Rosser Riddles One of the State’s Chief Witnesses
July 31st, 1913
Detective John Black “Goes to Pieces” Under Rapid-Fire Cross-Questioning of Frank’s Attorney at Afternoon Session
Action characterized the Wednesday afternoon session of the Frank trial, and it was the first time the tedious proceedings had taken on life enough to attract more than passing interest.
This action came in the fierce and merciless cross-examination of Detective John Black by Attorney Rosser, leading counsel for the defense. Black has taken a prominent part in the investigation of the Phagan murder, and it was expected that he would prove one of the state’s principal witnesses, but before Mr. Rosser had finished with him he went all to pieces and admitted that he was hopelessly confused.
There were only two witnesses at the afternoon session—Detective Black and J. M. Gantt, the former shipping clerk at the pencil factory. Gantt was on the stand but about twenty minutes and the only two important points in his testimony were assertions that Frank knew Mary Phagan and that Frank seemed to be frightened and very nervous when the witness saw him at the pencil factory door on the evening of the murder.
There was a considerable colloquy between Solicitor Dorsey and Attorney Rosser as to the propriety of the questions framed by the solicitor. During this colloquy Mr. Dorsey addressing the judge, declared, “I propose to show, your honor, that this bloody shirt was a plant, and that it was through suggestions made by the defendant that the detectives were induced to search Newt Lee’s house.”
The question was finally put and the witness rather hesitatingly replied that it was on Tuesday that the shirt had been found and that it was on Monday morning that Frank had suggested that the officers search his own house, and that it was also on Monday that the defendant had announced that there were skips in the time clock slips.
Court re-convened at 2 o’clock.
SECOND VISIT TO FRANK’S.
Detective Black also told of going to Frank’s home again Monday morning at 7 o’clock with Detective Haslett to ask him to come down to the police station to talk the murder over. Black said that he and Haslett had to wait on the porch while Frank ate breakfast, and when Frank finished his meal they accompanied him to headquarters. They arrived about 8 o’clock or 8:30.
Shortly after they got there he noticed Attorney Rosser and Herbert Haas. At 11:30 o’clock Monday morning Haas insisted to Chief Lanford that a search he made of Frank’s house by officers, Frank accompanying them.
Solicitor Dorsey asked the witness just what Haas said to Lanford. Black replied that Haas stated he was Frank’s lawyer and that in that capacity he would insist that nothing should be left undone to clear up the matter so far as Frank was concerned.
Solicitor Dorsey then asked the witness if on that morning Frank had consulted with Rosser and Arnold. He said he didn’t know about Mr. Arnold, but that Frank had consulted with Rosser and Haas at police headquarters.
The witness was asked what conversation he had had with Newt Lee. He and Pinkerton Detective Scott suggested to Frank, replied the witness, that he take Newt Lee into a room and see if he could get anything out of him that would throw light on the murder.
The witness said that Frank had spoken very highly of the negro night watchman. The two were left in a room alone together for five or ten minutes, said the witness. Black was not able to overhear very well what was said in the room. Detective Scott and Black went into the room and Frank told them Newt Lee stuck to his first story of not knowing anything about the murder.
Black said that Frank told them he insisted to Lee that he, the negro, must know something about the murder as no one else was in the factory on that Saturday night. Black said that he talked with Frank about getting suggestions from him, and that Frank seemed to suspect Gantt and to believe that Lee might know something about it, inasmuch as Lee was the nightwatchman and as such it was his duty to go through the factory every thirty minutes.
“He told me,” said the witness, “that Gantt came to the factory about 6 o’clock Saturday afternoon and that he left him there, that he had had some previous trouble with Gantt and at first had refused to let him go in and and look for his shoes, but that he later told Lee to let him in and watch him while he was in the factory, that he had given this direction because Gantt knew the surroundings of the office.”
Subsequent to this conversation, Gantt was arrested, said Black. Frank did not talk with Gantt. Frank did not refuse to talk with Lee.
The first mention was made of Jim Conley’s name.
Solicitor Dorsey asked the witness if there had not been other suspects. Black said yes.
“Who were they?”
“Jim Conley was one,” replied Black.
“Did Gantt talk to Conley?”
“Did you talk to Frank on several occasions after he was arrested?”
“Yes. He seemed to be nervous, as any man under arrest would be, and was willing to answer questions.”
Solicitor Dorsey asked that the statement be stricken, saying it was not an answer to his question. Judge Roan refused to rule it out.
