The San Francisco Call goes all-in for Roscoe Arbuckle, January 20, 1922

The day before the second Arbuckle trial began with jury selection, two young women waited outside the offices of San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady. Alice Blake and Zey Prevost, two unemployed “showgirls”—a term that doesn’t do them justice—wanted to be paid “witness fees” for their testimony at the first Arbuckle trial. A trial that ended in a hung jury in early December 1921. Rather than meet with these women, who were expected to testify again at the second trial, Brady and his chief assistant on the Arbuckle case, Milton U’Ren, avoided them. The matter went unresolved.[1]

A week later, Blake and Prevost took the stand and both seemed to have forgotten much of their previous testimony, forcing Assistant District Attorney Leo Friedman to read portions. In their cross-examinations, Arbuckle’s lead counsel Gavin McNab questioned them in such a way that ensured the jury understood that their initial statements and testimony, following Virginia Rappe’s death on September 9, 1921, had been coerced by overzealous prosecutors and that both women had been sequestered by the District Attorney against their will.

In an editorial that followed the testimony of Blake and Prevost at the second trial, written by Edgar T. Gleeson, who covered the Arbuckle trials for the San Francisco Call, the reporter took the side of the defense and condemned Matthew Brady. Our commentary appears at the end. Brady’s response will appear in our next posting.


SHOW GIRLS EXPOSE ARBUCKLE EVIDENCE AS A FABRICATION[2]

The sensational developments in the Arbuckle case—the changed testimony of Zey Prevost—the girl’s insinuations that the district attorney’s office had dictated her testimony in the first trial of the film comedian, and District Attorney Brady’s last vainly despairing attempt to have her, one of his two principal witnesses, declared a hostile witness and subjected to cross examination—all these developments have thrown a new and astounding light on a trial that has held the public attention for more than three months. They indicated to The Call yesterday that the trial of Roscoe Arbuckle was merely another miscarriage of justice.

Today The Call is able to give to its readers detailed and convincing testimony on how the district attorney of San Francisco worked up his case against Roscoe Arbuckle. Edgar T. Gleeson has secured the facts from Miss Zey Prevost of how she and Miss Alice Blake were persuaded, threatened and almost compelled to take the stand and give perjured testimony against Roscoe Arbuckle.

FACTS ARE BARED

Here are the facts: It is in some respects another Mooney case—and the only reason Roscoe Arbuckle is not over in San Quentin at this moment, convicted of the death of Miss Rappe. is that another Oxman[3] did not happen to stroll on the scene at the proper moment. That, and that alone, saved Arbuckle.

The Call has no purpose in this exposure than to show how easy it is for men to make grave mistakes in the judgment of other men and how difficult it is for them to stand firm in the face of an inflamed and belligerent public opinion. It is not The Call’s intention to convince its readers that District Attorney Brady and his associates were prejudiced beforehand against Roscoe Arbuckle or that they are exceptionally weak or ruthless. It is the intention, however, to show that men who are very kindly and tolerant in their private lives can and do become both brutal and merciless under the pressure of public office.

BRADY SINCERE

Remember that Matthew Brady opened the case of Roscoe Arbuckle with a firmly sincere declaration that he would do his duty. The Howard street gangster cases were still in the public mind, and men remembered how punctual the district attorney had been in the prosecution of those men of little wealth and little influence.[4]

Matthew Brady announced that the power, the wealth and the popularity of Roscoe Arbuckle would not keep him from receiving as stern a trial as a “Spud” Murphy had received.[5]

So far, so good. But the district attorney did not stop there. Having pledged himself to try Arbuckle he came to believe that he had pledged himself to secure a conviction. Hence the invention of false testimony, the seclusion of witnesses and the stimulation of perjury on the part of a public official who is sworn to enforce and to protect the dignity of the law.

It is an astounding story and at the same time a very natural story—the story of how sincere and kindly men, living under pressure, can become involved in a situation that forces them to accomplish great injustices.

By EDGAR T. GLEESON

The story of how the prosecution in the Arbuckle case, driven to desperate lengths by the threatened collapse of Mrs. Bambina Maude Delmont, its capital witness, deliberately set about the business of manufacturing evidence to the end that the moving picture actor might be convicted on a charge of murder, has now been bared for the first time. Miss Zey Prevost. former moving picture girl and a guest at the Arbuckle party, finally admitted, although reluctantly, that the part of her testimony in which Miss Virginia Rappe was represented as having accused Arbuckle of hurting her, was fabricated.

Miss Prevost is one of the two witnesses whom the district attorney seized upon when his case began to teeter and after investigation had failed to yield any corroboration of Mrs. Delmont’s story.

