An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank

An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank

by Elaine Marie Alphin

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
On April 26, 1913, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan went to the Atlanta pencil factory where she worked to pick up her paycheck. Mary never left that building alive, and her battered body was found on its premises a few hours later by a fellow employee. Suspicion fell on the African-American watchman who first contacted the police. Over a short period of time, law enforcement officers came to suspect Leo Frank the New York-born Jewish factory supervisor of committing the murder. Frank was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, commuted to life in prison, and then lynched. The trial and subsequent events remain among the more controversial legal actions of that era. In this insightful account, award-winning author Elaine Marie Alphin precisely analyzes the Phagan murder and Frank trial. Leo Frank's trial demonstrated the type of rabid prejudice that typified much of American society during an age when discrimination was the norm. Leo Frank eventually paid the ultimate price because he was a northerner who worked as a manager, and because he was Jewish. By telling the story of Leo Frank, Elaine Alphin not only chronicles an important event in the history of civil rights in America but also the story of one innocent man's terminal experience in the justice system of his day and age. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
VOYA - Summer Hayes
While on her way to meet friends at a parade in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 23, 1917, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan stopped by the National Pencil Company to collect her weekly pay. When her body was found the next day in the factory's basement, superintendent Leo Frank became the prime suspect in a murder case that created a two-year media frenzy. Despite a poorly constructed case based on minimal and circumstantial evidence, Frank was convicted and sentenced to execution. After his sentence was reduced to life in prison, an armed mob took Frank from the Georgia State Prison Farm and lynched him, declaring justice in Mary's name. Alphin's attention to detail and meticulous research result in a compelling examination of a crime that has never been fully solved. Her emphasis on primary documents, including court evidence, newspapers, and commemorative postcards from the lynching effectively convey the brutality of the events. The author is careful to present the case in an objective, straightforward manner that allows readers to draw their own conclusions, and by framing the case squarely within the racially charged social and economic climate of the American South in 1917, Alphin makes evident how such acts of persecution were not only possible but acceptable. Comparisons between the public's insatiable thirst for gossip and tragedy now and ninety years ago create interest, while the clear and readable text will appeal to a variety of readers. Teens interested in true crime will not be disappointed. Reviewer: Summer Hayes
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—On April 26, 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan left her Atlanta, GA, home to pick up her paycheck at the National Pencil Company and then attend the Confederate Memorial Day celebration. She never made it to the latter. Instead, her battered body was found in the basement of the factory along with two cryptic, semiliterate notes and some bloody handprints on a nearby door. The investigation was compromised from the get-go by a determination on the part of the police to bypass an obvious suspect and indict Frank, the company supervisor. The strictly chronological structure of this account of his arrest, indictment, conviction, and lynching is extremely helpful in understanding both the progression of the case through the court system and the impact of anti-Semitism and resentment toward Northerners in the post-Reconstruction South. The author's stance can hardly be termed objective, as her pro-Frank bias is clear. As presented, it seems obvious that he was innocent of the crime. The actual murderer confessed to his lawyer, who divulged the information in an autobiography published 46 years later, and an eyewitness confession in 1982 corroborated this. However, many people in Georgia still believe wholeheartedly that Frank was guilty. As the record stands, with his death sentence commuted in 1915 and official pardon issued in 1986, this recounting of an injustice is as haunting as the author contends. Well-placed period photos and reproductions add immediacy to the text, though the photographs of Frank's lynching are graphic and disturbing.—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA

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Lerner Publishing Group
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Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

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