ATLVault: All she wanted was her $1.20 paycheck. She was never seen alive again

The city’s most sensational trial captivated a nation.
The city’s most sensational trial captivated a nation.
Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 9:55 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2023 at 12:10 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Mary Phagan had only two things on her mind on April 26, 1913. First, it was Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia, and she was excited to show off her new dress. Second, she had to pick up her paycheck of $1.20 from Leo Frank, her boss at the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, where she worked to help support her widowed mother who ran a local boarding house.

Phagan ate a late breakfast of cabbage and bread around 11:30 a.m., and then headed to the factory. She would never be seen alive again.

Phagan’s body was discovered early the next morning by night watchman Newt Lee, who was making his rounds and came upon her in the factory’s filthy basement. Two days later, police arrested Frank - believed to be the last person to have seen Phagan alive - and charged him with her murder.

Phagan’s murder and Frank’s trial captured the nation’s attention, and until the Atlanta child murders of the late 1970s and early 80s, was the city’s most sensational. Two years after he was convicted, Frank was abducted from his cell at the Georgia State Prison in Milledgeville, driven to Marietta and lynched.

Steve Oney is the author of “And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank,” arguably the most definitive account of this Atlanta story of murder and revenge in the early 20th century.


April 26, 1913: Employed by the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, 13-year-old Mary Phagan walks to the factory to retrieve her paycheck.

April 27, 1913: Police in Fulton County receive a report of a dead body, later identified as that of Mary Phagan, in the factory’s basement.

April 29, 1913: Leo Frank is arrested and charged with Mary Phagan’s murder.

August 1913: After a three-week trial, Leo Frank is convicted of Mary Phagan’s murder and sentenced to death.

April 19, 1915: Following a series of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects Leo Frank’s final murder conviction appeal in a 7-2 vote.

August 16, 1915: Residents of Mary Phagan’s hometown kidnap Leo Frank from the state prison and lynch him.

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