“I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Shut up.’”

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.

Josephine Keza in her St. Francis Hotel maid uniform, Oct. 1921 (Newspaper Enterprise Association, private collection)

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?”

Q: Yes.

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?

A: When?

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.


Document Dump #3: The morals of the movies

A Review of the Arbuckle Case

The following reprint of an editorial from “the British Communist” appeared in The Young Worker of March–April 1922, the official organ of the Young Workers League, published by the Young Workers League in Chicago. The text reflects the general view of both American and international communist organizations about the connection between the cases of Tom Mooney and Roscoe Arbuckle. The so-called “Frame-up Ring” in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice was likely not an organized shakedown ring as imagined by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the British Communist but rather a systemic bias that moneyed interests had against organized labor. What is more true is that labor activists had reason to feel betrayed by District Attorney Matthew Brady who had been elected in 1920 as a reform candidate with their support. Labor leaders on the eve of the first Arbuckle trial were expressing their impatience with Brady for his hesitation in reconsidering Mooney’s conviction for having been responsible for the Preparedness Day Bombing of 1916. Although Brady showed boldness, almost recklessness, in prosecuting Arbuckle, he didn’t benefit from it with his communist–labor constituency.

Front cover of The Young Worker March-April 1922 (Archive.org)

Moving pictures are one of the most powerful propaganda forces wielded by the capitalist class. To the millions of people who daily go to the picture shows is doled out the “virtues” of capitalism. The master class does not overlook any opportunity to slander organized labor through the use of pictures.  And the philosophy that is disseminated by use of the serene (sugar-coated with humor) is calculated to “appease” the hungry and to feed the unemployed with hope.

Because of their plastic minds, the young are especially apt to derive “instruction” from the pictures. The children and young people of this country attend the picture shows more frequently than do the adults. Hence the propaganda reaches them and to a greater degree. The morals of capitalism, as portrayed by such actors as “Fatty” Arbuckle and the countless number of his type who have not had the misfortune to have committed so slight an error as murder, are set up as examples to the future generation.

Accidents will happen; and once in a generation a cog will slip in the well-regulated machine and we get a glimpse of the true character of these teachers of morality.

But the capitalists will not desert so “valuable” a man as “Fatty”, and they begin to pull the strings to acquit him. Incidentally, the impartiality of our justice-dispensing machinery is revealed in all its hideousness.

It is easier to observe the actions of others. And the following interesting analysis of the Arbuckle Case and justice in the United States gives us a picture of a phase of American Capitalism as seen by our English comrades.

From the British Communist

So Roscoe—“Fatty”—Arbuckle is to come to trial again. Arbuckle was not always a rich man, he was once a “saloon bum,” a down and out hanger-on of pubs. As a chucker-out and as a potboy he once earned a more or less honest living, until he struck lucky on the films, but even in his time of great wealth he retained the manners, and habits of his pub-crawling days. He is, or was, at least, before this action began, a millionaire, and behind him are many of the most important cinema firms of the U.S.A., who have some miles of Arbuckle film which they dare not release till the fat comedian is acquitted.

District Attorney Brady, of California, prosecuting him, exclaimed aloud in court to a reporter:

“Can you tell me how I can join a bomb-throwing organisation? I mean an organisation more violent than the I.W.W. I believe in dynamiting when I see such efforts to pervert justice!”

District Attorney Brady is not a strong man. He is a weak and uncertain man, but he was put into office largely by a Labor vote, to perform one definite duty—to dislocate the whole operation of the “Frame-up” ring of California. This Ring originally worked through Brady’s predecessor, [Charles] Fickert. It used him to jail for life a San Francisco Labor leader, Tom Mooney, on a false charge of dynamiting. It produced forged evidence and suppressed real evidence. Witness after witness was brought forward and torn to pieces, and their places at once cynically taken by other hired agents. Eventually Mooney was condemned to death, but the grossness of the fraud was such that the sentence was changed to imprisonment for life—and he is still in jail.

For capitalist justice in California has gone one step further than it has here. There it is completely corrupt and completely at the direct service of a financial ring who own all the judges, can interfere in the selection of jurors, and have a regular service of false witnesses for use in almost any case. The utter filthiness of this whole gang was bound to provoke a reaction, and when Fickert was found to be having dealings with the Germans an opportunity arose for the election of a substitute—Brady—who was pledged to their destruction.

The Frame-up Ring has now been called in to defend Arbuckle, and it is defeating Brady. It has been called in because Arbuckle is essential to the Californian anti-union forces. He is the biggest propagandist inside the cinema trade for the “open shop” campaign which is now being pressed hard. A strong and partly successful attempt has been made to smash unionism in the film trade (an “open shop” is a non-union shop) and cut wages. The twelve firms involved in this drive are :

Christie Film Co., Thos. H. Ince Productions, Hal E. Roach Studios, Brunton Studios Inc., Buster Keaton Comedies, Lasky-Famous Players Co., Metro Pictures Corp., William Fox Studios, Goldwyn Pictures Corp., Realart Pictures Corp., Universal Film Company.