CREATES SENSATION

The facts as revealed on the stand yesterday (January 19, 1922), and as hinted at on the preceding day by Miss Alice Blake, show that the two girls consented to testify that Miss Rappe had said “I’m dying. I’m dying; he hurt me,” only after efforts had been made by the district attorney to force them into testifying that the girl had accused Arbuckle in the stronger words, “I’m dying, I’m dying; he KILLED me.”

The extraordinary declaration of Zey Prevost that she had testified falsely in the first Arbuckle trial under fear of the district attorney’s office has, of course, created a sensation. Everywhere men ask, how can such things be? Surely a district attorney does not deliberately set out to violate justice!

A review of the immediate events following the death of Miss Rappe will help one to understand something of how such an amazing situation can come about. And this review will show the district attorney’s office, first misled by the now thoroughly discredited story of Mrs. Delmont, and then persisting in a theory of the case built up on the exploded story of Mrs. Delmont who, herself, was so impossible that she was never called as a witness in the case.[6]

When the authorities first learned of the circumstances surrounding the death of Miss Rappe on September 9, of last year, four days after the party in Arbuckle’s rooms at the Hotel St. Francis, an effort was made to secure statements from all of the participants.

One of the first persons visited was Mrs. Delmont, who was then in a state bordering on collapse at the Hotel St. Francis. The Rappe girl, her friend of a week, and companion on the trip from Los Angeles, had died suddenly and under conditions that were as terrifying as they were mysterious. Mrs. Delmont had come to one conclusion about the whole affair. She was not in Miss Rappe’s company when the girl left room 1219, nor did she see Arbuckle accompany her into that ill-fated chamber.

IN OTHER ROOM

The facts are that Mrs. Delmont had partaken of some of the liquor and was in room 1221 with another member of the party.[7] The door was locked between 1221 and 1220. Mrs. Delmont couldn’t possibly nave seen what transpired in or near the door of 1219.

Yet, in her grief and hysteria, following the tragedy she insisted on describing a struggle at the entrance to room 1219. She told of Arbuckle clutching Virginia Rappe by the arm and saying “I’ve waited five years to get you.”

Thereupon, she said, Arbuckle pulled the girl back into 1219 and locked the door behind them. Mrs. Delmont depicted a struggle between the girl and the actor. She said that in this struggle Miss Rappe cried out, again and again for help, and that she, Mrs. Delmont, rushed to the locked door, to beat upon it and cry out that Arbuckle open the door and release Virginia.

When the door, after remaining locked an hour, was finally opened, Arbuckle was alleged to have rushed out, a terrified object. He was said to be perspiring as though from a long struggle while Miss Rappe lay dying upon the bed, naked and in a state of unconsciousness. Mrs. Delmont said that Miss Rappe had fought off Arbuckle’s advances as long as her strength and senses remained and that then she was criminally assaulted.

TOLD OF SCREAMS

She said further that Arbuckle had stripped the clothes from Miss Rappe during the fight and that they were scattered about the floor in ribbons; that when she and other members of the party came upon the girl, Miss Rappe was crying out. “I’m dying, I’m dying, Roscoe killed me.”

Mrs. Delmont took charge of Miss Rappe when the girl was removed to another room that afternoon. She was lying alongside the bed, intoxicated, when Dr. Olaf Kaarboe called to attend Miss Rappe.[8] The doctor detected the odor of liquor upon Miss Rappe’s breath and concluded that there was nothing serious the matter with her.[9]

When Dr. Arthur Beardslee, house physician of the St. Francis, visited Miss Rappe later in the evening, he found her conscious and complaining of a pain in her abdomen. He made an examination and endeavored to get at a history of the case.

DENIED STATEMENT

Mrs. Delmont started to tell the doctor of the Arbuckle party and mentioned that Arbuckle hurt her. Miss Rappe, who overheard the statement, denied this to Dr. Beardslee. This evidence is known to the prosecution, but it will not be admitted as part of the present case because it comes under the heading of hearsay.[10]

To Detective George Glennon, the St. Francis Hotel detective, Miss Rappe likewise denied the accusation against Arbuckle. She said she did not know what happened to her.[11]

Both District Attorney Matthew Brady and his assistant, I. M. Golden, were in Mendocino County investigating some features of the Woodcock case when Arbuckle drove up from Los Angeles to give his story of what happened at the party.[12] Arbuckle was accompanied by his attorney, Frank Dominguez, and some of the other men who were present in his rooms on Labor Day. He went to the office of Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson, where Milton U’Ren, representing the district attorney, joined the actor and the detective chief.

QUIZZED BY MATHESON

After some brief discussion Captain Matheson began to interrogate Arbuckle along the lines of Mrs. Delmont’s statement. Arbuckle denied some of the accusations. Third degree methods were then attempted, according to Dominguez, and he gave Arbuckle instructions not to answer some of the interrogations unless by the consent of his counsel.

