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Leo Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was an American Jew, whose lynching by a mob of prominent citizens in Marietta, Georgia in 1915 turned the spotlight on anti-Semitism in the United States and led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League. 
Frank, the manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence of raping and murdering an employee, twelve-year-old Mary Phagan. The case is widely regarded as a miscarriage of justice.  The trial was sensationalized by the media, which promoted fantastic stories about orgies and rape at the factory. The Georgia politician and publisher Tom Watson used the case to build support for the renewal of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been destroyed by the federal government in the early 1870's. 
Shortly after Frank's conviction, new evidence emerged that cast doubt on his guilt. The governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, but Frank was kidnapped from prison by a mob of prominent citizens calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan and hanged. The mob is reported to have included the son of a senator, a former governor, lawyers, and a prosecutor.  Crowds descended on the site of the lynching, removing pieces of the tree and the rope
At the time, Atlanta had a large Jewish population, which had become highly assimilated under the leadership of Reform rabbi David Marx, and the Franks were part of its upper economic stratum. Leo Frank had been born in Texas and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a German-born physician who had worked as a postmaster and salesman in the United States.
Frank received an engineering degree at Cornell, and married Lucille Selig in 1910. Lucille came from a wealthy family of industrialists who had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta two generations earlier. An uncle of Frank's was a wealthy Confederate veteran who owned a large percentage of National Pencil Factory, and it was through him that Frank ended up as the factory's superintendent. Frank was highly qualified, and had traveled to Massachusetts, New York, and Germany for further apprenticeships in pencil manufacturing. He was president of a local chapter of the B'nai Brith, and the Franks moved in a cultured and privileged milieu of tennis, bridge, and opera.
By the age of 12, when she died, Mary Phagan had already moved to the city. The week before her murder, a shortage of supplies at the factory had led to a reduction in her hours, and she was paid only $1.20. On April 26, 1913, (known locally as Confederate Memorial Day), she came in to the factory to claim her pay, before going to see the parade. Her pay was issued to her by Frank.
At three in the morning on April 27, the police received a call from the factory's black night watchman, Newt Lee, saying that he had found the body of a dead white girl. The Atlanta police force in this period was poorly trained, badly equipped, and had a reputation for corruption, having just undergone a scandal involving the framing of a man for murder following a personal dispute with a police officer. New members of the police force were put on the job with only a week of formal training. There was no fingerprint lab, and the force was not yet motorized.
When the police arrived, they found Phagan's body in a dark, filthy basement littered with coal dust and pencil shavings. Phagan's body was so dirty that some officers initially believed she was black, and they had to pull down one of her stockings to verify her race. She had been strangled with a 3/4-inch cord, which was still around her neck, and blood was still flowing from her genital region when the body was discovered. Some evidence at the crime scene was lost, including bloody fingerprints, and a trail in the dirt that would have shown where Phagan had been dragged from. Frank initially said that Lee's time card, which was supposed to be punched every half hour as he made his rounds at night, was complete, but he later declared that it had not been punched in three places.
The police initially investigated a variety of suspects, and arrested both Newt Lee and a young friend of Phagan's for the crime, but gradually became convinced that they were not the culprits. A detective sneaked into Lee's apartment and found a blood-soaked shirt, but the blood was on the inside, and the shirt appeared to have been newly pressed; the prosecution later claimed that the shirt had been planted by Frank in order to incriminate Lee. Although suspicion did not initially fall on Frank, the police later noted that he had not answered the phone when they called his house at 4 a.m., and that he seemed extremely nervous when they arrived at his house before dawn and took him to the factory. He gave extremely detailed answers to the police on some minor points, and was trembling so strongly that he could not carry out simple physical tasks. However, when the police had arrived at his house, they had refused to tell him what was it was all about, a fact Frank brought up at his trial to explain his nervous reaction.
One of the "murder notes."
