Leo Frank

Leo Frank
Leo Frank
Lucille and Leo Frank at Frank's trial
Born Leo Max Frank
April 17, 1884(1884-04-17)
Cuero, Texas
Died August 17, 1915(1915-08-17) (aged 31)
Marietta, Georgia
Cause of death Lynching
Resting place New Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, Queens, New York
40°41′38″N 73°52′55″W / 40.694°N 73.882°W / 40.694; -73.882Coordinates: 40°41′38″N 73°52′55″W / 40.694°N 73.882°W / 40.694; -73.882
Monuments Georgia historical marker, lynching site, 1200 Roswell Street, Marietta, GA 30060
Residence Atlanta, Georgia
Nationality American
Education Degree in mechanical engineering (1906)
Alma mater Cornell University
Employer National Pencil Company in Atlanta
Height 5'8"
Religion Judaism
Criminal charge Convicted on August 25, 1913, for the murder of Mary Phagan
Criminal penalty Sentenced to hang, August 26, 1913 commuted to life in prison, June 21, 1915
Spouse Lucille Selig
Parents Rudolph Frank & Rachael (Ray) Jacobs
Relatives Marian J. Stern (sister)

Leo Max Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was a Jewish-American factory superintendent whose lynching in 1915 by a party of prominent citizens in Marietta, Georgia drew attention to antisemitism in the United States.

The superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Leo Max Frank, was convicted on August 26, 1913, for murdering one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. She had been strangled on April 26, and was found dead in the factory cellar the next day. Frank was the last person known to have seen her alive, and there were allegations that he had flirted with her in the past. His trial became the focus of powerful class, regional and political interests. Raised in New York, he was cast as a representative of Yankee capitalism, a rich northern Jew lording it over vulnerable working women, as the historian Albert Lindemann put it. Former U.S. Representative Thomas E. Watson used the sensational coverage of the case in his own publications to push for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan, calling Frank a member of the Jewish aristocracy who had pursued "Our Little Girl" to a hideous death. Frank and his lawyers resorted to stereotypes too, accusing another suspect—Jim Conley, a Black factory worker who testified against Frank—of being especially disposed to lying and murdering because of his race.[1]

There was jubilation in the streets when Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death. By June 1915 his appeals had failed, but Governor John M. Slaton believed there had been a miscarriage of justice, and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment—to great local outrage, in part because Slaton was a partner in the law firm that had defended Frank. A crowd of 1,200 marched on Slaton's home in protest, and two months later Frank was kidnapped from prison by a group of 25 armed men—the "Knights of Mary Phagan"—who drove him 150 miles to Frey's Gin, near Phagan's home in Marietta, and hanged him. A crowd gathered after the hanging; one man repeatedly stomped on Frank's face, while others took photographs, pieces of his nightshirt, and bits of the rope to sell as souvenirs.[2]

On March 11, 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Frank a pardon, citing the state's failure to protect him or prosecute his killers, though they stopped short of exonerating him. The names of the lynchers, though well known locally, were not made public until January 7, 2000, when Stephen Goldfarb, an Atlanta librarian and former history professor, published Phagan-Kean's list on his website. The Washington Post writes that it includes several prominent citizens—a former governor, the son of a senator, a Methodist minister, a state legislator, and a former state Superior Court judge—their names matching those on Marietta's street signs, office buildings, shopping centers, and law offices today.[3]



Leo Frank

Leo Frank

Frank was born in Cuero, Texas to Rudolph and Rachael Frank, but the family moved to Brooklyn, New York in July, 1884, when he was three months old. A sister, Marian, was born there in October 1886. Frank was educated in the New York City public school system and went to high school at the Pratt Institute from 1898 to 1902. In September of 1902, Frank matriculated into Cornell University and studied mechanical engineering. Frank was an active student who joined the debating team, took up landscape photography and chess as a hobby, he played tennis and basketball for his college team. After graduating in June of 1906, he gained employment with the B.T. Sturtevant Company in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, as a draftsman for 6 months. Returning to New York, Frank accepted a position as a testing engineer for the National Meter Company until the middle of October, 1907. At the invitation of his uncle Moses Frank, Leo Frank traveled to Atlanta for 2 weeks. Moses Frank, a Southerner, suggested that Frank come to work for the National Pencil Company, a manufacturing plant he had just invested in. Frank agreed, and upon returning to NYC, he traveled to Germany on November 7, 1907, to study pencil manufacturing at Eberhard Faber in Bavaria. After a 9-month apprenticeship, Frank returned to the United States on August 1, 1908, for a short stay with his family in Brooklyn. On August 4, 1908, Leo Frank departed on a train at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, traveling to Georgia. He arrived at Terminal Station in Atlanta on August 6, 1908.[4]