This, according to both Dominguez and Arbuckle, angered the captain of detectives and Milton U’Ren. The attorney said afterward that the threat was then made to lock Arbuckle up on a charge of murder unless he gave kind of a statement the officials wanted. Dominguez told Arbuckle not to answer, and that Matheson and U’Ren carried out the threat.

CHARGED WITH MURDER

The charge on which Arbuckle was booked was murder, sworn to by the police. Later a formal charge was placed against him in Police Judge Daniel O’Brien’s court, when Mrs. Delmont appeared as the complaining witness.

Although discrepancies were found in Mrs. Delmont’s story, the district attorney’s office set about trying to verify her statements through others who were present at the party.

Brady and Golden returned to San Francisco to find the prosecution of Arbuckle for murder well under way. When Golden saw and talked with Mrs. Delmont and had a chance to study her testimony, he began to have misgivings. The same with Al Semnacher’s testimony.

PRESSURE USED

The feeling began to grow that if the prosecution was to uphold its charge it had better go about getting other props for the structure. That is when the pressure began to be exerted upon Miss Alice Blake, former entertainer at Tait’s, and Miss Prevost.

At the time the coroner’s inquest was held, an effort was made to subpoena Miss Blake and Miss Prevost, but the district attorney’s office refused to surrender the witnesses. It didn’t know at that time just how it was going to have them testify, and for that reason wasn’t  prepared to have them give contradictory testimony.

Alice Blake was seen at Tait’s immediately after the death of Miss Rappe. She told what she knew of the facts to Detective Griffith Kennedy and in the presence of George Hyde and Les Gillen, two reporters on a morning newspaper.[13] Miss Blake knew nothing of a struggle or criminal assault in Arbuckle’s room. She said she thought Miss Rappe was intoxicated at the time and that there was nothing of a fatal nature in her illness. She said she didn’t hear Miss Rappe say Arbuckle killed or hurt her. She said all the girl cried was, “I’m dying. I’m dying; I know I’m going to die.”

Mrs. Delmont said Arbuckle and Miss Rappe were in room 1219 an hour. Alice Blake said, and has since been supported by other testimony, that she went from the Arbuckle rooms to Tait’s for a rehearsal at 2 o’clock on the day of the party; that she returned at 2:30 or 2:45, and that the party was still in progress, with all persons present.

IN ROOM TEN MINUTES

It was about 3 o’clock, ten or fifteen minutes later, that the Rappe girl was stricken. She did not leave room 1220 until after Miss Blake’s return. The best recollection of Fred Fishback who helped Miss Blake carry Miss Rappe to the cold bath, is that he returned to the hotel at 3 o’clock. The testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses allows Arbuckle only ten minutes alone in the room with the girl.

When the grand jury investigation was launched the district attorney sought to get new statements from Miss Blake and Miss Prevost. The latter had been dragged down to police headquarters by George Duffy of the district attorney’s office and an attempt was made to get a statement supporting Mrs. Delmont from her. It failed and the next day Miss Prevost was asked by Milton U’Ren to sign a new statement, prepared by U’Ren, in which Miss Rappe was alleged to have cried out In Miss Prevost’s hearing, “I’m dying; I’m dying; he killed me.”

Although Miss Rappe was conscious for three days of her illness she made no accusation, no dying statement against Arbuckle.

Having first charged Arbuckle with murder, without determining whether it had a case, the district attorney’s office now sought to make a dying statement out of what Mrs. Delmont reported, namely that Miss Rappe had charged Arbuckle with killing her. The rules of evidence demand that this statement must be made in the hearing of the defendant; so Mrs. Delmont conveniently placed Arbuckle in the room when Miss Rappe was alleged to have made the accusation and had him reply: “You’re crazy; shut up, or I’ll throw you out the window.”[14]

GIRL REFUSES

Miss Prevost was asked to swear to the same set of circumstances.

“I will not,” she replied to U’Ren. “I never heard Miss Rappe say that anybody hurt her.”

When the district attorney’s office failed to get the information it sought to elicit from Miss Prevost, it had her hauled before the grand jury. It was thought that she could be broken under the continuous fire of suggestion and cross-examination. But she would not swear to the statement that Virginia Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her.

When the girl was brought back, as she now relates to the district attorney’s office, she was ready to collapse. The prosecution had harried her by asking over and over again the same question as to the Rappe girl’s accusations.

“Did you tell me, downstairs in the district attorney’s office,” U’Ren had asked “that Miss Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her? “No, I did not,“ said Miss Prevost. “I never said that Miss Rappe had made any such statement.”

