On St. Patrick’s Day 1922, eight men and four women—plus two alternates—were sworn in to judge whether Roscoe Arbuckle was guilty or innocent of the manslaughter death of Virginia Rappe. Fifty-one prospective jurors had been interrogated by prosecutors and defense lawyers for biases, either pro or con, as well as evidence of the kind of celebrity fanaticism that neither side would have wanted. It would have been nearly impossible for anyone in the Bay area to have been unaware of the previous two trials though many would protest that they had not been influenced by news coverage.
Rumors of witnesses being paid by the defense circulated in San Francisco and Los Angeles—and Chicago, where Arbuckle’s lawyer, Albert Sabath, located new witnesses who would allege that Rappe had previously suffered from abdominal pains, hysteria, and the birth of an illegitimate child.
As the jury was being chosen, San Francisco’s newspapers reported on witness depositions by individuals such as “Butch” Carroll, the owner of a saloon in Chicago where Rappe had once been a chanteuse. Many of these witnesses weren’t called in court but the depositions made news and were to Arbuckle’s benefit before the jury was sequestered in the Hotel Washington and subjected to censorship of anything related to the case.
On March 16, the last of the witnesses was deposed, Edward J. Byrne, a carpenter. He claimed to have once lived in the same house as Rappe and her grandmother—meaning he was a tenant in the same building. He claimed that in 1907 he witnessed Rappe suffering from abdominal pains while her grandmother attempted to quiet her. He said that Rappe had torn most of her clothes off and screamed at her grandmother to stop when the latter tried to prevent her from doing so.
“Miss Rappe,” he said, “was afraid of surgery and no doctor was summoned.”
Like prospective jurors, defense attorneys needed their witnesses to meet certain criteria, a kind of punch list of talking points that would correlate with what Rappe did in room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel on Labor Day 1921.
Despite the sometimes numbing nature of these depositions and testimony, which previously the prosecutors had complained were excessive and absurd, the defense trusted that their witnesses would outnumber and drown out the “character” witnesses whom the prosecution had deposed.
Rappe, whether Arbuckle’s victim or not, was on trial now for the third time as much as he was.