100 Years Ago Today: A prosecutor channels Rappe as a vamp, September 24, 1921

For several days, a single piece of ice, perhaps as small as an ice cube, rivaled the iceberg that struck the SS Titanic. The ice in question became known during the second day of Al Semnacher’s Women’s Court testimony on the Saturday morning of September 24, 1921.

It was not unexpected that Semnacher was asked to recount an anecdote told by Roscoe Arbuckle on the morning after the Labor Day party. The anecdote first came up when Semnacher included it in a statement to the District Attorney in Los Angeles. He would have told of it earlier, but claimed he had forgotten about it until it returned to him in a dream.

We have already mentioned the ice in a previous entry. What isn’t often discussed is how Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden began the second day of Semnacher’s testimony, leading up to the revelation that Arbuckle, in Semnacher’s first telling, admitted to inserting ice in Rappe’s vagina.

Golden began by asking if Rappe appeared to be “in healthy condition” when she left Los Angeles for Selma and San Francisco. Semnacher answered yes. Then Golden continued to ask questions that had already been asked before positing a curious image of Rappe as a vamp, a siren, tempting Arbuckle at the entrance of room 1219. The question may have been asked to probe Semnacher’s veracity, not unlike a control or comparison question for a polygraph examination.

Q: And as far as you know she continued to enjoy the best of health?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Until you saw her lying on the bed in a nude condition as you stated yesterday?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: At any time that you observed Miss Rappe in Mr. Arbuckle’s apartments, did you ever see her let her hair down and shake her head, with her hair hanging down?
A: No, sir.
Q: Did you ever see her in Arbuckle’s apartments standing in the doorway connecting any of the rooms, letter her hair down and calling out to Mr. Arbuckle to observe her?
A: No, sir.
Q: Or say, “Look here, Rossy,” or “Roscoe.”
A: No sir.[1]

With Semnacher’s answer, Golden changed the subject and the sudden appearance of a consensual and wanton young woman vanished as quickly as she appeared.

Theda Bara in one of her poses (Library of Congress)

[1]People vs. Arbuckle, 147–148.

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