Killers were last link in
Q & A / STEVE ONEY, author of 'And the Dead Shall
PHIL SKINNER / Staff
victim Leo Frank is buried in Brooklyn, but his wife's ashes are
buried in an unmarked grave in the Jewish section of Atlanta's
Oakland Cemetery. She died in 1957.
By JIM AUCHMUTEY
Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
More than 70 years after Leo Frank was lynched near Marietta, author Steve
Oney went to see an elderly lawyer in Florida as part of his research for a book
about the crime.
Oney got right to the point: "I think your dad was involved in this
The old man, who had suspected as much, started crying.
As Oney discovered time and again, the Frank saga has not lost its power to
Frank was convicted in 1913 of strangling a teenage girl from Marietta Mary
Phagan. He was Jewish and came from New York, and his fate soon became an
intensely publicized national drama, bringing charges of anti-Semitism down on
Georgia. When the governor commuted his death sentence in 1915, angry Mariettans
abducted Frank from a state prison and hanged him from an oak tree in Cobb
Oney, 49, a former writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, spent 17
years working on what he hoped would be the definitive history of the Phagan
murder and the Frank lynching. His book discloses a wealth of new information
about the lynching conspiracy and what led up to it. He talked about the case
from his Los Angeles home.
Q: Do you think Frank's conviction and lynching were primarily
motivated by religious prejudice?
A: It was a story of anti-Semitism among other things. Yes, Frank's
religion was a deep mark against him. Yes, there was latent anti-Semitism out in
the state that was played upon by devious people. But there were so many other
issues. Class anxiety and regional tension were just as important.
When Frank was lynched, Georgians were closer to the era of the Civil War
than we are to the era of World War II. The fact that Frank was a Northerner and
that his support came mostly from Northern newspapers had as much to do with
this as the fact that he was a Jew.
Q: Why do people keep writing books and plays about this?
A: The Frank case continues to fascinate for a lot of reasons. First,
it's a double unsolved murder. Who killed Mary Phagan? Who lynched Leo
Both of these people are stand-ins for much larger social forces at work in
the South at the time, forces that were in collision. The Frank story is a way
of looking at how the Old South became the New South. You see that especially in
the two entities the case helped spawn: the Anti-Defamation League and the
revived Ku Klux Klan.
Mary Phagan's funeral in 1913 are (from left) Ollie Mae
Phagan, her sister; Fanny Phagan Coleman, her mother;
J.W. Coleman, her stepfather; Benjamin Phagan, her
brother; and Lizzie Phagan, her aunt.
Q: What do we know about Phagan?
Jews defame Mary
By the age of thirteen, Mary Phagan was already a four-year veteran of the
workforce, having had two other factory jobs before starting work at the pencil
factory. She was a beautiful girl, and
the search for her murderer was later to reveal more than one boy who had been
smitten by her blue eyes and precociously well developed figure. She was
only 4 feet 11 inches (150 cm) tall, but still might have been able to pass for
being as old as eighteen.
Her family were country people who had moved to the city, known as "crackers" in local
A: She was a 13-year-old
cracker girl, very pretty, very flirtatious. Her family lived in Cobb
County near where the Big Chicken is today. They moved to Atlanta, to the
Bellwood neighborhood, which was off Bankhead Highway just west of downtown. She
was only a 10-minute trolley ride from her job at the pencil factory.
Q: What exactly happened to her when she stopped by the factory that
Saturday to pick up her pay?
A: She was attacked, strangled and left in the basement. I think she was anally sodomized, but we'll
never know for certain. The physical evidence disappeared years ago.
Q: Why did the authorities target Frank as their main suspect?
A: His behavior when the police arrived at his house on the morning
the body was discovered was so fidgety, so seemingly incriminating, that they
immediately fixated on him. Frank would be arrested even today, because he was
the last person who admitted to seeing Mary Phagan alive.
Q: The state's star witness against Frank was Jim Conley, the janitor
and elevator operator at the factory. What do we know about him?
A: He was a 29-year-old guy from Vine City who had been arrested for
numerous misdemeanors and had served time on the chain gang. He had a bad
drinking problem. He was a pretty tough character.
Conley was arrested several days after the murder when a worker at the
factory saw him washing red stains out of his shirt. He said it was rust.
Unfortunately, the police let the shirt get away and never tested it to see
whether the stains were actually blood.
Conley sat in jail for a month with no charges filed against him. He wasn't
considered a suspect because he said he couldn't write. [Two handwritten notes
about the murder had been found near the body.] As it turned out, he was
extremely literate; he was just passing himself off as a fool to stay out of the
line of fire. When the police realized it, he said that he had been lying about
the writing. He said he'd taken the notes as dictation from Frank, who had
killed Phagan when she resisted his advances.
It's hard to believe anyone believed that story.
Q: Why did the authorities buy it?
A: This is where the anti-Semitism starts to come in. I think there
was a ground level of it involved in the police department's pursuit of Frank.
He was absolutely foreign to their experience. He was a Jew, a Yankee, a
high-strung intellectual who listened to Strauss waltzes. Simultaneously, there
were dozens of stories from former employees accusing Frank of what today would
be called sexual harassment. These two volatile undercurrents bound together in
the minds of the investigators and prosecutors and led them to form a very
strong negative opinion.
Q: Did Conley's testimony convict Frank?
A: Some people will say that there was strong evidence against Frank,
that he was the last person to see Phagan alive, that he had time and motive,
that his behavior afterward was incriminating. But I think he would have been
acquitted if Conley had not stood up and told such a spellbinding account.
Q: Did Frank get a fair trial?
A: It was in no way a fair trial. It would be declared a mistrial very
quickly by today's standards.
Q: On what grounds?
Leo Frank in
girl's dressing rooms
A: There were spontaneous eruptions and disruptions in the courtroom.
A lot of people have written that there was a crowd outside shouting, "Hang the
Jew!' I was unable to find a single source that supported that. But the
hostility to Frank was palpable.
Not only that, but a lot of extraneous evidence about his sexual behavior was
admitted. Frank was really tried of two crimes: murder and sexual perversity.
