AS SEEN IN:
"The Murder of Mary Phagan"
AS PLAYED BY:
On May 1, Jim Conley, the pencil factory's janitor, was caught by the plant's day watchman, E.F. Holloway, washing a dirty shirt. Conley tried to hide the shirt, then claimed the stains on the shirt were from "rust". Conley denied under oath that he was literate, had a grade-school education and could read and write. This would later become crucial with regard to the murder notes.
The factory foreman, Holloway, told the Georgian that he believed Conley "strangled Mary Phagan while about half drunk", resulting in a May 28 headline reading, "SUSPICION TURNED TO CONLEY; ACCUSED BY FACTORY FOREMAN." Seeing the headline, Conley conjured up a new story: an agitated Frank, in a dramatic meeting in the dark, ordered him to hide in a wardrobe to avoid being seen by two women, later dictated the murder notes to him, gave him cigarettes, and told him to leave the factory. Afterward, Conley went out drinking and saw a movie. Phagan's $1.20 in pay had also disappeared, leading the police to wonder whether Conley might have killed her for the money. The police asked Frank to confront Conley. Frank refused because his lawyer was out of town, though even when Rosser returned, no meeting took place.
Under further pressure from the police regarding the discrepancies in his story, Conley gave another version, in this account he gave his final statement. During the trial Conley admitted the reason he lied in the beginning of the investigation and did not immediately tell the truth was that he was trying to cover for Leo Frank. Conley stated Frank originally offered him $200 on the day of the murder to destroy the body and evidence. Frank asked Conley to move and dispose Phagan's body by burning it in the basement furnace. When the police asked where was the alleged $200 Frank had given Conley, Conley then responded to this question by saying when he wouldn't immediately burn Phagan's body for Frank in the basement furnace, Frank had asked to see the money, taken it back, folded it and put it in his pocket, Frank told Conley if he came back later and disposed of the body in the furnace he would get the $200 back. Conley also said Frank, in foreshadowing words, told him on the day of the murder, "Why should I hang? I have wealthy people in Brooklyn."
Two unsworn witnesses came forward to incriminate Conley. Will Green, a carnival worker, said that he had been playing craps at the factory with Conley and had run away from him when Conley had declared his intention to rob a girl who walked by. William Mincey, an insurance salesman, had met an intoxicated Conley on the street. He said that Conley, trying to brush Mincey off, said, "I have killed one today and do not wish to kill another." Mincey had thought it was a joke. Neither man signed an affidavit or testified in court.