Lynching Leo Frank
Was Leo Frank, imprisoned and lynched for the murder of Mary Phagan, wrongly convicted?
Did National Pencil Company superintendent Leo Frank strangle 13-year-old employee Mary Phagan and throw her in the company’s cellar? The year was 1913 and while the tragedy of Phagan’s death was great, the story surrounding the investigation into her murder is chilling. It’s one that involves child labour, anti-Semitism—and even the KKK.
Leo Frank took his terrible fate with a quiet dignity. As the blind-fold was placed over his eyes he asked only that his wedding ring be given to his wife. Watched on by Atlanta’s great and good, he was then hung to death from the branch of a tree.
How this mild-mannered young Jewish businessman met his brutal end is one of America’s most disputed and intractable mysteries. The only uncontested fact is that a 13-year-old girl was murdered; everything else remains tainted by a shameful legacy of racism and anti-Semitism that continues to cloud the case even 100 years on.
The murder of young Mary Phagan, and the subsequent arrest, conviction and lynching of Leo Frank would prove so controversial and divisive that it would prompt the formation of two organisations that could hardly be greater polar opposites – the second chapter of the KKK and the Jewish anti-defamation league.
Leo Frank’s high-profile murder trial became a media circus and created deep and long-standing religious and ethnic fractures in Atlanta. For many in the Jewish community, the subsequent guilty verdict was seen as symbolic of the depth of anti-Semitism in the United States, on a par with the infamous Dreyfus affair in France.