The Atlanta Constitution broke the story, but there was soon a frenzied competition between the Constitution and the Georgian, a formerly sedate local paper that had recently been bought by the Hearst syndicate and revamped to compete using the standard Hearst formula of yellow journalism. By some counts, as many as 40 extra editions came out the day of Phagan's murder. The Georgian published a doctored morgue photo of Phagan, in which her head was shown spliced onto the body of another girl. Some evidence went missing when it was "borrowed" from the police by reporters. The two papers offered a total of $1,800 in reward money for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer, and this led to many false or irrelevant leads being given to the police.
Two notes were found in the plant, supposedly written by Phagan as she was dying and accusing a "Negro" of killing her. These came to be known as the "murder notes." Great suspicion was cast on the notes, and there was debate about whether Phagan would have used the word "Negro," which was seldom used by white people in the South at that time. Jim Conley later claimed that the notes were dictated to him by Frank. The text of the notes was:
Mam that negro hire down here did this i went to make water and he push me doun that hole a long negro black that hoo it was long sleam tall negro i wright while play with me.
He said he wood love me and land doun play like night witch did it but that long tall black negro did buy his slef.
 Suspicion falls on Frank
Phagan's friend, 15-year-old newsboy George Epps, came forward to say that Frank had flirted with Phagan and had frightened her:
"She began talking about Mr. Frank. When she would leave the factory on some afternoons, she said, Frank would rush out in front of her and try to flirt with her as she passed. She told me that he had often winked at her and tried to pay her attention. He would look hard and straight at her, she said, and then would smile. It happened often, she said. She told me she wanted me to come down to the factory when she got off as often as I could to escort her home and kinder protect her."
The Hearst papers, meanwhile, invented a completely fictional version of the basement:
"Pictures of Salome dancers in scanty raiment and of chorus girls in different postures adorned the walls of the National Pencil Company plant."
The Constitution published a story stating that a private detective, Robert House, had seen Frank take a girl to an isolated, wooded spot in the city, and had said,
"I don't want you to see the girl. I admit that we're here for immoral purpose. Please don't make a case against us or arrest us. It would disgrace us both. We will leave instantly."
The madam of a bordello, Nina Formby, told the police that on the night of the murder, Frank, a frequent customer, had called her asking if she had a room in which he could get rid of Phagan's body. However, Formby skipped town soon after her statement and recanted it from New York, saying that the police had gotten her drunk and offered her money to say it. The police, in an intense grilling, also persuaded the Franks' housekeeper to change her statement helping to establish Frank's alibi, but she recanted her statement immediately.
Frank hired two Pinkerton detectives to help him prove his innocence, which was interpreted in a sinister light by many observers, especially since the Pinkerton agency had a reputation as the violent enforcers for American industrialists. Frank produced alibis for the entire time during which the crime could have been committed, but suspicion was aroused by the fact that he waited a week to bring forward one crucial witness, Lemmie Quinn, saying that he had forgotten. Gradually, however, the Georgian began to take Frank's side, responding to outrage from Atlanta's Jewish community at what they saw as a grave injustice being committed. Meanwhile, the Constitution continued to criticize the police for their lack of progress.
Jim Conley, 1913.
The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.
On May 1, Jimmy Conley, age 29, the pencil factory's janitor, was caught by the plant's day watchman, E.F. Holloway, washing a shirt. Conley tried to hide the shirt, and when that didn't work, he claimed that the stains on the shirt were from rust. Conley also lied under oath about the fact that he had had a grade-school education, and could read and write, a datum that became crucial later with regard to the murder notes. He had a record of drinking and violence, serving one sentence on the chain gang; a report that he had fired a gun at his wife was newspaper gossip, but it is unmentioned in his official records.
Holloway told the Georgian that he was "thoroughly convinced" that Conley "strangled Mary Phagan while about half drunk," resulting in a May 28 headline reading "SUSPICION TURNED TO CONLEY; ACCUSED BY FACTORY FOREMAN." Seeing the headline, Conley provided a new story, in which he stated that an agitated Frank, in a dramatic meeting in the dark, made him hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by two women, dictated the murder notes to him, gave him cigarettes, and told him to leave the factory. Afterward, he went out drinking and saw a movie. Inexplicably, the statement seemed to show no awareness that a crime had been committed. Phagan's $1.20 in pay had also disappeared, leading the police to wonder if Conley might have killed her for the money. The police asked Frank to confront Conley, but Frank refused because his lawyer was out of town. Even when Rosser returned, no meeting took place.
