Third Chapter in Phagan Mystery
July 24th, 1913
Arrests of Suspects in the Factory Slaying. Sensation as Leo Frank, Manager Was Taken Into Custody.
Everything that occurred, trivial or important, during those first few days after the body of little Mary Phagan was discovered in the pencil factory basement took on a dramatic aspect. The people were keyed to so high a pitch by the revolting crime that for for a time it seemed to require only a spark to fire them to violent deeds.
Let a strange person so much as appear at the police station to confer with Chief of Detectives Lanford and wild rumors spread about the whole city like magic. Let one of the detectives drop a careless remark and in a flash everyone mysteriously understood that a complete confession had been made to the police by the murderer.
So it was a sinister reception that the first catch in the detectives’ dragnet received from the group of angry men when he was hurried to police headquarters Sunday night of the day after the factory girl had been slain.
All through the day crowds had hung about the police station, some of them merely morbidly curious, others having the mistaken impression that they were going to help the authorities in some manner. Since Newt Lee had been taken into custody in the morning, there had been no arrest, but now with the end of the day came the intelligence that the murderer of Mary Phagan had been captured and was being brought to a cell at the police station.
Smiles Defiantly at Crowd.
Eagerly the crowd awaited to learn the man’s identity. On each side of the doors they lined themselves as he was walked, defiantly, towards them between two detectives. A smile curled his lips when he heard their sullen mutterings.
“I know that guy; It’s Art Mullinax,” came in a hoarse whisper from a roughly dressed youth.
The group of men and boys closed in behind the detectives and their captive, but officers barred their entrance to the police station. To Chief Lanford, Mullinax repeated his denial of the crime which he had made previously to the detectives when they placed him under arrest.
“It’s a horrible mistake,” he cried, dropping the bravado he had displayed before the crowd. “I don’t even know Mary Phagan, except by sight, and the only time I can remember of seeing her was at a Christmas entertainment.”
Despite his protestations of innocence, he was placed in solitary confinement and isntructions were given that no one be permitted to see him or communicate with him. Sentell, the grocery clerk, insisted that Mullinax was the man he saw with Mary Phagan Saturday night at midnight, and he was so positive in his identification that there appeared to be little doubt of the circumstance.
Sentell Was Positive.
Sentell declared that he had known Mullinax for some time by sight and had met him frequently at the car barns, where both of them had worked at one time. He was certain he could not be mistaken. If it were possible, he was even more positive in his identification of Mary, for he had spoken to her, calling her by name, and she had replied, calling him Ed.
Monday’s dawn found the detectives working feverishly on the hundred-and-one clews that had been presented to them. They had Mullinax in a cell, but they confused by the maze of rumors which confronted them and which pointed the finger of suspicion at other persons as strongly as at Mullinax.
Early in the morning two of the detectives left the station. Chief Lanford was silent and no one else could be persuaded to tell of their mission. The newspaper men, however, jumped to an immediate conclusion and the next editions carried a story that search was being made for a discharged employee of the factory who was known to have been acquainted with the murdered girl.
A little later Chief Lanford admitted that it was J. M. Gantt, Mary’s childhood playmate in Marietta and until three weeks before timekeepr at the pencil factory, who was the object of the search. He was known to have been at the factory the night before. His sister Mrs. F. C. Terrell, of No. 284 East Linden avenue, gave a strangely inaccurate account of his recent whereabouts.
Another Arrest Made.
She declared to the detectives and to Georgian reporters that Gantt had not been home for three weeks and that she understood he was on his way to California, when it was known that such was not the case.
Adding to the suspicion against him, he made the unfortunate move of leaving town at the very time the search was started for him, giving the impression that he was taking to flight. As it happened, he went only to Marietta and he was arrested as he stepped from a car there. He indignantly denied that he had any idea of flight. He did not have any idea that the officers were after him, he declared.
