California

Woman dies of ruptured bladder, thought by some to have been killed during sexual assault

September 9, 1921
San Francisco, California
Actress Virginia Rappe dies of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis

Rappe had attended a party on September 5 with various other celebrities including Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. During the evening, the guests became drunk (despite the party occurring during the Prohibition), and Rappe reportedly began stripping after complaining she could not breathe. When reporting on this detail, her detractors portrayed her as a wild party girl while her supporters noted she was suffering from a bladder infection and suggested the alcohol further exacerbated her discomfort, and the removal of constricting clothing was to alleviate some pressure.

The events of the rest of the evening varies between sources.

One of the other guests at the party, Maude Delmont, stated Arbuckle brought Rappe into an empty room, telling Rappe “I’ve waited for you for five years, and now I’ve got you.” Delmont claimed she checked on Rappe around 30 minutes later, after hearing screams, to find Rappe naked in the bed and writhing in pain. Delmont also claimed Rappe gasped “Arbuckle did it” before she was moved to another room. Those who agreed with Delmont’s version of events believed Arbuckle crushed Rappe during a sexual assault, rupturing her bladder with his large frame.

Alternatively, Arbuckle claimed he had entered the room after Rappe had been occupying it for some time, and found her vomiting. Owing her sickness to excessive drinking, the hotel doctor was summoned and Rappe was moved to another room to rest before being taken to the hospital.

Arbuckle was arrested and tried for manslaughter, standing three trials in total. Delmont was not called to testify about the events as prosecutors knew she was not a good witness: her story changed frequently and she had a bad reputation due to blackmail convictions. Coupling Delmont’s inability to testify with Rappe’s autopsy showing “no marks of violence on the body, no signs that the girl had been attacked in any way,” Arbuckle’s first two trials ended in mistrial while the third led to an acquittal. Arbuckle’s career never recovered.

Almost a century later, the true cause of Rappe’s death is still a source of debate.

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