Alphin, Elaine Marie. (2010). An Unspeakable Crime- The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.
Textbook Chapter: 9
Possible Curriculum Connections: High school social studies class on early 1900s culture; child labor; hate crimes; KKK; the justice system.
Book Summary: An Unspeakable Crime is a nonfiction book written about the trial of Leo Frank, a superintendent of a pencil manufacturing company in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1913, Mary Phagan, a thirteen year old employee of Frank's company, was found murdered in the pencil factory after going to receive her wages for the week. It was a brutal murder, with varying accounts by witnesses about what really happened. The police, lawyers, and people of Georgia demanded that justice be served for Mary Phagan, and the hunt for her killer began. Several suspects were questioned, including Leo Frank, Newt Lee (a night watchman at the factory), and Jim Conley (custodian). Both Lee and Conley were African American, and Frank was white. In the end, Frank was put on trial, and through baited testimonies, lies, and bribes, Frank was convicted of killing Mary Phagan, despite a lack of physical evidence to convict him. The community wanted Frank's head because he was a wealthy white Yankee who stood for everything that they did not have living in the poor south. After years of appeals, Frank's sentence was lessened to life on a work prison, but Frank was lynched by a group of well to do men who came and kidnapped him from the prison. Most people agree that Frank did not get a fair trial, and that guilty or not, justice was not served. Years later, one of the star witnesses for the prosecution recanted his story, which could have easily set Frank free.
Personal Reaction/ Why Teens Would Want to Read this Book:
I love reading nonfiction, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book! From the first chapter, the author does a great job of grabbing your attention and setting you up for the sad story of both Mary Phagan and Leo Frank. Throughout the book, I went back and forth about who I thought was guilty of the murder, and was often angered by the way the case was handled. The photographs, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts from the case that were included in the book definitely made the story seem real to me. The nonfiction text features like subheadings, quotes, a table of contents, timeline, and index also provided important information to the reader aside from just the text. I think that this book would be best suited for high school students because of the nature of the crime and how detailed some of the photos were, especially those of the lynching. An older teen may enjoy reading this book because it is a true life mystery, one that is hard to fathom in today's courts. Teens would feel passionately about the case, which would cause them to keep reading. This would be a great example of nonfiction text features to use in a lesson as well.