His story was that he went to Marietta to buy a crop and that he had notified his mother several days before that he was coming over Monday morning. A warrant charging that he was suspected of the murder of Mary Phagan was lodged against him and he was returned to Atlanta to be placed in a cell.
To add to the confusion and doubt and mystery of the crime, just at the moment when the detectives were positive that they had the criminal in Mullinax or Gantt, local handwriting experts came out with the declaration that the writing of the notes found by the boss of the Phagan girl unmistakably was that of the negro Newt Lee.
One of them qualified as an expert of more than twenty years experience. He said that he was in the banking business and had made a special study of handwriting. After a careful examination of the notes and a comparison with the handwriting of Lee, he was as positive as he could be that the notes and the test writing were by the same hand.
Suspicion Turns to Another.
Tuesday started with the detectives and the public divided in opinion as to whether Lee, Gantt or Mullinax was the guilty man. It was not long before they were allowed to conjecture as to a fourth suspect. The day’s development came [text illegible] to the gallows, the most startling rumor of all was taking form.
It was that a high official of the National Pencil Company was suspected of the brutal crime and that an arrest would take place within a short time. Through mysterious sources it became known that the police did not place much dependence on the seemingly positive identifications that had been made of both Gantt and Mullinax.
It was learned at the same time that the theory that the little girl had been lured to the factory at night was being abandoned and that in its place the detectives were adopting the theory that she never left the factory after she entered it at noon to get her pay. They did not believe any of the stores that Mary Phagan had been seen on the street Saturday night.
This threw the suspicion on some one inside the factory. Shortly before noon Tuesday an automobile containing Detective Harry Scott, of the Pinkerton agency, which had been engaged by the pencil company, and Detective John Black, shot away from the police station and up to the pencil factory. Within ten minutes it had returned. With Scott and Black was Leo M. Frank.
Arrest Creates Sensation.
It was given out at first that Frank was not under arrest, but from that time to this he has not known an instant of actual freedom. This move of the detectives created a sensation. Public indignation, ready to vent itself on the newest object at hand, mounted to menacing heights even though nothing was known against Frank except that he freely admitted being in the factory at the time the Phagan girl came for her money and that the detectives interpreted some of his actions after the crime as highly suspicious.
His many friends rushed immediately to his defense. They proclaimed his arrest as a ridiculous blunder on the part of the police. They pointed to his career and to his reputation as the most potent indication that he would not descend to the fiendish deed that ended the innocent life of Mary Phagan.
But the detectives said:
He was the last one known to have seen Mary Phagan alive.
He was nervous and excited when Lee came to the factory at 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon.
He was nervous and apparently fearful when Gantt came there at 6 o’clock and desired to enter the factory.
Actions Were Unusual.
He called Newt Lee in the evening, something he never had done before during Lee’s employment.
There was no answer when Lee called his house early Sunday morning after finding the body and calling the police.
There was no answer when Call Officer Anderson attempted to get him on the telephone when the four policemen were in the factory early that morning.
He acted in a highly suspicious manner when the officers came to his house Sunday morning to take him to the police station for questioning.
All the time that the storm of accusation and bitterness was rising against the young factory superintendent, his attorney, Luther Z. Rosser, kept silence, except to say that Frank in the end would be found entirely innocent. Convinced of his client’s innocence, Rosser worked quietly and faithfully in his behalf. Only once in the early days of the tragedy was he provoked to a show of his bulldog fighting qualities. This was when he reached the police station after Frank’s arrest and was refused the privilege of seeing Frank.
“We’ll see whether they can stop me from conferring with my own client,” he shouted. A few minutes later he was in conversation with Frank.
From Frank’s arrest until the next day, when the inquest was to begin, a dozen detectives were searching the factory rigidly from top to bottom for evidence. Practically every employee of the plant was quizzed and detectives were sent about the city running down fresh leads that came into the possession of the department.
On the even of the inquest came the tragic funeral services of the young victim. The minister’s prayer was as a stern, imperative invocation to the six men on the Coroner’s Jury as well as a fervent plea to the Almighty.
