See Orson Pratt Brown's site for the story of Margaret Keith's family.
The Mystery Millionairess of Hollywood
It is told that Margaret Keith hid her face behind veils for nearly 40 years. Beginning in her teenage years it is said that she lived mostly a life of seclusion.
David Keith, it is reported, wrote the following: "In the home of Alfred Milton Wilson and Julie Ann Wilson of Des Moines, Iowa, on the 10th of April, 1893, a baby girl was born to my youngest daughter, Margaret Keith. As a timid unsophisticated girl of sixteen years, she fell a victim to David (Summers) Keith's (my adopted son) illicit love." [Margaret Keith was born on April 6, 1884. The birth date of her child in 1893 would make Margaret only nine years old.]
In protecting the family name, Margaret, believing her baby dead, tried to bury her shame with it. A veil of darkness has shut out all rays of sunlight for her forever.
Sworn to keep the secret of David's and Margaret's unfortunate affair, Alfred Milton Wilson and Julie Ann Wilson were appointed guardians of the illegitimate Keith baby girl, who later became known as Myrtle Mae Wilson.
The above statement concludes by disowning David and detailing trust agreements and final settlements.
In later years, Margaret herself explained her behavior in a note to Charles V. Hatter, a detective she employed. She wrote: "I'm just about as mysterious as an onion. I'm not even a man hater. I like to talk to men because they have brains, but I think the Amazons had the right idea. They made all of the men stay out in the shed with the cattle."
At exactly four o'clock one afternoon, Margaret's gardener followed a special letter of instruction and placed a call to Dr. J. S. Wood, in Hollywood, and asked him to come to the estate. When the physician arrived, the gardener gave him another letter requesting him to enter the house alone.
Decaying grandeur of the mansion was shadowed by blanketed windows, and there was a musty odor. When Dr. Wood entered Miss Keith's darkened bedroom, it reeked with chloroform. He saw a "figure in a black, shroud-like garment lying on a divan, with a great bouquet of flowers at its head and a basket of blossoms at its feet. Over the face was a towel, wrapped in the shape of an ether cone and an empty bottle lay on the floor." Two black cats stirred. Symphonic music swelled from a radio.
A suicide note requested fresh flowers and an orchestra to play classical compositions as the only burial ceremony. The undertaker was instructed, "Please have your lady attendant care for my body. I want to be quite sure that I am dead. Please inject an extra amount of formaldehyde into my body. Cover my hands with flowers. When I was alive I always wanted plenty of room, so I do not want to be put in a niche." Miss Keith was cremated, and her mysterious secret was never revealed.
Raye C. Ringholz, Diggings & Doings in Park City, 1983, pages 58-59
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DROVE SECOND AUTO IN VALLEY
Mrs. Allen Writes Story of How Her Sister Drove Small Car
of the "Bronco" Type in Rogue with Great Success.
(MRS. A. C. ALLEN.)
In the spring of 1905 Miss Margaret Keith, sister of Mrs. A. C. Allen, brought into Medford the second automobile owned in Rogue River Valley. This car was, like nearly all the '05 models, of the bronco type--sometimes it would go and at others it would "balk," but at most times it acted in a rather untamed manner. After a time Miss Keith and her sister managed to gain an understanding of its eccentricities to such an extent as to be able to coax the auto out and back home again. And so it was that Miss Keith became the first lady to drive an automobile in the valley.
Outside of the fact that the automobile was an uncommon sight here, it was still more so to see a lady driving the car, and they always drew an interested crowd when the "pesky thing" balked in the middle of the street. At such times the ladies always spurned any aid, but promptly got out the tool kit and in some mysterious way got the car out of its tantrum and started again.
When asked "How did you know what was the matter with the car?" the reply was, "I didn't know; I simply took out the spark plug, looked at it and put it back. I have not the slightest idea what I expected to find the matter with the spark plug, but if I didn't look there for the trouble where else would I look?"
That question would have puzzled almost anyone at that time. At any rate, the treatment seemed to be all sufficient, for the car would finally start.
Then, too, it was trouble all along the road, for when the car wasn't "kicking" the users of the public highways were, for nearly all--including the horses--resented the appearance of the auto on the road. Things were not so pleasant in those days for the autoist.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 22, 1910, page B1
DAVID KEITH'S WILL
The will of the late David Keith was filed for probate Wednesday. No information is given as to the value of the estate of deceased. Mrs. Keith, widow, is willed one-third of the entire property, exclusive of certain bequests, one one-sixth each to Etta K. Eskridge, Lillian K. Allen and Margaret J. Keith, daughters, and David Keith, son. A separate bequest of $100,000 in bonds of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad Company is made to Mrs. Lillian K. Allen. The explanation is made that outright gifts of like bonds in equal value had already been made with regard to the other children. In Mrs. Allen's case they are to remain in trust, with the Bankers Trust Company, she to draw the revenue from them during life and at her death her daughter, Mary Allen, is to be the beneficiary. The will provides that the son's one-sixth interest in the estate shall be held in trust by the Bankers Trust Company until he is 35 years of age, he to draw the revenue therefrom and to receive the property in its entirety upon reaching the specified age.
Provision is made for payment of $100 a month, so long as he shall live, to Mr. Keith's brother, George Keith of Country Harbour, Nova Scotia. The executors are directed to set apart and invest a fund to provide revenue for the annuity.
Bequest of $5000 and certain Salt Lake real estate is made to Frank A. Keith, a nephew, and of $5000 each to Mr. Thomas Walden and Christian Leslie, nieces, the latter living at Leominster, Mass. To Etta, Dorothy and Albert Gammon, children of Mr. Keith's nephew, John B. Gammon, is left 130.44 acres of the Caster ranch, in Yakima County, Wash. To Albert C. Allen, Jr., grandson, $500 is bequeathed, to be given to him when he shall be 21 years of age.
Park Record, Park City, Utah, April 26, 1918, page 3
The Passing of David KeithThe life work and achievements of Hon. David Keith were striking examples of what can be accomplished by the exercise of God-given talent and ability where there is a will and a determination to make the most of fleeting opportunities.