When Conley started talking about Frank's sexual behavior during his testimony,
Frank's lawyers not only didn't move to strike, they chose to cross-examine him
on it. That was a critical error. The defense later called numerous character
witnesses, but the prosecution was then able to call rebuttal witnesses. These were by and large young women who had
worked at the factory who said Frank had forced himself on women and made
insinuating comments and barged into dressing rooms while the girls were
undressed. It was a nightmare for the defense.
Q: Did Frank get competent legal representation?
A: His lead attorney, Luther Rosser, was one of the best lawyers in
Atlanta. But he was a bully who believed he could run over anyone who got in his
way, especially a black man like Conley. Rosser ended up getting caught in the
Q: The jury convicted Frank on the second ballot. Was that a
A: Yes, I can see it happening.
I don't know what I would have done if I had been on that jury. All I can
tell you is that when I was writing the book, I would come into the kitchen at
the end of the day and tell my wife that Leo Frank was guilty -- especially when
I was reading Conley's testimony. It was so mesmerizing and specific, I'd think:
He could not make this up. Then I'd walk into the kitchen the next week
and say, "Leo Frank is innocent. This is a completely trumped-up case."
In the end, though, so much of the prosecution's case doesn't hold water. I
think you can tell by the end of the book that I'm pretty certain Frank was
Q: So who killed Mary Phagan?
A: I'm 95 percent certain Conley did it.
A year or so after the trial, Conley's lawyer, William Smith, conducted a
study of the murder notes and became convinced they were the original
composition of his former client. There are other things, too. During the trial,
the prosecution said that Frank had assaulted Phagan outside his office on the
factory floor and that she'd struck her head against a lathe, where some of her
hair had been found. It turned out that the hair did not come from Phagan's
head, and the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, knew it and withheld that information
from the defense. The key physical evidence from the supposed crime scene was
fallacious. To me, that's incredibly damning.
Q: How did Frank's fate become a national cause?
A: The rabbi at the Temple, David Marx, took a train to New York about
a week after the conviction to meet with editors of The New York Times and with
Louis Marshall, president of the American Jewish Committee. By early 1914,
Marshall and Adolph Ochs, the publisher of the Times, decided to put their full
forces to work for Frank. The Times' behavior in the Frank case was stunning.
They lost all objectivity. They published dozens of stories, most of them
quoting sources only from the defense camp, and they ran six or seven major
editorials a month attacking the prosecution.
Q: How did Georgia react to all the attention?
A: It caused a backlash. The publicity exacerbated raw wounds in the
South and made Georgians feel this big Northern newspaper was dictating to their
courts and people.
This is where the great populist politician Tom Watson came into full cry. He
seized on what he saw as offensive coverage and reprinted it in his newspaper,
the Jeffersonian. There he was every week showing Georgians what the rest of the
world was writing about them, alongside his comments. Within months, the entire
state was whipped up to a fever pitch.
Q: Would Frank have been lynched without Watson's fulminations?
A: I don't think so. I think Frank would have served a long portion of
his sentence and at some point there would have been a move to exonerate
Q: Which brings us to the lynching. This wasn't a mob that hanged
Frank, was it?
A: No, it was a brilliantly orchestrated raid on a state institution
conducted by people hand-chosen by some of the most elite citizens of Marietta.
The lynching was conceived by Cobb Countians and run by Cobb Countians, but the
skids were greased in the state Capitol. You could say that the lynching of Leo
Frank was a state-sponsored crime.
Q: How so?
A: John Tucker Dorsey, one of the masterminds of the lynching, was a
freshman state legislator from Marietta who was appointed without any experience
as chairman of the penitentiary subcommittee. That gave him power over the
people who worked at the prison in Milledgeville [where Frank was sent after
Gov. John Slaton commuted his death sentence] and over the three commissioners
who administered the prison system. Dorsey served as the lynch party's point man
to run this plan through the Legislature.
It was a carrot-and-stick scheme. The carrot was the release of funding to
build a new wing at the prison. The stick was a typhus epidemic there. The
Legislature sent the prison committee to Milledgeville to investigate, and it
was made clear that if prison officials didn't allow the lynch party in, they
would be tarred with the unsanitary conditions that led to the typhus outbreak.
They had 'em coming and going.
Q: Why weren't any lynchers ever prosecuted?
A: There was no federal jurisdiction for this in 1915. The FBI didn't
even exist. The Cobb grand jury that dispensed of the lynching was presided over
by one of the planners. Once that mockery of justice had been concluded, there
was no official venue for bringing the lynch party members to trial. They were
Frank sits behind her husband, Leo, in the courtroom
during his trial. She became embittered and reclusive after
he was lynched in 1915.
Q: Lucille Frank, Leo's widow, never really got over it, did she?
A: She was only 27 when her husband was lynched, and she turned her
hurt inward. She became an embittered and somewhat reclusive soul. But the
saddest thing about her is what happened after her death.
Lucille Frank died in 1957 and her body was cremated. She wanted her ashes
scattered in a public park, but there was a statute in Atlanta that outlawed
such a practice. So Patterson's funeral home kept the ashes in a cardboard box
for several years.
In that period, the Temple was bombed, and Atlanta's Jewish community had a
revival of the fear and anxiety that had oppressed it after the Frank lynching.
In the early '60s, while this new wound was fresh, someone at Patterson's called
Alan Marcus, Lucille's nephew, and said they needed to dispose of the ashes. He
didn't know what to do with them; he didn't want to have a public burial
ceremony for fear of renewed hostilities.
So he and his brother went to Oakland Cemetery one day at dawn with some
garden tools, and in a private ceremony they buried Lucille Frank's ashes
between the tombstones of her parents in the Jewish section. And there they
To me, that tells you exactly what the Frank lynching did to Atlanta's Jewish
Q: In 1982, Alonzo Mann, an elderly man who had worked at the pencil
factory as an office boy, came forward to say that he had seen Jim Conley
carrying Mary Phagan's body. Mann's story was widely seen as exonerating Frank.
A: No. And I say that as someone who at the time thought it did.
