Friday, September 09, 2016

A Straightforward Case and a Media Circus

A picture clipped from a newspaper, showing an elderly white woman with upcoiffed hair and a dark hat that peaks in the back, in profile to the camera
Dr. Lou E. Davis
1913: Most Likely the First in a String of Dr. Davis's Abortion Deaths

At around 1:30 a.m. on September 9, 1913, 27-year-old Anna Adler, a homemakert, died in Chicago's St. Anthony's Hospital after an abortion performed by Dr. Lou. E. Davis that day. Davis was arrested that day, and she was indicted by a Grand Jury on October 15, but the case never went to trial.

Davis was also implicated in five other Chicago abortion deaths:

1921: The "Rape" That Ruined "Fatty" Arbukle

A young woman with thick, dark, shoulder-length hair sitting outdoors. She is wearing a dress with a fine checked pattern and holding a matching hat.
Virginia Rappe
In 1921, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the highest paid men in Hollywood. But on September 5 of that year, Arbuckle's life took a horrible turn nobody could have predicted. An aspiring actress, 25-year-old Virginia Rappe (pronounced rah-PAY), took ill under strange circumstances at a weekend party Arbuckle was holding at a San Francisco hotel. Four days later, she was dead.

Arbuckle stood trial three times for Virginia's death. Two of the trials ended with hung juries. The third brought an unprecedented apology from the jury. Arbuckle had done nothing to harm the girl. He was accused of murder by one 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.

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 followed her. He later 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. Arbuckle and Delmont argued over what to do next. 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.

Virginia was not taken to a hospital until Thursday. She taken not to a regular hospital, but to Wakefield Sanitorium, a maternity hospital known for performing quasi-legal abortions. Virginia died the next day, Friday, September 9. The cause of death was listed as peritonitis due to a ruptured bladder due to "external force."

Arbuckle's defense attorney brought forth Josephine Roth, who testified that Virginia had five times availed her self of services at Roth's clinic: four times for abortions, and once to give birth to a baby. This information might seem to be unnecessarily slamming the victim, but turns out to be very relevant. Although Virginia's ruptured bladder was produced as evidence in the trial, her reproductive organs had vanished after the autopsy. The autopsy was performed illegally on site at Wakefield Sanitorium, without consulting the coroner's office. One of the doctors overseeing the autopsy, Dr. Melville Rumswell, was reputed to be an abortionist.

Without the uterus and vagina, there was no way of knowing if Virginia had indeed suffered blunt vaginal trauma inflicted by Arbuckle. Blunt-force trauma would have made a strong case against Arbuckle. But sharp instrument trauma would have cleared Arbuckle and pointed the finger at whoever performed a final, eventually fatal, abortion on Virginia Rappe.

There is also the mystery of why Delmont directed suspicion toward Arbuckle. She was a blackmailer. Why didn't she milk Arbuckle for money? Why didn't she simply allow the police to investigate the death of the young women? To these questions, we can add two others: Why had Virginia's uterus, ovaries, and vagina been removed and disposed of? And why was Virginia brought to a marginal facility like Wakefield Sanitarium?

One theory that answers the mysteries is this: Perhaps Delmont had a hand in arranging an illegal abortion that ruptured Virginia's bladder. When Virginia took ill, perhaps Delmont directed her to the Sanitarium, where the abortion may well have been performed -- where there would be accomplices who would also have a motive to keep the real reason for Virginia's death secret. And after the girl died, perhaps Delmont concocted the rape story to create a scandal that would divert attention away from herself.

This is, of course, speculation. But since an abortionist could face murder charges if a patient died -- and since an accomplice likewise would face a prison sentence -- it's the only scenario that explains the otherwise inexplicable behavior of Delmont and whoever got rid of Virginia's uterus and vagina.

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