Solicitor Dorsey asked this question:
“Was Newt Lee nervous after he was arrested?”
Attorney Rosser objected.
“Well,” said Solicitor Dorsey, “if you let him give this gratuitous opinion about Frank, isn’t it fair to let me compart it with the demeanor of another man accused of the same crime?”
Attorney Rosser still objected. Judge Roan agreed to sustain Rosser, but told the solicitor that he would rule out Black’s opinion if the solicitor would withdraw his question. This was done.
The solicitor then put his question in another form.
The solicitor then put his question in another form.
“After Frank was arrested, did you observe his deportment, conduct and appearance?”
“Yes, he was excited and sullen and didn’t have much to say. Previously he had talked willingly.”
Solicitor Dorsey announced he was through with the witness and Attorney Rosser took up the cross-examination.
“You said Frank was ‘released’ Monday evening,” began Attorney Rosser. “You mean then that he had been detained there against his will?”
Detective Black said that he had used the word ‘released’ inadvertently, and that Frank had not been under arrest that day.
Attorney Rosser attacked the statement that Frank had retained counsel Monday (?) about 8 or 8:30 o’clock.
“As a matter of fact, don’t you know that it was 10 o’clock in the morning when I came to police station?”
Black answered, “No, I don’t know it.”
“What? You don’t know it was 10 o’clock when I came?”
Black answered, “No, sir. I still think you were there at 8:30 o’clock.”
“Were you in the room when I got there?”
“I was in the hall.”
“Didn’t you hear me go up and introduce myself to Mr. Frank? Didn’t you know that I never had seen him before? Didn’t you hear me ask him what they wanted with him? Didn’t you hear him say that they wanted a statement from him? And didn’t you hear me tell him to give it voluntarily?”
ROSSER RAPS LANFORD.
Detective Black answered in the negative. “I wasn’t in the doom,” said he.
“Didn’t you hear Chief Lanford call Frank into his private office with a snarl, like he was talking to a negro, and say, ‘Come in here.’”
“No, Chief Lanford doesn’t talk that way.”
“You and Chief Lanford didn’t want me in there, did you, Mr. Black? You didn’t want me to hear what you had to say to him?”
In answer to other questions, Black testified that Frank during his detention at the station house and in his examination by the coroner’s pury [sic], answered all questions readily.
Attorney [R]osser reverted to the previous conversation which Black testified he had with Frank regarding another matter, before the murder of Mary Phagan occurred.
“Can you remember who was with you on that occasion?” he asked the witness.
“What refreshed your memory so suddenly? As a matter of fact, aren’t you figuring that your partner should have been there?”
“No, it just occurred to me.”
Where were you when this conversation took place?”
“In the pencil factory.”
“What part of the pencil factory?”
“Around the office.”
“As a matter of fact, you can’t swear truthfully that you spoke to him at all, can you?”
THE PHONE CONVERSATION.
Regarding the telephone conversation when Detective Starnes called Frank on the morning after the murder, Attorney Rosser asked Black if he could remember what Starnes said.
“No, sir,” replied Black.
“Did you have Newt Lee in your custody at that time?”
“I don’t remember.”
“What time did you get to the undertaking establishment?”
“About 6:30 o’clock, to the best of my recollection.”
“As a matter of fact, wasn’t the sun high and hot when you got back?”
“Why didn’t you tell Frank, until after you got in the automobile, that a girl had been killed at the factory?”
“I wanted to see the effect of the news on Frank.”
“When you really want to remember anything, you write it down, don’t you, Mr. Black?”
“Didn’t Frank go upstairs and put his collar and tie on?”
“You don’t see things like other men, do you, Mr. Black?”
“I suppose I do.”
“How long did it take Frank to put on his collar and tie?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Did he tie his tie, or was it a hang-me-on?”
“It was a cravat.”
ROSSER GRIL[L]S BLACK.
“How long did you stay out there?”
“Maybe not ten minutes.”
“And Frank talked freely to you in the automobile, didn’t he?”
“You took him to the undertaking establishment?”
“How did you say you went into the undertaking place—in what order; the undertaker first, Rogers, Frank and then yourself?”
“Frank was between you and the body?”
“You saw the girl’s face?”
“Well, then, Frank had an opportunity to see her face. He was closer to her than you?”
“Now about that curtain. It opened into a sleeping apartment, didn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“As a matter of fact, you and Frank stood just inside the door, didn’t you?”