Elaine Alphin writes that Georgia was still in many ways living in the past. Even though the Civil War had been over for 50 years, the memory of what was called the Recent Unpleasantness was kept alive through celebrations such as Confederate Memorial Day.[5] Frank was introduced to Lucille Selig (Feb 29, 1888 – April 23, 1957) shortly after he arrived in Atlanta. She came from a prominent and wealthy Jewish family of industrialists who two generations earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.[6] Though she was very different from Frank, and laughed at the idea of speaking Yiddish, they were married on November 30, 1910, and in the spring of 1913 she became pregnant.[5] Shortly before this Frank was elected president of the Atlanta chapter of the B'nai B'rith in 1912. The Jewish community in Atlanta was the largest in the South, and the Franks moved in a cultured and philanthropic milieu whose leisure pursuits included opera and bridge.[7] But although Frank was happy, he was not popular. He was a Yankee and an industrialist; Aphin writes that although the Old South was not known for its antisemitism, his being a Jew was enough to add to the sense that he was different.[5]

Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan (June 1, 1899 – April 26, 1913) was born in Florence, Alabama, four months after her father died, into a family that had farmed in Georgia for generations. Her paternal grandfather, William Joshua Phagan, provided Phagan's mother and four siblings a home near his in rural Marietta, but Phagan's mother moved her family instead to East Point, where she opened a boarding house. The children took jobs in the local mills; Phagan left school at the age of ten to work part-time in a textile mill, then was hired in 1911 by a paper manufacturing plant owned by Sigmund Montag. In 1912 her mother Frances Phagan remarried to John William Coleman, and she and the children moved into the city. Phagan took a job with the National Pencil Company in the spring of 1912, where she ran a knurling machine that inserted rubber erasers into pencils' metal bands.[8] Alphin writes that wages were low for everyone—ten to fifteen cents an hour, one-third of the average wage in the North—and most of the production-line workers were teenagers, an issue that fueled resentment against the factory owners. Mary Phagan earned $4.05 per week or 7 and 4/11 cents an hour, for 55 hours. At the time, the industrialists were regularly attacked in print by The Atlanta Georgian.[9]


Discovery of the body

One of the two murder notes found near the body

Phagan worked in the metal room on the second floor of the factory in a section called the tipping department, down the hall from Leo Frank's office. Phagan had been laid off on Monday, April 21, due to a shortage of brass sheet metal. About noon on Saturday, April 26, she went to the factory to claim her pay of $1.20. At about 3:17 a.m. on Sunday, April 27, the factory's night watchman, Newt Lee, went to the factory basement to use the Negro toilet. He said he discovered the body of a dead girl, and called the police, meeting them at the front door and leading them to the body. Mary Phagan's body, was found dumped in the rear of the basement in front of a furnace. Her dress was hiked up around her waist and a strip from her petty coat was torn off and wrapped around her neck. Her face was blackened and scratched. Her head was bruised and battered. A seven foot strip of 3/4 inch wrapping cord was tied around her neck. Initially there was an appearance of rape. Based on the ashes and dirt from the floor that were stuck to her skin, it appeared that she and her assailant had struggled in the basement.[10]

A service ramp at the rear of the basement led to a sliding door that opened into the alley; the police found that it had been tampered with so that it could be opened without unlocking it. Later examination found bloody fingerprints on the door as well as a metal pipe that had been used as a crowbar.[11] Some evidence at the crime scene was improperly handled by the police investigators. The boards from the door with the bloody prints were removed and subsequently lost before any analysis could be done. Bloody fingerprints were found on the victim's jacket, but there is no indication that they were ever analyzed.[12] A trail in the dirt along which police believed Phagan had been dragged was trampled and no footprints were ever identified.[13]

Two notes were found in a pile of rubbish by Phagan's head, and became known as the "murder notes". One said: "he said he wood love me land down play like the night witch did it but that long tall black negro did boy his slef." The other said, "mam that negro hire down here did this i went to make water and he push me down that hole a long tall negro black that hoo it wase long sleam tall negro i write while play with me." The effect of the discovery was to cast suspicion on Newt Lee. During the trial "night witch" was interpreted to mean "night watch[man]"; when he read the note, night watchman Newt Lee said, "Boss, that's me."[14] A fresh mound of human excrement was found in the elevator, though the significance was not recognized until after the trial.[13]

Police investigation

An Atlanta Georgian headline on April 29, 1913, showing that the police suspected Frank and Newt Lee.

On Sunday, April 27, Frank said that Lee's time card was complete. It was supposed to be punched every half hour during the watchman's rounds. On Monday, April 28, Frank said Lee had not punched the card at three or four intervals. The police investigated a variety of suspects, and arrested both Lee and a young friend of Phagan's for the crime. Gradually they became convinced that they were not the culprits. A detective sneaked into Lee's apartment and found a blood-soaked shirt at the bottom of a burn barrel. The prosecution later claimed that the shirt had been planted by Frank in order to incriminate Lee. The Atlanta Constitution broke the story of the murder and was soon in a frenzied competition with the Georgian for readers. The latter was a formerly sedate local paper recently[when?] bought by the William Randolph Hearst syndicate and revamped using his standard formula of yellow journalism. As many as 40 extra editions came out the day Phagan's murder was reported. The Georgian published a doctored morgue photo of Phagan, in which her head was shown spliced onto the body of another girl. Some evidence went missing when it was 'borrowed' from the police by reporters. The two papers offered a total of $1,800 in reward money for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer.[citation needed]

