100 Years Ago Today: Dr. Arthur Beardslee testifies, September 26, 1921

The morning session of the fourth day of the preliminary investigation in the courtroom of Judge Sylvain Lazarus was to be with Al Semnacher. But he was late and his place was taken by Dr. Arthur Beardslee, the St. Francis Hotel’s physician and the second to treat Rappe, who had yet to testify in any previous venue.[1] During his cross-examination under defense attorney Frank Dominguez, the sobriety of Maude Delmont came under question. Beardslee had been “missing” for over a week but had, in reality, been on an annual hunting trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Mono County, California.

Q: Did you notice anything about her speech that attracted your attention—Mrs. Delmont’s?

A: Not any more than she impressed me as being very positive, is all.

Q: Nothing incoherent in what she said?

A: No. In fact, much the opposite—very much to the point; and, in fact, rather arrogant.

Q: Was that arrogance due, in your opinion, to her having used any alcohol or morphine?

A: No; I thought it was her natural manner. She took charge of everything, and was the boss.

Dominguez continued. Did Beardslee see Delmont open her purse or “take a white powder”?

When this inquiry resulted in objections from the district attorneys, Milton Cohen presented the rationale: “If your Honor please, the doctor says he procured a certain history from a certain woman. If we can show that person is incompetent, or she was in such a frame of mind that the history which he prepared from the woman is unreliable, certainly it is competent testimony.”

To this, Judge Lazarus pointed out that the “lady” in question, despite being “arrogant” and “overbearing,” had never aroused Dr. Beardslee’s suspicions about her competence.

Dr. Beardslee saw no white powder. The cross-examination continued, seemingly rudderless, going back and forth between subjects already covered, such as the reason for administering an enema despite the lack of bowel gas. Then Dominguez asked if Rappe showed any signs of a “debauch” or “alcoholism.” Beardslee answered “no”.

Returning to the subject of taking Rappe to a hospital, the doctor asserted he had urged Delmont, as proxy for Arbuckle and company, to take her to the hospital. He knew, from just observing Rappe, that she had some kind of internal injury before her catheterization. That revealed the truth to him and it couldn’t have been any hypothetical kidney lesion as suggested by Dominguez.

Frank Dominguez (Calisphere)

“With the picture that I had before me,” said Dr. Beardslee, “and the urine, I had a classical ruptured bladder. There was no sign left out. Had it been a kidney complicating the condition, or had there would been kidney trouble, you would have other symptoms in other regions—you would have had other things to consider.” Beardslee then endured summary questions that he found “nonsensical”—about a hemorrhage in the bladder, his self-assurance of a bladder rupture without performing an incision, and so on.

For his part, Dominguez needed to sow as much doubt about the hotel doctor in Judge Lazarus as possible. Then, suddenly, Dominguez asked if Beardslee had been “out hunting”—to which the judge wisecracked, “He looks like it.”

Dominguez asked if Beardslee, in returning from Mono County, had been stopped by a sheriff. The judge, perhaps encouraged by some laughter at his previous remark that the court reporter left out, continued: “Traveling too fast in a machine, doctor?”

Dr. Beardslee explained that the sheriff was a friend he knew well. He admitted to a conversation in which he complained about returning to San Francisco, of having to testify. Beardslee said that he “hated to give up a good time,” to “get mixed up.” Here Dominguez cut him off to remind Beardslee of something he had allegedly said that might indicate a biased testimony.

Q: Doctor, you told him in a conversation, upon his asking you, “What is this all about?” and you said to him, “The whole trouble was with a girl that was too much high life.”

A: No, I think you are mistaken.

Q: Never mind. I think a whole lot—even with that black head of mine.

But Dominguez insisted that Beardslee had said Rappe had too much “high life.” Then Dominguez asked if Beardslee had percussed Rappe’s flanks. Since this wasn’t an anatomical term, Dominguez seemed to be having some fun at the witness’s expense after a demonstration of what he meant by flanks. “I had no reason to percuss her buttocks at all,” Beardslee answered.

Q: What do you understand by the flank of the human anatomy? Point it out to us, doctor.

A: Flank?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, it is a term which is seldom used except by a butcher or horse trader or something that way.

As the cross-examination proceeded, Dominguez made clear what his primary defense theory was — that Rappe’s injury was her own misadventure, her own fault. Her bladder was compromised by disease and it was simply a matter of time before it burst of its own accord. “Assuming,” Dominguez began, “doctor, for a long period of time, a person had been treated for bladder trouble,

and had been under the direct attention of a doctor for bladder trouble, assuming further that it was a small bladder and the walls of that bladder were abnormally thin—assuming further she had not passed water for a period of 24 hours; and assuming further, doctor, that during that time it had been dribbling over the top of the bladder; and assuming further she had made efforts, doctor, to pass water, under that condition, doctor, could there be such a thing as a spontaneous rupture?

Assistant District Attorney Milton U’Ren objected on grounds that Rappe’s micturitions were not in evidence and available for cross-examination. But Judge Lazarus proved to be lenient with the defense here and allowed it. He reasoned that future evidence might support such a theory. Thus, Dr. Beardslee was compelled to agree with Dominguez that a bladder “with a thin wall” and “subjected to treatment for organic disturbances” could easily rupture. With that, Dominguez ended his cross-examination.

In the minutes that followed, Judge Lazarus asked a serious question devoid of his courtroom wit. He asked if urine in the bladder, upon release into the abdominal cavity, could cause an infection—a question that hadn’t been answered as yet by Dr. Beardslee.

Perhaps relieved to answer a medical question, the house physician for the St. Francis Hotel assumed a certain authority and explained that urine itself didn’t cause peritonitis. Bacteria escaping from the bladder did. With that, court was adjourned until 2:30 p.m.


[1] The following is based on People vs. Arbuckle, 232ff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s