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.

Document Dump #4: The Zey Prevost statement

Note: One of the chief witnesses for the prosecution, Sadie Reiss, was a former Sennett Bathing Beauty at Keystone Studios. At Roscoe Arbuckle’s Labor Day party of September 5, 1921, and for a short time afterward she was still known by various manglings of her professional name, e.g., Zey Pryvon, Pyrvon, and Pyvron). Soon after she settled on Zey Prevost despite the surname being used by another former Sennett Bathing Beauty, Marie Prevost (whose lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to no avail). Zey Prevost wanted to retract certain damning passages made in her initial statement, on Saturday, September 10, 1921 (one day after Rappe’s death), that described what she saw after Arbuckle opened the connecting door between rooms 1219 and 1220 of the St. Francis Hotel. As told to Assistant District Attorney Milton U’Ren, Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson, Detective Henry McGrath, and Howard Vernon, a shorthand reporter, Prevost’s described what the authorities wanted to hear: Arbuckle could be tried for murder. After Prevost refused to go before a grand jury to repeat what she had stated, and thinking he had a tampered witness, District Attorney Matthew Brady released the following initial statement to the press. Prevost, unlike his other chief witness, Maude Delmont, was sober at the party and seemingly unattached to any man (or woman) at the time of the event. She was, in effect, its “transparent eyeball”. Prevost, however, as the case proceeded in the courts, undid much of the damage she had inflicted on Arbuckle’s claims of innocence during his ill-fated party. If she had hoped to get something for her seeming “loyalty,” she did not. Her new vaudeville act in the spring of 1922 was short-lived and her career in show business was soon over. (The footnotes below are our own annotations.)

Q: What time did you arrive at the St. Francis?

A: About 1:30, between 1 and 1:30.

Q: Who did you go with?

A: Alone.

Q: How did you happen to go?

A: Alice Blake called me up and said—well, I got a call the day before the party [Sunday, September 4]. I got a call that “Fatty” was in town, to come down, they were going to have a party. I never went down that day. I stayed over with Alice all night that night and left word at the St. Francis to call me at her place.[1] Instead of staying with her all night I went home. She called me the next day and said to come over, they were going to have dinner at Fatty’s place. I said, “I’m kind of tired. I think I’ll stay in bed.”[2]

Finally, I said, “All right, I’ll come down.” I was supposed to go to her [Blake’s] hotel,[3] and I told her, “Wait for me there.” Then she (Alice Blake) told me that she had a rehearsal. She works. She got tired waiting because I live so far out and went on over to the St. Francis. When I got to her hotel, I found out she had gone. Then I went to the St. Francis alone.

(From the time of the Prevost girl’s arrival at Arbuckle’s, she related the following story.)

They were all sitting around eating. They asked me to have something to eat. I said, “No, thanks, I have had my breakfast.”

Q: Who was in the room when you arrived there?

A: Fatty Arbuckle, Virginia Rappe, Lowell Sherman, Mrs. [Maude] Delmont, Mr. [Al] Semnacher and Alice Blake.[4]

Q: Was Mr. Fishbeck [i.e., Fred Fishback] there?

A: Mr. Fishbeck was downstairs and he came right up after. He said, “Hello Zey.” I responded, “Hello.”[5] They asked me to have something to eat. I didn’t eat.

Q: How was Arbuckle dressed when you went into the room?

A: I was surprised myself. We were sitting at the table. Everybody was dressed except Mr. Sherman and him. They both had on bathrobes, slippers, and pajamas.

Zey Prevost in witness chair, September 1921 (Calisphere)

Q: How was Mrs. Delmont dressed?

A: She was dressed in street clothes.

Q: When you went into the room?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: When did she (meaning Mrs. Delmont) change into pajamas?

A: I don’t know anything about that. I don’t remember.

Q: She was in her pajamas later on?

A: I don’t drink.[6]

Q: You kept your head?

A: They all know I don’t drink because they were kidding me about it.

Q: When did you notice Mrs. Delmont in pajamas?

A: She kept saying, “Oh, it’s warm in here. I feel awfully warm. It is close.” Mr. Sherman then said to her, “Put on a pair of pajamas; that will be all right.”

Q: What time was that?

A: As soon as they cleared the table away—a few minutes after they all fixed a drink and sat around and talked.

