Friday, September 09, 2011

One little noted death, one spectacular scandal

Anna Adler, a married woman, died in Chicago, on the scene of an abortion performed by Dr. Lou. E. Davis that day. Davis was arrested that day, and he or she was indicted by a Grand Jury on October 15, but the case never went to trial.

Another case -- almost certainly an abortion case -- did go to trial. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, one of the most popular performers in Hollywood, was accused of murder in the death of 25-year-old wanna-be starlet Virginia Rappe (a stage name, pronounced "rap-PAY"). Arbuckle was hosting a weekend party at a San Francisco hotel over the Labor Day weekend of 1921. Virginia Rappe invited herself, as did a lot of people.

The booze-addled party-goers were not very consistent sources of information about exactly what happened. What is agreed upon is that Virginia stumbled into a bathroom at some point on Monday. Arbuckle said that he found her hunched over the toilet, vomiting and in pain. He moved her to his bed, where he hoped she would sleep it off. He then rejoined the party.

Virginia's condition deteriorated. At some point, she became hysterical, screaming that she was dying and tearing her clothes off. The drunken party guests eventually decided to put the nude Virginia into a bathtub of ice water. Of course, this did nothing to help Virginia, who continued to scream. Arbuckle carried her to another room and summoned doctors. The guests, thinking Virginia was just hung over, continued to party. The doctors saw no reason for alarm, so Arbuckle left Virginia to sleep it off.

Finally, on Thursday, September 8, somebody arranged to have her taken for medical care -- not to a hospital, but to Wakefield Sanitorium, a maternity hospital known for performing quasi-legal abortions. Virginia, who had been a repeat abortion patient at Wakefield, died the next day, Friday, September 9.
Her autopsy was performed there, and overseen by a reputed abortionist. Her reproductive organs were removed and never recovered. The cause of death was listed as peritonitis due to a ruptured bladder due to "external force."

Arbuckle was accused of murder by Maude Delmont, aka "Madame Black." Delmont ran a blackmail scam, in which she'd provide young women to entertain men at Hollywood parties. A girl would claim that she was raped by some prominent man, who would then pay off Delmont to keep quiet. Delmont's story was so outrageous -- as was her character -- the prosecutors never called her as a witness.
District Attorney Matthew Brady, along with William Randolph Hearst, pursued Arbuckle relentlessly through three trials -- two with hung juries, and a third that produced not just an acquittal but an apology from the jury:
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. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.
Speculation continues to this day about why Arbuckle was targeted, when even a cursory look at circumstances should have cast suspicions on Maude Delmont and Wakefield Sanitorium. My guess is that too close a public look at Wakefield would drag some powerful people into the spotlight for unsavory activities. Better to destroy Roscoe Arbuckle, while profiting from the ensuing media circus, than to have certain skeletons spill forth from the closets.

Arbuckle never recovered, either personally, professionally, or physically, from the ordeal. He died of a heart attack in 1933. To my mind he will always be the third victim of the abortionist who killed Virginia Rappe and her unborn baby.

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