Under further pressure from the police about the discrepancies in his story, Conley gave another version of his story. In this version, Frank asked Conley for help in moving Phagan's body, and gave Conley $200. When the police asked where the $200 was, Conley added an addendum to his statement saying that Frank had taken it back. 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 statement from Frank to his Negro janitor. Conley also said that Frank told him on the day of the murder, "Why should I hang, I have wealthy people in Brooklyn."
The Georgian obtained William Smith to be Conley's lawyer, offering to pay all his fees. Smith was known as a "nigger lawyer" because he specialized in representing black clients. Although this put Smith at the bottom of the professional totem pole, he had successfully defended a black man against an accusation of rape by a white woman, and had also taken an elderly black woman's civil case as far as the state Supreme Court. Although Smith believed Conley had told the truth in his third affidavit, he became concerned that Conley was giving long jailhouse interviews with crowds of reporters, including reporters from the Hearst papers, who Smith now realized had really taken up Frank's side. He arranged for Conley to be moved to a different jail, severing his potentially lucrative relationship with the Georgian.
Two witnesses came forward to incriminate Conley. Will Green, a carnival worker, said that he had been playing craps at the factory with Conley, and had run away when Conley had declared his intention to rob a girl who walked by. William Mincey, an insurance salesman, had met a drunk Conley on the street; Conley, trying to brush Mincey off, said, "I have killed one today and do not wish to kill another," but Mincey had thought it was a joke. Neither man testified in court.
The first day of the trial. The area shown in the photo was surrounded by racially segregated seats for spectators. The stenographer can be seen squatting next to Newt Lee, who is being questioned by prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.
On May 24, 1913, a murder indictment was returned against Frank by a grand jury that included four Jews. After the panel's term expired in July, there was considerable sentiment, even among some members of the new panel, for indicting Conley, but in the end Conley was not indicted.
Frank's trial began on July 28. Because of the heat, the windows were left open, and in addition to the hundreds of spectators inside, a mob gathered outside the city hall to watch the trial through the windows, a circumstance that became important later. The prosecutor was Hugh Dorsey. Frank was represented by eight lawyers (some of them jury selection specialists), led by Luther Rosser. Several jurors initially lied about having previously stated opinions about the case, and were disqualified when their lies were detected. The defense used preemptory challenges to eliminate the only two black jurors.
The prosecution's theory was that Conley's last affidavit was true, Frank was the murderer, and the murder notes had been dictated by Frank in an effort to pin the crime on Newt Lee. The defense's theory was that Conley was the murderer, and Lee helped Conley write the notes. The case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and much of it was contradictory. The defense brought a large number of witnesses who attested to Frank's alibi, leaving him without enough time to have committed the crime.
Conley reiterated his testimony from his final affidavit, but added to it by describing Frank as regularly having sex with women in his upstairs office on Saturdays while Conley kept a lookout. Another witness, who, like Conley, had a criminal record, testified to the same thing. Conley testified that Frank had told him he wasn't "built like other men," and that he had seen Frank performing oral sex on women in his office. Although Conley admitted that he had changed his story and lied repeatedly, this did not damage the prosecution's case as much as might have been expected. Conley admitted to being an accessory, so it wasn't surprising that he had lied at first. Also, many white observers did not believe that a black man could have been intelligent enough to make up such a complicated story; The Georgian said, "Many people are arguing to themselves that the negro, no matter how hard he tried or how generously he was coached, still never could have framed up a story like the one he told unless there was some foundation in fact." Conley intentionally hid his education, lying about his ability to read and write.
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 12 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 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.
Frank testified on his own behalf. Most of his testimony consisted of an extremely long and detailed explanation of the type of accounting work he had been doing the day of Phagan's murder, meant to show that it was too time-consuming for him to have completed if he had committed the murder. However, he ended with a description of how he saw the crime, including an effective, and by some accounts, moving, explanation of his nervousness:
Gentlemen, I was nervous. I was completely unstrung. Imagine yourself called from sound slumber in the early hours of the morning ... To see that little girl on the dawn of womanhood so cruelly murdered — it was a scene that would have melted stone.
