Elaine Alphin’s An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank, carefully documents the trial and lynching of the Jewish factory superintendent, falsely accused of the 1913 rape and murder of teenager Mary Phagan in Atlanta. The account reads like a Law and Order episode gone terribly wrong. Alphin has clearly researched the trial, the anti-Semitic sentiments in the community, as well as the lies and corruption that ultimately led to Frank being found guilty and later lynched. Her prose is clear and concise. She provides a thorough chronology and back matter, supported by arresting black and white photos, including one of Frank hanging from a tree. This book reads like a mystery. How did Phagan’s body end up in the basement? Was an African American worker involved? But this book is also a tragedy. Alphin writes, “Atlanta’s Mayor Woodward called Leo’s lynching for Mary Phagan’s murder ‘a just penalty for an unspeakable crime’. But was Mary’s murder the only unspeakable crime? Wasn’t Leo’s lynching an unspeakable crime also?”
Leo Frank’s story is shocking, but young readers should know about this piece of history. The case revitalized the KKK and prompted the formation of the Anti-Defamation League. It should prompt excellent discussions about prejudice and anti-Semitism in our world today. For grades 8 – adult.