More than anything, the woman who lived in the grandest of mansions at the top of the hill didn't want anyone to see her face. Every day and every night, she wore a tight black veil, covering all but her eyes.
Even her contractor, who had built 2 mansions for this wealthy heiress, never saw what she looked like in the 20 years they worked together, communicating only via hand written notes, or the elaborate phone system she had installed throughout her private palaces.
Margaret Ann Keith was a recluse. A spinster, hiding something behind her material mask, was she horribly disfigured? Burned? Hideous?
Beverly Hills in the 1930s was an era when "opulence flowed like lava," to quote a gossip reporter from the era, and the Keith estate on the prestigious Alpine Drive was a prime example of the magnificent manors.
But there were dark secrets behind these locked iron gates, and neighbors could only watch and wonder who was this woman, and why was her behavior growing ever more bizarre?
Miss Keith had ordered her staff to cover the windows with blankets so no light could get in to the now gloomy manor. She began sleeping in the hallway by the front door, telling the perplexed gardener (from behind her mask) she might need to make a quick escape someday. From what, he had no clue.
He was smart enough not to question her, or try to sneak a peek. The last maid who did was fired the minute Miss Keith heard floorboards creaking outside her door late one night.
Clearly, Margaret Keith was determined no one should ever see her face.
Which is why my co-author and I gasped when we found photos of an unusual death scene in old police files. A lifeless body was laying on a bed by the front door in a grand entryway. The notation on the picture read: Margaret Ann Keith, cause of death: chloroform asphyxiation, April 28, 1933. She had committed suicide.
The now de-veiled madam had left behind a cryptic note, "... even tho I am a black sheep - I'll be a white sheep tomorrow... I can't live without him."
We stared at Margaret Keith's photo, she was not scarred, not ugly. Her pale skin was smooth, her features lovely, a few wisps of gray hair framed her face. She looked serene.
Now we had a moral dilemma on our hands - do we print this photo for our Beverly Hills Confidential book project? Plus there was still the vexing question that had gone unanswered for almost a century since she'd started wearing the veil: why was Margaret Keith hiding from the world?
Our research would end up taking us down a path to a shocking discovery - a dark secret far more dreadful than we ever could have ever imagined.
Our first clue about the enigmatic life of Miss Keith came from an old newspaper article in the Milwaukee Sentinel dated Oct. 14,1934: "Killed Herself Rather Than Show Her Face... Mystery Millionairess Hid Behind Impenetrable Veils Even While Sleeping."
The article detailed highlights of a sad life. Margaret had been a troubled child, her mother abandoned the family to marry a lover. Margaret was often found rocking endlessly in a chair, eventually rubbing patches of hair off the back of her head.
Her father was one of the richest men in Utah, making millions from his Silver King mine, the second largest in the country. His little girl was shuttled through several different boarding schools, eventually graduating at 19, returning home. When her father died suddenly, she took the fortune he'd left her and ran off to California, where she built her first mansion in Palos Verdes.
Margaret became convinced her new house was haunted, telling a niece who'd come to visit that a spirit named John lived inside the walls. "When I play something on the piano John likes, he remains in the corner, but if he doesn't like the music he comes out and dances along the window sill in the form of a blue flame."
She abandoned that mansion with the ocean view, and built the "Keith Estate" overlooking the glittering lights of Beverly Hills.
Now we had some background, but we still didn't know what sent Margaret down the rabbit hole. Finally, we hit pay dirt while researching her mining magnate father. The sordid details unfolded. Margaret had suffered an unspeakable tragedy.
It seems that Margaret's parents, before they had their own children, adopted a son named David from a dying friend. David Keith Sr. gave the lad his surname and treated him like his own flesh and blood, making David Jr. a full heir just like the other children. Margaret was the baby of the family, born in 1884. David Jr. was 18 years old at the time.
At some point during Margaret's youth, after her parents divorced, with no mother to protect her, Margaret was raped. On April 10, 1893 she gave birth to a baby daughter. The infant's father? It was Margaret's adopted brother, David Keith, Jr.
Now here's where it gets a bit tricky. All the birth records we found show that Margaret was born April 16, 1884, which means she would have been almost 9 when she gave birth. Medically speaking, it's possible, but this was stunning information, if it was even true.
We found one bit of conflicting information about her age. Apparently Margaret's father filed legal documents to disown his adopted son as soon as he learned what had happened. David Sr. wrote, "... a baby girl was born to my youngest daughter, Margaret Keith. As a timid, unsophisticated girl of 16 years, she fell victim to my adopted son's illicit love. Until he reached manhood, David proved a loyal son - he then committed a dishonorable deed, from which my heart has known no forgiveness." David Sr. cut his adopted son out of his will, and his heart, forever.
So was Margaret 16 or 9 when she gave birth? Lies were being told, no doubt, including a whopper of a fib to young Margaret. They said her baby had died, when in fact it was whisked off to a hush-hush private adoption.
This baby and how it came to be born was no doubt the heartbreak Margaret lived with, and tried to hide for the rest of her life. We couldn't help but wonder, what might have happened if she had known the baby lived, was adopted, and named Myrtle Mae?
We had the answer to our dilemma, it felt wrong to publish the final photo of Margaret. We tucked the picture away after one last glance. She appeared angelic, her demons finally slain. Rest in peace, Margaret Keith.
Read more stories like this at beverlyhillsconfidential.com, or enjoy the book "Beverly Hills Confidential: A Century of Stars, Scandals and Murder" available at Amazon.