David Keith, so well known in mining and commercial centers throughout this intermountain region, and who stood so high in the estimation of his fellow men, solved the great mystery of life and death on Saturday, April 16th, lacking a little more than a month of reaching his seventy-first birthday.
The deceased was born at Mabo, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, May 27, 1847, and in his early youth had practical experience in mining in his native land. While still quite a young man he came to the United States. Here he learned of California and the great gold excitement prevailing on the Pacific Coast, and rather than make the trip across the continent to the Land of Promise, he shipped before the mast for the Isthmus of Panama. Here he disembarked and made his way across the Isthmus to the Pacific Coast, walking a greater portion of the way. Reaching the ocean he shipped again and finally landed at San Francisco. For some time he investigated the gold diggings on the western slope of the Sierra Range but was not satisfied with conditions and surroundings, and so he joined in the rush to Virginia City, Nevada, where mining on the Mother Lode was attracting world-wide attention. The first winter in this historic region was employed in and around Gold Hill, where he made wood contracts and supplied the mines of the district with fuel. The second winter he was engaged with the Southern Pacific in railroad building in the vicinity of Donner Lake. Finally, however, he found employment on the Comstock as a common miner; an occupation much more to his liking, for he was a born miner. Finally he became pumpman at the mine and was later given the position of foreman of the Caledonia and Overman mines, being also connected with the Mexican as mine manager.
In 1882 Mr. Keith left Virginia City and located at Park City, Utah, where he accepted a position as foreman of the history-making Ontario, of which the late R. C. Chambers was general manager. At the Ontario one of his most important duties was the assistance he rendered in the installation of the great Cornish pump, by the use for which the large underground flow of water was brought into subjection and control. In 1885 Mr. Keith became manager of the Anchor mine, now owned by the Judge Mining & Smelting Company, and eventually he became associated with ex-Senator Thomas Kearns, and others, in the great Silver King Coalition, of which company he was president at the time of his death, among his associates in this enterprise being John Judge, E. P. Ferry and A. B. Emery, deceased. Among Mr. Keith's long list of friends in Utah might well be mentioned men of prominence in the mining industry of Utah, now deceased, included in the number being such men of note as R. C. Chambers, W. W. Chisholm, J. D. Kendall, L. U. Colbath, Richard McIntosh, John Q. Packard, and others connected with the early-day history of mining in Utah.
For many years Mr. Keith has been an honored and respected resident of Salt Lake City. His holdings here were extensive and valuable, and he has done much for the upbuilding and material interests of his "home town." His real estate holdings were heavy, including the Ness building, the Keith Arcade building, the St. James Hotel building and other property, besides which he was heavily interested in various mining properties in Utah and in adjoining states.
He was a member of the constitutional convention which paved the way for statehood for Utah, and besides being president of the Silver King Coalition, he was president of the Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Company, president of the First National Bank of Park City, vice president of the National Copper Bank of Salt Lake, and a director of the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railway Company. He was a member of the Alta Club, the Elks Club, and the Country Club of Salt Lake, the California Club of Los Angeles, the Press Club of San Francisco, and the Rocky Mountain Club of New York City.
Throughout his long and useful life Mr. Keith always stood for high ideals and was a man among men. He was a quiet and unassuming man but noticeable in all circumstances for strength of character and the ability to see and judge all things clearly. His was a genial although reserved nature, and he counted his friends by the hundreds. His death is an irreparable loss to his family, to this community, to the mining industry, and to the country at large, and The Mining Review joins with hosts of others in extending words of sympathy and condolence to his family and near relations in their sad bereavement.
Besides his wife Mr. Keith is survived by one son, David Keith, Jr., who is lieutenant in the quartermaster corps of the U.S. Army in France, and three daughters,. Mrs. Etta Keith Eskridge of Los Angeles, Mrs. Lillian Keith Allen of San Francisco and Miss Margaret Keith of Los Angeles; also three grandsons, David Keith III, David Keith Eskridge, Albert C. Allen, Jr., and one grand-daughter, Mary Allen Keith.
The funeral services for the deceased were held at the First Presbyterian church on Monday the 21st. The floral tributes were many and beautiful, while the church was crowded to overflowing by his many friends and admirers, the interment being at Mt. Olivet. The honorary pallbearers were: W. S. McCornick, Henry G. McMillan, A. C. Ellis, George Savage, J. E. Galigher, James Farrell, P. J. Moran and Ezra Thompson. Eight miners from the Silver King Coalition mine acted as active pallbearers.
Salt Lake Mining Review, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 30, 1918, pages 27-28
Mrs. Woods Funeral To Be Held in L.A.Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 2, 1931, page 8
Funeral services for Mrs. Lillian Keith Woods, 50, formerly of Salt Lake, who died in Los Angeles Sunday, will be held Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles. The body will be cremated.
Mrs. Woods was ill for three years. She is survived by her husband, Paul M. Woods, mine owner, Kingman, Ariz.; a daughter, Miss Mary Allen; a son, Albert Cooper Allen Jr., Medford, Ore.; two sisters, Miss Margaret Keith, Palos Verdes, Cal., and Mrs. Etta Keith Eskridge, Los Angeles; and a brother, David Keith Jr. of Salt Lake.
Mr. Keith left Salt Lake Tuesday to attend the services.
UTAH HEIRESS TAKES OWN LIFE IN CALIFORNIA
Margaret Keith Known a Mystery Woman of Palos Verdes
LOS ANGELES, April 29--(AP)--The so-called "mystery woman of Palos Verdes," a wealthy recluse who for years tried to prevent anyone from seeing her face, took her own life late yesterday with an anesthetic in her unoccupied Beverly Hills mansion.
She was Miss Margaret Keith, 60, daughter of the late David Keith, Utah silver magnate. She left a note saying:
"I don't want to live if I can't see the beautiful trees and the sea. I'm losing my sight, so I've decided to shove off. Please don't let busybodies into my house."