Mann's story was incredibly dramatic, and I believe it. However, both the
defense and the prosecution were in accord that Conley had carried Mary Phagan's
Q: Mann's story prompted an application to pardon Frank posthumously,
but the state parole board turned it down. What do you think of that
A: The state did the proper thing in not pardoning Leo Frank. In and
of itself, Mann's statement was not enough to overturn the conviction. The
second application, which led to a compromise decision in which the state in
essence apologized for not protecting Frank's constitutional rights, is a
different matter. Based on what I have discovered about how the state is
implicated in Frank's lynching, that apology seems a little weak. Certain people
in the state government not only took an active role in denying Leo Frank his
constitutional rights; they denied him his life.
So testified Conley for the prosecution. He had been
convincing. His account had been
so vivid, particularly in his description of Frank’s previous sexual encounters,
that the judge asked women and children to leave the courtroom, so that they
would not hear Conley’s graphic description of Frank’s numerous sexual escapades
with factory girls. The newspapers considered some of Conley’s
testimony unsuitable for a family paper, and omitted portions of his
It was now the defense’s turn with Conley. For sixteen hours --- spread
over three days --- Rosser and Arnold cross-examined Conley, getting him to
admit that he had lied in his previous depositions. They questioned his
memory, but they were unable to force him to make a major misstatement.
Curiously, the defense allowed Conley to elaborate his graphic descriptions of
Frank’s sexual encounters while he was Frank’s lookout. What made this
tactic damaging is that the defense, after their cross-examination, recognizing
their error belatedly, moved that Conley’s descriptions of Frank’s assignations
be stricken from the record. The prosecution objected, and the judge,
Leonard Roan, rejected the motion. In effect, this damaging tactic was
supportive of the dismal fact that the defense had been unable to break Conley’s
story. The crowd in the courtroom burst out in loud applause when the
judge delivered his ruling on the motion to suppress.
Dorsey’s cross-examination of the
defense witnesses centered on Frank’s alleged lascivious behavior, and, no matter
how they responded, Dorsey was able to remind the jury of Conley’s vivid
testimony. At one point, Dorsey implied that Frank was a homosexual, and asked another witness
whether it was true if he had seen Frank fondle a young girl’s nipples
Prosecutor Leo Dorsey faced defense
attorneys Luther Rosser and Reuben Arnold in the trial that began on July 28,
1913. Dorsey built a strong case against the accused murderer. Frank claimed to
be in his office at the time the murder but another worker
contradicted this, saying she visited his office at 12:05pm and he was not there. Testimony was introduced indicating that
Frank made "improper" advances to some of Phagan's co-workers.
In this statement and at the trial, Conley attributed two statements to Frank
that seem unnatural for him to have uttered. He said that Frank had previously
told him that Frank wasn't "built like
other men," an apparent reference to Conley's vague understanding of the
Jewish custom of circumcision, and an
unlikely confidence from Frank to his negro janitor.
preformed oral sex on boys
One of Frank's supposed mistresses
testified that she had never had sex with him, but was also caught in a lie on
the stand regarding a previous run-in with the law on a fornication charge. The
prosecution insinuated that Frank
was homosexual, and that an office boy who testified for the defense had been
having sex with Frank.
Dorsey asked one witness, "Didn't you
hear about twelve months ago of Frank kissing girls and playing with the nipples of their breasts?" At this, Frank's mother
jumped up and began yelling at the prosecutor. Her exact words were difficult to
hear clearly in the ensuing uproar, but it was widely reported that she called
Dorsey a "Gentile dog" or a "Christian dog;" this incident helped to crystallize
anti-Semitic sentiment in Atlanta, and hardened feelings against Frank among the
public. Defense witnesses testified that there were too many people in the
factory on Saturdays for Frank to have had trysts
there, and it was pointed out that the windows of Frank's office lacked curtains. A large number of female
factory workers testified for the defense in favor of
Frank's good character when it came to women, but a long series of workers
called by the defense said that he had behaved with impropriety in the women's
dressing room; some of these
witnesses vigorously contradicted each other.
July 29, 1913 - this was the second
day of the trial of Leo Frank. Newt Lee, the night watchman who discovered
Phagan's body, concluded his
testimony by repeating his story for the defense. Altogether Lee spent
four hours and forty-five minutes on the stand. The next witness was police Sgt.
L.S. Dobbs, who took Lee's phone call and rushed
to the factory. He said he found
the body in the basement, face down, with a cord tied tightly around the neck, and a pair of women's underpants
tied loosely around the neck. The back of the head was covered in blood. He
also found two notes, her shoes, and a trail where the body was dragged to
its location. Detective John Starnes then took the stand. He had called Leo
Frank to inform him of the murder, and said Frank appeared extremely nervous
when he arrived at the factory. The highlight of the day was strong verbal
clashes between solicitor Hugh Dorsey (prosecuting the case) and defense
attorney Luther Rosser over Rosser's attempts to discredit the testimony of
During his cross-examination of Leo Frank’s mother, he asked her what
business her husband was in, and after her reply, snidely retorted: “Ah, he’s a
capitalist then?” While
cross-examining four male defense witnesses, Dorsey with diabolical slyness
asked questions insinuating that Frank was a homosexual. And during
his closing arguments, Dorsey “both denounced Frank’s character and emphasized
his Jewishness and wealth,” Oney reminds us. As historian Leonard
Dinnerstein puts it: “In 1913, when Hugh Dorsey prosecuted Leo Frank, he
convinced many people that his primary concern was with his political reputation
and not with obtaining justice.” In the words of an editor of The Atlanta
Constitution, in the Frank case Dorsey “deliberately set about to stir up
the hate-pack in a cynical bid for political notoriety and power.” Oney
calls Dorsey “cool and mockingly predatory,” “[a]droit, brazen, poker-faced,”
and full of “native cunning.” In 1920 Dorsey ran for the U. S. Senate, but
was defeated by Tom Watson. From 1935 to 1948 Hugh Dorsey was a judge of
the Superior Court of Fulton County.
Frank murders the girl
The next thing I heard was Mr. Frank whistling. Mr. Frank was standing
there at the top of the steps and shivering and trembling and rubbing his
hands like this. He had a little rope in his hands. A long wide piece of
rope. His eyes were large. They looked right funny, like diamonds. His
face was red.
