“I Got Hot”: Maude Delmont on the stand

[With the long hot summer of 2022 ahead of us, the following excerpt from our work-in-progress seems appropriate. The outcome of the Coroner’s trial can be found here.]

There was no rest for the weary. In this case we are referring to Maude Delmont who was scheduled to testify in the Coroner’s Court the morning following her late night Grand Jury testimony.[1] On Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., Delmont entered the small courtroom. Still dressed in black, still propped up by a policewoman, she was tense. Although she was a head taller than her escort, she seemed fragile, gray, looking ten years older than a woman should look in her late thirties even for 1921.

The corners of her mouth drooped and her dark hair showed strands of gray. Kinder reporters saw her crow’s feet as “lines of sorrow” that suggested an “intimacy of years” spent with Rappe. But the reality would soon be common knowledge, that Mrs. Delmont had only known Rappe for a matter of days. Faced with this surprising revelation, Delmont countered that “friendship cannot be reckoned by the clock”. She went on,” the moment I met Virginia I felt there was a real bond between us. We were together every minute almost after we met, and it seems to us now as though I’d always known and loved her.” Nevertheless, that no immediate family members stepped forward made her position all the more strange, even to Delmont herself.

Unlike the night before, when Delmont only faced the Grand Jury and one of Matthew Brady’s assistants, she now faced Arbuckle and his three lawyers. They, too, had been up for hours but it was the comedian’s bloodshot eyes fixed on Delmont that grabbed reporters’ attention. Arbuckle, of course, like any suspect in a criminal trial, was now an object of study, especially when it came to his facial expressions, body language, and nervous tics. Newspapermen and -women, as watchful as psychologists, described such nonverbal communication to the readers to interpret such signs as innocence or guilt or the shades of gray in between.

Arbuckle, too, squeezed and twisted his green golf cap in his fists. He leaned forward in his chair just behind the railing that separated him from the defense counsel’s table. At times he yawned, either tired or bored, and said nothing to his lawyers. But they had in their possession a full copy of Delmont’s statement to the District Attorney—as well as everything she had said to detectives and to reporters. 

After identifying herself and where she lived, Delmont drank deeply from a glass of cold water. She put the glass down, asked for warm water, and the inquest was held up while a coffee cupful was brought to her. Then she answered Dr. Leland’s questions. With trembling hands, Delmont took sip after sip as if not to lose her voice or composure. She described herself as a “beauty specialist” but currently unemployed in that vocation

Suspecting that she had been coached, Leland admonished her. “I want you to disregard any advice that may have been given to you and to disregard any previous stories,” he said, “and to tell the truth as you know it.” 

“I am here to tell just the truth,” Delmont protested. But Leland still lectured Delmont on the significance of her testimony as the complaining witness against Arbuckle. He warned her to “consider her statements well.” He was also concerned about how Delmont was simply saying what she thought he—and Brady—wanted to hear without giving it enough thought.

“Maybe I am leading you,” Leland said. “Sometimes people go to sleep and just say yes.”

Delmont came to life. “I’m not asleep,” she said, “for I had a little hypodermic before I came here, and I am all right.”

This rather candid admission came as a surprise. So had an earlier one, when Delmont described drinking liquor on the journey to San Francisco. She admitted to drinking six whiskies while in Selma alone, which likely left observers with the impression that Coroner Leland was dealing with an alcoholic—one who had injected either morphine, a temporary palliative for delirium tremens, or possibly a stimulant to revive her for the morning hearing. (One indication that it was morphine was Delmont’s sipping water, for dry mouth is a telling side effect.)

As the Coroner posed questions to his prize witness, she told everything in “minutest detail,” repeating what she had undoubtedly said before the Grand Jury twelve hours ago albeit, as Ellis H. Martin of the San Francisco Call wrote, “with touches of color here and there, giving the tale adornment”—some of which surely couldn’t be printed in newspapers.

Delmont described meeting Semnacher and arranging the trip to Selma, where she, Semnacher, and Rappe, stopped to meet and stay with Delmont’s friends. Then her party departed for Fresno, where she hoped to collect money owed to her occasional employer, the Labor Journal. But the others insisted on pushing on to San Francisco, where they arrived at the Palace Hotel around 9:30 on the Sunday night of September 4. The following morning while eating breakfast in the hotel, a page handed Rappe a note inviting her to Arbuckle’s suite at the nearby St. Francis.

This was a one-off detail found only in Delmont—Semnacher’s version citing Fishback as the source of the invitation. Delmont, too, even recalled the note itself, which read, “Come on up and say hello.” It bore Arbuckle’s signature but apparently lacked his full name. Semnacher, Rappe, and she then discussed whether the Arbuckle in question was “Andy” or “Fatty”—the former being Maclyn Arbuckle’s younger brother, who was also an actor.

Whether Rappe and the others had settled on one or the other Arbuckle wasn’t reported from Delmont’s testimony. Rappe did, however, decide to find out if the invitation was worth answering.

“You call up in twenty minutes,” she instructed Delmont. “If I don’t want to bother with the party, I’ll come right down. If not, you come up.” 

A little while later Delmont and Semnacher entered room 1220.

Dr. Leland asked about the presence of liquor in the Arbuckle suite.

Delmont saw two or three bottles of scotch as well as bottles of gin and orange juice.

“Everybody helped themselves,” Delmont said.

“Was Miss Rappe happy?” Leland asked.

“Oh, yes, everybody was happy.”

“Was anybody paying any particular attention to any other person?”