Source: San Francisco Call, January 20, p. 13 (California Digital Newspaper Collection)

MOTHER THREATENED

Outside Brady’s office at 4 o’clock in the morning Miss Prevost found her mother and brother waiting for her. They had been threatened with prosecution for subornation of perjury because they warned Miss Prevost against signing any statements that she did not agree with.

“Wait until they subpoena you into court, if you don’t want to swear to those things,” the brother had advised.

Brady’s patience was exhausted by the efforts to secure the testimony of Miss Prevost and he ordered Detective Leo Bunner to take her upstairs and lock her in the city prison. Later he relented and said that if she would be at his office at 10 o’clock the next morning he would let her go home with her mother and brother.

That night Miss Prevost’s home was watched.[15] In the morning a representative of Brady’s office called and brought her to the Hall of Justice. Then ensued another long third degree with U’Ren doing the questioning. He was determined to wring from her a statement that Miss Rappe had charged Arbuckle with killing her. He had a new one prepared.

While reporters cooled their heels in the hall outside U’Ren quizzed Miss Prevost for hours without result. She would go no further than the statement that Miss Rappe had said she was dying, a fact that she, Miss Prevost, qualified with the remark, “We attached no importance to it, because we thought she was suffering from gas pains. That is why Alice Blake gave the bicarbonate of soda.”

U’REN EXASPERATED

U’Ren after a morning’s work, in an attempt to support the murder charge placed against Arbuckle, at his insistence. came out of the room exasperated. He said that he would give Miss Prevost one more chance and that if she didn’t testify to what the people wanted he would have her placed in custody.

Then Alice Blake was brought from Oakland, to which city she had fled after the first days of the tragedy She was taken to Brady’s office and the same means were employed to get the dying statement into her testimony. Miss Blake would not stand for it.

The district attorney played one girl against the other. Word was carried to Miss Prevost that Miss Blake had testified that Miss Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her. “I never heard her say it,” said Miss Prevost. “If Alice says that, then her ears hear differently than mine.”

The district attorney’s office threatened Miss Blake, it told her that it had an abundance of proof, that it knew positively that Arbuckle was guilty. Finally, Golden appealed to the heart of the woman in Miss Blake. The show girl had a tragic face and a deep emotion.

Golden pictured to her that girls like Miss Rappe were nothing but dirt under the feet of men like Arbuckle. He asked if she could question the sincerity of the district attorney’s office.

GIRL BREAKS DOWN

“Don’t you know,’’ pleaded Golden, “that we would be down here making this same kind of a fight if you were the victim?’’

Nervous and distracted, Alice Blake easily crumbled. She broke into tears. The strong appeal of Golden persuaded her. She agreed to stand for the statement that Miss Rappe had said. “I’m dying; I’m dying (she couldn’t go the full route, but she compromised); he hurt me.”

The fact was carried to Miss Prevost that Alice had “come through’’ to that extent. “I never heard Miss Rappe say it.” said Miss Provost, frightened and overcome with weariness after the third degree ordeal, “but if you want me to say it I will.”

The statement was handed her. the words “he killed me” crossed out. and Miss Prevost wrote in the words “he hurt me.”

That night the grand jury indicted Arbuckle for manslaughter. Later the police court held Arbuckle for manslaughter.

Mrs. Delmont was not called because, as Judge Brady and Isadore Golden both told me, “we cannot believe a word she says.”

The prosecution dropped Mrs. Delmont. but it saved her story for the purpose of convicting Arbuckle. Miss Prevost and Miss Blake were to take up the evidence where Mrs. Delmont left off. The two girls were then placed in Mrs. Duffy’s custody. Mrs. Duffy is the mother of George Duffy, an attaché of the district attorney s office.

Miss Blake escaped from the district attorney’s care when her mother visited Calistoga and took her away from her jailer. Miss Prevost was not delivered up until the last trial. Yesterday afternoon Miss Prevost said she would tell the whole story when she returned to the stand. And she did.


The Call was a newspaper in the Hearst chain. We have mentioned in earlier blog entries that William Randolph Hearst’s animus for Arbuckle is a myth. As a publisher, he tended not to interfere with his editors and reporters or issue memoranda on how they should cover a story. This is true of the Arbuckle case and one needs only look at the reportage in September 1921. The sensational aspect of the case—which sold Hearst newspapers—quickly evaporated. The Arbuckle case became more of a sporting event, in which the prosecution was one team and defense the other. The press sided with the perceived winner.

