Just Another Dead Jew – The Leo Frank Case

Leo Frank had the audacity of being a college educated Georgia Jew in 1913.  He had the additional chutzpah of being in charge of a small contingent of folks working at a pencil factory.1

In 1913, Frank was convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee of the Atlanta pencil factory that Frank managed.  After his death sentence was commuted by Georgia’s governor, a mob stormed the prison where Frank was being held and lynched him.  Frank became the only Jew lynched in American history.  1

There was no outrage.  There was no outcry.  Cracker bastards still cherish the photos of their idiot ancestors who posed underneath Leo Frank’s lynched corpse.  What the hell, just one dead Jew.  1

Between April 30th and May 8th, 1913, The Fulton County Coroner, Paul Donehoo, and six jurymen sworn under oath, visited the crime scenes of the National Pencil Company at 37-41 South Forsyth   Street, Atlanta, GA, and questioned more than 160 affiliated witnesses sworn under oath.  (One can only imagine the form of the questions!)  At the conclusion of the Coroner’s inquest on Thursday, May 8, 1913, the 7-man tribunal, voted unanimously against Leo Frank, binding him over for murder, to be further investigated by the Fulton County Grand Jury.  (Grand Juries are typically “rubber stamp” juries in the old).  On May 24, 1913, the “rubber stamp” jury voted unanimously 21 to 0 against Leo Frank, indicting him for having murdered Mary Phagan on April 26, 1913.  2

The presiding Trial Judge was Leonard Strickland Roan.2

The evidence presented at trial was as follows:3

On April 27th, 1913, the bound and badly beaten body of thirteen year old Mary Phagan was found in the basement of the Atlanta, Georgia pencil factory where she was an employee.  She was found with a noose around her neck and had been sexually assaulted.  Her body had been found by the factory’s night watchman, Newt Lee, who immediately called the police.  Lee almost instantly became the primary suspect and was taken into custody, but despite intensive questioning, including being beaten, Lee insisted on his innocence, and as the police had no evidence against him, other than his presence at the factory and the fact that he was black, the police released him.  But Lee had unwittingly pointed the police toward another suspect.

During Lee’s questioning, it had been revealed that the last time Mary Phagan had been seen alive had been the day before when she had picked up her pay from the factory’s manager, twenty-nine year old Leo Frank.  Lee had also informed the police that Frank had called Lee at the factory during the night to find out “if anything was going on”.  Frank had never called the factory at night before, and when the police went to Franks home to inform him of the tragedy, Frank, according to the police, “acted nervous”.  On this basis, and the call, Frank was taken in for questioning.  By morning he had been formally charged with the crime.  Also that same night, police had arrested another employee of the factory, a black man named Jim Conley for drunkenness.  Conley would figure heavily in the case against Frank.

The case would be prosecuted by district attorney Hugh Dorsey.  Dorsey, who had political aspirations, (he would later become governor of Georgia), had to deal with the major problem that the available evidence pointed not to Frank, but to the State’s “star” witness, Jim Conley.  Dorsey was also aware that convicting Conley, a janitor with a criminal past, would not be the political “feather in his cap” that convicting Frank, a “wealthy Yankee Jew”, would be, so evidence was simply suppressed.

The trial began in a packed second floor courtroom in July, 1913.  Several spectators, unable to get into the courtroom itself, had crowded on the roof of the building next door, where they could still hear what was going on.  Their shouts of “Kill the Jew”, and “Hang him” frequently interrupted the proceedings.  Presiding judge Leonard Roan made no effort to quiet these shouts, nor did he give even “pro forma” instructions to the jury to ignore them.

