Sala’s motion to exclude the press, and Judge Valente’s willingness to grant it, caused an immediate and predictable reaction. Most of the newspaper editorials and commentaries decried the possible exclusion of the press on First Amendment grounds. Others condemned Valente for acting as a censor of public morality. Still others saw his decision as depriving Mickey of his constitutional rights. Walter Winchell, still near the height of his power and influence, wrote: “Pat Ward is not the issue. Nor is her testimony. Neither is the defendant, Jelke. Their sordid stories have been running, with different names, since the first man learned how to write. But something far more important than the people involved is at stake, something far more important than the evidence of the People’s witness…The issue is whether ANY defendant in ANY criminal case can be tried unconstitutionally, and the exclusion of the press is only one feature of the unusual court in progress.” According to Winchell, Sala and Valente were acting in collusion, running a Star Chamber.
On Monday morning, before court opened, Sala met with the press in the corridor on the 13th floor, Pat Ward by his side. He was angry—or at least feigned anger. Pat Ward had been quoted in the weekend papers as not being afraid to testify publicly. Sala decided to set the matter straight. She had been misquoted, he said. It was a travesty. By Monday, Pat also had her story straight: She would refuse to testify in public, or at least Sala said so. He held a legal pad with a statement scrawled in pen. It was her statement, in first person, and he would read it. Because of a deep concern “for the millions of children all over the world,” Ward would not testify. She did not care if she were held in contempt or sent to prison. The lurid details of testimony could not reach the children via the newspapers, radio or television: it might corrupt them. “They shall not suffer for my weaknesses.” Sala continued to read. “I do not care what the consequences are [if I do not testify]. My sacrifice shall be small if I can prevent the destruction of the thinking and morals of these innocent children.” Ward posed for photos, dressed in a fashionable, yet conservative, plaid suit.
When court convened a few minutes later, Mickey’s lead attorney presented a long brief to the court that raised both procedural and substantive arguments. A witness, Sam Segal told Judge Valente, had no standing to make such a motion and, further, Mickey’s constitutional and statutory right to a fair and public trial would be impinged by such an order. Closing the courtroom door would also have little effect, Segal said. “This case has already had a wide and far flung publicity by newspaper coverage, by radio, television, extending the length and breadth of the United States, Europe, Africa, and apparently every continent and country in this world. In view of that, we ask the Court to take judicial notice that it is first page headline news everywhere.” Segal continued: “May I indicate to your Honor that the young lady’s background has been made the subject of countless newspaper articles, and that her face is well known to every man and woman in this city.” Her daily activities for the months leading up to the trial had been “commented upon by the press, the radio and television repeatedly.” The press had also reported the District Attorney’s opening statement, where he stated “in detail” the testimony Pat Ward would give. “To now bar the public and the press in the interests of common decency and good morals,” Segal concluded, “is to lock the barn after the horse got out, and will not further the interest of justice.”
Joining Mickey’s counsel in the courtroom were two attorneys. Thomas F. Daly, representing the New York Times, argued that barring the press would make the court a “censor.” Ernest Cuneo, representing a consortium of newspapers and news agencies, including most of the New York tabloids, saw the bar of the press in constitutional terms. He stressed the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as certain property rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, including the right of news reporters to earn a living reporting the news and the right of newspapers to earn money by printing the news. Valente listened but would have none of it. After another recess, he announced his decision. Although Valente agreed that it was not proper for J. Roland Sala, on behalf of Pat Ward, to make the exclusion motion, he believed that the court could make the motion sua sponte—on its own. He expressed his dismay over the “mushrooming public anticipation of lurid and salacious details.” He found the situation revolting. The publicity given the arrest was immediate and widespread, and appeared to be growing. “It has now skyrocketed to the point where we find it competing with the President’s message on the State of the Union. It is reported that the press of three other continents are reporting this trial. It is the opinion of this Court that such extensive press coverage to a case of this kind is catering to vulgar sensationalism, if not actual depravity.” The Judge added, “The indiscriminate release of obscene and sordid details can serve no constructive purpose. In fact, it might be a positive disservice to our youth.” It therefore was the duty of the court, Valente announced, “to draw the curtain on the offensive obscenity of this already over-publicized trial. Public decency compels it.” In an attempt to balance the defendant’s rights, Valente allowed Mickey Jelke to have a few friends and relatives present in the courtroom, and he also decided that the exclusion of the “general public and the press” would exist only for the duration of the prosecution’s case. The attorneys for the newspapers promised an immediate appeal.