Q: Did she go into another room to change her dress for pajamas?

A: She went into the bathroom.

Q: Which bathroom?

A: Off Lowell Sherman’s room. Then she came out and they all started to laugh, and she said, “I feel comfortable now.” She sat down and nothing more was said about it.

Q: Then what happened?

A: There were several people came into the room. The [man, i.e., Semnacher] who left for Los Angeles [our italics]—

Q: Who was he, and what was his name?

A: I have forgotten his name. There was [sic] several people came in there [our italics].[7]

Q: What time did Mr. Semnacher come in?

A: He was in there when I arrived.[8] I was the last one to arrive there.

Q: You are positive it couldn’t have been after 2 o’clock when you arrived?

A: No, because Miss Blake had a rehearsal at 2 and she went over to rehearse.[9]

Q: Who took her over to rehearse?

A: I don’t remember. But I do remember that she said, “I think I’ll come back after rehearsal.” I said, “I may be gone then.” She came right back. She said, “There is no rehearsal. There is nobody over there.”

Q: She came back to the room all alone?

A: Yes, sir.[10]

Q: When did Miss Rappe leave the room?

A: Alice Blake and I went into the other room [i.e. 1221]. You know, I took my purse and was going to put some powder on. We were going into the bathroom of 1221. We were gone just a second, went back into the bathroom and we came back, and Virginia and Roscoe Arbuckle had gone. I said, “Where is Virginia and Roscoe? Lowell Sherman said, “Oh, they are in there.”

Q: Indicating what room?

A: Indicating Roscoe Arbuckle’s room.

Q: How long did they remain in there?

A: A good long while, and I said to Mrs. Delmont, “You better try to call Virginia,” and she called and called, and I said, “Kick on the door,” and I went over and banged three or four times on the door.[11] I said, “Go on kicking. Kick hard; make him open the door for you.” She then kicked three of four times. She rapped. She said, “I just want to speak to Virginia. I just want to talk to her.” She said, “Open the door.” So finally he opened the door.

Q: Who?

A: Roscoe Arbuckle and we went in. She was lying on the bed. Her hair was all down and she was moaning. I said, “What is the matter with you?” She didn’t drink [our italics].[12] I then said, “Maybe she has got gas on her stomach.” Then she started to pull her clothes off.[13]

Q: When you went into the room who did you enter with?

A: With Alice—Alice Blake and I went into the room.

Q: Where was she (Miss Rappe) when you went into the room—what part of the room—on the bed?

A: There were two little beds. She was on the bed near the door.

Q: How was she dressed?

A: She had on a little—she was all dressed. All her clothes were on her. Her hair was all hanging down. I said, “My God, what is the matter with her?”

Q: What did Arbuckle say?

A: Oh, he said, “Get her out of there. She is making too much noise,” or something, and she started to pull the clothes off and scream and holler, and when she was pulling her clothing off I said, “Stop that.” Then Arbuckle came over and started to pull the clothes off her [our italics]. I shoved his hands away. I said, “Don’t do that, Roscoe.” I said, “She is sick.” He said, “Oh, she is putting on.”

Q: Before you started to kick on the door didn’t you hear her scream?

A: No; there were two doors. You couldn’t hear anything. There was one door leading into the sitting room and one into the bedroom. There are two doors right together [our italics].[14]

Q: How did you happen to kick on the door?

A: She was in their such a long time.

Q: You say “a long time”? How long?

A: Over—it seemed like an hour.

Q: When you went in, she was lying on one of the beds. Where was Arbuckle?

A: He opened the door.

Q: Did he follow back with you?

A: He went in. He took off his bathrobe. I said to Alice, “Let’s get her over to the other bed.” We lifted her over to the other bed and gave her some bicarbonate of soda and hot water, and she threw that all up. Her eyes started to roll in her head. I said, “You had better call a doctor.” Then Mrs. Delmont was in the room and they put her in a cold bath. I said then: You had better take her out. She has been in there too long.” I went to the phone to call a doctor, but somebody grabbed it from my hand. They couldn’t afford the notoriety [our italics]. I said: “Get Mr. Boyle or somebody.”

Q: What happened then?