Suspicion falls on Frank

The police later noted that Frank had not answered the phone when they called his house at 4 A.M., and that he seemed nervous when they took him to the factory with them before dawn. They considered his detailed answers on minor points as suspect and noted his trembling. Frank pointed out at the trial that the police had refused to tell him the nature of their investigation. Phagan's friend, 13-year-old pencil factory worker George Epps, came forward to say that Frank had flirted with Phagan and had frightened her.[15]

The police appeared to intimidate and influence witnesses, such as the Seligs' housekeeper Minola McKnight, and Nina Formby, the madam of a bordello. They both recanted statements made to the police, Formby indicating the police had "plied her with whisky."[16] Frank hired two Pinkerton detectives to help him prove his innocence. Though Frank produced alibis for the entire time during which the crime could have been committed, suspicion was aroused by his waiting a week to bring forward one crucial witness, Lemmie Quinn. Gradually, however, the Georgian began to take Frank's side, responding to outrage from Atlanta's Jewish community. Meanwhile, the Constitution continued to criticize the police for their lack of progress.[citation needed]

Jim Conley

Jim Conley, the factory's janitor, is believed by many historians to be the real murderer.[17]

On May 1, the police arrested Jim Conley, the pencil factory's janitor, after he was caught by the plant's day watchman, E.F. Holloway, washing a dirty blue work shirt. Conley tried to hide the shirt, then said the stains were rust from the overhead pipe on which he had hung it. Detectives examined it for blood, found none and returned it. Conley was still in police custody two weeks later when he gave his first formal statement. He said that, on the day of the murder, he had been visiting saloons, shooting dice, and drinking at home. He offered some details, such as 40 cents spent on a bottle of rye, 90 cents won at dice, and 15 cents for beer, twice.[18] His story was called into question when a witness told detectives that "a black negro... dressed in dark blue clothing and hat" had been seen in the lobby of the factory on the day of the murder. Further investigation also determined that Conley could read and write, something he had initially denied.[19]

After initially sticking to his claim that he could not write, he was threatened with perjury charges, and eventually told police, "White folks, I'm a liar." He was asked to write portions of the murder notes, and although the police found similarities in the spelling, he continued to deny having written them. The interview ended and Conley was placed in a basement isolation cell. A week later, on May 24, he called for a detective and admitted he had written the notes. In a sworn statement he said Frank had called him to his office the day before the murder; he claimed Frank said he had some wealthy people in Brooklyn, and asked: "Why should I hang?"[20]

[H]e asked me could I write and I told him yes I could write a little bit, and he gave me a scratch pad and ... told me to put on there "dear mother, a long, tall, black negro did this by himself," and he told me to write it two or three times on there. I wrote it on a white scratch pad, single ruled. He went to his desk and pulled out another scratch pad, a brownish looking scratch pad, and looked at my writing and wrote on that himself.[21]

After testing Conley again on his spelling—he spelled "night watchman" as "night witch"—;the police were convinced he had written the notes. They were skeptical about the rest of his story, not only because it implied premeditation by Frank, but because it suggested that Frank had confessed to Conley and involved him. For the next three days, two detectives played good cop/bad cop with Conley, one accusing him of the murder, the other offering him food and consolation.[22]

On May 28 the Georgian said that E.F. Holloway, the plant day watchman, believed Conley had strangled Phagan when he was drunk.[22] In a new affidavit (his second affidavit and third statement), Conley admitted that he had lied about his Friday meeting with Frank. He said that he had met Frank on the street on Saturday, and was told to follow him to the factory. Frank told him to hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by two women who were visiting Frank in his office. He said Frank dictated the murder notes for him to write, gave him cigarettes, and told him to leave the factory. Afterward, Conley said he went out drinking and saw a movie. He said he did not learn of the murder until he went to work on Monday.

William Smith represented Conley, but in October 1914 said he believed his client to be guilty.[23]

The police were satisfied with the new story, and both The Atlanta Journal and the Georgian gave the story front-page coverage. Three officials of the pencil company were not convinced and said so to the Journal. They contended that Conley had followed another employee into the building intending to rob her, but instead found that Phagan was a more ready target.[24] The police placed little credence in the employees' theory, but had no explanation for the failure to locate the purse, and were concerned that Conley had made no mention that he was aware that a crime had been committed when he wrote the notes. To resolve their doubts, the police attempted on May 28 to arrange a confrontation between Frank and Conley. Frank exercised his right not to meet without his attorney, who was out of town. The police announced that this refusal was an indication of Frank's guilt, and the meeting never took place [25]

On May 29 Conley was interviewed for four hours.[26] His new affidavit said that Frank told him that "he had picked up a girl back there and let her fall and that her head hit against something." Conley said that he and Frank took the body to the basement via the elevator, then returned to Frank's office where the murder notes were dictated. Conley then hid in the wardrobe after the two had returned to the office. He said Frank gave him two hundred dollars, but took it back, saying, “Let me have that and I will make it all right with you Monday if I live and nothing happens." Conley's affidavit concluded, "The reason I have not told this before is I thought Mr. Frank would get out and help me out and I decided to tell the whole truth about this matter."[27] At trial, Conley changed his story concerning the $200. He said the money was withheld until Conley had burned Phagan's body in the basement furnace.[28]