“You on the left and Frank on the right?”
“I think so.”
CURTAIN AT UNDERTAKER’S.
“Mr. Black, that curtain was about 10 feet from the little opening, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“To have gone behind that curtain, Frank would have had to walk several feet out of his way from the opening where he stood?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You wont’ swear, Mr. Black, will you, that Frank went behind that curtain?”
“I think he did.”
“You were standing in the same relation to the curtain as Frank, were you not?”
“This slepeing [sic] room was about six feet off, was it not?”
“Frank didn’t go behind the curtain, did he?”
Black didn’t reply.
“You know what ain’t so, don’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You went upstairs into the factory with Frank?”
“He unlocked the safe without trouble at the first effort?”
“And he took the book out at the first reach?”
“And he carried it and put it on the table?”
“And he opened it at the right place?”
“He ran his finger down the column of figures until he reached Mary Phagan’s name?”
“And immediately he informed you that he had paid Mary Phagan $1.20.?”
“You went through the factory with Frank?”
“Who else went?”
“I don’t know—several people.”
“A whole horde of ’em, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know. There were several.”
“And none of you saw the splotch said to be blood?”
“None of you saw the spots in the hallway, close to the dres[s]er?”
“How many of you went over the building?”
“I don’t know exactly.”
“Perhaps thirty people?”
“I don’t know.”
“This large horde, made up of officers and curiosity seekers, went over the factory and nobody saw these alleged blood spots?”
“How long was the factory open on Sunday morning—till about 12 o’clock was it not?”
“I don’t know.”
“How many times did you go to the factory that morning?”
“You were there quite a while the first time, were you not?”
“Detective Starnes went over the factory with you, did he not?”
“Campbell and Beavers, too?”
“I don’t know about Beavers, but Chief Lanford did.”
“And no blood spots were discovered that day?”
“Not so far as I know.”
“You saw Frank at the clock?”
“He opened the clock and took out a slip?”
“Darley was there?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember being there.”
“Who held down the lever?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t have to hold the lever down.”
“Boots Rogers held it down, didn’t he?”
“I don’t recollect.”
Black then stated that he believed Rogers held the lever while Frank put a new slip in. He didn’t think anyone held it down when Frank took the old slip out.
“A moment ago, you didn’t have any recollection, did you? You’ve got it now, though, haven’t you?”
Black smiled feebly.
“How long did you keep Frank at the station house that morning? From about 8:30 until 11:30, didn’t you?”
“He stayed there,” answered the witness.
“Well, that’s what you meant. You meant you kept him there, didn’t you?”
“I could say, we kep you there, but we didn’t,” responded the witness.
FRANK’S SURRENDER OF SLIP.
“When did Frank turn over this slip that he took out of the clock?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Didn’t you tell Mr. Dorsey a few minutes ago that he turned over the slip on Monday morning?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Look here, Black. Is your memory so bad you can’t remember what you told Dorsey twenty or thirty minutes ago? And yet you attempt here to state the words of conversations that occurred more than three months ago?”
Witness did not answer.
“You heard Frank say he was mistaken about the way the time slips were punched—that at first he examined them only in a casual way?”
“I don’t recollect.”
Mr. Rosser referred to conversations which Black had had with J. M. Gantt, and brought forth the statement that Frank had charged a shortage against Gantt before Gantt was discharged, and that he had given orders that Gantt not be admitted to the factory.
“I wiesh [sic] to examine this witness no further now, your honor, but I want to call your honor’s attention to the rule that if we want to use him to impeach another witness who follows him, we may call him back to the stand.”
The statement of Attorney Rosser was taken to indicate that there is a possibility that the defense may use no witnesses.
NEWT LEE’S SHIRT.
Mr. Rosser asked Black if he had searched Newt Lee’s house. Black answered that he had, and that he found a bloody shirt. The shirt, which had been in the possession of the solicitor general, was exhibited to the witness by Mr. Rosser and was identified by him. He found the shirt at the bottom of a barrel at Lee’s residence, said the detective. He brought the shirt to police headquarters and showed it to Lee. Solicitor Dorsey objected, and Judge Roan held that Newt Lee’s admission that the shirt belonged to him could not be introduced in evidence.
Solicitor Dorsey took up the redirect examination.
The solicitor made the statement that he would try to show that the shirt found at Newt Lee’s house was a plant of the defense. This statement came during an argument between the lawyers, and was precipitated by this question of the solicitor: “What did Frank say about Lee telling or not telling all that he knew about the crime?”