Sala had succeeded. He had exacted his revenge on the press by denying it access to the most glorious details of the scandal—the testimony of Pat Ward and the other women who had been led astray by the Oleomargarine Heir. With the courtroom doors pulled shut, the most bizarre trial in New York history began. Pat Ward took the stand that Monday afternoon and began testifying to an empty courtroom, save for the attorneys, court personnel and Mickey’s step-father. Denied the right to be present in the courtroom, the frustrated reporters milled in the corridors trying to pick up news about what was happening inside. Reporters from rival newspapers or agencies openly discussed whether they should work together to pool information. “The best thing we can do is to pool every tip, lead and scrap of information we can get from any source and at least get some sort of a piece to the papers every day,” one reporter said to his competitors.
The initial stories about the first day of testimony focused on Judge’s Valente’s ruling. A few newspapers published what their reporters had observed and could be verified—descriptions of Sala’s haberdashery or Pat Ward’s demure wardrobe—her Peter Pan collars. Some even leveled the field by describing Mickey Jelke’s attire—shark skin suit and expensive tie. But the public would not be satisfied with a fashion account. The attempt at secrecy only increased the public’s curiosity, and the media was ready to feed that desire, first with rumor and speculation and then with information from snitches, tipsters and anonymous sources. Although Valente had pulled the curtain shut, the reporters were easily able to lift it up and peer underneath.
The news organizations doubled the number of reporters covering the trial. They crowded the corridor, pads and pens ready. They scribbled notes. Photographers stood by with cameras and flash accessories. And the newspapers sent not only reporters who worked the city beat but also the society and gossip columnists. Walter Winchell and the many imitators he had spawned—Dorothy Kilgallen, Earl Wilson and Marjorie Farnsworth among them—prowled the hallway. Male reporters staked out the Men’s Washroom on the 13th floor waiting for the next court recess when an attorney or perhaps even Mickey Jelke made a nature call. Female reporters—called “newshens” by Life magazine—loitered in the women’s room waiting for Pat Ward. The corridor or the “Washroom Beat” became the place to be. The entire courthouse buzzed with hearsay. Valente had barred the press to protect prominent businessmen, politicians or perhaps other judges, according to one rumor. Pat Ward was naming names—actors, singers, industrialists—according to another. The mob had forced Valente to pull the curtain according to yet another rumor.
Valente’s ruling also did not prohibit the attorneys from providing information to the press, and all of them decided to try the case in the newspapers. At the end of the afternoon session, each of the attorneys met with the press in the hallway. Assistant D.A. Liebler was discreet. Pat Ward was a good witness, he said. He added little else. Mickey’s attorneys had a different view. They would not get to cross examine her for several more days, but they began a subtle disparagement campaign. They wanted to portray her as a seasoned lady of the evening not the little innocent she now presented to the public. “She’s naming names, places, amounts and dates,” Martin Benjamin announced after court recessed in late afternoon. “She’s running through the whole gamut, every name that she can think of.” Neither Sam Segal nor Martin Benjamin would volunteer the names but they would respond to questions from the press. There were many prominent businessmen, they said, but no politicians or Hollywood stars. Yet.
Valente’s exclusion of the press and public made Mickey’s vice trial even greater news. For many, it was no longer simply a sordid story about pimps and prostitutes. It had become a story about censorship, public morality and freedom of the press. Newspapers from around the world rushed to cover the trial ostensibly because of the larger issues involved not because of sex. Some made it a point to dismiss the sexual content. Le Monde was dismissive, commenting that the trial presented yet another example of pathetic American debauchery, which paled compared to typical French debauchery. For others, however, freedom of the press only mattered because the sordid details were no longer public. As the attorney for the New York Times argued for access to the courtroom in the name of freedom of the press, a wag whispered to another tabloid reporter, “It looks like the New York Times believes that sex is here to stay.” Walter Winchell even quipped that the New York Times was pleading to print “all the news fit (or unfit) to print.” Several London reporters had been dispatched to report on the fiasco of American justice. One found it a “darn good story.” Another said it was like “everything I’ve ever seen in the movies.” But the third explained the primary British interest: “whatever the language you use, S-E-X still spells sex.”
