An Unspeakable Crime

The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank

  • Interest Level: Grade 9 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 9

Was an innocent man wrongly accused of murder? On April 26, 1913, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan planned to meet friends at a parade in Atlanta, Georgia. But first she stopped at the pencil factory where she worked to pick up her paycheck. Mary never left the building alive. A black watchman found Mary’s body brutally beaten and raped. Police arrested the watchman, but they weren’t satisfied that he was the killer. Then they paid a visit to Leo Frank, the factory’s superintendent, who was both a northerner and a Jew. Spurred on by the media frenzy and prejudices of the time, the detectives made Frank their prime suspect, one whose conviction would soothe the city’s anger over the death of a young white girl. The prosecution of Leo Frank was front-page news for two years, and Frank’s lynching is still one of the most controversial incidents of the twentieth century. It marks a turning point in the history of racial and religious hatred in America, leading directly to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League and to the rebirth of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Relying on primary source documents and painstaking research, award-winning novelist Elaine Alphin tells the true story of justice undone in America.

Format Your Price Add
Interest Level Grade 9 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 9
Genre Social Studies, Young Adult
Copyright 2010
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Books ®
Language English
Number of Pages 152
Publication Date 2014-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 12.5
BISACS YAN025230, YAN031000, YAN051180
Dewey 364.152'3092
Graphics 1-color illustrations
Dimensions 7 x 10
Lexile 1210
ATOS Reading Level 8.8
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 136096
Accelerated Reader® Points 6.0
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Photo captions, Primary source quotations/images, and Reviewed

Author: Elaine Marie Alphin

Since her first novel for young readers appeared in 1991, Elaine Marie Alphin published 27 books for young people and one for adults (about writing for young people). Elaine wrote for readers of all ages, from Davy Crockett in Lerner's History Makers series for beginning readers up through teenage mysteries such as Counterfeit Son, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult mystery. Elaine loved research, and that love impacted all of her writing, from biographies for middle grade readers like I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight: A Story About John Paul Jones in the Creative Minds series through young adult fiction such as the history-inspired mystery, The Perfect Shot to the stand-alone nonfiction young adult book An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank.


  • National Jewish Book Award Finalist, Runner-up, 2011
  • SSLI Book Award Honor Book, Commended, 2010
  • Tayshas Reading List, Winner, 2010
  • Carter G. Woodson Book Award, Winner, 2010
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable, Commended, 2010


Kirkus Reviews

“By any measure the 1913 murder of teenage Mary Phagan was an ugly incident, just as by any measure the lunching of Leo Frank, a Jew, for the crime was equally horrific. Elaine Marie Alphin directs the story to a teen audience—teenagers being conspicuous players in the drama—and respectfully calls upon their rock-solid sense of justice to give them insight into this iconic piece of American jurisprudence gone wrong. Delving into archival material, numerous photographs included, Alphin thought she would be most moved by Frank’s letters to his wife, but it was real time that brought her up short. ‘I was shattered to see Mary Phagan’s grave decorated with flowers and teddy bears, many of them recent although she had been murdered nearly a century earlier,’ she says. ‘And I was chilled to see only two small plaques marking the site of Leo Frank’s lynching, set too high for vandalism even after all this time.’”
Kirkus Reviews

School Library Journal

“[T]his recounting of an injustice is as haunting as the author contends. Well-placed period photos and reproductions add immediacy to the text.”
School Library Journal


“This detailed, fully documented account tells of the trial and lynching of a Jewish factory superintendent, falsely accused of the 1913 rape and murder of teenager Mary Phagan in Atlanta.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Alphin does a creditable job of unraveling the mess the trial became, a tangle of ‘lies heaped on lies,’ and the rightly ambiguous title leaves readers wondering about two unspeakable crimes – the murder and the public lynching of Leo Frank. Each chapter opens with a dramatic quotation, and period photographs and reprints of newspaper stories contribute to a thorough accounting of a city’s judicial system at its worst. Fans of legal thrillers and courtroom dramas will find this outstanding.”