The case that changed the South.Three years ago our society was plagued with the news of Mary Phagan’s death. The news traveled quickly and we learned the horrifying news of the poor lady’s passing. Mary Phagan’s body was found in the basement of the pencil factory (ran by Leo Frank) strangled and mangled. Her body was found by none other than Newt Lee, an African-American, who was the night watchman.Leo Frank was a Jewish man from New York. He moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1908 and lived there until his arrest. He had earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University and was active in the Jewish community.
He was elected President of the Atlanta chapter of the B’nai B’rith, a jewish fraternal organisation, in 1912. He owned the pencil factory in which Mary Phagan was murdered and raped in.Mary Phagan was born on June 1,1899, into a Georgian family of tenant farmers. Before she was born her father passed away. Her mother, Frances Phagan, decided to move the family back to their hometown of Marietta, Georgia. They then moved to East Point, Georgia,in southwest Atlanta. Mary Phagan then left school early to work part time at a textile mill. After her mother married John William Coleman, they relocated to Atlanta in 1912.
In the spring of 1912 she started working at the National Pencil Company. She worked on the second floor of the factory in the metal room in the tipping department. The tipping department was right across from Leo Frank’s office.On April 21, 1913 Mary Phagan was laid off due to shortages of brass sheet metal. Somewhere around noon on April 26, 1913, Phagan went to the factory to claim her pay of $1.
20. The next day, shortly before 3:00 AM, the night watchmen, Newt Lee, went to the basement to use the loo. Once he left the restroom, Lee discovered Mary Phagan’s body in the rear of the basement near an incinerator. He then called the police. Her dress was up around her waist and a strip of petticoat, which had been ripped from her petticoat, was wrapped around her neck.
Her face had reportedly been blackened and scratch, while her head was bruised and battered. Her skin was covered with dirt and ashes from the floor.A 7-foot strip of wrapping cord was tied, in a loop, around her neck. The cord was buried ¼ inches deep in her neck. These were signs that show she had been strangled. Her underwear was still around her hips, however they were stained with blood and torn open.
Her death was caused by strangulation. However before her death, estimated 10-15 minutes before, her attacker raped her.Clothes of Mary Phagan on April 26, 1913.By the time May 1st came around the police suspected five different men for the commission of the murder. Of the five men the detectives who were on the case settled on Leo Frank being the primary suspect. Leo Frank called in the Pinkertons and local papers began a drive to hire the Burns Agency. Within the next month the case had some dramatic changes.
Two suspects, Arthur Mullinex and John Gantt, were released. Frank and Lee were ordered held for murder at the coroner’s hearing. The Burns Agency came, but they left shortly after arriving.The trial began on July 28, 1913.
Prosecutor Leo Dorsey faced defence attorneys Luther Rosser and Reuben Arnold. Dorsey built a strong case against the murderer, Leo Frank. Frank claimed to be in his office at the time of the murder but another co-worker contradicted this statement.
The co-worker contradict in which she stated that she had visited his office at 12;05 pm and he was not there.On August 4th, 1913 Jim Conley’s testimony shook the court. Conley claimed that Frank helped him move the limp body of Mary Phagan to the basement. He then stated that Frank had forced him to write the murder notes. Conley testified as well that Phagan was not the first female that Frank had approached sexually. In this Conley states “I had seen..
.a lady in his office, and she was sitting down in a chair and she had her clothes up to here, and he was down on his knees, and she had her hands on Mr. Frank. I have seen him another time there in the packing room with a young lady lying on the table…”Over the next three days, the defense had hammered Conley into which he finally admitted that he had lied to investigators in the past with information of the murder. The defense however still had plans of protecting Frank.
Many witnesses contradicted Conley’s statement by placing Frank at his home around 1:30 the day of Phagan’s murder. Nearly twenty witnesses had testified that Conley had a reputation of lying. The prosecution’s attempt at at undercutting the the defense effort by posing questions, which were outrageous.
For example Dorsey asked one of the witnesses if they had ever heard of Frank taking a young girl to a park, placing her on his lap, and “playing with her”.This question made Franks wife, Lucille Frank, rise and defend her husband in which she says to the prosecutor “No, nor you either–you dog!”. Dorsey also hinted through questions on cross-examination that Frank was a homosexual. Such as the time the prosecutor a young office boy to tell whether Frank had made improper sexual advances toward him.
On August 18, 1913 Frank ,who was pale, began four hours of testimony that included personal history and an explanation of his supervision duties at the factory. Frank told jurors that he was so busy that he didn’t even remember her name. He stated “I only recognized this little girl from having seen her around the plant.” Frank also called Conley’s testimony “a tissue of lies from first to last” and said the story of women coming to him “for immoral purposes is a base lie.”