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"Fatty" Arbuckle Trials: 1921-22

Tabloids Conjure Up Lurid Details

The indisputable facts were that 26-year-old film actress Virginia Rappe went to Arbuckle's party on Labor Day with her friend Maude Delmont, drank too much, was violently ill with severe abdominal pains for three days, and died on Friday of peritonitis brought on by a ruptured bladder. On Monday, Delmont swore out her complaint. Arbuckle was charged with murder.

The disputable "facts" or allegations were myriad and sordid. They included the charge that the comic had been alone with the actress in a bedroom for an hour during the party, at which time he raped her. "I'm hurt, I'm dying. He did it, Maudie," Rappe was reported to have yelled when Arbuckle left the room.

The doctor who examined Rappe's body just after she died on Friday issued a public statement:

The post-mortem examination showed a ruptured bladder, the rupture being due to natural causes. There were no marks of violence on the body. There was absolutely no evidence of a criminal assault, no signs that the girl had been attacked in any way.

District Attorney Matthew Brady ignored that statement on Monday as he watched Delmont swear out her murder complaint. The tabloids that morning had already published Brady's statement that "the evidence in my possession shows conclusively that either a rape or an attempt to rape was perpetrated on Miss Rappe by Roscoe Arbuckle. The evidence discloses beyond question that her bladder was ruptured by the weight of the body of Arbuckle either in a rape assault or an attempt to commit rape." Brady's main source was Maude Delmont.

What Brady did not yet know was that on Wednesday, as Virginia Rappe lay in pain in the Arbuckle hotel suite, Delmont had sent a telegram to each of two friends: "WE HAVE ROSCOE ARBUCKLE IN A HOLE HERE. CHANCE TO MAKE SOME MONEY OUT OF HIM." Her official complaint—with its description of how Arbuckle had dragged Virginia Rappe into his bedroom saying, "I've waited five years to get you;" how Rappe had cried for help from behind the locked door and Delmont had banged on the door; how Arbuckle had at last emerged, perspiring from the struggle and she had rushed in to find Rappe naked and bruised and dying—all had been a fabrication. Delmont, the D.A. learned on Monday afternoon, had been locked in a bathroom with one Lowell Sherman for an hour when Arbuckle went to his bedroom for a few minutes and found Rappe vomiting into the toilet in that room's bathroom.

When Brady learned the truth, his extensive statement was already in newspapers around the world. He decided to proceed with the case. But he knew that if he brought Maude Delmont to the witness stand, his prosecution would fall apart. When it came to the trials, he never called on her.

The grand jury attributed the ruptured bladder to "some force which, from the evidence submitted, we believe was applied by Roscoe Arbuckle." Therefore, it charged the comedian with manslaughter. In the police court's committal proceedings, Arbuckle's lawyer established that Virginia Rappe's manager had been not only her lover but Maude Delmont's as well, and announced that the manager and Delmont had planned to extort money from Arbuckle.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940"Fatty" Arbuckle Trials: 1921-22 - Tabloids Conjure Up Lurid Details, "a General Lowering Of The Moral Standards", "until Hell Freezes Over"