Gleeson, representing his newspaper, bought into the story that Blake and Prevost had been coerced due to the failure of Maude Delmont to perform as a reliable prosecution witness. This, however, was an oversimplification of what happened. All three women were being groomed as state witnesses at the same time with differing results. All three, too, had exhibited trepidation at having to relive what happened on September 5. They would bear the responsibility of violating a kind of show business omertà that extended from movie stars paid millions (Arbuckle) to a Sennett Bathing Beauty (Prevost) or a San Francisco nightclub dancer (Blake) to a film colony society girl (Rappe) to a former extra practically living in the streets of Los Angeles (Delmont). They risked losing access to the club so to speak, the demimonde-democracy in which they had status. They also risked losing access to the employment and benefits that membership entailed, even if that meant being little more than being an escort and dance partner at a Hollywood party held in San Francisco for one day without pay. They took a great risk, perhaps even to their persons, if they were complicit in sending Arbuckle, a fellow entertainer, to the gallows or a ten-year prison sentence in San Quentin. Regarding his work with the Labor Day party guests, Assistant District Attorney Isadore M. Golden said it best when he was faced with their reluctance and reservations about talking to him. “We have made out a case [. . .] through witnesses who had to have the truth dynamited out of them, witnesses who would give anything to say, ‘I was not there.’”[16] This certainly applied to Alice Blake and Zey Prevost—and Maude Delmont as well.

In the case of Prevost, she might have been too outspoken about the party, at least in the first days after Rappe’s death. She likely learned this when she was approached by one of Arbuckle’s lawyers before any charges were filed. From that point on, she began to resist the District Attorney and his assistants. But they likely did doctor her statement. District attorneys have been and still are often more tactical than criminal defense lawyers, especially when the ends justified the means. One method used by Brady’s assistants was to exploit the power of sisterhood by shaming the female witnesses into believing they would be protecting Rappe’s honor.

Blake, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy Oakland family, returned home and was likely coached in some way not to be so voluble for the DA. A former boyfriend, who played a part in keeping her on the other side of the Bay, employed Prevost’s brother—who aspired to be a motion picture cameraman and director—as an electrician in Oakland. Ultimately, it was Brady’s fear of witness tampering and the flight risk that forced him to isolate Blake and Prevost for as long as he could. But they were both free by the time of the first trial in November 1921 and their tilt toward favoring Arbuckle’s defense can be seen in their testimony given then.

Nothing they said on the stand explains their own presence at Arbuckle’s Labor Day party. They certainly weren’t total strangers. The news that “Fatty was in town” seemed to be a familiar call to action, in keeping with previous visits by Arbuckle and/or his traveling companions, director Fred Fishback and actor Lowell Sherman. They were likely of a sort in keeping with escorts, groupies, or “girls in port.” Whether they were compensated for their attentions and attendance at the Labor Day party of 1921 is unknown. But whatever they did at the party before Rappe’s crisis in room 1219 went unreported. If it came up in trial testimony, that was censored and entirely kept out of the newspapers. Reporters do mention that aspects of their testimony couldn’t be repeated. This was certainly true of Maude Delmont’s story of Arbuckle wearing Rappe’s Panama hat like a trophy, his wanting to “get” Rappe in bed for five years, and so on.

No other guest would corroborate Delmont’s story—but no one corroborated Arbuckle’s either. It was simply seen as the most probable by jurors in the first and third trials. But two words stand out as it concerns Delmont. She stated the Labor Day party was “rough” and the word “censored” was used early on in describing her initial statements. For that reason, we believe that she wasn’t allowed to testify. For one, there was probably a concern she wouldn’t self-censor herself about any sexual activities at the party, an aspect the prosecution would have been eager to suppress. Also, we think she was reluctant to testify.

Maude Delmont may not have been the one who gave a statement first. Alice Blake’s initial statement is the that got the attention of Arbuckle and his lawyers while still in Los Angeles on the night after Rappe’s death. Allegedly, Zey Prevost made her statement next followed by Delmont. This still seems counterintuitive to us. But it is possible that someone else tipped them off about the possible criminal nature of Rappe’s death. An anonymous telephone call was how the Coroner’s office learned of the first and unsanctioned autopsy performed on her body. In any event, Delmont surely stirred up things for Arbuckle.

That said, Delmont nevertheless exhibited a palpable fear of having to sign a murder complaint or face Arbuckle and his lawyers in court. In our work-in-progress we ask if this was her defense mechanism against having to testify any further? Where Blake, Prevost, and other party guests couldn’t remember or didn’t see what happened to Virginia Rappe vis-à-vis Roscoe Arbuckle, Delmont didn’t have that option. She had blurted out a story that detectives and an overworked assistant district attorney wanted to believe and she had been convinced or forced to sign the murder complaint, which Blake and Prevost would have refused to do.