"He asked, ‘Did you see that little girl who passed here a while ago?’
I told him I saw one come along there and she has no come down, and he
says, ‘well, that one you say didn’t come back down, she came into my
office a little while ago and I wanted to be with the little girl and she
refused me and I struck her and I guess I struck her too hard and she fell
and hit her head against something and I didn’t know how bad she got
. After he said about how she got hurt, he said, "You know, I
ain’t built like other men." The reason he said that was that I had
seen him in a position I haven’t seen any other man that has got
children. I have seen him in the office two or three times before
Thanksgiving and a lady was
in the office and she was sitting down in a chair and she had her
clothes up to here (indicating his waist) and he was down on his
knees and she had her hands on Mr. Frank.
Q. You say you saw this two or three times?
A. I have seen him another time there in the packing room with a
young lady lying on the table. She was on the edge of the table when
I saw her. He said Frank killed not in anger or for money, but to
satisfy insatiable lust. He painted Frank as a sexually abnormal
man, not built like other men, at a time when sexual "acts against
nature" were considered among the most heinous crimes
However, the American Jewish community was divided on the best method
for aiding Frank. The president of the American Jewish Committee, New York
attorney Louis Marshall, was hesitant about having that organization
champion openly the cause of the cause of a convicted Jewish felon.
The Northern Jewish elite helped Frank in a number of subtle ways.
Marshall, a renowned constitutional lawyer, represented him before the
U.S. Supreme Court. Chicago advertising magnate Albert Lasker contributed more than
$100,000 to the Frank legal fund and took a year’s leave from his business
to direct a new investigation and secure additional funds. Other
prominent Jews urged newspapers to address the Frank case, and appealed to
political figures and business people to plead for his commutation.
...[P]olice suspicions quickly settled on Leo Frank,
principally owing to his behavior when they arrived at his house early Sunday morning
to notify him of Mary Phagan's murder. It was a time when much melodramatic
import was placed on particulars of manner, and police would later testify that
Frank paced about his front parlor "nervous" and "excited," blurting questions
as he twisted his hands, his voice "hoarse and trembling."…
The murder notes, though, remained
something of a puzzle until the factory's twenty-nine-year-old black sweeper,
James Conley, was also arrested when seen at the factory's water cooler trying
to wash out red stains from a work shirt. ... Conley ... finally professed that
Frank, after killing the girl on the factory's second floor in a ravishment attempt gone awry, had enlisted his aid in transporting her
body in the elevator down to the basement, and then dictated to him the murder
notes, with the rather
Conley was characterized by the defense, "a plain, beastly, drunken, filthy,
lying [epithet] ...fired with lust...." In fact, the racial derision of Conley
was heartily participated in by all parties, including the press, one reporter
pointing out, "Conley isn't a cornfield negro. He's more of the present-day type
of city darkey," and even The New York
Times would eventually describe him as a "drunken, lowlived, utterly worthless...black human
Here is Frady's description of the lynching:
[Frank] sat between two men in the
back seat of a car, his nightshirt "luminous among the galluses and wool hats," mutely resigned now to his
doom, as the caravan took back roads through moonlit cottonfields, coming into the outskirts of the town just
at dawn, where it stopped at a stand of woods by a cotton gin. Frank was
hauled out, blindfolded, tied at his hands and feet, lifted up on a
table; the rope was slung over the limb of an oak tree and the noose dropped
around his neck. The circuit judge then kicked the table
from under Frank's feet. It was not from a snapped neck, though, that Frank died, but a slow
strangulation, as he twisted about
Description of Phagan in
Phagan has been strangled with a
seven-foot length of cord tied in a slipknot still tightly wrapped around
her neck. (Quantities of cord of this character are
found throughout the building.) Her tongue is swollen and
protruding. She has soot on her face, dirt in her eyes, and cinders in her
mouth and nostrils. She has a black eye, there are wounds on her scalp and
below the knee and scratches on the elbow, and her clothing has been torn.
There is fresh blood in her
underclothing, and she appears to have been raped vaginally or
anally. She has also been
robbed: her purse containing the $1.20 is missing.
Jew in prison
The governor arranged
Frank to have a private room next to the warden
The raiders knew that Frank was not in the general prison population; after
awakening and subduing top prison officials, they headed directly for the room
adjacent to the warden's office where the star inmate was billeted.]
The group found Frank awake but still in bed, wearing his monogrammed white
nightshirt. When he asked if he could dress, he was pointedly informed that
where he was going, he wouldn't need clothes. He was then handcuffed and
escorted to the stairs. There, two men took him by the arms, two by the legs and
another by the hair, dragging him outside and throwing him into the rear of one
of the waiting cars. As Frank, moaning from the rough treatment, stared up at
his captors, they dangled the thick manila rope they'd carried with them in his
With that, the Mariettans' work at the farm was finished. As they piled back
into their automobiles, one of their lieutenants announced that they intended to
take Frank to Cobb County and hang him over Mary Phagan's grave. On the heels of
this declaration, [a prison official] asked to be uncuffed, but when told he'd
have to accompany the party, he retorted, "Damned if I go anywhere with you."
Whereupon [one of the raiders] bellowed, "All right, boys; make for the swamps,"
and the seven cars, lights now blazing, sped off. All told, the vigilantes had
needed but 10 minutes to abduct the nation's most celebrated prisoner.
Astonishingly, not a shot was fired.
|The Lynching of Leo Frank |
Marietta mob completes its
PHIL SKINNER / Staff
battered jail infirmary door that a lynch mob broke down to
abduct Leo Frank in 1915 is part of a collection at the
William Breman Jewish Heritage
From "And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the
Lynching of Leo Frank" by Steve Oney, to be published by Pantheon Books in
October. Copyright 2003 by Steve Oney.
In the height of summer 1913, Leo M. Frank was
tried for the murder of Mary Phagan, 13, who worked for 10 cents an hour
at the pencil factory that Frank ran in downtown Atlanta. A new book, "And
the Dead Shall Rise," by Steve Oney, offers the most definitive account
yet of the murders of Phagan and of Frank. This third excerpt from Oney's
book comes from Chapter 21, "The Lynching of Leo Frank."
