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A newly discovered document casts a disturbing light on exactly how Frank’s prosecutor won his case
October 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 6
This strains credulity. Scott’s own words give ample evidence that rather than induce Conley to confess that he alone murdered Mary Phagan, Scott was working with Conley to produce a statement that would convict Frank of the killing and portray Conley as a paid accomplice after the fact. Had Scott and the others not pushed Conley on his several statements, it is very likely that Conley rather than Frank would have been found guilty.
The sequence of events lends further support to the hypothesis that Scott and the prosecution were working singlemindedly to establish Frank’s guilt. Conley made his second statement on May 24, 1913, the same day that Frank was indicted for the murder. If Scott was really trying to get Conley to confess, the indictment could have been delayed pending the results of his interrogation. Rather, they had no doubt already made up their minds; Scott could not have been ignorant of the proceedings of the grand jury as he testified before it on the very day Frank was indicted.
The reason that Scott could go against the wishes of Pierce, his supervisor, was that the Pinkerton hierarchy was on his side. Pierce testified that “Mr. Scott had the weight of opinion both with his superiors and with himself. By superiors, I mean his general superintendent and his other superior officers. Mr. Scott, was then in correspondence with the officers higher than myself and his course in working on the Frank angle met [with] their approval.”
Pierce queried his immediate superior A. S. Cowerdin. “I went over the case with him in detail and explained my views. He very politely replied that from the revealed facts and the reports that had been submitted, and that were being rendered, it was his opinion that the investigation was being carried on in a proper way. He disagreed with me and agreed with Mr. Scott.”
Pierce was not the only one in the local Atlanta Pinkerton office who differed with Scott over the direction of the investigation. Leo Gottheimer, the National Pencil Company salesman who had been sent to ask Frank whether Conley could write, testified about conversations he had had with Whitfield and McWorth. According to Gottheimer, the two investigators “said as to the relations between themselves and their superiors…there seemed to be friction with their superiors, everything they done…they told me they would not accept their theories, and they seemed to be tickled to death to get this new evidence…[that Conley could write. Gottheimer quotes them as saying] ‘We have got the goods now, they can’t deny this, we can prove this on them in such a way that they can’t deny it.’”
Herbert Schiff, Frank’s successor as factory superintendent, also testified about tensions in the Pinkerton’s Atlanta office. During several of the many visits that Whitfield and McWorth made to the factory, “they told me of the dissention [ sic ] in the office, and of the things that they put up that never seemed to agree with Mr. Scott, and Whitfield told me on one occasion that Mr. Scott called him into the private office and told him that if Leo Frank wasn’t convicted it would be the last of the Pinkerton agency in Atlanta.” Twice under crossexamination and twice more under re-direct examina- don—four times in all, and all under oath—Schiff insisted that Scott had stated explicitly that Pinkerton wanted Frank to be found guilty.
In itself this document, the Brief of Evidence, which has for so long lain dormant, does not prove guilt or innocence. It does, however, add substantially to the evidence that Leo Frank did not receive a fair trial. In fact, the conclusion that he was railroaded is now inescapable.
Whatever his reasons, Harry Scott was a key figure in convicting Frank of murder. Less certain, but still highly suggestive, was the malign role played by the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey. Here ambition was certainly a motive, and a successful one, for Dorsey was twice elected governor of Georgia. This document strongly suggests that Dorsey urged witnesses to embellish their testimony, even lie under oath, to build a case against Frank.
The picture that emerges from this civil trial over an unpaid bill is of a conspiracy between the prosecutor Hugh Dorsey and Harry Scott of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency to find Leo Frank guilty of murder. Although we will almost certainly never know just what was said between Dorsey and Scott, their collaboration seems to have assured that Leo Frank would not receive a fair trial for a crime he almost certainly did not commit.