Leo Frank Biography


Birthday: April 17, 1884 (Aries)

Born In: Cuero, Texas, United States

Leo Frank was an American factory superintendent at the 'National Pencil Company' in Atlanta, who was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a minor factory worker, in 1913. His trial and the legal battle that ensued became a media sensation. When another suspect, Jim Conley, a black sweeper at the factory, was introduced, the case took a racial turn. The Jews supported Frank and urged the judicial authorities to change his death sentence to life imprisonment. This resulted in the formation of the 'Anti-Defamation League' (ADL). However, a large number of Phagan's supporters furiously campaigned against Frank and demanded that he be hanged. While he was in jail, Frank was brutally attacked. The police believed he might be subjected to mob lynching and thus placed him under protection. Nevertheless, a group violence was planned to kill him, and Frank was abducted from the jail. He was then taken to Phagan's hometown, where he was eventually hanged.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Leo Max Frank

Died At Age: 31


Spouse/Ex-: Lucille Selig (m. 1910)

father: Rudolph Frank

mother: Rachel Jacobs Frank

Born Country: United States

American Men Aries Men

Height: 1.73 m

Died on: August 17, 1915

place of death: Marietta, Georgia, United States

U.S. State: Texas

More Facts

education: Cornell University, Pratt Institute

Early Life & Career
Leo Max Frank was born on April 17, 1884, in Cuero, Texas, U.S., to Rudolph Frank and Rachel "Rae" Jacobs. He studied at various public schools of New York and graduated from the 'Pratt Institute' in 1902. He then completed his mechanical engineering from 'Cornell University' in 1906.
After a brief stint as a draftsman and a testing engineer, in 1907, he went to his uncle Moses Frank in Atlanta, where he took up a job at the 'National Pencil Company.' It was a manufacturing plant that had his uncle as a major shareholder. He then did an apprenticeship at the 'Eberhard Faber' pencil factory in Germany to learn more about pencil manufacturing.
In 1908, Frank was back in Atlanta, Georgia, where he became the superintendent of the 'National Pencil Company' the month after he joined as a full-time employee.
Continue Reading Below
Murder, Investigation, & Trials
Mary Phagan (born on June 1, 1899) worked as a minor employee at the 'National Pencil Company.' She was laid off on April 21, 1913. Hence, on April 26, 1913, she went to the factory to collect her last paycheck from Frank.
Before she could leave the premises of the factory, Phagan was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. Watchman Newt Lee discovered her bruised, battered, and blood-smeared body in the factory's basement at around 3:30 a.m. There were clear signs of her being strangled to death. Her torn underwear with bloodstains on it proved that she had been raped.
The watchman duly reported it to the police. Subsequently, Frank testified for the routine investigation but was released.
Frank initially cooperated with the investigators. However, he was not satisfied with the procedure. Hence, he hired a detective of the 'Pinkerton National Detective Agency' for the investigation.
The ‘Pinkerton’ detective collaborated with police detective John Black, who suspected Frank, and this led to a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the case had become a media sensation and was eventually politicized. Frank faced a lot of public rage.
He became one of the prime suspects after Phagan's friend testified that Frank had intimidated her and had made flirtatious advances toward her in the past. According to watchman Lee's statement, Frank seemed nervous on the day of the murder. Two other workers, however, disputed the statement.
On April 29, a blood-stained shirt was retrieved from Lee's residence. However, the police later realized that the shirt had been planted. They subsequently interviewed Frank regarding the lead. His nervous behavior throughout the interviews made the detectives believe that Frank himself had planted the evidence.
On May 1, another suspect, a black janitor at the factory, Jim Conley, was arrested. He was seen rinsing a stained shirt in the basement. He later claimed that the red stains were of rust. His trial began on May 18.
On May 8, the coroner's jury (first held on April 30), announced Lee and Frank as the murderers. On May 23, as requested by Solicitor Hugh Dorsey, A grand jury indicted Frank, while the charges against Lee were dropped.
Continue Reading Below
On May 26, Conley admitted to writing the notes found near Phagan's body and said that Frank had ordered him to do so. In July, Frank's wife publicly claimed her husband's innocence and accused Dorsey of torturing witnesses to obtain false evidence.
The prosecution's case against Frank was heavily based on Conley's statements. Each of his new statements, however, contradicted the last. Even though most of the circumstantial evidence and testimonies favored Frank, the prevailing prejudice against Jews and blacks gave the case a racial angle and ultimately affected the trial.
Several of Frank's young female colleagues testified against him, stating that he was a sexual offender and that he had been involved in several sexual relationships. On the other hand, the female employees that the defense interviewed stated that Frank was of good character.
A factory worker, Helen Ferguson, testified to the prosecution that Frank had not allowed her to collect Phagan's pay and had asked Phagan to come in person instead. However, other employees who were present to collect the payment that day disputed the statement.