[Seven carloads of men from Marietta used inside information to mount a
precision raid on the state prison farm in Milledgeville, where Leo M.
Frank was being held. The kidnappers, soon to be lynchers, had even
arranged to have all telephone lines leading from the prison, and nearly
all the lines from Milledgeville, cut in advance.
The raiders knew that Frank was not in the general prison population;
after awakening and subduing top prison officials, they headed directly
for the room adjacent to the warden's office where the star inmate was
The group found Frank awake but still in bed, wearing his monogrammed
white nightshirt. When he asked if he could dress, he was pointedly
informed that where he was going, he wouldn't need clothes. He was then
handcuffed and escorted to the stairs. There, two men took him by the
arms, two by the legs and another by the hair, dragging him outside and
throwing him into the rear of one of the waiting cars. As Frank, moaning
from the rough treatment, stared up at his captors, they dangled the thick
manila rope they'd carried with them in his face.
With that, the Mariettans' work at the farm was finished. As they piled
back into their automobiles, one of their lieutenants announced that they
intended to take Frank to Cobb County and hang him over Mary Phagan's
grave. On the heels of this declaration, [a prison official] asked to be
uncuffed, but when told he'd have to accompany the party, he retorted,
"Damned if I go anywhere with you." Whereupon [one of the raiders]
bellowed, "All right, boys; make for the swamps," and the seven cars,
lights now blazing, sped off. All told, the vigilantes had needed but 10
minutes to abduct the nation's most celebrated prisoner. Astonishingly,
not a shot was fired.
In the raid's immediate aftermath, [prison officials] quickly
discovered the phone lines into Milledgeville had been cut. Similarly, the
gas line of [the warden's] car had been slit. Eventually, some Negro
inmates awakened the farm bookkeeper, who found a vehicle in working order
and drove into town with the news -- yet here, too, [Marietta electrician]
"Yellow Jacket" Brown had done his job, severing not just the phone lines
leading to the homes of state militia captain J. H. Ennis and Baldwin
County sheriff S. L. Terry but all except one of the long-distance lines
connecting Milledgeville to the outside world. That lone line led to
Thus around midnight -- two hours after the lynch party had departed --
a bulletin was finally transmitted, and officials in counties that lay on
the direct route between the farm and Marietta were alerted. Soon, Fulton
County deputies were patrolling the highways leading into Cobb County. . .
By this juncture, of course, the caravan bearing Leo Frank had
disappeared into the night, although not as utterly as its leaders had
hoped. At the Little River, an unbridged stream 10 miles north of
Milledgeville, the vigilantes lost precious time when they were unable to
locate the home of a ferry operator. But far from panicking, the men used
the delay to cut phone lines at surrounding country stores and fire rounds
of ammunition into the woods. The salvos were heard throughout the area,
diverting an initial posse from Milledgeville and prompting early reports
-- bannered atop the Georgian's first extra -- that Frank had been shot to
death. Yet such wasn't the case, for once the group finally negotiated the
river, they pressed ahead at a steady clip, their charge sitting quietly
between young Luther and Emmet Burton in the second car, his shirt
luminous among the galluses and wool hats.
After barreling through Eatonton, the birthplace of Joel Chandler
Harris, the Mariettans plunged north into the backroads briar patch of
such rural counties as Jasper, Newton, Walton and Barrow, keeping far to
the east of Atlanta. It remains unclear whether this had always been the
intended route or whether the group's leaders changed on the fly,
responding to a tip from some sympathizer along the way who alerted them
to the fact that the main roads were being watched. Whichever, the choice
was inspired, allowing the men to outflank any pursuers. With arrogant
impunity, they raced over 100 miles through the cotton fields of middle
Georgia, their passage witnessed only by the random darkened farmhouse,
evidenced only by the cloud of red dust billowing in their wake.
Somewhere during the trip, the occupants of Frank's car briefly engaged
him in conversation. Citing a source whose bona fides were "beyond all
question," the Associated Press later reported its gist:
"Is there anything you would like to say before your execution?"
At first there was no reply. Then, slowly and perhaps painfully, the
recently wounded man shook his head.
"No," he said. The word was scarcely audible above the throb of the
For a long time following the only sound was that of the
Then Frank was asked if he had killed the Phagan girl, and the captors
say he made no reply. This question was not repeated again until near the
journey's end, and again, it is said, there was no reply. The final
"Is there nothing you wish to say?"
These four questions constituted the sole conversation in the death car
as it sped along the miles which were steadily bringing Frank nearer to
The party made excellent time, and about daybreak it reached
Alpharetta, 20 miles northeast of Marietta, which meant it would be
approaching its destination as if returning not from Milledgeville but
from the North Georgia mountains. Exactly what happened in Alpharetta --
in 1915, the seat of now-defunct Milton County -- is uncertain.
Subsequently, Judge Newt Morris and a young protege from Canton named John
Wood contended that since the Blue Ridge Circuit Court was slated to
convene there later that morning, they simply happened to be up and about
when the group came through.
A more likely scenario is that Morris and Wood had awakened at that
hour for the purpose of joining the party on the last leg of its trip.
Regardless, the two -- traveling in Wood's Model T -- weren't far behind
the group as they left Alpharetta, tore through Roswell, then turned onto
Roswell Road, along which they proceeded until they reached Frey's Gin,
where Leo Frank's journey would conclude.
Though Frey's Gin was two miles east of Marietta, there can be little
doubt that the vigilance committee -- the vow to hang Frank above Mary
Phagan's grave notwithstanding -- had always intended to lynch him here.
Later, there would be talk suggesting that fear of being caught by the
rising sun had prompted the party to pull up shy of its objective, but
like so much that would come out of Cobb County, such talk was calculated
to obscure the truth. And the truth was that the gin belonged to the man
-- former Sheriff William Frey -- who had tied the noose. Moreover,
waiting at the site was a piece of furniture essential to the job: a
table. Finally, the location was not without its symbolic resonance, in
that it faced the Benton homeplace where little Mary, prior to moving to
Atlanta, had lived and where her kinfolk still resided.