“May God bring the man guilty of this terrible crime to justice,” he implored, standing with closed eyes before the little white casket in the Marietta church where Mary, when a toddling child, had attended Sunday school.
Children who had played with her about her home in Marietta surrounded the grave and saw the body lowered into the earth. As the casket disappeared from sight the grief-stricken mother swooned.
The whole grewsome story of the finding of the body was repeated at the inquest, which began next day, but nothing was told which would throw any further light on the identity of the guilty person. Newt Lee told in his ignorant fashion of every move he had made during the fatal day and of his movements in the factory that night.
His story had every appearance of truthfulness. Coroner Donehoo was not able to trip him or catch him in any misstatements. He declared that he had no knowledge that the body was in the building until he went into the dark basement shortly before 3 o’clock that morning and saw the huddled form in the dim light of his lantern.
The officers who visited the factory that morning told their stories. Several of them were of the opinion that Lee knew much more than he had told and their testimony reflected this opinion, but the inquisition of the negro failed to elicit any admissions.
Conley Enters the Case.
Interest was centered in the testimony of Frank, which, it was thought, would be given when the jury resumed its session Thursday. The jurors, however, met and immediately adjourned until the following Monday, and another even took place which was thought to be of little consequence at the time, but which later assumed a vital bearing on the case.
E. F. Holloway day watchman at the factory, walking through the building early Thursday afternoon, came upon the negro sweeper, Jim Conley. Conley was washing a shirt and appeared strangely embarrassed when caught in the act by Holloway. The negro explained that he was washing the shirt in preparation for the inquest to which he had been summoned. Holloway notified the detectives of the suspicious circumstance and Conley was placed under arrest. That night the first formal charge was lodged against Frank and Lee. They were transferred from the police station to the Tower under commitments in which it was stated that they were suspected of the murder of Mary Phagan.
Apparently unafraid of the terrible charge that had been made against him, Frank appeared at the resumption of the inquest the next Monday seemingly the most unconcerned person in the whole assemblage. Only when he was forced to pass through the narrow lane out into the jam of humanity that filled the station house corridors did he display the slightest trace of nervousness. Looking straight ahead in an evident endeavor to avoid the sinister glances of the crowd, he hurried into the Commissioners’ room with Chief Lanford’s hand on his arm.
Once inside the room, his face assumed an expression of relief and he walked to the stand with an air of confidence. He answered the questions shot at him without hesitation. His utterance was distinct and his voice unfaltering. He appeared absolutely sure of himself and sure of his story.
He related freely Mary Phagan’s visit to the factory. He recalled giving her the pay envelope. He said that she left his office and that he heard her talking with another girl, he thought, and then heard their footsteps dying away. He denied that he sent her to the rear of the factory to see if an expected shipment of metal had come.
No Incriminating Admission.
Every person in the crowded and stuffy little room hung on to each word of his testimony as it came clearly from his lips, but if anyone was expecting an incriminating admission he was disappointed, for it did not come.
Instead, the witness-defendant told a most remarkable and impressive story of his actions on the day of the crime, a story which since has been most strongly corroborated by the testimony of other persons.
Startling incidents followed in close succession until the next inquest hearing on Thursday of the same week. Paul P. Bowen, a former Atlanta boy, was arrested in Houston, Tex., on the suspicion of having fled there after the crime, and a day later the Pinkertons were trailing a Greek from Atlanta to Anniston, Ala., where he was supposed to have taken refuge after killing the girl.
Bowen was arrested on the strength of a story that a woman had heard him muttering wildly in his room in a Houston hotel.
“Why did I do it? Why did I do it?” she declared she heard him cry. Clippings telling of the murder were found in his trunk, but it was found that he had not been in Atlanta for a year. The clew in Anniston was discovered to be as worthless and the Pinkertons abandoned their theory that a Greek had anything to do with the crime. (To Be Continued To-morrow.)