• Photo of the murder victim, Mary Phagan, taken sometime before 1913. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    Murder victim, Mary Phagan, Georgia, before 1913
    • Date
    • 1910/1913
    • Creator
    • Atlanta Journal-Constitution
    • Description
    • Photograph of Mary Phagan before her murder
    • Rights
    • Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University. AJCP552-044c, Atlanta Journal Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library.
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia; Georgia State University. Libraries. Special Collections
    • Contributing Institution
    • Georgia State University. Libraries. Special Collections

  • Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman from Atlanta accused of murder and later lynched. Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. 

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    Frank, Leo, circa 1913
    • Date
    • 1913
    • Description
    • View of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman from Atlanta accused of murder and later lynched. Leo Frank was a manager at a pencil factory in Marietta, Georgia. Frank was convicted on questionable evidence of the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan... more
      View of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman from Atlanta accused of murder and later lynched. Leo Frank was a manager at a pencil factory in Marietta, Georgia. Frank was convicted on questionable evidence of the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. Shortly after his death sentence was commuted to life in prison, Frank, who was Jewish, was kidnapped and lynched by a group of men. less
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S Code) Permission for use must be cleared through The Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta ... more
      Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S Code) Permission for use must be cleared through The Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Licensing agreement may be required. less
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia; Atlanta History Center
    • Contributing Institution
    • Atlanta History Center

  • Photo of Newt Lee with detective as seen in Watson's Magazine,Vol. XXI, no. 4, Aug. 1915, p. 191. Courtesy of the University of California via HathiTrust.

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    Newt Lee, with detective, from Watson's Magazine
    • Date
    • 1915
    • Creator
    • Watson, Thomas E. 1856-1922
    • Description
    • Photo of Newt Lee with detective as seen in Watson's Magazine,Vol. XXI, no. 4, Aug. 1915, p. 191.
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the University of California via HathiTrust. Public domain only when viewed in the US. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust; University of California
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of California.

  • Image of downtown Atlanta, Georgia, showing National Pencil Company building, where Mary Phagan's murder occurred. Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    Downtown Atlanta, Georgia - National Pencil Factory building visible
    • Date
    • 1861/1865
    • Creator
    • Kurtz, Wilbur G. (Wilbur George), 1882-1967
    • Description
    • Image of downtown Atlanta, Georgia showing National Pencil Company building, where Mary Phagan's murder occurred
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. Cite as: Wilbur G. Kurtz, Sr. visual arts collection, VIS 197, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia; Atlanta History Center
    • Contributing Institution
    • Atlanta History Center

Crime and Arrest

Confederate Memorial Day fell on Saturday, April 26, 1913. The National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Georgia, was closed, but superintendent Leo Frank was in the office working on a financial report and handing out wages. Thirteen-year-old employee Mary Phagan collected her pay around noon; she did not return home.

In the early hours of April 27, African American night watchman Newt Lee discovered Phagan’s body in the factory basement and immediately called the police. Phagan had been strangled and dragged across the floor. Two crudely written notes implicating “a negro” were found nearby. Initial suspicion fell on Lee. When Leo Frank was contacted about the murder, the police noted he was very nervous. But when he was brought in for questioning, Frank denied knowledge of the crime.

The National Pencil Company’s sweeper, an African American man named Jim Conley, was discovered washing a bloody shirt and was also questioned by police. He denied any involvement, claiming he could not read or write. But after intense interrogation, Conley’s story changed. He admitted writing the notes, but claimed that he did so upon orders from Leo Frank. Despite the inconsistencies in Conley’s story (which changed four times), the police and solicitor general Hugh M. Dorsey believed him. Leo Frank was arrested and indicted for the murder of Mary Phagan. Jim Conley was the primary witness.