If sex sells, the newspapers were going to sell it. By Tuesday morning, many of the newspapers had printed stories (some accurate, many not) about Pat Ward’s testimony. Afraid of libel cases, many newspapers simply printed the initials of the men she had, according to the sources, mentioned in her testimony. And soon New York City was in rapture over the initials. Who were these men? How many more would Pat name as her customers? Twenty-five? Fifty? A hundred? What was she paid? By the second day of Pat’s testimony, Sala realized that his revenge scheme had failed. As one reporter stated it, “never did secrecy bring out so much.” Escorting Pat Ward into the court house, Sala waved his walking stick and accused the press of “lying” and being “implacably cruel.” “Everything is distorted that this little girl says,” Sala shouted to the newsmen. “You people can’t take defeat.”
A few minutes later, on the 13th floor, Sala held a corridor press conference, where he condemned the press’s criticism of Valente’s ruling: “For sophistry, amphibology, paralogism, and for rank hypocrisy, I have never heard anything like it.” His rant continued but, within a few minutes, he confirmed that he had negotiated a contract for Pat Ward to write her autobiography. And Sala also confirmed that Pat Ward and her mother had agreed to write a daily advice column in one of the newspapers for teenagers and mothers of teenagers. He mentioned that there had been some discussion of a possible movie deal. Pat’s testimony, however, was still something he would not discuss. When told of information that Mickey’s attorneys had given the press, Sala became enraged. “Mr. Siegel better stop giving out quotes,” he said. “If I felt free to make a statement, believe me, such a horrible, despicable picture of human Satanism and depravity and sadism would be disclosed that it would be shocking to this country.” As he spoke, the reporters, needing quotes for the next story, egged him on: “More, judge, more.” The former magistrate did not need to respond, for forces beyond his control had come into play.
By the third day of trial, Pat Ward was a star. In a society where celebrity culture was becoming more and more the norm, Pat Ward had, intentionally or inadvertently, tapped into the public lust for anyone in the news. The fan mail, including a few marriage proposals addressed to her c/o the Criminal Courts Building, started arriving that day. The sale of dresses with Peter Pan collars soared and became the rage among school girls, who wore them not as a sign of innocence but of sexual sophistication, if not wickedness. Strippers introduced “Pat Ward” routines where they would appear on stage in a demure dress and carrying a little black book. There were many permutations on the act, but, in one, the stripper removed an article of clothing for each page of the black book that she tore out. But, as with all fame, came a downside. Lent was approaching, and one priest, the Rev. Edwin B. Broderick, who was the director of radio and television of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, urged his parishioners (and the radio, television and press audience) to direct their attention to “wholesome, elevating reading.” The Reverend referred, without naming names, to a certain “General Sessions” judge who had decided “to draw the curtain on the obscenity of an already over-publicized trial and to minimize the revelation of licenses which St. Paul cautioned should not even be mentioned.” Reverend Broderick concluded: “Legally and constitutionality aside, parents are reminded that theirs is a serious moral obligation before God to protect their impressionable children from any morally offensive reading.” Politicians debated whether Pat Ward’s kiss-and-tell autobiography should be banned, and the I.R.S. started investigating whether she owed taxes on the money she had earned while she had been a call-girl.