A: Some girl came in and her name was Mae [Taube]. I don’t remember her last name. She said to Roscoe: “You had better get your robe on.” This girl and I recognized each other, as we had met once before. She said to Arbuckle: “Can I speak to you a minute?” And he said: “Yes.” They went into the other room [1220] to speak. She left right after that. In the meantime, they were getting another room for this girl—to put her in [i.e., 1227]. Then I went into the other room [1227] with Alice. She [Rappe] was lying on the bed. I asked her if I could do anything for her. She said, “No.”

Q: She was then conscious?

A: Yes, sir, in the other room she was conscious. Mrs. Delmont was lying on the bed. She was sleeping [our italics].[15] I guess she was exhausted.

Q: Did Arbuckle have pajamas or a bathrobe on when you went into Room 1219—after you kicked the door and he opened the door?

A: He had his bathrobe on. He was fixing it.

Q: Then what did he do?

A: He went into the other room and sat down. Then Mr. Fishbeck came in. He helped us revive her.

Q: What did Arbuckle say in addition to “get this girl out, she is making too much noise?” Did he say anything else regarding her?

A: He just said—I don’t remember what he did say, he said so much.

Q: Did he talk a good deal?”

A: Yes, he did talk a good deal.

Q: And that is all you can remember that he said?

A: Oh, he stood there and stared—was very sore, and I said, “What are you sore for?” He said, “Oh, if she makes one more yell, I will throw her out the window [our italics].

Q: What was his condition as to being intoxicated or sober?

A: He was intoxicated. He had been drinking.

Q: Did you see him drinking that afternoon?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: How much?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Approximately how many drinks did he take?

A: There was plenty of liquor there.

Q: How much liquor?

A: Enough to make him stewed.

Q: What did you see him drink?

A: He was drinking whisky and White Rock. He asked me to fix a drink. I put some orange juice in it. He said he didn’t want it. He wanted whisky and White Rock.

Q: How was his speech? Coherent—or—?

A: The party was perfectly nice. They never used any vulgar language in the party.

Q: I mean was his speech coherent?

A: He was talking about jumping out of the twelfth-story window [our italics]. He said, “Oh what is in life after all?” Really, it did sound funny. We were all sitting by the window. He said: I will jump out of the window with anybody who wants to jump out.[16]

Q: Did anybody volunteer to go with him?

A: No, nobody. We all looked at him. He said something: If I would jump out of this twelfth-story window, they wouldn’t talk about me today and tomorrow. They would go to see the ball game instead. So, what is life after all?”

Q: Did you see Miss Rappe after she was nude?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Did you notice her body as to being bruised?

A: She had a bruise on her leg and arm. I said, “What are all those black and blue spots?”

Q: What was said?

A: There was nothing at all said. There was so much excitement about it—trying to get her to come to.

Q: Was Semnacher there when you asked the question?

A: I don’t remember if he was there at all.

Q: Which arm was bruised., her right or her left?

A: I never noticed that. I noticed her leg was bruised.

Q: Which leg?

A: I think the right leg.

Q: Do you remember whether the bruise was near her knee?

A: Yes, sir, around there. It was pretty black. I said: “Look at the bruise, Alice, on her leg and arm.”

Q: Did Alice examine the bruises?

A: Alice lifted her over on the bed. She fell on top of Alice. Just then Mr. Fishbeck came in and I said to him: “Help me get her off Alice.” She couldn’t move. She was unconscious by that time. She did start to yell after that. The pain was so terrible. Her eyes were rolling in her head. She didn’t drink anything [our italics].

Q: She didn’t drink at all?

A: I didn’t see her drink at all. I saw her eating something. I wasn’t there long enough to tell you the truth. They were just eating—

Q: How long were you there altogether before you knocked and kicked on the door?

A: I don’t know when it happened even; I never thought of talking the time.

Q: It was such a lively party that you didn’t take any time at all, is that it?

A: No.

Q: Was Semnacher there all the time you were there?

A: Yes; Semnacher—well, I went down to the Palace hotel with Semnacher to get the clothes of Miss Rappe and Mrs. Delmont.

Q: That was after she was removed from the room [i.e., 1219]?

A: Yes. I went to the Palace hotel to get the clothes.

Q: Prior to that time was he in the room [1220] all the time?

A: Not all the time.

Q: How many times did he leave?

A: About two or three times.

Q: Where did he say he was going?