The defense, in its closing statements, explicitly opened up the racial dimensions of the case, saying, "... if Frank hadn't been a Jew he would never have been prosecuted..." and, "Conley is a plain, beastly, drunken, filthy, lying nigger with a spreading nose through which probably tons of cocaine has been sniffed." The prosecutor compared Frank to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and said that Frank had killed Phagan to keep her from talking, both to preserve his reputation and because if she had told her story of being raped, "ten thousand men ... would have sprung up in this town and would have stormed the jail."
As the trial had worn on, public sentiment in Atlanta had turned strongly against Frank. The defense requested a mistrial because it felt the jurors had been intimidated, but the motion was denied. In case of an acquittal, the judge feared for the safety of Frank and his lawyers, so he brokered a deal in which they would not be present when the verdict was read. Frank was convicted of murder. The Constitution described the scene as Dorsey emerged from the steps of city hall:
"The solicitor reached no farther than the sidewalk. While mounted men rode like Cossacks through the human swarm, three muscular men slung Mr. Dorsey on their shoulders and passed him over the heads of the crowd across the street."
Dorsey was later elected governor of Georgia.
Frank's appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court failed in November. Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar denied a writ of habeas corpus sought by Frank's lawyers, and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes also denied habeas corpus, although he wrote a short opinion stating that "I very seriously doubt if the petitioner ... has had due process of law ... because of the trial taking place in the presence of a hostile demonstration and seemingly dangerous crowd, thought by the presiding Judge to be ready for violence unless a verdict of guilty was rendered."
Subsequently, Justice Lamar granted a writ of error allowing Frank to appeal to the full U.S. Supreme Court, which heard Frank's appeal in April 1915. Populist politician and journalist Tom Watson's Jeffersonian wrote, "If Frank's rich connections keep on lying about this case, SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN." On April 19, in the case of Frank v. Magnum Frank's appeal was denied on a 7-2 vote. Holmes and Justice Charles Evans Hughes dissented, with Holmes writing that "Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury."
Frank applied for clemency from the departing Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton. Slaton reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents, carefully examined the new evidence that tended to incriminate Conley, including the unmashed pile of feces at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and studies comparing Conley's speech patterns to the language of the murder notes. At the hearing, former governor Joseph Brown said,
"Now in all frankness, if your excellency wishes to insure lynch law in Georgia, ... you can strike this dangerous blow at our institutions ... by retrying this case."
Frank's lawyer, Schley Howard, argued that Conley was the murderer:
"Who but that knows the negro knows that the prize above life itself to him is the privilege of debasing a white woman."
Convinced that Frank was innocent, on June 20, 1915, Slaton commuted the Frank's sentence to life in prison, "assuming that Frank's innocence would eventually be fully established and he would be set free". Watson railed against the decision and urged the lynchings of both Frank and Slaton:
"Our grand old Empire State HAS BEEN RAPED! ... Jew money has debased us, bought us, and sold us — and laughs at us ... Hereafter, let no man reproach the South with Lynch law: let him remember the unendurable provocation; and let him say whether lynch law is not better than no law at all."
A mob threatened to attack the governor at home, but a detachment of the Georgia National Guard under the command of Major Asa Warren Candler, along with county policemen and a group of Slaton's friends who were sworn in as deputies, dispersed the mob. 
A group calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan began openly organizing a plan to kidnap Frank from the state prison farm and take him to Marietta, 150 miles away, to lynch him. They systematically recruited between 25 and 28 men with the necessary skills, rejecting some prospective participants who were perceived as too unreliable. The ringleaders were:
* Joseph Mackey Brown, the former governor who had threatened lynching during the clemency hearings
* Judge Newton (Newt) Morris, who concealed a period of his life in California that may have included cattle rustling and skipping bail on a murder charge
* Eugene Herbert Clay, the scandal-plagued but widely loved son of a U.S. senator Alexander S. Clay, and former mayor of Marietta.