No one ever seemed to know why Miss Keith tried to hide her face from the world. Living in a mansion which cost nearly $100,000, she had only one servant, a Japanese. To him she gave her orders only by written instructions or through a telephone system in her home atop the Palos Verdes hill overlooking the ocean, 23 miles south of here.
The mansion is surrounded by 17-foot walls with heavily barred gates. Neighbors would see Miss Keith only when she would drive from her home, heavily veiled. She formerly lived in the Beverly Hills home where she committed suicide.
In response to a telephone call her physician, Dr. J. C. Wood, went to the Beverly Hills house and was met by a gardener who handed him a note instructing him to enter the house alone and go to a certain room. There he found Miss Keith lying on a wicker couch with a bouquet of flowers at her head and feet and a cloth, soaked with anesthetic, on her face. Taken to a hospital, she died shortly afterward.
In a note to an undertaking establishment, she left instructions that her body be cremated and the ashes strewn over the sea.
Ogden Standard-Examiner, Utah, April 29, 1933, page 1
Band Plays at Bier of Elderly RecluseLOS ANGELES, May 3.--(UPI)--The body of Margaret Keith, aged recluse who chloroformed herself to death, lay in state today in an undertaking parlor while a 20-piece orchestra played in the chapel. The body will remain in the chapel for three days while the orchestra plays and a guard stands by to bar all save attendants.
Oakland Tribune, California, May 3, 1933, page 3
Last Rites for Margaret Keith
LOS ANGELES, May 5--(AP)--Without prayer or eulogy, the last rites for Margaret Keith, 49-year-old millionaire recluse who was known in her life as the "veiled mystery woman of the Palos Verdes hills," were to be held today.
In accordance with the spinster's last request, her ashes will be scattered to the winds.
For three days, in accordance with her wish, an orchestra played classical music at her bier. Only a woman attendant was permitted to look on the body.
Miss Keith had remained apart from the world since young womanhood. She maintained two mansions, one in the Palos Verdes hills and the other in Beverly Hills. It was in the last that she took her life by self-administered anesthetic last Friday after surrounding herself with flowers.
Miss Keith's fortune was estimated at $5,000,000. Letters of administration were granted yesterday to a bank pending probate of her will.
Lowell Sun, Massachusetts, May 5, 1933, page 43
Recluse Leaves $5,000,000
LOS ANGELES, May 18.--(UPI)--The will of Miss Margaret Keith, millionaire recluse, leaving a reported $5,000,000 to Albert C. Allen, Jr., of Central Point, Ore., was scheduled to be filed today.
Allen, 27, is a nephew of the dead woman who, according to police, recently ended her life with chloroform when she feared blindness.
The entire estate, including palatial establishments in Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes, with the exception of a few minor bequests to seven other relatives, is understood to have been left to Allen.
Oakland Tribune, California, May 18, 1933, page 8
$5,000,000 LEFT TO OREGON MAN
Albert C. Allen Jr. to Get Keith Estate.
TRUST FUND ESTABLISHED
Central Point Orchardist Refuses to Get Excited.
INCOME PAID AT FIRST
Bulk of Fortune to Be Released When Heir Reaches 35, Seven Years Hence.
BY EVA NEALON HAMILTON
Staff Correspondent, The Oregonian
MEDFORD, Or., May 18.--(Special.)--Albert C. (Jimmy) Allen Jr., 28, Central Point orchardist, whom the Medford High School prophecy of 1925 predicted would be "a first-class dishwasher" 20 years hence, was today named heir to $5,000,000, and remarked when interviewed, "It is nothing to get excited about."
Questioned by telephone regarding the fortune, the ex-basketball star appeared more concerned over the toll of the country telephone line than the sum left by his aunt, Margaret Keith, who recently committed suicide in Los Angeles.
"What will you do with the money?" brought no line of forecasts from young Allen, who simply replied, "I haven't got it yet. It will be many years from now when I do, and I think the sum is greatly exaggerated."
He has a wife and young son, Albert C. Allen III, 2½ years old, who will probably help him spend it.
Oregon Man Notified.Announcement of the will came as no surprise to Allen today. He recently returned from California, where he attended the funeral of his eccentric aunt. He was informed even before her death that she would name him as heir, the letter coming a short time before news of her suicide, inspired by the approaching loss of her eyesight.
The money, it is understood here, was left in a trust fund, and the estate will come to young Allen when he is 35 years old. He will, however, receive his income from the money in the meantime.
Allen, who graduated from the local high school in 1924, is the son of A. C. Allen, orchardist and writer, whose first well-known book was "King of the Wilderness," published a number of years ago. His mother, sister of Margaret Keith, died about two years ago. The women were heirs to the Keith mining fortune in Salt Lake City. Jimmy Allen, as he is known here, has a sister, Mary Allen, in Los Angeles, and said today he did not know whether she would share in the estate.
In high school Allen played for four years on the basketball team which won the state championship and sought the national title in Chicago. He was also a student body officer and a popular member of the organization.
Following high school he joined his father in operation of his orchard, "Lafalot on the Rogue," and began writing. He has had a number of stories published in western magazines and uses as his pen name "James Cooper Allen." He is tall--six feet something--of medium complexion, and very quiet in demeanor. His lack of talk today regarding the fortune was characteristic of his general attitude, "little to say, much to do." He is fond of books and the great outdoors.
A few years ago Allen married Eva Jester of Rocky Point, and they have since made their home on Rogue River, where efforts today to locate him proved they have no telephone communication with the outside world. Allen came to the country store to answer the call.
----LOS ANGELES, Cal., May 18.--(AP)--The $5,000,000 fortune of Miss Margaret Keith, eccentric 49-year-old recluse, who had orchestra music played and flowers placed beside her body for several days after her recent suicide, will go to a 28-year-old nephew, Albert C. Allen Jr., of Central Point, Or., it was disclosed in the 220-word will to be filed probably today.
The terse document, which names the Security First National Bank of Los Angeles as executor and trustee, bequeaths the entire estate to young Allen, with the exception of a few minor bequests to several other relatives, all of whom are described in the will as "in good financial condition."