The Georgian hired William Manning Smith to represent Conley. Smith was known for specializing in representing black clients, and had successfully defended a black man against an accusation of rape by a white woman. He had also taken an elderly black woman's civil case as far as the Georgia Supreme Court. Although Smith believed Conley had told the truth in his final affidavit, he became concerned that Conley was giving long jailhouse interviews with crowds of reporters. Smith was also concerned about reporters from the Hearst papers, who had taken Frank's side. He arranged for Conley to be moved to a different jail, and severed his own relationship with the Georgian.[29]

Hearings, sentencing, and clemency


The first day of the trial. Spectators were racially segregated. The stenographer can be seen next to Newt Lee, who is being questioned by prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

On May 24, 1913, a murder indictment was returned against Frank by a grand jury. The trial began on July 28. The windows were left open because of the heat. In addition to the hundreds of spectators inside, a large crowd gathered outside to watch the trial through the windows. Afterward the defense cited the crowds as factors in intimidation of the witnesses and jury in their legal appeals.[30]

The State's prosecution team was made up of the Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey, Assistant Solicitor General Frank Arthur Hooper and E. A Stevens. Frank was represented by eight lawyers (some of them jury selection specialists), led by Luther Z. Rosser. The defense used peremptory challenges to eliminate the only two black jurors. The prosecution's theory was that Conley's last affidavit was true, Frank was the murderer, and the murder notes had been dictated by Frank in an effort to pin the crime on Lee. The defense's theory was that Conley was the murderer, and that Lee helped Conley write the notes.[citation needed] The defense brought numerous witnesses who attested to Frank's alibi, which did not leave him enough time to have committed the crime.[citation needed]

Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, later governor of Georgia
Lead defense lawyer Luther Rosser.

Conley reiterated his testimony from his final affidavit. He added to it by describing Frank as regularly having sex with women in his upstairs office on Saturdays while Conley kept a lookout on the first floor lobby. Another witness C. Brutus Dalton who, like Conley, had a criminal record, corroborated Conley. Although Conley admitted that he had changed his story and lied repeatedly, this did not damage the prosecution's case as much as might have been expected, as he admitted to being an accessory.

Many white observers did not believe that a black man could have been intelligent enough to make up such a complicated story. The Georgian wrote, "Many people are arguing to themselves that the negro, no matter how hard he tried or how generously he was coached, still never could have framed up a story like the one he told unless there was some foundation in fact."[citation needed] Defense witnesses testified that there were too many people in the factory on Saturdays for Frank to have had trysts there. They pointed out that the windows of Frank's second floor office lacked curtains. Though numerous girls testified to Leo Frank having a bad character for lasciviousness, a larger number of female factory workers testified for the defense of Frank's good character when it came to women.[citation needed]

Frank spoke on his own behalf August 18, 1913, making an unsworn statement as allowed by Georgia Code, Section 1036; it did not permit any cross-examination without his consent, and none occurred.[31] Most of his four-hour speech consisted of a detailed analysis of the accounting work he had done the day of the murder.[citation needed] He ended with a description of how he viewed the crime, along with an explanation of his nervousness: "Gentlemen, I was nervous. I was completely unstrung. Imagine yourself called from sound slumber in the early hours of the morning ... To see that little girl on the dawn of womanhood so cruelly murdered—it was a scene that would have melted stone."[32] In its closing statements, the defense attempted to divert suspicion from Frank to Conley. Lead defense attorney Luther Rosser, said to the jury: "Who is Conley? He is a dirty, filthy, black, drunken, lying, nigger." Frank had issued a widely publicized statement questioning how the "perjured vaporizings of a black brute" could be accepted in testimony against him.[33]

The prosecutor compared Frank to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said that Frank had killed Phagan to keep her from talking. With the sensational coverage, public sentiment in Atlanta turned strongly against Frank. The defense requested a mistrial because it felt the jurors had been intimidated, but the motion was denied.[citation needed] In case of an acquittal, the judge feared for the safety of Frank and his lawyers, so he brokered a deal in which they would not be present when the verdict was read. On August 25, Frank was convicted of murder. The Constitution described the scene as Dorsey emerged from the steps of city hall: "The solicitor reached no farther than the sidewalk. While mounted men rode like Cossacks through the human swarm, three muscular men slung Mr. Dorsey on their shoulders and passed him over the heads of the crowd across the street."[34]


Local politician Tom Watson continued his campaign against Frank, warning in the Jeffersonian: "If Frank's rich connections keep on lying about this case, SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN."[35]

Frank's appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court failed in November. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus sought by Frank's lawyers. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "I very seriously doubt if the petitioner ... has had due process of law ... because of the trial taking place in the presence of a hostile demonstration and seemingly dangerous crowd, thought by the presiding Judge to be ready for violence unless a verdict of guilty was rendered." In October 1914, William Smith, Jim Conley's own lawyer, announced that he believed Conley had murdered Phagan, but neither the state nor the police pursued this.[36] A writ of error was issued allowing Frank to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the appeal in April 1915. On April 19, in the case of Frank v. Mangum, the appeal was denied on a 7-2 vote. Holmes and Justice Charles Evans Hughes dissented, with Holmes writing, "It is our duty ... to declare lynch law as little valid when practiced by a regularly drawn jury as when administered by one elected by a mob intent on death."[37]

