Just finished the book, "And The Dead Shall Rise–The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank".
Amazing book... And amazingly long!
For those not familiar with the story, on Saturday, April 26th, 1913, Mary Phagan, who was only 13 years-old needed to go to the National Pencil Factory to pick up her pay of $1.20. After doing that she was suppose to attend the parade in downtown Atlanta, GA, celebrating Confederate Memorial Day.
Mary never made it to the parade.
Early in the morning on the 27th, the night watchman found Mary's body in the basement of the building.
The police were called and took the elevator to the basement... When they "landed" an awful smell spread throughout the basement. When the elevator hit the basement floor it smashed a pile of human excrement. The police never took a sample.
With Mary's body were a couple of hand written notes that appeared to throw blame on one of the laborers of the business. Mary's purse was missing as was her pay.
In the great tradition of mishandled famous murder crime scenes like Jon Benet and Martha Moxley, the basement crime scene was quickly compromised by the influx of the curious.
Early in the investigation police began to focus on Leo Frank, who was Superintendent for the concern. It made sense that he would be questioned in that he would have been one of the last, if not the last person to see young Mary alive, because it was he who handed her the pay she earned.
Jim Conley, another worker for the firm was also questioned. Jim began to tell a story... Actually 4 stories. Over the course of the investigation, Jim Conley would give the police 4 different affidavits about what occurred on Saturday April 26th. In his "final" affidavit, he admitted that he was an accomplice to the murder. He stated that Leo Frank killed her after she rejected his sexual advances. And then Frank "paid off" Conley to help move the body to the basement via the elevator.
During the 26th, Conley admitted drinking alcohol and participating in a game of craps. Speaking of crap, Conley admitted being responsible for the excrement the elevator later mashed, when the police went to the basement to initially investigate the crime. In one of his stories Conley admitted leaving the pile in the elevator shaft on the morning of the 26th.
Based on Conley's 4th affidavit, the police arrested Leo Frank.
The trail was a circus and an early nominee for "Trial of the Century", attracting attention all over the country. Jim Conley was the "star" witness for the prosecution.
Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
From that point on the defense team made appeal after appeal.
During this time, there was the "battle of the newspapers" with northern newspapers exclaiming that Frank was denied a fair trial and Conley was not a credible witness.
On the other side newspapers in the south objected to the interference by outsiders.
Jim Conley was tried separately as an accomplice and was found guilty. He was sentenced to a year in prison (he was released after 10 months).
Failing in appeal after appeal, Frank's defense team eventually appealed Frank's death sentence to the then governor of Georgia, John Slaton, who would soon be leaving office.
Reading the book, one come away impressed with John Slaton. He took the job of evaluating the Frank case seriously. And while pondering his situation, he knew that if he commuted Frank's death sentence he would become the most unpopular man in Georgia.
In another interesting aspect of the case, the attorney who defended Jim Conley during his trial was asked by his friend, who happened to be a private investigator that worked for the defense team during Frank's appeal process, was asked to look into the Frank case. That attorney, William Smith, spent a great deal of time studying the case, especially the two notes left by the body.
Smith concluded, based on several things, that Jim Conley wrote the notes.
What eventually caused Slaton to stop the execution of Leo Frank (Frank was then left to endure a life sentence) was the "**** in the Shaft". If Conley's last affidavit story was exactly as he said it did, then the excrement would have been mashed when he brought the body of Mary Phagan down in the elevator after Leo Frank murdered her and not when the police came down in the elevator to investigate the crime.
Frank was transferred from death row to a labor camp outside of Atlanta.
The citizens of Georgia were furious at the stopping of the execution.
A group of several influential Georgian's got together and planned on kidnapping and lynching Leo Frank.
On August 16th, 1915, this is exactly what happened.
And as during the trial and the appeals process, northern papers were outraged over lynching and southern papers (generally speaking) said, "Mind your own business."
In the early 1980's, on his death bed, one witness came forward and claimed that he, also a young teenager like Mary Phagan, witnessed Jim Conley carry her body down the stairs to the basement and did not use the elevator as he stated in his final affidavit. He stated that he did not come forward at the time because Conley threatened he and his family. So he kept quiet. And while this did not prove Leo Frank wasn't involved, it did prove Conley's story, even his last one, was at least partially a fabrication.
Interestingly, both Mary Phagan and Jon Benet are buried in Marietta, GA.
Images of the Frank lynching can be found online... And are unsettling even today.