Etta K. Eskridge, Los Angeles, a sister, was bequeathed $50 and the cancellation of a $4000 debt. Ten dollars each was left to David Keith, half brother; David Keith Jr., nephew; D. K. Eskridge, brother-in-law; D. K. Eskridge Jr., nephew; M. A. Towle and Albert C. Allen III.
Heir to a large Utah mining fortune, Miss Keith hid herself from the world behind the barred gates of her Palos Verdes estate, 23 miles south of here, and finally ended her life in her Beverly Hills mansion a few weeks ago.
A note directed that her body be held several days before cremation, that an orchestra play classical compositions beside her body, and that fresh flowers be put in the room each day. These wishes were carried out.
Oregonian, Portland, May 19, 1933, page 1
For 40 Years She Hid Her Face from the WorldSeattle Daily Times, July 2, 1933, page 32
By Erskine Johnson
The "man in the iron mask," celebrated character in French history, now has a modern, feminine parallel--Los Angeles' "woman of the unseen face." She is Miss Margaret Keith, 59-year-old daughter of a Utah silver king, who chose to die by her own hand. Although her identity was known, while the name of Louis XIV's mysterious political prisoner never was definitely ascertained, their lives, separated by two centuries, were strangely similar.
Like the "man in the iron mask" whom writers Voltaire and Dumas popularized, Los Angeles' woman of mystery chose to keep her face hidden from the world.
Although rich, and, according to relatives, fair of face, she lived secluded for 40 years in Los Angeles and wore heavy veils on the rare times that she ventured forth.
Even in her own palatial homes, one by the sea and one in exclusive Beverly Hills, Miss Keith concealed herself from the eyes of others.
To her many servants, she gave orders only over an intricate, room-to-room telephone system or in notes. And guards were employed solely to keep curious visitors away. She had no friends. She was lonely--by choice.
Then this strange, wealthy recluse, who was "just a kindly woman afraid of the world of people," as a relative explained later, came to fear that blindness would shut out her small world of trees, books, flowers and the sea. So she took chloroform.
But the anonymity she so carefully preserved through life didn't end when she died. In death, as in life, Miss Keith remained secreted from the eyes of the world. Only a lone woman attendant saw her body as it lay in state for three days, surrounded with flowers and with flowers blanketing her hands
Such was the strange request for absolute isolation made by the elderly millionaire "of the unseen face."
"Kindly do not allow anyone to look at me," Miss Keith wrote in a farewell note. "I didn't care to be Exhibit A when I was alive, and I do not want to be gaped at when I'm dead."
Since early childhood, Margaret Keith had imprisoned herself within her own soul; had displayed a timidity and dread of contact with the outside world which defied the efforts of her late multimillionaire father, David Keith, owner of the fabulously rich Silver King mine, near Park City, Utah, and her family to counteract.
This much was learned following her suicide from a sister living in Los Angeles. "She was the youngest of our family," said the sister, "and Father and the rest of us showered her with attention. We did everything in our power to defeat her shyness of the world, but we were helpless. There was no reason for her to mask her features with heavy veils.
"She was a beautiful girl. She had a brilliant mind and loved books, music and flowers. Father gave her every educational advantage, and she had traveled throughout the world. But she could never overcome her aversion to meeting people and leading the full life that her wealth and culture afforded her. No, there was no unhappy love affair."
At the same time, the sister told how Miss Keith put aside all of her associates in Salt Lake City, the family home, when she was a girl of 19 and went to Los Angeles to begin her existence of seclusion. Her father sent her an allowance until his death, when she was reputed to have inherited nearly $5,000,000.
It was learned after her death that she had given much of this away. Her attorney revealed that she gave about $2,000,000 to orphanages and the unemployed during recent years. Her will left the bulk of her estate to a 27-year-old nephew, Albert C. Allen, Jr., of Central Point, Ore. Minor bequests were made to seven other relatives, all of whom, according to the will, are "in good financial condition."
Miss Keith was a strange girl, even while attending school as a child in Salt Lake City, the sister explained. She was afraid of other children, the sister said, and preferred staying at home to playing games. But she wasn't abnormal, the sister added, except when it came to meeting people and associating with the outside world.
Several trips to distant parts of the world didn't cure her of that shyness, as the father expected. Finally, when she reached the age of 16, Silver King Keith sent his daughter to school in Chicago, where he hoped she would cultivate friends. But she didn't.
She was graduated from St. Mary's Academy in Chicago with an excellent scholarship record at the age of 19 and returned to Salt Lake. The shyness had not been lost during her four years away from home. Soon afterward she practically divorced herself from everyone.
"We all argued with her without avail," the sister said. "But she always would reply: 'I like to be alone. I don't like other people. I want to read and be in seclusion. That is my right.'"
Eventually, the young girl went to Los Angeles, where, with money furnished by her father, she built two large homes and immersed herself in a life of loneliness that lasted nearly four decades.
"I only saw her three times during the eight years I have lived in Los Angeles," the sister added. "When she wanted a favor she would send me typewritten letters with the requests."
The strange way in which Margaret Keith lived and the strange manner in which she ended her own life are still causes for wonder in Los Angeles, where she was a silent, unseen resident.
When Miss Keith arrived in Los Angeles 40 years ago she built a home in Beverly Hills. Then, some years later, she constructed another large residence, costing $200,000, high among the hills by the Pacific Ocean. In both instances, all her business transactions with the contractors were carried out in notes and by telephone, without the contractors once seeing her.
On the rare occasions when she left her big homes, guarded by high walls and heavy, barred gates, neighbors never saw her face.
They would only see her at a distance, heavily veiled, as she got into her automobile, with its shades drawn, or alighted from it.
Only one servant, a Japanese who had worked for her for many years, ever saw Miss Keith's face. And then, he said, he saw her features only once, when she awoke him in the outside quarters at 4 o'clock in the morning last December to drive her on a mysterious visit to her Beverly Hills mansion.