Commutation of sentence

On May 31, 1915, Frank pleaded to the Georgia State Prison Commission that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. On June 9 the Commission submitted a divided report, 2 against and 1 in support, to the departing Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton. Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, visited the pencil factory, and examined new evidence, including studies comparing Conley's speech patterns to the language of the murder notes.[38] He told reporters: "some of the most powerful evidence in [Frank's] behalf was not presented to the jury which found him guilty."[39] During the hearing former Governor Brown warned Slaton, "In all frankness, if Your Excellency wishes to invoke lynch law in Georgia and destroy trial by jury, the way to do it is by retrying this case and reversing all the courts."[40]

Indignation in the press about the commutation of Frank's sentence.

On June 21—six days before Nathaniel Edwin Harris, the new governor, was to take office and one day before Frank was scheduled to hang, Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison. "I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation," Slaton said, "but I cannot stand the constant companionship of an accusing conscience which would remind me that I, as governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right.... [F]eeling as I do about this case I would be a murderer if I allowed this man to hang. It may mean that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field for the rest of my life than to feel that I had that blood on my hands."[41]

The Atlanta area public was outraged, in part because of what they saw as Slaton's conflict of interest: during Frank's trial Slaton had been made a partner in the law firm headed by Rosser, Frank's lead defense counsel at his 1913 trial.[42] A mob threatened to attack the governor at his home. A detachment of the Georgia National Guard, along with county policemen and a group of Slaton's friends who were sworn in as deputies, dispersed the mob.[43] Slaton had been a popular governor, but he and his wife left Georgia immediately thereafter.[39]

Frank was taken to the Milledgeville State Penitentiary, a minimum security work farm, which officials thought would be more secure. About a month after he was transferred there, on July 17 a fellow inmate William Creen tried to kill him, slashing his throat with a 7 inch butcher knife and severing his jugular vein, according to The New York Times. The attacker told the authorities he wanted to keep the other inmates safe from mob violence, that Frank's presence was a disgrace to the prison, and that he was sure he would be pardoned if he killed Frank.[44]


Knights of Mary Phagan

Joseph Mackey Brown (1851–1932), one of the ringleaders. He served two terms as the Governor of Georgia, 1909–1911, and 1912–1913.

The June 21, 1915, commutation drove Tom Watson to new heights of ferocity.[45] He wrote in the pages of The Jeffersonian and Watson's Magazine: "This country has nothing to fear from its rural communities. Lynch law is a good sign; it shows that a sense of justice lives among the people."[46] A group of prominent men organized themselves into the "Knights of Mary Phagan," openly planning to kidnap Frank from prison. They recruited between 25 and 28 men with the necessary skills; an electrician was to cut the prison wires, car mechanics were to keep the cars running, and there was a locksmith, a telephone man, a medic, a hangman, and a lay preacher.[47] The ringleaders were well-known locally, but were not named publicly until June 2000, when a local librarian posted a list on the Web, based on information compiled by Mary Phagan's great-niece Mary Phagan Kean (b. 1953).[48] The list included:

  • Joseph Mackey Brown, former governor of Georgia
  • Emmet Burton, police officer
  • Eugene Herbert Clay, former mayor of Marietta, son of Senator Alexander S. Clay
  • E.P. Dobbs, mayor of Marietta at the time
  • William J. Frey, former Cobb County sheriff
  • George Hicks, Cobb County deputy sheriff
  • William McKinney, Cobb County deputy sheriff
  • Newton Augustus Morris, twice a superior court judge of the Blue Ridge Circuit
  • Newton Mayes Morris, in charge of the Cobb County chain gang
  • Fred Morris, general assemblyman who later organized Marietta's first Boy Scout troop
  • George Swanson, Cobb County sheriff
  • John Augustus Benson, merchant
  • D.R. Benton, Mary Phagan's uncle
  • "Yellow Jacket" Brown, electrician
  • Bolan Glover Brumby, manufacturer, owner of the Marietta Chair Company
  • Jim Brumby, garage owner who serviced the cars
  • Luther Burton, coal yard operator
  • George Exie Daniell, merchant
  • Cicero Holton Dobbs, taxi driver
  • John Tucker Dorsey, who later served as the Circuit's district attorney
  • C.D. Elder, physician
  • Gordon Baxter Gann, lawyer, later mayor of Marietta and a state legislator
  • Robert A. Hill, banker who helped fund the group
  • Horace Hamby, farmer
  • Lawrence Haney, farmer
  • Ralph Molden Manning, contractor
  • L.B. Robeson, railroad freight agent who provided a car
  • Moultrie McKinney Sessions, lawyer and banker, part of the Marietta delegation at Governor Slaton's clemency hearing[3]


The man on the far right in the straw hat is Newton A. Morris, a superior court judge.[49] The man on the far left can be seen holding a camera.[50]