* John Tucker Dorsey, a lawyer and state legislator who had served a sentence for killing a man in a drunken brawl
* Fred Morris, a lawyer
* Bolan Glover Brumby, owner of a furniture factory
Among the participants in Frank's lynching, the Washington Post reported, "Herbert Clay, son of a U.S. senator, ... was perhaps the most prominent person on the list. He was identified as one of the lynching's "planners," as were Moultrie McKinney Sessions, a lawyer and banker, and John Tucker Dorsey, a Georgia legislator and prosecutor. Others named as among the lynchers were Gordon Baxter Gann, later mayor of Marietta and a state legislator; ... In all, there were 26 names on the list, some of whom may never be adequately identified."
In addition to these leaders, the group also included a doctor, another lawyer, and the former sheriff of Cobb County. John Tucker Dorsey was also the solicitor general for the Blue Ridge Circuit, and would theoretically have been in charge of prosecuting the lynchers (none of whom were ever even indicted).
On August 17, the Knights of Mary Phagan kidnapped Frank from the prison farm. The kidnapping was highly organized, using a caravan of seven cars, including one used as a decoy. They forced their way into the prison with a display of their weapons, and took Frank. Many accounts say that they drove toward Phagan's grave, intending to kill Frank there, but ran out of time and lynched him before they reached it; however, the lynching site at Frey's Gin, two miles east of Marietta, had already been prepared, complete with a rope and table supplied by conspirator Sheriff William Frey. Frank's only requests were that they allow him to write a note to his wife, that they return his wedding ring to his wife, and that they cover his lower body before hanging him, since he was wearing nothing but a nightshirt, and his genitals would otherwise be exposed. Frank's last words were, "I think more of my wife and my mother than I do of my own life."
Crowds descended on the site of the lynching, snatching up pieces of the tree and the rope as souvenirs. A man who had been grinding his heel into Frank's face was dissuaded by Judge Morris, and Frank's body was eventually transferred to an undertaker.
the film The Birth of a Nation. Many drew a parallel between Mary Phagan and the film's Flora Cameron, who throws herself off of a cliff to escape from being raped by a black man.
For many Southerners who believed Frank to be guilty, there was a strong resonance between the Frank trial and The Birth of a Nation, because they saw an analogy between Mary Phagan and the film's character Flora, a young virgin who throws herself off a cliff to avoid the black character Gus, described as "a renegade, a product of the vicious doctrines spread by the carpetbaggers," who she believes is attempting to rape her. Many American Jews saw Frank as an American Dreyfus. The intensity of the national and international attention focused on it was comparable to the obsession produced by the Lindbergh kidnapping. Frank's lynching led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Frank trial was used skillfully by Watson to work up enthusiasm for rebuilding the Ku Klux Klan, which the federal government had destroyed during Reconstruction. The new Klan was inaugurated in 1915 at a mountaintop meeting, led by William J. Simmons, and attended by aging members of the original Klan, along with members of the Knights of Mary Phagan. In keeping with its origins in the Leo Frank lynching, the reorganized Klan had a new anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and nativist slant. This was consistent with the new Klan's greater success at recruiting in the US Midwest than in the South. As in the Nazi party's propaganda in Germany, recruiters made effective use of the idea that prospective members' problems were caused by blacks, Jewish bankers, or other such groups.
On March 11, 1986, Frank was issued a pardon by the state of Georgia, without clearing him of the crime; only the issue of his safety in the State's custody was raised. Phagan's family continued to insist on Frank's guilt, even after Conley's repeated "confessions" were revealed. However, they disassociated themselves from the use of Mary's murder to further the purposes of the Klan. Mary Phagan's great-niece, also named Mary, wrote a book about the case in 1987.
The Leo Frank story has been dramatised extensively. It opened as a musical - Parade by Jason Robert Brown - on Broadway in 1998 and subsquently won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical. Though it received mixed reviews and was short lived, a national tour ensued in 2000 and it is still produced around the world. The case was also the basis for the 1988 made-for-TV movie, The Murder of Mary Phagan, starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Gallagher, and Kevin Spacey. It takes minor liberties with certain events and persons, but is generally an accurate dramatic portrayal of this case.
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