The teenager continued to testify behind closed doors, and the press published stories based on secondhand and third-hand information, gathered from stringers, snitches, inside sources, bootlegged transcripts. “Pat Ward ‘Naming Names’ In Jelke Trial After Newsmen Are Barred” was a typical headline. Pat Ward’s little black book, which was actually red, had been placed into evidence, and the entries compared to those in Mickey’s little black book, which was truly black, that had been seized in the August raid. She continued naming names—men she had slept with for money at Mickey’s behest. As she or attorneys entered and exited the courtroom, the reporters and photographers pounced, seeking the next tidbit or quote. The publication of the initials of the men Pat Ward had entertained continued to be published. New York high society became very uneasy. “Those Jelke case gents whose initials are now being tossed around are surely in the Alphabet Soup,” wrote Earl Wilson. Practical jokes and blackmail schemes involving the initials abounded. But the newspapers continued to print initials of men who had been named by Pat Ward or who would be named soon. It became common to speculate on future testimony. According to Walter Winchell in one of his columns: “Initials to Come: B.C. … P.R. … T.S. … L.L. … B.R. … M.B. … R. C. … J.R. … B. F. … A. F.” The alphabet soup game was particularly amusing to Earl Wilson, who penned the following in one of his columns: “More initials coming in the Jelke case: AB, CD, EF, GH, IJ, KL, MN, OP or (rest of alphabet will be printed tomorrow).”
At the end of each court session, the attorneys spun the testimony in accounts to the press. Mickey’s attorneys had none of Sala’s thespian training, but they too knew how to spin a yarn. Pat Ward was emotionally unstable said Mickey’s lead attorney. In May 1952, she had tried to commit suicide because she was distraught when Mickey broke up with her. She was just a jilted lover seeking to get revenge. She had a past. She had been pregnant when 16. She had known men before she met Mickey. Many men. Dozens, perhaps a hundred. And there was more. Mickey’s attorneys had produced photographs during her cross examination. Segal would not reveal the nature of the photographs to the media except that they were of “a very unusual nature.” He was quick to add that the photographs “destroy her as a moral person.” What the photos depicted was unclear, but the press had some information from its tipsters, and soon the public had several variations to consider in the morning papers. Photos of Pat Ward with another woman at a drunken orgy. Perhaps stills from a porno film. Perhaps photos taken by Mickey’s brother, Johnny, when Pat Ward passed out drunk one night at his apartment. But whatever the photos showed, they were taken before she met Mickey. She was hardly the innocent school girl she now pretended to be.
Sala had tired of the alphabet soup game played out in the press, and he decided he would name names, or some of them. Pat Ward had testified about entertaining Mickey Rooney, George Raft, comedian Joey Adams, singer Alan Dale and others, but it was all innocent, Sala told the press. Their names appeared in her little red book, but they were not her customers. She met them at various times. She lunched with Mickey Rooney, had dinner with George Raft. It was all part of the Show Biz scene, where actors liked to have photos taken with young gals. Jelke’s attorneys were simply trying to smear her name (and the names of others) by suggesting that she had been intimate with all the men listed in her address book. As Sala described his client’s secret testimony, he used all of the skills he had learned in acting school. He gestured and intonated. He posed and he paused as he spoke. Before each pay-for-play date, she drank to dull her senses hand build up her courage. “In every instance, she induced intoxication on herself to dull her senses.” She begged Mickey to stop sending her on the dates. She told him she would get a job and they could go somewhere to live. They didn’t need the Café Society. But, Sala said, holding his walking stick up to emphasize the point, Mickey refused. And Mickey beat her when she refused to go out on dates with other men. Sala paused for dramatic effect. Mickey beat her (pause) many times. Sala shook his head in disgust. Love and fear, he continued, shaking his head in disgust. One newspaperman commented that it was the best trial Sala “had ever starred in,” and added in a comic touch, that the report that Sala would demand a re-trial in Technicolor was false.
Pat Ward completed her testimony on February 13, and she and Sala exited the stage. The prosecution called its next witness to testify behind the closed doors. Assistant D.A. Liebler had learned from the press orgy the first week of testimony, so he started whisking his next witnesses to the courtroom via a back elevator and then sneaking them through the judge’s chambers. And Liebler was determined to find the source of the leaked information; he assigned undercover police to shadow the reporters in the corridor and washrooms. The detectives mingled with the reporters, listening for clues. They were easily recognized by the seasoned group of reporters, who had yet another story to write about. According to the papers, the case had become “a Balkan spy drama.” Judge Valente had also grown tired of the press coverage, but he declined to issue a gag order. Instead, he admonished the attorneys to abide by the spirit of his exclusion order.
