Virginia Rappe (1891 – 1921) was an American model and silent film actress and is best known for her death after attending a party with actor Roscoe Arbuckle, who was accused of complicity in her death though ultimately exonerated.
The circumstances of Rappe’s death in 1921 became a Hollywood scandal and were covered widely (and sensationalized) by the media of the time. During a party held on Labor Day, 5 Sept 1921, in Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s suite, number 1219, at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, Rappe allegedly suffered a trauma. She died on 9 Sept 1921, from a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis.
The exact events of that party are still unclear, with witnesses relating numerous versions of what happened. It was alleged that she died as a result of a violent sexual assault by Arbuckle. Arbuckle’s accuser, Maude Delmont, had accompanied Rappe to the party; she had first met Rappe only a few days earlier. Delmont was apparently not present at any of the events she described and was not called to testify at any of Arbuckle’s three trials because of her own extensive criminal background that included extortion.
Subsequent witnesses testified that Rappe had for some time suffered from cystitis, and that consuming alcohol could aggravate that condition. Witnesses also testified that she had previously suffered from venereal disease, so there were allegations that her death was brought on by her health rather than by an assault.
After three manslaughter trials, Arbuckle was formally acquitted; his acquittal in the third trial was accompanied by an unprecedented statement of apology from the jury stating, in part, that
“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him… there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.”
Arbuckle’s case has been examined by scholars and historians over the years and is still speculated about today, and a number of detailed books about the case have analysed the incident and subsequent trials.