On the afternoon of August 16, the eight cars of the lynch mob left Marietta separately for Milledgeville. They arrived at the prison at around 10:00 PM and the electrician cut the telephone wires, members of the group emptied the gas from the prison's automobiles, handcuffed the warden, seized Frank and drove away. The 175-mile trip took about seven hours at a top speed of 18 miles an hour through small towns on back roads. Lookouts in the towns telephoned ahead to the next town as soon as they saw the line of open cars pass by. A site at Frey's Gin, two miles (3 km) east of Marietta, had been prepared, complete with a rope and table supplied by former Sheriff William Frey.[51]

The New York Times reported that Frank was wearing a nightshirt and undershirt, and the lynchers had tied a piece of brown canvas around his waist like a skirt. He was handcuffed, and his legs were tied at the ankles. They placed a new three-quarter-inch manila rope over his head, tied in a hangman's knot so it would force his head backwards and break his neck, and threw it over a branch of a tree. He was turned to face the direction of the house Phagan had lived in, and was hanged at around 7 am.[52] The Atlanta Journal wrote that the wound on his throat, caused when it was slashed in jail by another inmate, had reopened. A crowd of men, women, and children arrived on foot, in cars, and on horses, and souvenir hunters cut away parts of his shirt sleeves to take away.[53] According to The New York Times, one of the onlookers, Robert E. Lee Howell - related to Clark Howell, editor of The Atlanta Constitution — wanted to have the body cut into pieces and burned, and began to run around, screaming, whipping up the mob. Judge Newt Morris tried to restore order, and asked for a vote on whether the body should be returned to the parents intact; only Howell disagreed. When the body was cut down, Howell started stamping on Frank's face and chest; Morris quickly placed the body in a basket, and he and his driver John Stephens Wood drove it out of Marietta.[52]

In Atlanta thousands besieged the undertaker's parlor, demanding to see the body; after they began throwing bricks, they were allowed to file past the corpse.[52] Frank was buried in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York on August 20, 1915. The New York Times wrote that the vast majority of Cobb County believed he had received his just deserts, and that the lynch party had simply stepped in to uphold the law after Governor Slaton arbitrarily set it aside.[52] A Cobb County grand jury was convened to indict the lynchers, but although they were well-known locally, none were identified.[54]

Several photographs were taken of the lynching, which were published and sold as postcards in local stores for 25 cents each, a common practice after lynchings, along with pieces of the rope, Frank's nightshirt, and branches from the tree. According to Elaine Marie Alphin, they were selling so fast the police announced that sellers required a city license.[citation needed] Members of the lynch party or crowd can be seen in the postcards posing in front of the body, one of them holding a portable camera. Historian Amy Louise Wood writes that the local newspapers did not publish the photographs: it would have been too controversial, given that the lynch party can be seen clearly and that the lynching was being condemned around the country. The Columbia State, which opposed lynching, wrote: "The heroic Marietta lynchers are too modest to give their photographs to the newspapers." Wood also writes that a news film of the lynching was released, which included the photographs, though it focused on the crowds without showing Frank's body; its broadcast was prevented by censorship boards around the U.S., though according to Wood there is no evidence that it was stopped in Atlanta.[55]


Immediate aftermath

After Frank's lynching, approximately half of Georgia's 3,000 Jews left the state.[56] According to Frank scholar Steve Oney, “What it did to Southern Jews can’t be discounted.... It drove them into a state of denial about their Judaism. They became even more assimilated, anti-Israel, Episcopalian. The Temple did away with chupahs at weddings — anything that would draw attention.”[57] Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Alfred Dreyfus. The intensity of the national and international coverage was comparable to that of the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's son. In part because Frank was the president of the B'nai B'rith chapter in Atlanta, Georgia. Adolph Kraus, president of B'nai B'rith, invited 15 prominent members in Chicago to form the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in September of 1913, one month after Frank's conviction.[58] Two weeks after the lynching, in the September 2, 1915 issue of The Jeffersonian, Watson wrote that "the voice of the people is the voice of God."[59] He had capitalized on his sensational coverage of a controversial trial; in 1914, when Watson began reporting his anti-Frank message, The Jeffersonian's circulation had been 25,000; by September 2, 1915 its circulation was 87,000.[60] On November 25, 1915, months after Frank was taken from the Milledgeville prison, members of the Knights of Mary Phagan burned a gigantic cross on top of Stone Mountain, reportedly inaugurating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The group was led by William J. Simmons and attended by 15 charter members and a few aging survivors of the original Klan.

Frank's widow, Lucille, did not remarry, devoting her life instead to Frank's memory.[citation needed] She worked at the glove counter of the J.P. Allen store, and died April 23, 1957 of heart disease and in her 1954 will she had requested to be cremated. Atlanta magazine reported in 2003 that her ashes were stored for seven years in a local funeral home, until her family buried them secretly in a shoebox between the headstones of her parents in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery, apparently worried that a funeral would stir up antisemitic action from the local Ku Klux Klan.[61]

(1982–1986) Alonzo Mann's affidavit, pardon

In 1982, nearly 70 years after the murder, Alonzo Mann, who had been Frank's office boy, told authorities that he had seen Jim Conley alone at the factory carrying Phagan's body.[62] This contradicted Conley's testimony that Frank had paid him to move the girl's body. Mann swore in an affidavit that Conley had threatened to kill him if he reported what he had seen. When the boy told his family, his parents made him swear not to tell anyone else. Mann finally decided to make a statement in what he called an effort to die in peace. He passed a lie detector test, and died three years later at the age of 85.[63]