Delmont, too, said things out of resentment. She said things that might also be correct but perhaps only enough to lend credence to other statements. But we must not lose sight of the fact that Delmont, despite her humble status, was chummy enough with Arbuckle to call him “Roscoe,” just like most of the women who attended the Labor Day party. If there was a kind of freemasonry to the gathering of entertainers ranging from two movie stars, a director, an actress, as well as local showgirls, Delmont belonged at the end of the line.

Before Arbuckle lawyers demonized her, Delmont felt she was doing the comedian’s bidding by taking care of the fatally injured Rappe and interacting with hotel physicians. Delmont was the intermediary between Arbuckle and the party’s inner circle until he left San Francisco. Then she, like Rappe, was cast aside. Such rejection and the consequent resentment, penury, and that Rappe was such a “good fellow” was likely used to extract her version of events—at the other end of the spectrum from Arbuckle’s (see Arbuckle’s Testimony of November 28, 1921). We think the truth lies in between.

We think—at this writing anyway—that Delmont’s loyalty to the “party” ended with Rappe’s life. Whether consciously or unconsciously, however, she became impossible to work with as a credible witness. Thus, Matthew Brady and his assistants could go with Alice Blake and Zey Prevost who, over the weekend of September 10 and 11, no longer wanted to stick to their original stories of what happened to Virginia Rappe.


[1] “Witnesses in Arbuckle Case Denied Fees,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11 September 1922, 9.

[2] San Francisco Call, 20 January 1921, 1, 12.

[3] Frank C. Oxman, the state’s star witness at the 1917 Preparedness Day Bombing trial who said he saw labor activist Tom Mooney and an accomplice near the site where the bomb was placed on July 22, 1916.

[4] The Howard Street Gang trial took place in early 1921.

[5] Edmund “Spud” Murphy, leader of the Howard Street Gang.

[6] Maude Delmont did, indeed, testify at the Coroner’s Court in September 1921, which was an early venue in the Arbuckle case.

[7] Gleeson fails to tell his readers that this was undoubtedly Ira Fortlouis and that both were likely in the bathroom of 1221.

[8] An internist and surgeon covering for St. Francis Hotel’s regular physician, Dr. Arthur Beardslee, during the afternoon of September 5, 1921.

[9] In Arbuckle’s testimony, she had been vomiting profusely and was given water by him. Alice Blake also tried to get Rappe to drink a glass or warm water and bicarbonate of soda. That she had no more than three gin and orange juice cocktails (“Brooklyns”) if at all suggests Dr. Kaarboe either had the olfactory senses of a canine or made his testimony up.

[10] Technically it is, hearsay, but Dr. Beardslee wasn’t allowed to discuss it at the preliminary hearing because Arbuckle’s lead counsel, Frank Dominguez, objected.

[11] Glennon’s testimony was deemed hearsay as well.

[12] In September 1921, Alice Woodcock, a school teacher, was on trial for perjury relating to the 1919 murder trial of her husband Edward Woodock.

[13] San Francisco Chronicle.

[14] This wasn’t in any statement made by Delmont; but it was made by Prevost.

[15] Gleeson fails to tell his readers that Arbuckle’s lawyer, Charles Brennan, had approached Zey Prevost on Market Street and asked her if she needed an attorney. Was that all the said? The district attorneys were utterly paranoid about witness tampering.

[16] Edward J. Doherty, “State Springs Coup on Fatty; Defense Wild,” Chicago Tribune, 28 September 1921, 3.

Alice Blake breaks down on the stand, March 23, 1922

The reportage for the third trial was not as detailed as the first trial. The legion of reporters had been cut back as public interest in the Arbuckle case waned. Oscar Fernbach of the San Francisco Examiner soldiered on though and noted some important turning points as the trial unfolded—mostly lost opportunities for the prosecution.

As we pointed out in yesterday’s blog post, District Attorney Matthew Brady’s star witness, Zey Prevost, had fled to New Orleans beyond the reach of his subpoena power. She and showgirl Alice Blake were in roughly the same place at the same time while at the Labor Day Party. Both women had entered room 1219 after Roscoe Arbuckle had exited while Virginia Rappe was lying semiconscious in one of the room’s beds. Blake had heard Rappe “accuse” a male of hurting her and that she felt like she was dying. Her earliest statements are hardly ambiguous. But whether her statements had been fine-tuned by her interrogators has to be scrutinized. Nevertheless, like her friend Zey Prevost, Blake was less than enthusiastic about testifying against the comedian and was almost declared a hostile witness during the second trial. Like others who attended the party, Blake was in the “in crowd” and probably felt some kindred loyalty to the group. As an entertainer she would have also been aware of the possible impact her cooperation with the prosecution could have on her career.