On the witness stand, Jim Conley was, unfortunately for Frank, devastating.  According to Conley, Frank had confessed the murder to him and had tried to get him, (Conley), to burn the body in the factory’s basement furnace.  Frank’s lawyers were unable to shake Conley’s story, and Frank himself was hesitant and unconvincing on the stand, and his denial carried little weight.  On September 26th, Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death by Judge Roan.  Atlanta celebrated, but the rest of the country was less convinced that justice had been done.  Over the next eighteen months, over 100,000 letters of protest arrived and a petition for a new trial gathered over a million signatures.  Frank appealed the verdict and eventually his case reached the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled that there had been no reversible procedural errors made.  (Evidence of the defendants innocence, oddly enough, was not considered “reversible error” at that time.) The verdict and sentence were both confirmed.  Franks fate now lay in the hands of one man, Georgia’s governor, John Slaton.

Unfortunately for those howling for Franks blood, Governor Slaton was a brave man and one with a highly developed social conscience.  Ignoring advice to simply confirm the verdict and sentence and let Frank go to his death and be done with it, Slaton obtained the trial transcripts and reviewed all the testimony and evidence.  In doing so, Slaton found numerous discrepancies.  Mary Phagan had fought hard for her life, yet Frank had absolutely no scratches or marks of any kind on his body, an utter impossibility had he truly been the killer.  Conley, on the other hand, had been observed to have several scratches, bite marks and gouges when he was arrested for drunkenness the night of the crime.  Further, Conley had testified that he had used the factory’s elevator shaft to dispose of Mary’s belongings and had used the bottom of the shaft as a latrine, defecating in it, before following Franks orders to take the body to the basement.  All of these items, including Conley’s “personal” contribution, were observed by the police and in the case of Mary Phagan’s belongings, recovered intact.  But in recreating the events of that night, anything at the bottom of the shaft was always crushed by the descending elevator.  A letter, found at the scene in Conley’s handwriting, (Conley claimed the letter was dictated by Frank) made references to a legend well known in the black community, but almost unknown among Georgia’s white population, and highly unlikely to have been known by a white man raised in New York.

Slaton, knowing he was committing political suicide, and quite possibly actual suicide, commuted Franks sentence to life imprisonment, saying in a statement that he would rather live in fear of his life than have a guilty conscience.  The governor was burned in effigy and received death threats, and was eventually forced to leave the state.

On the night of August 16th, 1915, a group of armed men “forced” their way into the prison where Leo Frank was being held.  They took him to a ridge near Mary Phagan’s home and there lynched him.  A snapshot of his body dangling from the tree was taken and was a popular nickel postcard item in Georgia for years afterwards.  No one was ever charged with the crime.

Eventually, when it was too late, the truth came out.  Conley’s lawyer had told Judge Roan that Conley had confessed to the murder several times, but despite this, Roan had kept silent and sentenced Frank to death.  Another man, named Alonzo Mann, who has a fourteen year old boy had worked in the factory, told investigators that he had seen Conley commit the crime, but had kept silent because of Conley’s threat to kill him if he spoke out

How the Courts “Held”:  In 1914 and 1915, the United States Supreme Court Majority Decision ruled against Leo Frank and finally unanimously voted that no further reviews of the case would be considered.  Leo Frank had fully exhausted all of his court appeals.

In 1915, the Governor of Georgia, John Marshall Slaton, specifically stated in his June 21, 1915, commutation order, that he was sustaining the verdict of the Leo Frank trial jury and appeals courts decisions, and thus ultimately he was preserving the verdict of guilt rendered against Leo Frank by the trial judge and jury.  Incidentally, Governor John M.  Slaton was a member of the most powerful Lawfirm in Georgia, called ‘Rosser, Brandon, Slaton and Phillips’ (the ‘Slaton’ was Governor John M.  Slaton) who represented Leo Frank at his trial and appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Governor Slaton had committed a gross conflict of interest and betrayal of his oath of office when he commuted the death sentence of his own law client Leo Frank.

On March 11th, 1986, Leo Frank was issued a pardon by the state of Georgia.  Big Fucking Hairy Deal (author.)

_____________________

1A Jewish Virtual History, 2012.  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/frank.html

2http://www.leofrank.org/

3http://www.essortment.com/murder-mary-phagan-leo-frank-case-25906.html

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