Mann's deposition was the basis of an attempt to obtain a posthumous pardon for Frank from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The effort was led by Charles Wittenstein, southern counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, and Dale Schwartz, an Atlanta lawyer, though Mann's testimony was not sufficient to settle the issue. The board also reviewed the files from Slaton's commutation decision.[64] It denied the pardon in 1983, hindered in its investigation by the lack of available records. Conley had died in 1962. The state's files on the case were lost and with them the opportunity to apply modern forensic techniques, such as comparing Frank's dental records with photographs of bite marks on Phagan's body. It concluded that, "After exhaustive review and many hours of deliberation, it is impossible to decide conclusively the guilt or innocence of Leo. M. Frank. For the board to grant a pardon, the innocence of the subject must be shown conclusively."[65] At the time, the lead editorial in the Atlanta Constitution began, 'Leo Frank has been lynched a second time'.[66]

Frank supporters submitted a second application for pardon in 1986, asking the state only to recognize its culpability over his death. The board granted the pardon on March 11, 1986.[67] It said:

Without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the State's failure to protect the person of Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal of his conviction, and in recognition of the State's failure to bring his killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon.[68]

Memorials and Historical Markers

In 1995 on the 80th anniversary of the lynching, Rabbi Steven Lebow of Temple Kol Emeth placed a plaque on a building nearby the site of the hanging; it read "Wrongly accused. Falsely convicted. Wantonly murdered."[3] On March 7, 2008, a State historical marker was erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, and Temple Kol Emeth, near the building at 1200 Roswell Road, Marietta. The memorial reads:

Near this location on August 17, 1915, Leo M. Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, was lynched for the murder of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory employee. A highly controversial trial fueled by societal tensions and anti-Semitism resulted in a guilty verdict in 1913. After Governor John M. Slaton commuted his sentence from death to life in prison, Frank was kidnapped from the state prison in Milledgeville and taken to Phagan's hometown of Marietta where he was hanged before a local crowd. Without addressing guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the state's failure to either protect Frank or bring his killers to justice, he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986.[69]

See also

About the Frank case


  1. ^ For basic details of the murder, see Steinberg-Brent, pp. 95–100, 106; see p. 99 for the flirting allegation.
  2. ^ For Slaton's role, see Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 123–134.
    • For details of the lynching, see Coleman 1991, p. 292.
  3. ^ a b c Sawyer, June 20, 2000.
  4. ^ Oney, 2003
  5. ^ a b c Alphin 2010, p. 21ff, 25ff.
  6. ^ The Selig Company Building - Pioneer Neon Company. Marietta Street ARTery Association
  7. ^ Lawson pp. 211, 250; Phagan p. 111.
  8. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 4–7.
  9. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 26.
  10. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p.1. *Oney 2003, pp. 9, 18–19.
  11. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 20–22.
  12. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, p. 4.
  13. ^ a b Oney 2003, pp. 30–31.
  14. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 20–21, 379.
  15. ^ "Frank Tried to Flirt with Murdered Girl Says Her Boy Chum", The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA): Front page, May 1, 1913 
  16. ^ The New York Times, February 26, 1914.
  17. ^ For example, Lindemann 1992, p. 254: "The best evidence now available indicates that the real murderer of Mary Phagan was Jim Conley, perhaps because she, encountering him after she left Frank's office, refused to give him her pay envelope, and he, in a drunken stupor, killed her to get it.
    • Woodward 1963, p. 435: "The city police, publicly committed to the theory of Frank's guilt, and hounded by the demand for a conviction, resorted to the basest methods in collecting evidence. A Negro suspect [Conley], later implicated by evidence overwhelmingly more incriminating than any produced against Frank, was thrust aside by the cry for the blood of the 'Jew Pervert.'"
  18. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 118–119.
  19. ^ Oney 2003, p. 128–129.
  20. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 129–132.
  21. ^ Oney 2003, p.131.
  22. ^ a b Oney 2003, pp.133–134.
  23. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 114–115: "The new development which stirred Atlanta and those working to save Frank was the announcement, made on October 2, 1914, by William M. Smith, lawyer for Jim Conley, the state's key witness at the trial, that his own client had murdered Mary Phagan."
  24. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 134–136.
  25. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 137–138.
  26. ^ Oney 2003, p. 138, and Dinnerstein 1987, p. 24.
  27. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 139–140.
  28. ^ Oney 2003, p. 242.
  29. ^ Oney 2003, pp. 147–148.
  30. ^ Knight 1996, p. 1996.
  31. ^ Oney 2003, p. 297.
  32. ^ Oney 2003, p. 303.
  33. ^ Levy, 2000.
  34. ^ The New York Times, December 14, 1914.
  35. ^ Woodward 1963.
  36. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 114–115.
  37. ^ Time, January 24, 1955.
  38. ^ "Slaton Here; Glad He Saved Frank", The New York Times, June 30, 1915.
  39. ^ a b "Slaton Here; Glad He Saved Frank", The New York Times, June 30, 1915.
  40. ^ "Begin Last Frank Appeal to Governor", The New York Times, June 13, 1915.
  41. ^ "A Political Suicide", Time magazine, January 24, 1955
  42. ^ Dinnerstein 1987, pp. 123–124.
  43. ^ John M. Slaton (1866-1955), The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  44. ^ For stories about the attack, see:
  45. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 439.
  46. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 432.
    • About two dozen people were lynched each year in Georgia; in 1915 the number was 22; see Oney 2003, p. 122.
  47. ^ Phagan, p. 223.
  48. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 117.
  49. ^ "The lynching of Leo Frank", leofranklynchers.com, accessed August 22, 2010.
    • The New York Times wrote at the time that, after the lynching, it was Morris who got the crowd under control; see The New York Times, August 19, 1915. Years later, he was identified as one of the ringleaders; see Alphin 2009, p. 117.
  50. ^ Wood 2009, p. 77, and figure 3.3.
  51. ^ "Parties Unknown.", Boston Evening Transcript, August 24, 1915.
  52. ^ a b c d The New York Times, August 18, 1915.
  53. ^ The Atlanta Journal, August 17, 1915.
  54. ^ Alphin 2010, p. 123.
  55. ^ Wood 2009, pp. 77, 106, 148. Wood writes that Kenneth Rogers, the head of photography at the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution between 1924 and 1972, had access to at least one of the photographs, leaving it in the Kenneth Rogers Papers at the Atlanta History Center. She assumes he got it from the newspapers' archives, though the newspapers did not publish it; they accompanied their stories instead with images of the woods near the hanging, and of the crowds who viewed Frank's body later in the funeral parlor; see Wood, pp. 106, 288, footnote 59. See Alphin 2010, p. 122 for details of the souvenir sales.
  56. ^ Theoharis and Cox 1988, p. 45.
  57. ^ The Jewish Daily Forward May 13, 2009
  58. ^ Blakeslee 2000, p. 81.
  59. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 446.
  60. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 442.
  61. ^ Freeman, October 2003, p. 98ff.
  62. ^ Oney, pp. 683–684.
  63. ^ Dinnerstein 2008, p. xiii.
  64. ^ Oney 2003, p. 684.
  65. ^ Oney, pp. 647–648.
  66. ^ Leonard Dinnerstein, "The Fate Of Leo Frank", American Heritage (magazine), October 1996, Vol. 47, Issue 6, accessed 15 May 2011
  67. ^ Oney, pp. 647–648.
  68. ^ Dinnerstein 2009.
  69. ^ Historical Marker Dedication: Leo Frank Lynching, The Georgia Historical Society, accessed August 22, 2010.


