The following passage is from 1 Judges, that part of our book dealing with the preliminary investigation of Judge Sylvain Lazarus in late September 1921. Lazarus, A police court judge, had been tasked with determining if Roscoe Arbuckle should be tried in the Superior Court of San Francisco on a charge of murder in the first degree or manslaughter.
The testimony of Josephine Keza, the last witness, convinced him to decide on the lesser charge. Otherwise, the judge could have decided against charging Arbuckle for any crime given his grim view of the other witnesses and the failure of putting Maude Delmont on the stand (see 100 Years Ago Today: Arbuckle to be tried for manslaughter instead of murder, September 28, 1921).
Mrs. Keza would testify in all three Arbuckle trials.
After the clinical charts pertaining to Virginia Rappe had been handed over to the defense and entered into the court record, the next witness appeared. She wasn’t Maude Delmont. Although Josephine Keza had been deposed by Milton U’Ren among other St. Francis Hotel employees ten days earlier, her appearance caught Arbuckle’s defense team off-guard.
Freda Blum, who covered the Arbuckle trials for Hearst’s San Francisco Call and International News Service, noted the contrast between the twenty-two-year-old Polish immigrant and the fashionable young women who testified before her. “Unlike the one who ‘models’ for her bread and the other whose ability to entertain earns for her a living,” Blum observed,
the third witness revealed herself in a far different status—one engaged in menial labor. Josephine Keza is a chambermaid at the St. Francis and assigned to the section of the hostelry where the party took place. She wore the unmistakable “beat silk” of the servant class, with long gloves and a last winter’s hat.
Josephine Keza is a foreigner and the English language is difficult for her. She was alternately confused and enthralled by the orations of the defense and prosecution, and when the court released her from the stand, she quietly left the room and went back to her housecleaning.
Milton U’Ren hurriedly questioned his new witness. “Do you remember that Mr. Arbuckle—Roscoe Arbuckle—the gentleman sitting here and some other gentlemen occupied some rooms is the St. Francis Hotel on Labor Day?”
Keza did and U’Ren continued. She described for him that, while cleaning vacant rooms on the twelfth floor, she had heard a woman scream from the direction of Arbuckle’s party. Keza was uncertain about the time. She estimated it to be between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., which, unlike prior testimony, provided an actual window for Rappe and Arbuckle to be inside room 1219. This pushed the time of Rappe’s injury taking place earlier than previous timeframes, which thus far could only be inferred between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m.
Keza recalled that she hurried down the hall and stood outside room 1219, having heard a woman pleading, crying, “Oh, no, no! Oh, my God! Oh, no!”
“And did you hear a man’s voice in the room?” U’ren asked.
Keza responded, “I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Shut up.’”
With that U’Ren turned his witness over for cross-examination, knowing that Dominguez wasn’t prepared. Although furious and incredulous for the introduction of such a witness, he comported himself and calmly, firmly asked who had deposed her. He was, in effect, ferreting out whether she had been coached by the prosecution. “Who told you to come here and tell this outrageous story?” Dominguez asked with an incredulous tone.
The witness explained that she had given a statement more than a week before to Assistant District Attorney U’Ren.
“Are you in the habit of listening at the doors of the rooms?” asked Dominguez.
Keza understood enough English to know that the lawyer was insulting her. She denied that she eavesdropped for diversion. “When we hear shrieks like those, of course,” she said, “We run to see what is the matter.”
Given the noise, shouting, laughter, and music emanating from the Arbuckle suite on Labor Day afternoon, it was hard not to pay attention. Then, Keza, according to Oscar Fernbach of the Examiner, “positively, unswervingly, and with even added force” repeated to Dominguez what she had heard through the door of the room 1219.
Arbuckle, whose reactions to Zey Prevost and Alice Blake were more of boredom than interest, had come to life when he saw the hotel maid. According to Edward J. Doherty of the Chicago Tribune, the comedian began
rubbing his red chin. Streaks of white showed on them from the pressure of his fingers. Frank Dominguez, his chief counsel appeared utterly bewildered. The spectators were leaning forward, drinking in every word.
Miss Keza, a large woman in a blue dress splashed with white, her string of pearl beads, her gray elbow gloves, gay stockings, and sandals, and her wide black sailor hat, was a little conscious of the crowd, a bit amused and perhaps a bit delighted, at the bomb shell she had exploded.
Dominguez took the witness; he questioned her at length, but only made her testimony stand out the plainer. Every question brought more dynamite for the defense. He dropped her suddenly and finally after she had stated she did not always listen at doors and explained—
“But when there’s music and dancing and loud talking you sometimes want to listen.”
Now, leaning forward in his chair as well, Arbuckle whispered to his lawyers. He surely recognized Keza, who had been in an out of his suite throughout the day before and after Rappe’s crisis. This came up as Dominguez pressed Keza to tell him who had been the first person to hear her story, even before she shared it with the other maids.
“I don’t know who it was first—everybody,” Keza answered and then remembered an exception. “I said to a lady in the hotel by the table I heard the girl scream.”
This overlooked statement stands out. It means that Keza had been in room 1220 and after Rappe had been moved to room 1227 as the party went on without her, as the frolicking continued with the arrival of Betty Campbell and Dolly Clark.
As damning as Keza’s testimony sounded, she couldn’t see through the walls of 1219 and Dominguez knew this.
“I heard all afternoon screaming,” she answered as he continued to query her about the level and kinds of noise coming out Arbuckle’s suite—and so revealed that the “screaming” could have been just the ambience from any of the rooms or all three.
“And in 1221,” Keza continued. “And 1220 was all music and dancing and all kinds of noise—and doors slamming and everything—and by the time there was a girl[’s] scream I saw one gentleman came out and after him one lady, but I could never say which one it could be—because I didn’t see her very good, and she was undressed.”
Without being asked, Keza divulged that the hallway door to room 1220 was open. She made it plain to the court that she was alert to the sounds from Arbuckle’s suite for much of the afternoon.
Dominguez’s next line of questions addressed Keza’s opportune hovering right outside room 1220.
Q: The fact of the matter is, you never heard this language at all; isn’t that true—isn’t that the fact—you never heard this language at all, did you?”
A: What I don’t hear?
Q: I mean these voices—you didn’t hear them at all in 1219?
A: I didn’t hear them say “Oh my God?”
A: I did hear it, plain, too—and I heard a lot of slamming the doors just the same at that time.
Q: What is that?
A: I heard the door slamming at that time.
Q: Did anybody tell you to tell this story here in court?
Q: That you heard these voices in that room—did anybody tell you to tell it here?
A: Well, I had nobody to tell me.
When Dominguez asked Keza if she had reported the “conversation,” his euphemism for the voices she heard, meaning to the hotel management, Keza said no. “You are sure it ever occurred?” he asked.
Before Keza could be browbeaten any further and give the defense an advantage, Isadore Golden objected. Dominguez had already asked that several times. Judge Lazarus agreed. Flustered, Dominguez responded that he hadn’t repeated this question and that the record would show it.
Golden: Three times.
Dominguez: I beg your pardon; not in this form. It is a peculiar witness, Mr. Golden.
Golden: There is nothing peculiar about the witness, she is a very hard-working woman.
Dominguez: That is all.