Attorney Rosser objected to Black answering that question.
The solicitor explaining his motive in asking it said, “I want to show that Frank was trying to point suspicion at Newt Lee. I want to show that he wanted his own house searched so that when the officers had gone through it and nothing had been found there, he could tell them to go and search Newt Lee’s house. Our contention is that this shirt was a plant and Frank’s request was a ruse to get the police to search his house and then Newt Lee’s house and thus throw suspicion on the negro. The shirt was part of the scheme.”
THE QUESTION ALLOWED.
Judge Roan allowed the question.
Detective Black, answering it, said that Frank declared Lee hadn’t told all he knew.
Solicitor Dorsey asked: “Did Frank at any time tell you that Lee had time to go home and get back to the factory during the night?”
Black replied that after Frank was supposed to have looked at the tape the second time, he (Frank) had made that remark to him (the witness.)
“Did you search Newt Lee’s home?”
“Was it before or after Frank called your attention to these discrepancies in the time slip?”
Solicitor Dorsey took the shirt and handed it to the detective.
“Which side of the shirt is the blood on?”
“On both sides.”
“Does it look like it had been put on one side and then had soaked through?”
“I can’t tell,” answered the detective.
“Now, Mr. Black, I want to get this one point clear. You told me that you had one conversation with Mr. Frank on the Monday morning after the murder, and I understood you to tell Mr. Rosser that you didn’t have any. What about that?”
“To the best of my recollection I had one conversation with Frank on that day.”
ROSSER GROWS ANGRY.
Jumping to his feet and advancing towards the witness in a threatening manner, Attorney Rosser shook his finger at him and demanded:
“Didn’t you say that personally you had no conversation with Frank about these slips?”
“Well, what time Monday did you have this conversation with Frank?”
After hesitating for a moment or two, the witness replied that he could not remember.
Glowering at the witness, Mr. Rosser demanded:
“Black, didn’t you say time and time again that you couldn’t say whether it was before or after you talked about the slips that you went to Lee’s house?”
“I said it was after I talked about the slips.”
“Look here, Black, isn’t it in the record—right here in the record—that several times over you admitted that you couldn’t tell whether you went to Newt Lee’s house after the conversation about the slips or before?”
“I wont’ say.”
“Isn’t it true that you never did discuss these slips with Frank?”
“I remember on one occasion Frank said the slips were mispunched, and that was what caused me to go to Lee’s house.”
Before the witness had finished his answer, Mr. Rosser was shaking his finger at him and putting his question:
“What I want is for you to tell me if you haven’t sworn already that you couldn’t say whether this talk about the slips occurred on Monday.”
“I said I didn’t remember, but I had gone out after Frank suggested there were mispunches.”
Mr. Rosser started to fire another question at the witness, when the latter interrupted him to say:
BLACK ADMITS HE’S CONFUSED.
“Look here, Mr. Rosser, I don’t like to admit that I’m balled up, but you’ve got me cros[s]ed up and I don’t know where I’m at. I want to tell the truth—“
“Come down, Black,” said Mr. Rosser. But before the witness could leave the stand, Solicitor Dorsey proposed this question:
“When was it, Mr. Black, that you first heard Mr. Frank discuss these punch slips?”
“When was it Frank told you that what he had said on Sunday about the slips was wrong and that there had been skips?”
Attorney Rosser objected, insisting that this ground had been gone over with the witness. Judge Roan sustained the objection.
Solicitor Dorsey asked:
“What day was it you knew that Frank changed his statement?”
Attorney Rosser objected to this declaring it was immaterial.
“Well, what day did Frank tell you these slips were not correct?” amended the solicitor.
“To the best of my knowledge, it was on Monday.”
“Come down, Mr. Black.”
“Yes, come down, Mr. Black,” echoed Mr. Rosser, with a sneer.
As the witness was leaving the stand, it was announced that Mrs. J. W. Coleman, the mother of Mary Phagan, would be recalled. Some of the bailiffs misunderstood and thought that Mr. Rosser desired that Black resume the witness chair. To this mistake, Mr. Rosser shouted, “Not on your life.”
MRS. COLEMAN RECALLED.
Mrs. Coleman was recalled by Attorney Rosser.
“Did Mary, on the day she left home the last time, carry a little mesh bag?”
“That’s all,” said Mr. Rosser.
“Describe that bag,” asked Solicitor Dorsey.