Frey's Gin was surrounded by a grove of trees, and it was into this
small woods that Frank's captors marched him. The doomed man, his bare
toes sliding over moist grass, never faltered. According to the most
authoritative report, "he behaved throughout with a calmness and dignity
and an utter lack of panic." After walking 200 feet, the group stopped
before a sturdy oak, and someone looped the business end of the manila
rope over a high limb. Meantime, the table that would serve as the
platform was put into position.
While these preparations were being made, Frank apparently asked for
and was granted permission to write a note to Lucille, jotting a few
sentences in a foreign language some thought to be Yiddish but was almost
certainly German. Then -- speaking either in response to a specific
question or to himself; the accounts vary -- he uttered what amounted to a
final statement: "I think more of my wife and my mother than I do of my
own life." The remark's authenticity is evidently indisputable. (Although
as one reporter noted: "In telling this story it must be remembered that
we have not Frank's version and never will have it. We have only the
lynchers' word for it.") Its meaning, however, is ambiguous. Whether, as
admirers subsequently asserted, Frank was voicing a noble sentiment, or,
as detractors countered, he was skirting the truth for fear of devastating
his family, no one can say. As it had been in the beginning, so it was at
With soft morning sunlight dappling the late-summer foliage, the
vigilantes blindfolded Frank, bound his feet together, cinched a khaki
cloth around his exposed lower torso, lifted him onto the table and placed
the noose over his head. After agreeing to return Frank's wedding band to
Lucille, a man identified in most reports as simply "the leader"
pronounced the court's sentence and kicked over the table. The time was
7:05. The man was Judge Newt Morris.
The first witnesses to arrive on the scene -- or so the cover story had
it -- were William Frey, a friend of Frey's from Augusta named Walter
Yaun, Marietta Journal editor Josiah Carter Jr., and merchant Gus Benson.
Supposedly, Frey and Yaun had been in his yard picking peaches when the
caravan hurtled by, and though the ex-sheriff said he caught a glimpse of
Frank and suspected "something was doing," he claimed that he initially
did nothing. In fact, Frey said he changed clothes and ate breakfast
before driving into Marietta. There, he maintained, he met Carter, who
informed him the cars never made it to the cemetery, and Benson, who told
him he'd seen them turn "on the road there by your gin." Only then, Frey
said, did he realize a lynching might have occurred on his property. Only
then, he said, did he return home, walk into the grove, and spy the body.
"Yonder it is," Frey said he exclaimed, and for all his account's
bald-faced absurdities, yonder it indeed was.
Leo Frank, head snapped back, chin resting in the noose's bottom coil,
dangled from above. Though half an hour had elapsed since the deed was
done, his body was still warm, for unlike those wretches dropped through
the gallows' trapdoor in a putatively humane hanging, Frank had not died
instantly. Rather, he had slowly suffocated, struggling so ferociously
he'd ripped open his neck wound. Blood oozed down his shirtfront. As the
Constitution would grimly note: "He undoubtedly flayed the air." . . .
Agitated locals had been congregating on the [Marietta] square since
dawn. It was to this audience that an allegedly anonymous source --
speaking by phone to Deputy Sheriff Hicks, who had himself made the trip
to Milledgeville -- broke the news: "Leo Frank's hanging to a limb down
here near Frey's Gin. Retribution!" And so the spectacle began.
From Marietta, from neighboring farms and villages, and finally, from
Atlanta, they came. Observed the Atlanta Journal's Rogers Winter:
"They swarmed the road from both directions. They seemed to rise up out
of the ground, so fast they came. The automobiles came careening,
recklessly disregarding life and limb of occupants. Horse-drawn vehicles
came at a gallop. Pedestrians came running.
"The vehicles stopped in the road at the grove and soon packed the road
and overflowed into the fields. As the vehicles would stop, their
occupants would jump out and run to the grove, bending forward, panting,
"Women came. Children came. Even babes in arms."
By 8:30, over 1,000 people had gathered, and scores more were arriving
each minute. Initially, at least, the gawkers conducted themselves with a
degree of restraint. Noted the Georgian's 0. B. Keeler:
"In a terrible way it was like some religious rite. Watching the
curiously reverent manner of those people, a manner of thankfulness and of
grave satisfaction, it was borne in with tremendous force what the feeling
must be on those Cobb County men and women toward the man who they
believed had slain Mary Phagan.
"The journey to Frey's Gin was a sort of dreadful pilgrimage.
"I couldn't bear to look at another human being, hanging like that,"
said one woman. "But this, this is different. It is all right. It is the
justice of God."
"Among the men there was evident a grim and terrible satisfaction.
" 'They did a good job,' " was the comment, spoken in many tones, but
with a curious inflection that was always the same. " 'A good job.'
This document is an incomplete list of the men who
planned and carried out the kidnapping and lynching of Leo Frank in August of
The document (used with permission) is part of the Leo
Frank collection and is housed in the Special Collections Department, Robert W.
Woodruff Library of Emory University. Although the document is unsigned, the
identity of the author is known to me; however, because of the nature of this
list, I have decided not to disclose its author at this time. *(*SEE ADDENDUM TO THIS PAGE FOR
RECENT ADDITIONS TO THIS INFORMATION)
Franks lynch party
Leo Max Frank
(1884-1915) was the manager of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta,
Georgia, from the time of its establishment sometime in 1909. On April 26, 1913,
one of his employees, a young girl named Mary Phagan, was brutally murdered in
the factory. Frank was convicted of this crime in the summer of 1913 and
sentenced to be hanged. For most of the next two years, Frank’s lawyers appealed
the death sentence, twice to the United States Supreme Court, but to no avail.
In June 1915, shortly before he was to leave office, Governor John M. Slaton
commuted Frank’s death sentence to life in prison. About two months later, Frank was kidnapped from the state prison farm
at Milledgeville, transported about 175 miles to Cobb County, original home of
Mary Phagan, and lynched near a place called Frey’s Mill on the morning of
August 17, 1915. None of the lynchers of Frank was ever tried for the
murder of Frank, much less convicted; in fact the identity of the lynchers has
remained a closely-guarded secret. 