She told him when he was employed, the Japanese declared, that she was "very timid" and did not like people to see her. She employed a maid and a cook, but communicated her orders only by written note or through the private telephone system. She paid salaries to her trusted servants that were almost fabulous, and she lavished costly presents on them, too, they revealed after her death.
Each of Margaret Keith's homes is a labyrinth of rooms--so many that the servants never counted them. Billiard rooms, libraries, guest rooms, yet nobody enjoyed the treasures within them. Always they remained untenanted, unvisited.
Around each estate are high, barbed-wire barricades and iron gates, through which nobody had ever passed except Miss Keith, her servants--and stray cats.
In both homes she offered regal refuge to all homeless cats. Beneath the mansion walls are myriads of little doors, large enough for the passage of cats, but too small for dogs. To one cat, shortly before her own death, Miss Keith gave a $500 funeral.
Each night, strangely enough, her mansion on the hilltop, where she spent most of her time, was brilliantly lighted up on the outside by powerful flood lights. Just why Miss Keith had this done is not known. Perhaps she thought it offered greater protection from prowlers.
The tragic finale to Margaret Keith's strange life of solitude came a few weeks ago in her Beverly Hills home. Her personal physician received a mysterious phone call to come to the house "after 4 p.m." He did so, and was met by a gardener, who handed him a note instructing him to enter the house alone and go to a certain room.
The doctor went to the bedroom, the door of which was blocked with a chair. He forced the door and discovered Miss Keith lying on a wicker couch in the bedroom with flowers at her head and feet, her face swathed in chloroform-soaked rags. A radio was softly playing a classical selection. She was still alive, but died soon after being rushed in an ambulance to a nearby hospital.
Reasons for taking her life, and the plea for absolute isolation even in death so she would not "be gaped at," were revealed by the eccentric woman in a series of notes.
"I am losing my sight," she wrote, "so I've decided to shove off. I don't want to live if I can't see the beautiful trees and the flowers and the sea, and read. Please don't let busybodies into my homes."
Further instructions were that her body be kept in a private room for three days and that it be clothed in fresh garments.
"An Alice blue or black shroud," she wrote. "Please cover my hands with flowers. I love flowers. Please do not insert funeral notice in the daily papers."
Enclosed in the notes was a long list of compositions she wished played while her body rested in the funeral parlor.
"I love music," she wrote, "so will you please get a fine orchestra? I do not want any praying or a religious ceremony. Just the beautiful music. I may be able to hear it."
The orchestra she requested was composed of a 20-piece group, and true to her wishes, it played for three days in the tiny room where the body rested in a silver casket, playing the compositions she had named in her notes.
When the strange, preacherless and prayerless funeral ended, Miss Keith's ashes were strewn to the winds over the ocean near her home. Before she courted death in her dramatic, deathbed scene, the wealthy recluse had written:
"When I was alive, I always wanted plenty of room, so I do not want to be put in a niche."
Kin Battle for $300,000 Estate of Dead Eccentric
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11.--(UPI)--As indicated by questions asked talesmen, a group of relatives prepared today to try to prove that the late Miss Margaret Keith was insane when she made the will leaving her $300,000 estate to Albert Allen, Jr., Oregon rancher.
Miss Keith, who during her lifetime was said to have given more than $2,000,000 to charity, died last spring, leaving Allen the bulk of her estate and cutting off other relatives with bequests ranging from $10 to $50. Suit to contest the will was brought by David Keith, half-brother, and other relatives. An indication of the contestants' position was contained in the question asked prospective jurors by Brigham Rose, attorney:
"Would you consider that a woman who lived in a home with a dozen bedrooms, all elaborately furnished, yet slept in a hall; a woman who surrounded herself with servants who were not permitted to look at her or speak to her upon pain of dismissal; a woman who bought 100 pounds of seed weekly for two canaries; who kept the windows of her home darkened with bed sheets; who would not sit beside her sister and would not talk to other persons in the same room, but would write them notes instead; who insisted on having a cat taste all food before she ate it; would you consider such a woman sane?"
The question drew various answers.
Oakland Tribune, California, December 12, 1933, page 10
Attorneys Draw Weird Picture of Wealthy Recluse
Keith Heiress Listened for Voice of Spirits, Will Trial Jury Hears
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 13 (AP)--Attorneys for the contestants against the will of Miss Margaret Keith, before a jury in the superior court, drew word pictures today of the wealthy and eccentric 49-year-old recluse, who chloroformed herself in her Beverly Hills unfurnished home last April.
The attorneys pictured her as a woman of great beauty and physical attractiveness, who, nevertheless, was not interested in men, but who spent most of her time alone, with black earphones tied to her head, listening for a ghostly hum she thought was the voice of spirits.
None of those who served her, or with whom she had business, saw her features, because she always wore a black veil. Few, in fact, ever were in contact with her.
The counsel said testimony would be produced to show she was a woman whose mind no one could know. They said she was careless of financial matters, given to writing checks exceeding the vast amounts she had on deposit, and that she was a person of fine feeling, "a genius by birth and environment."
Builds Two HomesWhen she inherited a great fortune from her father, the late David Keith, multimillionaire mining operator of Salt Lake City, she spent great sums of money, the attorneys said, meanwhile living in another world, according to her relatives, unmindful of such necessities as food and shelter, unless her friends cared for her.
Later she built two beautiful homes in southern California, one in the Palos Verdes hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the other in exclusive Beverly Hills.
A will left her estate, valued at a third of a million dollars, to a nephew, Albert C. Allen Jr., an Oregon farmer. Other relatives contested probate of the will.
It was disclosed that before her death she had left instructions, among which was this statement:
"I sincerely hope the will will not be contested, as I want my nephew, Albert C. Allen Jr., to have the income and the estate when he is 35 years old. He is a fine young man. His mother was too ill to know what she was about, and in this state deeded her property to her husband. . . . I saved the life of Albert the day he was born, so I have always been interested in him. Please mention this in case the will is contested."
Stunned MenA. Brigham Rose, counsel for Miss Keith's niece, Mrs. Mary Allen Towle, a contestant, said that even before the death of Miss Keith's father, she shunned men, and that she told him he was "not in accord with the rest of the universe."