On August 18, 1913, Frank stood up in his defense. The final argument began on August 21. Conley's statements were rejected due to his race. On August 25, after a couple of hours of argument, the jury found Frank guilty.
The following day, he was sentenced (by Judge Leonard Roan) to be hanged till death. The sentence was to be carried out on October 4. However, an improved motion for a new trial, which Judge Roan had declined, rescheduled the execution on April 17, 1914.
On February 17, 1914, the ‘Georgia Supreme Court’ rejected an appeal for a new trial that the defense had filed on December 15, 1913. On February 24, Conley was sentenced to a one-year imprisonment for assisting the murder.
On April 6, 1914, Frank's attorneys filed a motion in the ‘Fulton County Superior Court’ to overturn the verdict. A stay order was applied to his execution, and the hearing reopened on April 23.
On June 6, the ‘Fulton County Superior Court’ rejected the motion. The defense then appealed to the ‘Georgia Supreme Court,’ but the appeal was declined there, too. The motion was then taken to the ‘United States District Court of North Georgia,’ which rejected it in December.
Continue Reading Below
Frank's execution was rescheduled to January 22, 1915. When the ‘U.S. District Court’ declined the defense's appeal to alter the verdict, the appeal was taken to the ‘Supreme Court of the United States,’ which postponed the execution.
A conflict between Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Chief Justice Hughes again postponed the execution to June 22, 1915.
On April 22, 1915, the defense appealed to a three-person ‘Prison Commission’ in Georgia, requesting them to commute the death sentence, but the appeal was rejected due to low votes.
The defense then filed a mercy appeal to the 'Pardons and Paroles Board of the Georgia Prison Commission,' which was also rejected.
On June 20, which marked Governor John Slaton’s last day in office, he altered Frank's death sentence to life imprisonment. The decision led to a huge protest, and a mob in front of his home demanded declaration of martial law.
The following day, Frank was moved from the Fulton County jail to the ‘Georgia State Penitentiary’ in Milledgeville. This was done to save Frank from a possible act of mob lynching. The violence was said to be planned by attorney Tom Watson, as Tom himself had published his support for lynching in his weekly newspaper, 'The Jeffersonian.'
Frank's execution, scheduled on June 22, 1915, was again postponed.
On July 18, a fellow prisoner slit Frank's throat, but he was saved. He was then kidnapped from prison on August 16. Around 25 armed men from Marietta, Georgia (Mary Phagan's hometown), carried out the abduction.
The armed men drove Frank to the outskirts of Marietta in the early hours and hanged him from an oak tree in a grove.
Continue Reading Below
On August 20, Frank was buried in the 'Mount Carmel Cemetery' in Queens, New York.
Phagan's murder was highly condemned worldwide. Hence, after Frank's public execution, Georgians celebrated, while postcards and artefacts symbolizing the lynching were sold.
The identities of the people involved in the lynching were kept secret, and they were spared from any punishment.
A website called 'The 1913 Leo Frank Case and Trial Research Library' accused the Jews of using Frank's case to propagate a racial war against European–Americans.
On March 4, 1982, Alonzo Mann, who was interviewed during Frank's trial, signed an affidavit claiming Frank's innocence.
On January 4, 1983, the 'Anti-Defamation League,' formed in 1913 in Chicago, appealed for a posthumous pardon for Frank. Another such appeal was filed on March 11, 1986, by the 'Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles,' but it did not succeed in officially giving Frank a clean chit.
In 2008, ‘Temple Kol Emeth’ was erected in Marietta, the place where Frank had been lynched.
In 2015, the 'Atlanta History Center,' the 'Georgia Historical Society,' and the 'Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation' established a 'Georgia Historical Society' marker to honor John M. Slaton at the 'Atlanta History Center,' for considering life imprisonment for Frank.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard established the 'Conviction Integrity Unit' in 2019, to reinvestigate Phagan's murder.
Family & Personal Life
Frank met his future wife, Lucille Selig, shortly after he arrived in Atlanta. They married in November 1910.
A devout Jew, Frank, in 1912, was elected the president of the Atlanta chapter of the Jewish fraternal organization known as the 'B'nai B'rith.'
He grew up in a cultured and philanthropic social environment. He enjoyed opera and playing bridge.
During the trial, musician and millworker Fiddlin' John Carson composed the song 'Dear Old Oak in Georgia' (which was never recorded), to create public sympathy for Frank and to oppose his hanging.
The 1937 movie 'They Won't Forget' was loosely based on Frank’s case.
The documentary film titled 'The People v. Leo Frank,' based on Frank’s case, was directed by Ben Loeterman in 2009.

See the events in life of Leo Frank in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Leo Frank Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com

People Also Viewed

Casey Jones Biography
Casey Jones
Adam Khoo Biography
Adam Khoo
Patsy Ramsey Biography
Patsy Ramsey
Bart Sibrel Biography
Bart Sibrel
Barbara Hutton Biography
Barbara Hutton
Bryan Lourd Biography
Bryan Lourd
Alina Golovkina Biography
Alina Golovkina

Also Listed In