Fatty Arbuckle, their star scab actor, was also their best asset in this campaign. And then he gets himself arrested for rape and murder. Still, money can do most things. and the Frame-up Ring got busy. First of all Judge Lazarus was made to reduce the charge from one of murder by rape to manslaughter. It will be remembered that Arbuckle carried the girl Virginia Rappe out of the room at a drunken party in his hotel, saying, “I’ve waited for you five years”; that a chambermaid passing by the bedroom door heard the girl’s screams and struggles; that the guests who entered the room later found her naked and in agony, crying, “He hurt me!” while Arbuckle, dressed in the girl’s picture hat, stood by saying. “If she screams again, I’ll throw her out of the window.” Virginia Rappe died of the injuries he had inflicted.

At the trial the Frame-up Ring got hold of one witness after another and “persuaded” them that they had perjured themselves. It went far afield to search out means of throwing mud at the dead girl’s character. It saw to it that Judge Lazarus summed up as heavily as he could against the prosecution, describing the chambermaid as “hysterical,” and laying the greatest stress upon the points put forward by the more-than-shady witnesses for the defence. And the papers were able to announce that Fatty was “morally acquitted” because the jury was 10 to 2 for acquittal [at the end of the first trial in December 1921].

But the California bosses don’t leave such things as juror’s votes to the chances of evidence. The jury was selected in advance, at least in the majority, and its foreman, Fritze, was a well-known agent of the ring. The juror who stood out for conviction, Mrs. Helen Hubbard, now publicly swears that Fritze and others threats of violence and intimidation, also third-degree methods, to force her to agree to acquittal. Fritze used to her the words, “I’ll knock your — —— block off!” Her husband, T. W. Hubbard, was approached by one of the ring (a minor member, Oliva) demanding that he instruct his wife to vote for acquittal. Oliva further said that he (Oliva) would pass the note through to the jury, and that if Hubbard refused he would be ruined.

That is trial by jury in California.

But the Frame-up Ring goes deeper in the mire than that. How did an honest woman, Mrs. Helen Hubbard, find herself on that jury? The Frame-up Ring had “double-crossed” Fatty. It knew he could be bled for more money. and intended that he should have to stand a second trial.

That is United States’ justice. It was that same Frame-up Ring which condemned Tom Mooney to imprisonment for life on an utterly false charge five years ago-and he is still in jail. It is that same system of justice which has now forged a whole case against two Italian-American active trade unionists—Sacco and Vanzetti—and condemned them to death on an equally false charge.

Tom Mooney’s Monthly writes:

“Fatty” Arbuckle and motion pictures are inseparable—the Frameup Ring knows this and it is bent on a rich harvest. It knew in advance just what the verdict would be in the Arbuckle trial. Vincent Riccardi exposed this feature of the Frameup Ring‘s work last year when he showed beyond any doubt the methods of control and the uses to which the Ring put this so-called machinery of justice for its own enrichment. Riccardi showed that it was the sworn policy of the Ring to have disagreements where its victim (the defendant) had not been shaken down for all of his money. If the Ring knew he had more money or opportunities of obtaining it. it would split the Jury by placing upon it those who it knew in advance would vote not to agree on a verdict. Some regular acquitters and some regular convicters—thus does it produce a mistrial and open up another avenue to the pockets of ‘‘Fatty’’ and his rich friends.

Now, should “Fatty” and his rich friends in the scab, open-shop, 100 Per Cent “American” plan, motion picture enterprises come clean with enough coin of the realm between now and the time tor the next trial, he will never be brought to trial; the case will be dismissed} “for lack of sufficient evidence to convict.” If he fails to dig up the “dough” in large sums, the Frameup Ring will hold the club of another trial over his head and make him across with many dollars or the big gates of San Quentin prison will await him. In fact, it would not surprise us to see a. second disagreement It would mean more thousands of dollars in the coffers of the Ring.

Most times we think very little of the pious resolutions and hardly annuals which are passed regularly by Labor Party and Trades Union Congresses. But we do think this time that it would be a crime to fail to make at least a verbal protest. The friends who are defending Sacco and Vanzetti, the friends who are still seeking the release of Mooney, specifically ask for protest by the British workers, believing that over there these will have some effect. We must not refuse them.

As for Fatty, we can do little to express our contempt of him and his defenders. “Union Labor is through with Fatty’s pictures,” says Tom Mooney’s Monthly, from America: we suppose, too, that it will be long before a decent working man, or his wife or kids wastes another ninepence over here on the fat beast.


Roscoe Arbuckle aboard the RMS Aquitania, 1920 (Library of Congress)