’clock, and that he called Newt Lee over the telephone shortly afterwards asking if everything was all right—a thing he had never done before.

Sixth. That Newt Lee had absolutely no connection with the crime further than the finding of the body at 3:30 o’clock Sunday morning.

Seventh. That Monteen Stover, of 175 South Forsyth Street, a girl employee, called for her money shortly after 12 o’clock on Saturday and found Frank out of the office. She waited ten minutes and left.

Evidence, which has not been disclosed, will be presented to strengthen these points.

From what has been made public, it is plain the State has only circumstantial evidence—and little of that bearing directly on the crime.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, May 26th 1913, “Evidence Against Frank Conclusive, Say Police,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)

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