Until March 23, 1922, Alice Blake had maintained her composure but her reluctance to testify was often apparent in the way she spoke almost in a whisper and, by degrees, ceased remembering details of what happened on Labor Day 1921—with the exception of being one of Rappe’s first responders.


Girl Checks State Attack upon “Fatty”
Alice Blake Denies She Heard Virginia Rappe Say “He Killed Me”; Breaks Under Fire

Oscar H. Fernbach, San Francisco Examiner, 24 March 1922

With every inch of the battle ground hotly contested, the fight being waged in Judge Louderback’s court to establish Roscoe Arbuckle’s guilt or innocence of the manslaughter of Virginia Rappe proceeded yesterday.

Tears and temper, accusations and recriminations, insults and apologies all contributed to the sensational features of the trial.

Alice Blake, star witness for the prosecution, broke down under the grilling cross-examination of Gavin McNab, became hysterical, and was led weeping from the witness stand, while an enforced recess was taken to give her time to compose herself. She could not stand the strain of McNab’s attempt to expose what he termed “fabricated testimony, produced under duress,” his accusations being directed more against the district attorney’s office than against the girl on the stand.

It was all about Alice Blake’s direct testimony to the effect that she had heard Virginia Rappe exclaim as she lay in agony upon the bed in Arbuckle’s room: “I am dying; he hurt me.” By producing the original statement, which the witness had given to the police on the day following the death of Virginia Rappe [September 10, 1921], McNab established the fact that Alice Blake at the time had not included the words, “He hurt me,” and the attorney proceeded to insinuate that District Attorney Brady and his assistants had subsequently tried to compel the witness to testify as she did. The girl explained yesterday [March 22, 1922] that when she was questioned in Brady’s office she was told that Zey Prevost had declared that Virginia Rappe had used the words, “He killed me,” and had informed Brady and [Assistant District Attorney] U’Ren that Alice Blake had heard her so exclaim.

“I told them I did not hear her say so,” was the emphatic testimony of the witness yesterday. And she went on to say that at the time she had expressed the belief that Virginia Rappe, if anything, might have said, “He hurt me.”

[Assistant District Attorney] Leo Friedman, who conducted the direct examination, had a hard time with his witness. The value of her statements to the prosecution seemed to have become inversely proportional to the number of trials to which Arbuckle is being subjected. She reached a strage yesterday where she “could not remember.” In vain did Friedman show her the record of her testimony in the police court and at two preceding trials. It merely refreshed her memory to the extent that she could recollect nothing.

On cross-examination, however, Alice Blake made a startling announcement. She confessed that she had left the sitting room of Arbuckle’s suite before either Virginia Rappe or Arbuckle had gone into the bedroom, and did not actually see either of them enter that apartment. This was news—and McNab made the most of it.[1]

True, the witness admitted that before she left to enter the third room [1221] of the suite, she had seen both the comedian and the actress walking toward the door of the bedroom [1219]. But she [Blake] further declared that she had been absent less than fifteen minutes when, upon her return to the sitting room [1220], she found Mrs. Delmont knocking on the bedroom door and calling to Arbuckle to open it. This testimony placed the comedian and Virginia Rappe alone in the bedroom for fall less period of time than hitherto had been inferred from all the testimony.

The story of how Virginia Rappe was found in agony in Arbuckle’s rooms, and the ministrations that were given her, was repeated in detail by Alice Blake. McNab, in turn, sought to convince the jury that the actress had been injured while being given a cold bath, or while being held upside down by Fred Fishback and that her cry, “He hurt me,” referred to the latter and not to Arbuckle. [. . .]

Alice Blake, September 19, 1921 (Underwood & Underwood)

[1] In reality, her initial statement indicates that she left room 1220 for room 1221—Lowell Sherman’s bedroom—as Rappe and Arbuckle entered room 1219. Blake didn’t disclose whether Sherman accompanied her. But this can be inferred from Prevost’s early statements and testimony, where she, Prevost, is alone in room 1220 with Maude Delmont. Here Blake mentions that fifteen minutes passed before she saw and heard Delmont kicking the door and demanding that she be allowed to speak to Rappe. While this seems to fit the defense’s assertion that Arbuckle and Rappe were alone for less than ten minutes, as Fernbach suggests here, it doesn’t. Blake omits here that she returned to room 1221. She was there when Arbuckle finally opened the door of room 1219 and didn’t see him exit. Keeping up with these details and nuances is not only difficult for authors and readers. Imagine what it was like for the prosecutors in 1921 and ’22!

