The Plot to Kidnap America’s Sweetheart, Part 3

There may have been no corpus delicti and no overt act but Charles Z. Stevens, Claude Holcomb and Adrian Woods were going to be tried for conspiracy to commit kidnapping anyway.

kidnappers pic

The accusations against C.Z. were taking a toll on his wife. The sight of her husband behind bars was too much for her–she collapsed in the County Jail and had to be taken home.

While Pauline was getting over the initial shock of seeing C.Z. in jail, a Sheriff’s deputy had been attempting to serve Mary with a subpoena. Mary’s fame gave her privileges not enjoyed by mere mortals. The subpoena was supposed be delivered personally but the deputy was unable to get anywhere near the star. Finally, in frustration, he handed the summons to Mary’s secretary.  To ease judicial fears her attorney guaranteed her attendance in court if needed.

Mary Pickford conferring with defense attorney S.S. Hahn. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Mary Pickford conferring with defense attorney S.S. Hahn. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

The trial was originally scheduled to be held in Department 17 in the Hall of Justice on Buena Vista Street, but it was deemed too small to accommodate the crowd that was expected to turn out to see Mary and Doug.  The trial was moved to the larger courtroom of Judge York on the eighth floor of the Hall of Records.

L.A. County Courthouse flanked by Hall of Records (L). [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

L.A. County Courthouse flanked by Hall of Records (L). [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Attorneys on both sides began trying their cases in the press.  Some things never change.  S.S. Hahn told reporters that he had new evidence that he would reveal later, and the Deputy District Attorney announced that he was ready to unequivocally prove the State’s case.

Glen G. Gravatt, a police department stenographer and secretary to Chief of Detectives Home, was the first to take the stand. He read from notes he had taken while he was listening through a physician’s stethoscope under the door of the room in the Hayward Hotel where the conspirators were meeting. With the stethoscope he was able to eavesdrop on Stevens, Holcomb, Woods and another possible conspirator, Louis Geck (aka “Louis the Spider”), and he got an earful.

As Gravatt continued to listen and take notes Geck asked Claude “Fat” Holcomb what he’d do if Mary Pickford “…picked up a big .45″. Holcomb replied: “I’d have to shoot her just like anybody else, that’s all.”

In an effort to speed up the trial the defense attorneys agreed to combine their efforts and offer the same defense for each of the men simultaneously. The attorneys also agreed to divvy up the responsibilities: S.S. Hahn would conduct all the direct examinations, Public Defender Aggeler would handle the cross-examinations and John A. Holland would prepare the rebuttal.

Defense attorneys Vercoe, Holland, Hahn and Aggeler [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Defense attorneys Vercoe, Holland, Hahn and Aggeler [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

The defense made a motion to acquit the defendants based on an interpretation of the laws governing conspiracy.  They argued that because no overt act had been committed the charges should be dropped and the men released. But the defense arguments didn’t pass muster and the trial went forward.

third degree

Failing to get the kidnapping charges dropped, S.S. Hahn then accused Detective Harry Raymond of beating confessions out of Stevens and Holcomb. Jurors leaned forward in their seats as Holcomb told his story:

“I was brought down to Chief Home’s office and Harry Raymond said to me, ‘Fat, we want a statement out of you and we want to get it free and voluntarily.'”

Holcomb continued:

“We went there (the movie studio) with Louie (aka The Spider) to see a friend of his about a job.  Then he (Raymond) struck me in the nose. I threw up my hand to protect my face and Mayer stopped me.  Mayer then took me to the wash bowl and washed the blood from my face and coat by using water and paper.  The George Home came in.  He looked at Raymond and smiled.  Then he went out and bought me some cigarettes.”Holcomb said that he had made and signed his confession because he was beaten up and because he was afraid that Raymond would “stomp the hell out of me every day until I did.”

Was there any truth to Holcomb’s accusations?  It’s difficult to say. During the 1920s it would not have been unheard of for a detective to smack a suspect around to gain a confession; but unfortunately for Holcomb and the others it was incumbent upon the defense to prove that the beatings had actually occurred–which they failed to do.

NEXT TIME:  Mary and Doug in court and the outcome of the trial.

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