The list itself contains twenty-six names, two less
than contemporary accounts claimed as having taken part in the
of these names are of people who will very likely never be identified, unless
someone with special knowledge of the lynching comes forward. In some
cases only surnames are given, and in others the names are so common, that there
are likely to have been several persons among the thousands of males living in
Cobb County at that time with that name.
Nevertheless, nine of the lynch mob members,
including all but one of those listed as being either a “leader” or a “planner”
can be identified with confidence. The two “leaders” were identified as Judge
Newton Morris and George Daniels.
Augustus Morris (1869-1941) was, according
to his obituary in the Marietta Daily Journal, a “leader in the
Democratic party in Georgia.” He served
in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1898 to 1904, during which
time he was speaker pro tem (1900-1901) and then speaker (1902-1904), after
which he served two terms as judge on the Blue Ridge Circuit (1909-1912,
1917-1919), the Georgia court circuit that included Cobb County.  Morris was credited with
preventing the mutilation of Frank’s body after the lynching. According to
newspaper accounts, Morris rushed to the scene of the lynching as soon as he
heard about it, and once there, he “interceded and pleaded with everyone to
permit Frank’s remains to be sent home to his parents for a decent burial.”
While Frank’s body was being removed, one member of the crowd, who had earlier
wanted to burn Frank’s body, began stomping on the corpse; Morris was able to
stop this, which enabled the undertakers to remove Frank’s body to a funeral
home in Atlanta.  The other man listed as being a leader is George Daniels.
Research in contemporary documents has failed to turn up a man by that name,
though two persons with the name George Daniel (or Daniell) have been
identified, whose age was similar to those of the other lynchers. George Daniels
is the only one on the list that is identified as being a member of the Ku Klux
The following three men are listed as being “planners”:
Herbert Clay, M. M. Sessions, and John Dorsey. Of the three, the best known
was Eugene Herbert
Clay (1881-1923). Son of United
States Senator Alexander Stephens Clay, and older brother of four-star General
Lucius D. Clay, who served as Allied High Commissioner of Germany from
1945-1949, Herbert Clay was mayor of Marietta (1910-1911) and solicitor general
(i.e. district attorney) of the Blue Ridge judicial circuit (1913-18). In this
capacity Clay should have prosecuted the lynchers of Frank, a bitter irony, as
he himself was a planner of the lynching and may well have taken part in the
lynching. He was subsequently elected to the Georgia State Senate and served as
its president in the years 1921-1922; he was elected to the Georgia House of
Representatives the following year but died in an Atlanta hotel, a few days
before the opening of the 1923 session.  Clay is the only lyncher whose identity
as such has appeared in print.
Born in neighboring Cherokee County, Moultrie McKinney
Sessions (1863-1927) moved to Marietta as a child and lived
there for the rest of his life. Son of a
prominent judge, Sessions received his legal training in a law office and became
a lawyer while still a minor. A successful lawyer and financier, he
founded Sessions Loan and Trust Co. in 1887. Although active in civic
organizations, Sessions does not appear to have held any elected political
Also a lawyer, John Tucker
Dorsey (1876-1957) moved to Marietta in 1908, after graduation
from the University of Georgia and practicing law in Gainesville, Georgia.
According to his obituary in the Marietta Daily Journal, Dorsey was active in many civic activities and
served in the Georgia House of Representatives (1915-1917, 1941-1945), as
solicitor general of the Blue Ridge Circuit (1918-1920), and as ordinary of Cobb
County from 1948 until his death. Dorsey represented the state of Georgia at the
Coroner’s Jury that met to investigate the lynching of Frank. 
Of the remaining twenty or so lynchers, five more have
been identified with confidence, these being the following: Gordon Baxter
Gann (1877-1949), attorney, mayor of Marietta
(1922-25, 1927-29) and member of the Georgia House of Representatives
(1919-1922). Gann served as “special attorney” for coroner John A. Booth at the
Coroner’s Jury, investigating the Frank lynching.  John Augustus (Gus)
Benson (1873-1960) operated the
Benson Brothers Mercantile Co., which was located on the square in
Marietta from 1908 to 1933. Benson testified at the Coroner’s Jury that though
he saw several automobiles near Frey’s gin on the morning of Frank’s lynching,
he did not recognize anyone in any of the automobiles.
Frey (about 45 years old in 1915) sheriff of Cobb County (1903-1909).
Frey’s mill (or gin), the location of the lynching of Frank, was owned by Frey.
After his name on the list is the notation: “doubled as hangman.” Like Benson,
Frey testified at the Coroner’s Jury that, though he saw several cars near his
gin on the morning of the lynching, he could not identify any occupants of these
automobiles. Frey also testified that after seeing the cars, he ate breakfast
then drove into Marietta, and oddly enough went “to the cemetery where Mary
Phagan is buried” and then drove back to the gin where he found “the body of
Frank hanging [and he stated that] I looked at him but didn’t put my hands on
Dobbs (1880-1954) operated a grocery store
in Marietta for 25 years and later the Dobbs Barber Shop. (He did not serve as
mayor of Marietta, as the list would indicate; it was rather Evan Protho Dobbs,
presumably a relative, who did so for two terms and was mayor at the time of the
lynching of Frank). Ralph Molden
Manning (1877-1940) worked as a “contractor and road
builder” much of his life and was, at the time of his death, “supervisor
of street work for the city of Canton” in neighboring Cherokee
The identification of a third of the lynch mob certainly
bears out the claim that at least some of its members were prominent citizens of
Cobb County, and a few were known state-wide. Included are a former speaker of
the Georgia House of Representatives and president of the Georgia State Senate,
and other members of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate, mayors of
Marietta, as well as judges, prosecutors, and other members of the local
judiciary. Furthermore, this research offers an explanation for the failure of
the criminal justice system to prosecute Frank’s murderers, for a member of the
lynch mob was also the solicitor general for the Blue Ridge Circuit, the person
responsible for the prosecution of the lynchers.
The three newly identified lynchers, all from Cobb County,
George Exie Daniel (1881-1970) Daniel owned and operated
a jewelry store on Marietta Square for 40 years and was a charter member of the
Marietta Country Club.