"Perhaps it was some shattered romance of her school days that turned her against men," Rose said.
Baldwin Robertson, representing Miss Keith's sister and brother, Mrs. Etta Keith Eskridge and David Keith, presented a picture of the reclusive shunning all human faces. He said that when a Japanese caretaker turned to look at her, she dismissed him instantly, but gave him a check for $1500.
Robertson said she wrote a check for $285,000 to a real estate agent for the purchase of the former estate of John Torkleson, owner of large borax mines, although the agent advised her to wait for a lower price. Robertson said the agent held the check and later purchased the property for $185,000, but that Miss Keith wrote him another check for $195,000, although she had only $80,000 in the bank on which the check was drawn.
L. B. Gallagher, attorney for Allen, said Miss Keith was of sound intellect, but "was misunderstood because she didn't worship money."
"She had no use for money," Gallagher said. "She gave money freely to people to whom it meant more than to her. She preferred to live alone, but so have other persons highly esteemed by their fellow men."
Salt Lake Tribune, December 14, 1933
Kin of Eccentric Heiress Relates Strange Actions
Brother-in-Law of Miss Keith Tells of Breaking in Door
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (AP)--Strange incidents in the life of a stranger woman were related today to a jury hearing the contest to the will of Miss Margaret Keith, millionaire recluse, who committed suicide in her Beverly Hills mansion last spring, leaving her entire estate to Albert C. Allen Jr., an Oregon farmer.
Disregarding the wealthy spinster's prejudice against being seen by men, P. M. Woods, Kingman, Ariz. mining prospector, once pushed through the door of the room in which she shut herself against the world, forced her to see him, and talked to her for two hours. The incident occurred in 1924.
Married SisterWoods was married in 1915 to Miss Keith's sister, Lillian. Nine years later he and his wife came to Los Angeles from San Francisco, but found Miss Keith would not see them. Thinking her unable to care for herself, her relatives often sent her food, Woods said.
"I remember that I used to carry trays of food to her door," Woods testified. "She would admit no one. Finally, I got tired of leaving the trays there for the cats to lick on. I shoved in the door, and walked into the room.
"The room was dark, lit only by a small blue light. Margaret was dressed in black, and was veiled. She rushed into a far corner of the room, hysterical. I told her not to run, that it wouldn't do any good, and that I'd catch her. She stopped muttering.
Tired of Mystery"I told her I was tired of all the mystery she threw about herself and asked her to act like a human being.
"Finally, she calmed down and talked to me for about two hours."
Several months later, Woods said, his sister-in-law shot at him through the door of her room, explaining she thought he was a stranger who had come "to get my body."
The jury was told of an automobile trip Miss Keith made to San Francisco in 1926 to have dental work done.
Woods said Miss Keith dressed herself in a heavy black silk "shroud" so that no one would recognize her.
Sat on Floor"All the way up she squatted on the floor in the back of the car," Woods said. "I don't think she looked out of the window all during the trip."
Asked if he could describe the woman, Woods said she was a brunette, "with pale gray eyes and a pallid complexion."
Miss Etta Keith Eskridge and David Keith, sister and brother of the decedent, and Mrs. Mary Ellen Towle, Allen's sister, are contesting the will on the grounds Miss Keith was of unsound mind. Allen is a nephew of Miss Keith, who was the daughter of a multimillionaire Salt Lake City mining man.
Salt Lake Tribune, December 19, 1933, page 5
KIN ACCUSED OF KIDNAPPING
Woman Files $225,000 Suit Against Father, Brother
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23 (AP)--A suit for $225,000 damages, charging her father and her brother with kidnapping, threats and intimidation, was filed here today by Mrs. Mary Allen Towle.
The defendants are Albert C. Allen, senior and junior, of Medford, Ore.
Mrs. Towle is one of the contestants in the legal fight over the estate of the strange wealthy recluse, the late Margaret Keith, whose will named junior Allen as sole heir.
She alleges that her father and brother, by threats and intimidation, took her share in the estate of her mother, the late Mrs. Lillian Keith Allen-Woods, who was Mrs. Keith's sister.
She sets forth that her mother first married Albert C. Allen, senior, and divorced him in 1915, later marrying P. H. Woods. She died May 31, 1931.
On the day of her mother's death, Mrs. Towle charges, her father and brother "by threats, force and intimidation," took her against her will to Medford, Ore., and induced her to sign a power of attorney which gave them control of her inheritance from her mother. She charges that they deprived her of $25.00 [sic] worth of bonds and properties worth $100,000. She asks, in addition to the reimbursement for such property, damages of $100,000 because of "humiliation and embarrassment."
"They threatened to have me placed in an insane asylum unless I signed those papers," she alleges. She alleges she was held in Oregon against her will for more than 30 days.
Salt Lake Tribune, December 24, 1933, page 3
Wilson McCarthy Says Spinster Entrusted him with $700,000
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 2 (AP)--A Salt Lake and Oakland lawyer, Wilson McCarthy, told in court today of a peculiar custom observed by the late Miss Margaret Keith, millionaire spinster recluse, in welcoming guests to her home.
Testifying in a suit contesting Miss Keith's will, leaving most of her estate to an Oregon nephew, Albert C. Allen Jr., the lawyer said he believed himself to be one of the [few] men who ever saw his client's face unveiled. He said he had been given $700,000 worth of securities to negotiate for her.
"She told me to come right out to her home and I would find the door partly ajar," McCarthy testified. "She expected me to walk in without knocking, she said. I did as I was instructed and Miss Keith soon appeared, but once I had a wait [of] an hour."
When he called, Miss Keith always wore a long, black gown, almost to the floor, McCarthy testified.
He said she told him he and her banker were the only men she could trust.
"She said her brother-in-law, Paul Woods, was going to kill her, or try to kill her, I forget which," the lawyer said.
Miss Keith, he related, gave him $700,000 worth of bonds to take to Salt Lake, but a week later he was ordered to send them back. After objections of counsel, McCarthy was not allowed to explain these actions further.