The admonishment did not work, and the details of the testimony of other witnesses leaked out freely. Barbara Harmon, a handsome blonde who was a seasoned prostitute, testified that Davioni asked her to help Pat Ward find Johns but the connection between Davioni and Jelke was slim. According to Harmon, Davioni told her that Jelke was an “unsuccessful” pimp and, after Pat Ward had returned from a “date” with money, she overheard Jelke say to Davioni, “Who’s unsuccessful now?” Virginia Dee, another girl for hire, arrived with a witness subpoena in hand. Once a blonde, she had been held in police custody for several months. Unable to procure hair dye, her tresses had grown out, and the press described her as a drab brunette who looked five years older than her 21 years. Dee told the jury that Davioni pimped her out, but she could not connect the money she earned to Jelke, nor did she know whether Mickey procured for Pat Ward. A gynecologist recounted how he had fitted Pat Ward with a diaphragm and sent the bill to Ward at Mickey’s apartment but he did not know who referred her or why, nor did he know whether Mickey paid the bill. The prosecution’s case stumbled slightly but Erica Steel, the Café Society madam, saved it. She corroborated Pat Ward’s testimony. She had witnessed Pat Ward give Mickey money from tricks Mickey had set up. Mickey sent her and Pat out on jobs, and when Mickey drove to Florida, he told Erica to keep Pat busy making him money. A few weeks later, she spoke to Mickey on the telephone. Pat was doing quite well as a call-girl but she was also spending most of the money. Mickey told Erica to bring Pat to Florida before she spent all of his money. Once in Florida, Mickey rifled through Pat’s purse and expressed displeasure that she had only $300.
On the day that Marguerite Cordova, the hatcheck girl from Puerto Rico, arrived at the courthouse, the newspapers’ appeal to lift Judge Valente’s order closing the trial was denied. The newspapers promised another appeal. When Cordova entered the courthouse, she asked the reporters to leave her alone, but, under the spell of the camera lights, she relented and posed for photos. The newspapers dutifully described her attire: “a tailored light gray suit and sunglasses, but underneath the sunglasses her eyes were made up like Theda Bara,” the silent movie star nicknamed “The Vamp.” Cordova, like many of the witnesses, had multiple names, Margaret Corday and Margaret Britton among them. On the witness stand, she described how Mickey tried to arrange tricks for her and even offered Pat Ward as a reference. Richard Wallace, the pimp who was married to Pat Thompson, another prostitute, swore that Mickey arranged for dates for his wife and told her to use Pat Ward as a reference. And Pat Thompson told the jury that Mickey gave her lists of men and telephone numbers who paid well, and that she should use Pat Ward as a reference when she contacted the men. Other witnesses linked Mickey’s handwriting to the scrawl in the little black book confiscated by the police or corroborated other aspects of Pat Ward’s testimony. Bank records showed deposits that corroborated Pat Ward’s testimony that she gave Mickey money from her tricks, and there were wiretaps and phone records and experts connected Mickey’s hand writing to the notations made in the little black book. On Friday, February 20, Assistant D.A. Liebler rested his case, confident that he had proven Mickey’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
With the close of the People’s case, Judge Valente opened the courtroom to the press and public. The lurid evidence had ended, and most of the press climbed back into the courtroom benches to hear the defense case. A few reporters, however, decided that the best place to pick up information was in the corridor or the washroom, so there they remained. Mickey’s attorney’s motion to dismiss the case was denied, and the court was recessed to the following Tuesday. Everyone wondered whether Mickey would testify. He announced to the press that he was certainly willing to take the stand but would rely on his attorneys. “It wouldn’t be like going to a New Year’s party,” Mickey explained his view of taking the stand, “But if it’s necessary, I’ll do it.” Sam Segal and Martin Benjamin had lined up several witnesses who would impeach Pat Ward’s credibility or refute elements of her testimony, but Mickey’s attorneys were more interested in calling a mystery witness who would destroy the prosecution’s case, they said. The only problem was that she had disappeared. Rumors abounded. She had fled the City. She had been paid off or hidden by the D.A. She had been killed.