If you aren’t familiar with the Leo Frank case, a good introduction is the Wikipedia article about him. I have contributed to this article and successfully nominated it for “Good Article” status, placing it in the top 1% of Wikipedia articles for quality.

Once you’re familiar with the case, feel free to read my analysis below and contact me if you have any questions or thoughts on the case.

My Analysis

The most comprehensive book on the Leo Frank case is Steve Oney’s And the Dead Shall Rise. Oney’s work largely builds on Prof. Leonard Dinnerstein’s The Leo Frank Case, originally published in the 1960s and republished in 1987 following an affidavit from Alonzo Mann. Mann saw Jim Conley drag Mary Phagan’s body through the lobby of the National Pencil Company factory and finally came out after over 70 years of silence, fearing retaliation due to threats from Conley. In the 1987 edition, Dinnerstein discusses the affidavit and mentions the fact that Oney was working on a book at the time. The interesting thing is that Oney’s book was not published until 2003 – 16 years later! Oney spent nearly two decades writing his book, and the heavy amount of detail and research involved make this evident to the reader.

While writing the book, Oney wavered on his opinion of whether Frank was guilty of the crime. He considered Frank guilty for many years before ultimately saying he was 95% sure that Frank was innocent. I’ve noticed a similar line of thought with my own opinion of the case. Like Oney, I was ambivalent on the question of Frank’s guilt. While reading his book, it became apparent that Oney believed in Frank’s guilt at several points in the book, while ultimately believing in his innocence at the conclusion of the book. It was fascinating to read about and deliberate in my head. I agree that Frank was innocent, although I would also acknowledge the fact that Frank was not a saint and had inappropriate relationships with many young women. He also hired girls who should have been focusing on education rather than working as child labor, but were forced into the latter due to a declining agricultural economy. Incidentally, the state of Georgia was the last to pass child labor laws, which could have prevented the murder altogether if Phagan had not been working while just 13 years old. Worse, she was only 10 when she started!

What makes the case so fascinating is that there is a large amount of evidence that could support either conclusion on the question of Frank’s guilt. Furthermore, the case had numerous social implications, coinciding with the formation of the Anti-Defamation League and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. Frank’s case continues to be debated and have an impact over 100 years after the murder of Mary Phagan.