Salt Lake Tribune, January 3, 1934, page 3
Writer Denies Using Talent to Win Keith RichesSalt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 4, 1934, page 5
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 3 (AP)--A young Oregon writer, Albert C. Allen Jr., denied from the witness stand today that he had used his literary ability in composing affectionate letters to induce his wealthy aunt, the late Margaret A. Keith, to bequeath the bulk of her estate to him.
In refutation of the charge that he had besieged the eccentric spinster with numerous letters about his misfortunes and need for money, young Allen, of Medford, Ore., produced a letter written to him by his aunt in March, 1931.
His testimony was offered at the contest over Miss Keith's will. She ended her life in her palatial Beverly Hills home last April. In the letter she expressed admiration of her "favorite" nephew's literary ability.
Earlier in the day an attorney representing Mrs. Mary Allen Towle, sister of young Allen and one of the contestants who are seeking to set aside the will on grounds that Miss Keith was insane, drew from Allen the admission that the writer
had been given $5000 in bonds, a $1500 automobile and had been enabled to pay off a $4200 mortgage by Mrs. Towle.
FACE OF RECLUSE SHOWN IN COURTLos Angeles, January 9.--Margaret Keith's often-expressed fear--"I'd hate to be 'Exhibit A'"--was justified today. Her face, unseen by man for 20 years, was unveiled in Superior Court.
Photographs of Margaret Keith Produced in Will Case
A jury of seven women and five men, hearing the contestation of her $1,000,000 will, gazed curiously at photographs--two of the few known to exist--of the eccentric veiled heiress and saw a dark-eyed beauty of the 1910 period, hair pompadoured high, chin out-thrust imperiously.
Mrs. Etta Keith Eskridge, her sister and one of the contestants of the will, produced the photographs of the woman who committed suicide by inhaling an anesthetic in a flower-bedecked room in one of her two pretentious mansions.
"Margaret never had a picture taken since she was 19 or 20 years old," Mrs. Eskridge testified. "I had vowed to uphold Margaret's idea of not being exhibited to to the public view, but--" the witness vowed her head--"I think it proper to show the photographs now."
Mrs. Eskridge described many eccentricities of Miss Keith's life, a life dedicated to the ideal of solitude. "Margaret was an unusual child," the witness said. "She exhibited strong passions."
Miss Keith left her fortune, inherited from her father, a Utah silver magnate, to a nephew, Albert C. Allen, Jr., of Medford, Ore.
The Gazette, Montreal, Canada, January 10, 1934, page 9
KILLS SELF IN FEAR OF ORDEAL IN PUBLIC
Los Angeles, Jan. 19--(AP)--A theory that Miss Margaret Keith, wealthy spinster recluse, may have committed suicide last April in abhorrence at the thought of appearing publicly in a court action, was hinted today at trial of relatives' suit to break her will, which leaves most of her million-dollar estate to Albert C. Allen, Jr., Oregon nephew.
Lawyers for the contesting relatives, who have testified Miss Keith had an abnormal fear of crowds and public places, and hated men, attempted to draw testimony from her lawyer, Myron W. Silverton, that he told her on the day she committed suicide she would either have to appear in court or make a deposition before strangers in a suit against her.
Daily Independent, Helena, Montana, January 20, 1934, page 2
WITNESSES DEFEND SPINSTER'S SANITYSalt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 27, 1934, page 3
Nephew Seeks to Tear Away Some of Mystery
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27 (AP)--In defense of the sanity of Margaret Keith, daughter of the late multimillionaire Utah miner David Keith, counsel for the majority beneficiary in her estate, Albert C. Allen Jr., nephew, of Medford, Or., sought to tear away some of the mystery ascribed to her by contesting relatives.
Testimony of witnesses for the contestants who alleged her mind was unsound was attacked in relation to the assertion that she veiled her features from those she was forced to meet.
Carlos H. Hiddings, 70-year-old caretaker of the Palos Verdes mansion of the wealthy spinster, said he talked with her many times and never saw her wearing a veil. He also said she once told him she intended leaving her fortune to Allen. The case, in its seventh week, was adjourned today until Monday.
Million-Dollar Mystery of the SpookyThe huge, rambling mansion surrounded by a thick garden and a high barbed-wire fence was no mean mystery in the neighborhood. It was among the finest estates in Beverly Hills, near Los Angeles--but the little old lady who lived there alone was seldom seen.
'VEILED LADY of the CATS'
Like a Strange Character Straight from a Page of Dickens Is the Story of This Lonely, Rich Old Woman Who Lived with "John," a Friendly Ghost
Strange tales were afloat about her. She always wore a heavy veil, spoke to no one, and had innumerable cats. Stray cats--not a pedigree in a parlorful. Neighbors called her "The Veiled Lady of the Cats."
Servants found her dead one day--self-chloroformed, lying in an overstuffed chair, with the radio playing a Beethoven symphony and a letter at her side giving explicit instructions about the musical funeral she was to have. She died at 60. She willed her whole estate, $1,000,000 in value, to a young farmer, who was her nephew; other nephews and nieces contested the will, saying she was of unsound mind; and so the facts about Miss Margaret Keith, "The Veiled Lady," came out.
She was a character straight out of the pages of Dickens.
According to testimony brought out at the six-weeks' hearing of the will contest--she hadn't lived in that great, richly furnished house alone. There was also a ghost!
A ghost named "John." A friendly, harmless spook, he was, and very shy. "John" lived in a shadowed corner of the big music-room, where Miss Keith played the piano night after night. As long as he liked the music, all was well, but--
If "John" didn't like the way Miss Keith was playing, he'd float out of his corner, get up on the huge window pane that faced her as she sat at the grand piano, and do a war dance in sizzling blue flame!
And when this music-critic ghost did that, it was up to the lonely old lady to change her tune, or stop playing. "John" would then come down off his window pane and retire to his dark corner, satisfied.