Further reading

Books and Reviews
Internet Digital Media
Newspaper Archives, Magazine, Periodicals and Articles
  • Atlanta Nation "Marietta's Shame: The Lynching of Leo Frank." Atlanta Nation
  • Cincinnati Post, The Cincinnati Post. "Letters probe killer's mind: Frank pleads his innocence", August 5, 2002.
  • Dinnerstein, Leonard. "The Fate of Leo Frank", American Heritage, 47, October 1996, pp. 98–109.
  • Glover, James Bolan, V, and Joe McTyre and Rebecca Nash Paden. Marietta, 1833-2000. Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
  • Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. Rutgers University Press, 1988.
  • Hertzberg, Steven. Strangers Within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915. The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978.
  • Library of Congress Leo M. Frank Newspaper Archive. Containing some, but not all newspaper articles on Leo M. Frank from 1913 to 1922, accessed August 20,2011.
  • The New York Times. "Leo Frank Wrote His Own Alibi"", August 22, 1915.
  • MacLean, Nancy. "The Leo Frank Case Reconsidered: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Making of Reactionary Populism." The Journal of American History Vol. 78, No. 3, December 1991, pp. 917–948
  • Maclean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Rodriguez, Yolanda. "Story of Jewish businessman's lynching gets new attention", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 14, 2005.
  • Union Recorder (Milledgeville). "Leo. M. Frank Taken from State Farm and Lynched", August 17, 1915.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Senator Tom E. Watson papers Jeffersonian newspaper archive on Leo M. Frank from 1914 to 1917, accessed August 20, 2011.
Legal Documents
Historical Archives
  • During the trial an Atlanta musician and millworker, Fiddlin' John Carson, wrote and began performing a murder ballad, "Little Mary Phagan." During the mill strikes of 1914 Carson sang "Little Mary Phagan" to crowds from the Fulton County courthouse steps. An unrecorded Carson song, "Dear Old Oak in Georgia," sentimentalizes the tree from which Leo Frank was hanged.
  • The 1964 television series "Profiles in Courage" dramatized Governor John M. Slaton's decision to commute Frank's sentence, The episode starred Walter Matthau as Governor Slaton and Michael Constantine as Tom Watson.
  • People v Leo Frank, review of the documentary, People v Leo Frank (2009), a film about Leo Frank by Ben Loeterman.
  • Jamie Saft wrote a song, The Ballad of Leo Frank. The story of Frank's trial and eventual lynching is included in the liner notes of Saft's album entitled Black Shabbis.

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