On July 29, 1925, Mary Pickford made her much-anticipated appearance in the courtroom where the three men who had plotted to kidnap her were being tried. The star arrived shortly after 2 p.m. accompanied by her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Mrs. Charolotte Pickford, her mother, and Robert Fairbanks, Doug’s brother.
Mary’s testimony would offer virtually nothing to cement the case against the kidnappers; not that it mattered–all anyone had to do was to imagine America’s Sweetheart in the clutches of the three desperadoes to want to see them locked up forever.
The morning of Pickford’s appearance had been a long one for Bailiff Charles Bryant and Deputy Sheriffs Joe Coyle and Henry Dennison as they struggled to keep the crowd (estimated at nearly 1000) contained; but it was no use and the scene outside of the Hall of Records resembled one of Mary’s movie premieres.
Cameras whirred and clicked as newspaper photogs captured the moments of Pickford’s arrival. The star, attired in a dark brown, two-piece suit, brown velour hat, dark brown shoes and tan silk hose, made her way into the building occasionally reaching out to shake a proffered hand or smile at one of her admirers.
Several women, not close enough to catch a glimpse of Pickford on the street, took their lives in their hands when they climbed out over the window sill and onto the little roof that bridged the gap between the two wings of the Hall of Records, eight stories above the ground.
A janitor attempted to shoo the women off of their perch, but they were as persistent as downtown pigeons. The women were identified as Mary Kathryn Clough, Catherine C. Marshall and Mrs. Alice Spellman (all three serving as jurors on a manslaughter case being tried in the building). Miraculously they managed to get to the judge’s window where Mary and Doug were waiting to be escorted to the courtroom. Mary Clough, the de facto leader of the intrepid trio of climbers, sighed “She is the sweetest thing!” and explained that all she wanted to do was to shake hands with her golden-haired idol.
Mary thanked the women for making the Herculean effort to meet her. That they had literally risked death seemed to delight rather than horrify Pickford who said: “It is wonderful to feel that they are so interested. It makes you thrill–inside. You know, we live in another world, apart, and so much enthusiasm is encouraging.”
Fortunately no one died.
Once inside the packed courtroom Mary was called to the witness chair and testified that she was at the studio on the day the men were arrested outside the gate. That particular point had been a bone of contention between the prosecution and the defense. The defense wanted to impress upon the jury that although the men had been at the studio they couldn’t have kidnapped Pickford if she wasn’t even there–but that tactic failed as did every other straw that S.S. Hahn grasped on behalf of the accused. The judge’s decision to allow the confessions was a particularly bitter defeat.
The defense rallied as much as they could. Their argument was two-pronged; the confessions should be inadmissible because they had been coerced, and the charges were a farce because the corpus delicti had not been established. The judge delivered the coup de grace when he ruled that the confessions could be admitted as evidence. The rest of the trial was a fait acompli.
On August 14, 1925 C.Z. Stevens and C.A. Holcomb were sentenced to from ten to fifty years in San Quentin for conspiracy to kidnap Mary Pickford for $200,000 ransom. The third defendant, A.J. Wood, was exonerated.
Stevens’ wife Pauline took the verdict hard. Tears ran down her face as she listened to the jury foreman pronounce the sentence. She knew that she would lose her husband for a decade or more. It must have seemed particularly cruel to the couple to be separated once again–they had only been reunited for a year or so since losing touch during WWI.
The defense team immediately began to craft an appeal. They intended to use the same arguments they’d used unsuccessfully at trial: the coerced confessions and the contention that no overt act had been proved.
In June 1926 the Second District Court of Appeal handed down their opinion–Charles Z. Stevens and Claude Arthur Holcomb were guilty of conspiracy. The court agreed in part with the the defense when they concurred that the purchase of a revolver by Adrian Wood, who had been acquitted at trial, was not an overt act as had been charged.
However, the court asserted that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction on the conspiracy charge, and the fact that the conspirators had waited outside Mary’s studio in an automobile was proof of an overt act.
Stevens and Holcomb left for San Quentin on September 3, 1926 to begin their sentences.