This was but one of the numerous anecdotes brought out at a six-weeks' court hearing in Los Angeles, by the relatives who contested Miss Keith's will. It was Mrs. Mary Allen Towle, her niece, who told about "John," saying Miss Keith had described the ghost to her in great detail.
Mrs. Towle's 28-year-old farmer-author brother, Albert C. Allen, was out plowing his field for spring planting when a telegram was brought him saying he was heir to his eccentric aunt's entire fortune. Miss Keith had inherited $5,000,000 from her father, the late David Keith, owner of the fabulously rich Silver King mine
in Utah. Joining with Mrs. Towle in the contest were David Keith of Salt Lake City and the socially prominent Mrs. Etta Keith Eskridge of Los Angeles.
Miss Keith gave large sums to charity. She built two mansions.
"Everyone may have some eccentricities--there probably isn't a perfectly sane person in the world," acknowledged Dr. Frank Mikels, well-known alienist who testified for the plaintiffs, under cross-examination. And the jury, after long debate, was unable to agree whether Miss Keith's will should be broken or not, on the ground of insanity.
Here were some of her eccentricities, as revealed by testimony:
As a girl of about 20, for no known reason she had retired from the world, put on a thick veil, and become a recluse. Her only photo, taken at 19--it is reproduced
on this page--shows her as an attractive, apparently normal girl at this time. If she ever did have a love affair, no one knew of it.
Besides the veil that hid her features, she always dressed in somber black and, on her rare visits from her Beverly Hills estate to her other magnificent mansion at Palos Verdes. she wore long black gloves and a black hat.
Her business manager, N. W. Burns, testified he had handled her affairs for six years--and had never seen her.
"I was employed by telephone," he said, "and always received my instruction
by phone or mail."
Once, he said, she phoned him that "she hated all human beings, particularly me." But not long afterward she sent Burns' wife, whom also she had never seen, a check for $5,000 as a gift.
Her imagination, it was evident, peopled the huge lonely house with spirits. Besides "John," the music-critic spook, there were the ghosts who used to chat with her by radio earphone. Servants told how Miss Keith used to put on the earphones, sit at a table and ask questions about her dead father. Bums testified:
"She phoned me one night and said she was hearing voices at her windows and wanted the windows protected by heavy spikes. She said 'they' might come and get her body "
She had an inordinate fondness for stray cats--richly furnished as her house was, and beautiful in every detail, dozens of alley cats were all over the place. Once, when the cats needed bathing, she wrote to a night watchman:
"Will you please ask the doctor if there is any way to dry-clean cats? They are terrified of water and I don't see any use in terrifying them half out of their wits."
Burns had built Miss Keith a swimming pool--a magnificent glass-enclosed
affair, open to the sky. But, said the servants, she used it only at night, and in
the dark--true to her hatred of being seen.
Why she had constructed and furnished the two splendid mansions was a mystery in itself. No one, beyond a semi-occasional relative, ever entered them. Once when she visited San Francisco she ran out of stamps. She wrote to a Japanese servant to go to a corner drug store, buy some stamps, and mail them to her.
There was a touch of pathos in the story of Paul W. Woods, a relative, who came to say goodbye when he and his wife were going to Europe. He unexpectedly kissed the old lady. Instead of becoming angry, as he had anticipated, he said she beamed with joy. She went over to a table and wrote him a check for $300.
J. W. Crowhurst, a repair man, said he had sung while puttering about his work on her place. She had spoken to him in French, and he understood it to be "tenor la bouche," meaning he had a robust voice--he took it as a compliment. Crowhurst was asked to sing in court, and after he had done so an attorney commented: "She probably said 'Tenez la bouche'--'Shut your mouth!'"
When Miss Keith decided to end her life, at 60, she wrote out detailed instructions to her undertaker. She demanded a secret funeral, saying:
"I didn't care to be gaped at when I was alive, and I don't care to be gaped at when I'm dead.''
She ordered that her body should lie three days in a room kept filled with fresh flowers--and that an orchestra should play a program of 27 pieces which she listed. They included the "Moonlight Sonata," some Beethoven symphonies, "Danny Boy," Schubert's "Ave Maria" and "Still wie die Nacht." She ordered that her body be cremated without religious rites, and her ashes scattered over the sea. All this was
scrupulously done. Miss Keith took her own life, with chloroform, lying in a luxurious day bed.
The jury couldn't say the "Veiled Lady of the Cats" was insane. The will contest will probably be re-tried.
Decatur Daily, Decatur, Alabama, June 2, 1934, page 5
RECLUSE'S ESTATE FINALLY SETTLED
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 1 (A.P.)--Superior Judge Robert W. Kenny today approved a settlement effected out of court in the estate of the millionaire recluse Miss Margaret A. Keith, who committed suicide last year in her Beverly Hills mansion. The Beverly Hills mansion of the wealthy spinster will go to a brother and sister, David Keith, of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Etta Keith Eskridge of Los Angeles. They also will get 4600 shares of Silver King mining stock. Mary Allen Towle, a niece, receives 4000 shares of the stock. Albert C. Allen Jr., Oregon farmer, who was bequeathed virtually all the estate under Miss Keith's two wills, will receive the remainder of the estate, with the provision he shall provide a trust fund of $50,000 for the benefit of his son, Albert C. Allen III. Kenny was informed by lawyers the inheritance tax on the estate will amount to $31,000.
San Diego Union, October 2, 1934, page 7
Compromise Sought in Estate SettlementSalt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 5, 1935, page 14
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 5.--Court approval was being sought Thursday for the compromise settlement agreed to by Albert C. Allen Jr., principal beneficiary to the $337,271 estate of Margaret Keith, and Mary Allen Towle.
The agreement provided that Mrs. Towle, niece of the woman, receive interest for life on 4000 shares of stock in the Silver King Coalition Mines Company of Salt Lake City, which is part of the estate.
Mrs. Towle contested the will, which left the entire estate to Allen, an Oregon rancher, but a jury disagreed after a three-month trial. Miss Keith ended her life in her palatial Beverly Hills home in 1932.
Last revised December 20, 2019