A: I have forgotten. I don’t know exactly but he came in and said, “What is the matter? What is the matter?[17]

Q: When you went into the room [1219] did you hear any conversation between Miss Rappe and Arbuckle?

A: No, no conversation.

Q: Did she accuse him of anything?

A: You mean after we got into Room 1219?

Q: In Arbuckle’s presence in the room?

A: She was just yelling, “I am dying, I am dying. You hurt me.”

Q: Did she say, “You hurt me?”

A: Yes, sir. “He hurt me, he hurt me. I am dying. I am dying. I am dying.”

Q: Was he present when she said that?

A: They were all present, I think.

Q: Absolutely, that conversation was loud enough for him to hear it?

A: Sure. Alice was right there with me.

Q: You heard it? She screamed this, did she?

A: She screamed it. Absolutely screamed it. That is why he got sore, because she was yelling so.

Q: Where do you live?

A: I don’t want to say where I live. I live with my folks.[18]

Q: You realize this is a very important matter?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: How can we find you?

A: I will not give my mother’s number. Please don’t ask me that.

Captain Matheson: There will be people come to you and tell you to keep your mouth shut.

A: They have already. (Laughs.)

Q: Who spoke to you already about it?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Well, somebody did, didn’t they?

A: No. (Laughs.)

Captain Matheson: Let’s set ourselves right on this matter so we will now exactly where we are at. [To someone U’Ren:] This young lady is going to be a witness.

A: I don’t want my mother implicated in it.

Q: We don’t want people running to you and all that kind of thing to have you change your story. They will.

A: Well, I won’t.


[1] See note 2. Zey means that she left her contact information for the person who invited her in the first place.

[2] She doesn’t identify who called her and invited her for the Sunday gathering, which took place with Mae Taube being the only identifiable and known female guest. This means that Zey already knew Fishback, Sherman, or even Arbuckle himself. Notice, too, that the Labor Day gathering was only to be a kind of late breakfast, i.e., brunch, to use our portmanteau.

[3] The Woodrow Hotel at 364 O’Farrell Street.

[4] Here she excludes the presence of Fred Fishback and Ira Fortlouis.

[5] This would indicate that Fishback undoubtedly knew Prevost beforehand.

[6] There seems to be something missing here. Or Zey is reacting to U’Ren’s nonverbal cue that conveyed incredulity.

[7] Zey’s statement is the only one that mentions this mystery man. The others may have been hotel staff and whoever was catering the food and illegal liquor.

[8] In his statement, Semnacher did not come up until Fishback invited him up at about 2 p.m.. So, his presence beforehand is the anomaly that U’Ren is trying to identify—these were maddening for the prosecution and no less so for anyone writing about this affair.

[9] For the dance revue that entertained diners at Tait’s restaurant and theater on O’Farrell Street. Arbuckle’s entourage had been there the night before.

[10] This assertion puts in doubt Semnacher’s claim of having escorted Blake to the abortive rehearsal.

[11] This is the one time that Zey Prevost mentions that she initiated kicking and knocking on Arbuckle’s room. Delmont claims that only she kicked and pounded on the door.

[12] This is important Typically, Rappe is said to have had gin and orange juice.

[13] This behavior may have another explanation beside hysteria. One of the symptoms of shock are “changes in mental status or behavior, such as anxiousness or agitation.” Indeed, one of the actions taken when a person is going into shock is to loosen restrictive clothing. But what if tearing at one’s clothes is a natural response to the onset of shock. I see Rappe’s clothes tearing as a symptom of dysesthesia or allodynia associated with panic disorder, in which she was unable to endure the touch of her own clothes. It could also be something far more deep set, like self-directed violence of psychological trauma. To be continued . . .

[14] This important detail is routinely left out of accounts. These would be fire-rated wooden or even steel doors

[15] Delmont drank “ten scotches” during the course of the party. She allegedly had a leading role in the immediate response to Rappe’s crisis. But notice in Prevost’s testimony that this is not the case. That Delmont was sleeping next to Rappe was observed by the first doctor who came to see her late in the afternoon

[16] Regard Arbuckle’s “death instinct” in the context of defenestrating Rappe or Delmont in other testimony.

[17] She is going back to after she, Blake, and Delmont had gained entry to room 1219.

[18] 636 Bush Street.