You Be the Judge The Leo Frank Court Case Part 1

About the Leo Frank case of murder, history of the trial. Read the facts and decide for yourself.


The Leo Frank Case (1913)

The Murder: At 3:00 A.M. on Sunday morning, Apr. 27, 1913, night watchman Newt Lee was walking through the basement of the National Pencil Co. in Atlanta, Ga. Suddenly the beam from his lantern, piercing the darkness, fell upon the battered body of a young girl. Appalled, Lee rushed upstairs to phone the police. The investigation that followed determined the identity of the victim: Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old factory employee. Two mysterious notes, hastily scrawled on rough scraps of yellow paper, were also discovered. These notes apparently had been written by the slain girl (later they proved not to be in her handwriting). They accused "that long tall black negro" of sexual misconduct with Mary. A search of the building uncovered what appeared to be bloodstains, as well as strands of Mary Phagan's hair, in a shop on the second floor where pencils were cut. The police, reconstructing the crime, theorized that she had been attacked in this room, that she had fallen and struck her head on a lathe, and that her attacker had gone berserk. The murderer had beaten her first, then strangled her. Afterward, frightened and confused, he had dumped her corpse in the basement.

The Accused: "That long tall black negro" mentioned in the two notes sounded like the night watchman, and he was immediately arrested. However, he withstood a grilling at police headquarters so well that his interrogators concluded that he was not only innocent but the object of an attempted frame-up by the guilty party.

Now the police turned to another suspect. Two days after the discovery of the murder they arrested Leo Frank, a part owner of the pencil factory who also held the position of superintendent. Frank was suspected for several reasons. To begin with, he had an office near the presumed murder room, and his accusers charged that he could not have been unaware of the violent crime committed there at around noon on Apr. 26, the time of the atrocity according to medical experts.

When questioned, a number of Frank's female employees said that he had made "immoral" advances toward them. Moreover, although Frank insisted that he had not known Mary Phagan, it turned out that she had gone to his office to collect her weekly salary on the day she died.

There were other factors in the case against Leo Frank. Originally from New York, he was a Northerner among Southerners. He also ran a factory and was therefore a capitalist among an essentially agrarian people. Moreover, he was a Jew among Protestant fundamentalists. For these reasons, many Georgians disliked him intensely and had found him guilty in their own minds long before he went to trial.

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