“It was just a plain silver mesh bag,” said Mrs. Coleman.
Mr. Dorsey produced the bloody handkerchief and the parasol. The latter was identified positively by Mrs. Coleman as having belonged to Mary. She said she was almost certain that the handkerchief belonged to Mary.
Mrs. Coleman left the witness stand and was given a seat in the court room beside her husband, J. W. Coleman, who has watched every step of the trial.
J. M. Gantt was called to the stand.
“Were you ever employed at the National Pencil factory?” asked Solicitor Dorsey.
“Yes, from January 1 to about April 7, when I was discharged by Mr. Frank.”
“Why were you discharged?”
“For an alleged shortage.”
“Did you know Mary Phagan?”
“Yes, I knew her when she was a little girl. She was born on a farm near where I lived. But I hadn’t seen her for years until I met her in the pencil factory.”
“Did Leo M. Frank know Mary Phagan?”
“How do you know that he did?”
“One day she had been in the office talking to me about a mistake in her time. When she left, Mr. Frank turned to me and said, ‘You seem to know Mary pretty well.’”
“When was that occurrence?”
“How intimate were you and Mary?”
“I knew her very well when she was a child. And I saw her frequently at the factory.”
On questions from Solicitor Dorsey, Gantt said that he worked in the office on the second floor and in the shipping department there. Mary Phagan worked in the rear of the second floor.
Frank worked in the office near him, said Gantt.
RETURNED TO FACTORY.
“From April 7, when you were discharged, to April 26, had you been back to the factory?”
“Did you see Frank?”
“Yes, both times.”
“Did he offer any objection to your presence?”
“What do you know about one girl getting her pay for another girl with Frank’s knowledge and consent?”
Attorney Rosser objected to this question as irrelevant, but Solicitor Dorsey declared he later would show its relevancy, and was allowed to proceed.
“Mr. Frank had no objection to one girl getting the pay envelope for another if I knew the parties.”
“Were you in the habit of helping Mary?”
“Explain everything in connection with the alleged shortage.”
“One Saturday after we had gotten the money for the payroll and it had been checked up and found to be correct, and after it had been put in the envelopes and distributed, one of the men came back and said he was more than $2 short. I didn’t know anything about it, and told him to see Frank. After he had talked with Frank, Frank came out and asked me if I knew anything about it. I said I didn’t. Then Frank said he was not going to make it good. I said that neither was I. A little bit later he called me in and discharged me.”
TIME CLOCK AGAIN.
“Do you know anything about the time clock?”
“How long would it take a man to make punches for twelve hours?”
“About five minutes.”
Solicitor Dorsey asked Gantt if he had known of Newt Lee failing to make a complete register of the time clock. Attorney Rosser objected, and Judge Roan sustained the objection.
The solicitor asked Gantt who took his place in the pencil factory. Gantt replied that he didn’t know. Solicitor Dorsey asked if previous to Gantt’s discharge, Frank had said anything about Gantt’s work.
“He said he had the best office force that he ever had.”
“Was it possible for Frank to sit at his desk and see the register clock?”
It was possible, said Gantt, if the safe door was closed.
Solicitor Dorsey asked if Frank frequently fixed the tape in the clock.
“Not while I was there,” said Gantt.
He was questioned about the evening of April 26, when he met Frank came down the stairs. He first saw Frank just after he left the stairway and was walking toward the front door. Frank, he said, looked up and saw him through the door glass and then recoiled and hesitated, as if in doubt, and then came on out. As he came up the little depression in the sidewalk toward the street level, he jumped back a step. Frank was nervous and pale, said Gantt. He hung his head, hesitated and stuttered, said the witness.
On cross-examination, Attorney Rosser questioned Gantt upon his testimony before the coroner’s jury, reading a portion of it in which was included this question, supposed to haove [sic] been asked of him by the coroner: “Did Frank know Mary Phagan?” And the reply to it on the transcript was, “I suppose so. She was right there in the factory all the time.”
Mr. Rosser asked him about that.
Gantt admitted that the record was correct as far as it went.
Both sides told Gantt to step down.
Attorney Rosser arose. “Your honor,” said he, “we have an insurance policy here for one of the jurors to sign.” The lawyers for both sides examined it and turned it over to Deputy Sheriff Minor for the juror, Monroe S.n Woodward, to sign. It was a life insurance policy.
Court adjourned at 4:40 o’clock.
Frank was taken out ahead of the jury and whisked back to the county jail in an automobile. The jury followed.