100 Years Ago Today: Maude Delmont Is marginalized, September 27, 1921

On Tuesday morning, September 27—the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Fire—the Women’s Court reconvened. The anticipation to hear Maude Delmont on the stand was palpable in Judge Lazarus’ courtroom. Bold, breathless headlines and above-the-fold stories still appeared in the dailies. But already other stories were commanding attention, bread-and-butter issues such as the railroad unions threatening a nationwide strike and a postwar economy still in a recession. The Ku Klux Klan’s growing popularity continued to divide Americans by race, nationality, and religion.

The first two witnesses that day, Zey Prevost and Alice Blake, gave testimony that Arbuckle was present when Virginia Rappe said, “He hurt me.” The third was the chambermaid, a Polish immigrant named Josephine Keza, who had been working the twelfth floor on the day of Arbuckle’s Labor Day party.

From the corridor, she claimed to have heard a woman pleading for someone stop and a man’s voice gruffly ordering her to shut up. Keza, a surprise witness, took Arbuckle’s lawyer, Frank Dominguez, by surprise. He had hoped to cross-examine Maude Delmont and use the “proof” he had, in the form of letters, that she was a blackmailer and intended to blackmail his client.

The next day, when Dominguez was offered the opportunity to call Maude Delmont as a witness. He famously declined and observers at the time believed he had squandered an opportunity to have the case dismissed. [Editor’s note: the alleged letters have never surfaced nor have any arrest records that indicate Delmont was involved in these kinds of schemes.]

It was a victory of sorts for Dominguez. Arbuckle’s murder charge was dropped in favor of duplicate manslaughter charges. But Dominguez soon resigned from the defense team.

His successor, Gavin McNab, didn’t use the extortion angle or any of the evidence Dominguez’s investigators had found on Delmont. Blackmail wasn’t even mentioned when Maude Delmont reappeared in November, subpoenaed as a witness for the first Arbuckle trial but never called.

Although marginalized, she didn’t go quietly. Delmont allegedly confronted McNab in his office in San Francisco’s Merchants Exchange Building, She also attended the first Arbuckle trial—once in the company of a reporter from the San Francisco Call—and participated on the sidelines until her arrest on a charge of bigamy in December.

The Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco, the nerve center of Arbuckle’s defense team from October 1921 until April 1922 (Private collection)

100 Years Ago Today: The Grand Jury meets to hear witnesses, September 12, 1921

Given that Arbuckle was the highest paid actor in 1921 and made millions more for hundreds of theater owners and others, District Attorney Matthew Brady grasped the magnitude of the case and his greatest fear was witness tampering. He knew that, as Roscoe Arbuckle waited for the Oakland Ferry for the last stretch of their trip, his lawyer Frank Dominguez had made a telephone call to the police, assuring that Arbuckle would turn himself in. But he suspected another call was made, to Arbuckle’s new lawyer in San Francisco, Charles Brennan, to learn of any developments that they would need to get ahead of.

What has gone under-appreciated in the early days of the Arbuckle case, indeed, in the hours after Rappe died on September 9, is how quickly Arbuckle responded to the possibility of his arrest and the accusation of murder against him. By midnight, a strategy meeting convened in the office of Sid Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater, attended by two lawyers, a friendly journalist from the Los Angeles Times as well as three men who attended the ill-fated party.

In the annals of crisis communications, what was accomplished for Arbuckle could be the first modern example.

One aspect of this was to neutralize the witnesses who might inflict the most damage to the defense by making them aware of the risk–reward of doing so.

For an aspiring entertainer, Zey Prevost was just such a person. She had made a statement to police on Saturday, September 10, the day Arbuckle and his team spent driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Two days later, on the day the Grand Jury was to meet, she asked to change her story and remove any testimony that could be used to make Arbuckle responsible for the injury that led to Virginia Rappe’s death. Later, she testified in another venue that she had been approached by another of Arbuckle’s lawyers, Charles Brennan, on Market Street in San Francisco.

Q: What did Mr. Brennan say to you?

A: Just asked me if I had a lawyer—if I needed a lawyer, to tell him. I said “Sure.”

Q: Did he ask you anything further about remaining in town, or going out?

A: He asked me about staying in town. I said “I may stay in town a few days until this thing is over.”[1]

This was all she said of her conversation with Brennan. But she went away from it committed to undermining Brady’s case against Arbuckle before it even got off the ground. Only a threat of perjury and jail time convinced her to keep to her original statement. In any event, the defense, over time, was able to convince jury members to vote for acquittal in part because Brady allegedly coerced his witnesses to say what he wanted to hear.

If Prevost was somehow rewarded for her loyalty, it didn’t amount to much. She was signed as a vaudeville act a few weeks after the third trial. But that was short-lived and her career as a comedienne was soon over.

Alice Blake, a friend of Zey Prevost, was also seen as a “coerced” witness (Calisphere)

[1] See People vs. Arbuckle, 316–317.