Title page for ETD etd-04272000-09560004

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Shelton, Regan Virginia
Author's Email Address reshelto@vt.edu
URN etd-04272000-09560004
Title "The Case of Mary Phagan,'A Story About the Story of a Murder': Constructing a Crime"
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jones, Kathleen W. Committee Chair
Bunch-Lyons, Beverly Committee Member
Shumsky, Neil Larry Committee Member
  • Jim Conley
  • Leo Frank
  • Mary Phagan
  • gender and crime
  • homicide
Date of Defense 1999-12-13
Availability restricted
On April 27, 1913, the body of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan was discovered in the basement of her workplace in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the course of the following two years, her employer, Leo Frank, would be tried and convicted for her murder. Another employee, Jim Conley, a black janitor originally implicated in the crime, provided the evidence used to convict Frank.

In my thesis, I explain the multiple identities created to describe the victim and her accused murderer(s). Press reports, trial records, and secondary historical accounts of the crime all reveal a fascination with the young female victim and a desire to solve the mystery of her death. By examining personal identity as a cultural construction, I re-evaluate the manner in which we define and describe crime.

Phagan's murder became a cautionary tale, a narrative of sexual danger within the model city of the New South. My thesisillustrates the importance of understanding murder as an event occurring within and shaped by a social context. The murder of Mary Phagan and the Frank case demonstrate how we ascribe meaning to tragic events and how variables such as race, class, gender, and age affect the outcome of criminal procedures.

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