THE MURDER OF LITTLE MARY PHAGAN by Mary Phagan

THE MURDER OF LITTLE MARY PHAGAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The great-niece and namesake of Atlanta's most famous murder victim offers little new insight but a decent summation as she recapitulates the rape-slaying that rocked 1913 Georgia, the subsequent trial and lynching of the accused, and their impact on her family and country. In April 1913, the violated body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan was found at the National Pencil Factory, where she worked. Soon the police arrested factory superintendent Leo Franks, a Jew and recent Brooklyn immigrant. Public opinion ran high against Franks--as a Jew, Northerner, and ""capitalist."" Convicted to die primarily on the testimony of another factory employee, Jim Conley, a black, Franks' sentence was commuted at great political risk by Gov. John M. Slaton, but a mob lynched Franks--an act that led to the rebirth of the KKK and the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai Brith. Phagan's approach is twofold. Primarily, she offers a competent chronicle of events, filled out by massive chunks of public record, including extensive trial statements and Gov. Slaton's lengthy order of commutation. Secondly, she explains her personal stake in the case, tracing: family attitudes (basically, let it be); the growth of her own interest (""Are you, by any chance, related to little Mary Phagan?"" was the frequent question that spurred her on); recent developments (in 1982, one Alonzo Mann came forward to dispute Conley's testimony; in 1983, Franks was pardoned posthumously by the State, without addressing his guilt). Finally, Phagan produces a necessarily ambiguous conclusion: that public opinion forced an unfair trial; that Conley's testimony was inconsistent and perhaps he killed Mary; but that maybe Franks--or even a third party--was the killer after all. A forthcoming NBC miniseries (not based on this book) about the case adds a dash of interest to this lackluster effort, which, marred by clunky prose (""Has the answer gone to the graves with all the participants in the tragedy?""), basically serves up the public record along with some scarcely intriguing autobiographical musings.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: New Horizon--dist. by Macmillan