Joseph M. Brown (1851-1932) Brown, the son of Georgia’s
Civil War governor, was himself Governor of Georgia in 1909-1911 and
1912-1913. As governor, he was the immediate predecessor of John M.
Bolan Glover Brumby (1876-1948) Brumby owned a furniture
manufacturing company, the Marietta Chair Company.
Oct. 7, 2003 Steve Oney’s book, And
the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo
Frank, the definitive work on the Leo Frank case, is published. The
books names 26 of Leo Frank’s lynchers. The lynchers include a former
governor, a district attorney, a judge, a state legislator, a mayor, a sheriff,
a former sheriff, and various prominent lawyers and businessmen.
Luther Z. Rosser
The chief counsel for the defense, Luther Z. Rosser, 54, was a
formidable defense lawyer. Excelling at cross-examination, he was
described as “the most persuasive
and the most domineering lawyer in Atlanta in the art of examining
But in retrospect it appears that Rosser and his co-counsel, Reuben R.
Arnold, made gross miscalculations. For one, they should have asked
for a delay in the trial, or a change of venue, to get it away from the
mob atmosphere which affected Atlanta at the time. For another, they
misjudged their opponent, prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.
Dorsey, for his part, praised Rosser as “the rider of the wind, the
stirrer of the storm.”
A stout man who never wore a tie, Rosser patiently endured the scorn of
the crowd as he strolled in and out of the courthouse during Frank’s
29-day-trial, ignoring the shouts of “How much the Jews paying you,
Watson also provided readers with astute pointers about the likely
political course that the Frank saga would take. He roared early on that,
after Frank's conviction, the last hope for avoiding the death sentence
lay in the hands of Gov. John
Slaton -- who just happened to be the law partner of Frank's counsel,
Meanwhile, Frank's defense team, with a new trial blocked, agonized
over whether to request of the governor a pardon or a commutation of the
death sentence -- and whether to appeal to the incoming governor or
Slaton, the outgoing governor with
his obvious conflict of interest as law partner of Frank's counsel.
The defense went with Slaton, who commuted Frank's execution, and thereby
prompted an enraged mob to attack the governor's mansion.
“Feeling as I do about this case, I would be a
murderer if I allowed that man to hang. I would rather be ploughing
in a field than to feel for the rest of my life that I had that man’s
blood on my hands.
“All I wish now is that the people of Georgia withhold judgment until
they have given calm and careful consideration to the statement I have
prepared on the case. I am sure that my action has been the right
one, the just one and the one that all patriotic Georgians will agree
with. Of course I care for the public approbation, but should I have
failed to commute Frank’s sentence I would have been guilty, as I see it,
of murder. I can plow and hoe and live in obscurity if necessary,
but I could not afford not to commute him. It was a plain case of
duty as I saw it, and I believe the people will realize that this was my
The public in Georgia is stunned. News of the commutation is
instantly received with disbelief, outrage, and hoots of derision all over
the state. Before today is ended Gov. Slaton has become the most
unpopular, reviled politician in Georgia history, and soon effigies of the
governor are being hanged, shot, or burnt everywhere in the state.
He will shortly be contemptuously
regarded by many Georgians as “The King of the Jews and Traitor Governor
In the afternoon an outraged
crowd of 5,000 gathers at Atlanta City Hall to angrily protest the
commutation. Excited throngs burst into the state capitol
building’s senate chamber where speaker after speaker excoriates Slaton.
Enraged by the commutation, a surging mob of 2,000 approaches and
attempts to attack Gov. Slaton’s home at 2962 Peachtree Road, N. E., which
has been barricaded and is protected by police, deputized citizens, and
the Fifth Georgia Infantry Regiment. After it rains stones and
bottles on the troops, the mob is driven back by soldiers with fixed
\June 26, 1915 Today is Gov. Slaton’s
last day in office. Just after 2 a.m. a mob of 200 armed men attempts a second attack
on Slaton’s home and is driven off by the Fifth Georgia Infantry
Regiment. Later in the day, at the inauguration ceremony in
the state capitol building for the incoming governor, Nathaniel E. Harris,
Slaton is hissed by the audience, and as he is emerging from the room
where the ceremony took place, what Slaton sees is (in his own words)
“people on the stairs and in the vestibules gnashing their teeth, shaking
their heads, and exhibiting various evidences of hostility.” Shortly
thereafter Slaton is almost assassinated. As he and the new governor
are departing the state capitol building, a strong, rough-looking man
holding in both hands a heavy piece of iron pipe about five feet long
darts from the crowd and attempts to crush Slaton’s skull. The
murder attempt fails when at the last moment an officer of the state
militia seizes the attacker before he can strike his blow
Because of the Confederate
holiday, the payday was switched from Saturday to Friday.
August 12, 1913 - the fourteenth day in the trial
of Leo Frank. The defense called twenty-two character witnesses to the
stand, including Frank's in-laws. They all testified that he was a man
of good character and was very busy the day of the murder, showing no
nervousness. When solicitor Hugh Dorsey asked one of the
witnesses, a boy who
worked for Frank, if Frank had ever made improper advances to
him, a bitter argument ensued between the
Another female employee of the factory, Magnolia
Kennedy, contradicted the earlier testimony of Helen Ferguson - who had claimed she
tried to pick up Mary Phagan's pay on Friday (the day before the
murder), but that Frank had told her Mary would pick it up herself on
the next day. Kennedy claimed she was behind
Ferguson in the line to receive her pay, and that Ferguson had neither
asked about Phagan's pay or talked to Frank. Other witnesses testified
to the shady character of C.B. Dalton, who had claimed to have used the
basement of the factory as a meeting place with women and of using Jim
Conley as a lookout.
May 15, 1983 Randall Evans, a former judge on the Georgia
Court of Appeals, publishes a statement on the Leo Frank case in The Augusta Chronicle-Herald, claiming that the evidence of Frank’s guilt
“was overwhelming,” describing the commutation of Frank’s sentence as
“the rape of the judicial process by [Gov. John M.] Slaton,” and deriding the
proposed posthumous pardon of Frank as “completely ridiculous.”