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Leo Frank Trial: 1913

Little Mary Phagan Murdered

As was common at the time, Frank's factory employed women and children, who were capable of performing the light labor necessary to manufacture pencils and who could be paid lower wages than men. One such worker was Mary Phagan, a blond 13-year-old girl who lived in nearby Marietta. She was one of several workers caught in a temporary layoff, and on April 26, 1913, she came to collect her final wages from Frank. Frank paid her and thought no more of the matter after she left. Shortly before he left for the day, Frank had another encounter with a former employee, this time with John Gantt, who asked if he could retrieve some shoes he had left in his locker. Frank allowed Gantt to get his shoes, but Frank's nervous personality made him afraid of Ganrtt, who had a reputation as a drunkard and who Frank had fired for stealing.

That night, Frank called the night watchman, a black man named Newt Lee, several times to ask if there was any trouble. Frank probably feared some sort of action by Gantt, but there was none. In the early hours of the morning, however, Lee discovered the bound and brutalized corpse of Mary Phagan in the basement. Someone had raped and killed her after she collected her pay that day. Afraid that he would be blamed for the crime, Lee went straight to the police and reported the crime. His honesty did him no good: After the police arrived at the factory and investigated the scene of the crime, they threw Lee in jail anyway, to be held without charges for months.

The police then went to Frank's house, took him to the scene of the crime for questioning, and then to the police station for several days of further interrogation. Meanwhile, the murder had become a local sensation, and the Atlanta newspapers were filled with lurid headlines describing the details of the crime and calling for justice. Hugh Mason Dorsey, the chief prosecutor for that portion of Atlanta, had political ambitions and seized on the meek, Jewish Frank as an easy target. On April 29, 1913, Frank was formally arrested for the murder of Mary Phagan.

Frank's lawyers were Reuben Arnold, Herbert Haas, Stiles Hopkins, and Luther Z. Rosser. In addition to Dorsey, the prosecutors were Frank Arthur Hooper and Edward A. Stephens. The judge was Leonard Strickland Roan, and the trial began on July 28, 1913.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Leo Frank Trial: 1913 - Little Mary Phagan Murdered, Prosecutors Emphasize Frank's Nervousness, Prosecution Clinches Their Case, Frank Convicted, Commuted, And Lynched