“There was nothing selective then about the affair.”


The questions then turned to how Rappe got into room 1219. Delmont no longer claimed that Arbuckle dragged Rappe into room 1219 by the wrist. Nor did she recall hearing him say to Rappe that he had “wanted” her since 1916. Instead, Delmont seemed to be aligning or “correcting” herself with Zey Prevost’s initial statement—the one Brady and his assistants obviously found more credible.

Rappe, according to Delmont, wasn’t forced. She entered room 1219 of her own free will to use its bathroom. Then Arbuckle immediately followed Rappe. When she came out of the bathroom, Delmont saw them talk for a moment in the middle of the bedroom. Here Leland must have asked Delmont to back up a little, to where she had said in her initial statement, the one published in the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers. What happened to Arbuckle grabbing Rappe and dragging her into room 1219? What happened to his wanting her for five years? But Delmont now attributed the manhandling of Rappe to Arbuckle.

“Arbuckle took hold of her, she told me afterward,” Delmont said. “I was not paying much attention then. I was having a good time. I can’t say if he went into the bathroom with her,” Delmont recalled. “I guess he dragged her in.” This last remark wasn’t allowed to enter the record since Delmont had essentially changed her story.

“Everybody was feeling kinda good,” Delmont continued.

“What was the attitude of the men up to this time?” Leland asked.

“They were all nice.” There was no vulgarity.

“There was no familiarity?”

“None, except that Fatty Arbuckle moved his chair beside Miss Rappe.”

Delmont described the arrival of Alice Blake and Zey Prevost, that a phonograph was sent up to 1220, and that everyone danced and drank. Many of Leland’s questions dealt with the latter.

Delmont admitted to drinking “eight or ten drinks of Scotch whisky.”

“Were you beginning to feel the effect of the drinks?” Leland asked. 

“Undoubtedly,” Delmont answered. 

Dr. Leland asked Delmont about what Rappe and Arbuckle had to drink. She said Rappe may have had three tall glasses of gin and orange juice. How did Delmont know? She was sure of it, she responded, and, perhaps Rappe told her. The important thing, said Delmont, was that Rappe wasn’t there to drink. She was there for the dancing, enjoying herself and the company. Delmont was still sure that Rappe only had three drinks.

Since “alcoholism” had been the diagnosis of Drs. Kaarboe and Rumwell, it seemed reasonable to press on with this line of questions. Leland asked if Rappe could have had any drinks before Delmont joined the party.

“She was there only five minutes,” Delmont replied, “and common sense will tell you that she couldn’t have had many.”

Asked about Arbuckle’s drinking, Delmont said that he “was more intoxicated than anyone else in the party. He was just a little gone. He showed it in his eyes and being very talkative. He was not staggering or anything of that sort.” He was animated, talkative.

Why Delmont got out of her street clothes and wore a pair of men’s pajamas was also of interest. Given the times, this probably had more significance, in terms of speaking to a woman’s character, than it would today. Perhaps, too—and this is an outlier—Dr. Leland was curious about the temperature in the Arbuckle suite. Did it account for Arbuckle being drenched in sweat and both Delmont and Rappe removing clothing for relief?

Delmont, trying to sound reasonable, said that while dancing she became overheated. “So, I asked Mr. Sherman if he would mind if I slipped on some pajamas and he said, ‘No, certainly not’ and he took me into his room, got a suit of his pajamas from a dresser drawer and went out while I put them on.” 

When she returned from room 1221, she noticed that Rappe and Arbuckle were absent. “I asked the others where Virginia was,” Delmont said. “I called to her and didn’t get any answer.”

As Delmont described this episode, she hadn’t factored in what she had said earlier, that she had seen Arbuckle talking to Rappe outside 1219’s bathroom, that she had seen him walk past Rappe and close the connecting doors between 1220 and 1219. Had she forgotten her earlier statement that she already knew where Rappe and Arbuckle were? Was she attempting to accommodate the statements of others? In what seems like an obvious attempt to please the prosecutor with a story that better fit the charges, she had handed Arbuckle’s lawyers an advantage they couldn’t wait to use. Delmont might as well have been their accidental creature, an amicus arbucklensis.

According to her account, about fifteen minutes passed and then Delmont began to worry about Rappe’s absence. “I didn’t see why Virginia would not come out,” she said. “I didn’t think it was nice for her to be in there with Mr. Arbuckle.”

She then said the silence from 1219 was finally interrupted by a scream.

“What was the nature of the scream?” Leland asked.

“As a woman in agony,” replied Delmont. 

Asked what happened next, Delmont said, “Then I became angry [. . .] I took the shoes I had on—with French heels—and kicked at the door to room 1219. I kicked with all my might. [. . .] I kicked ten or twelve times on the door of the room, but there wasn’t a sound.”

Minutes passed. Delmont called the desk on the wall phone in room 1220. Harry Boyle, the assistant manager, took the call and came up at once. According to Delmont, it was the telephone conversation that prompted Arbuckle to open the door. According to Delmont, the comedian stood framed in the doorway. Then he said, referring to Rappe, “She’s in there.”

Leland asked about his appearance. Delmont, like Prevost, said that Arbuckle’s pajamas “were wringing wet and clinging to him”—and on this detail the Los Angeles Times either inserted or fully quoted her as saying “wringing wet with perspiration.” And he was “wearing Virginia’s hat.” 

On hearing that, Arbuckle, who had been trying to maintain a straight face, smiled and laughed to himself.

The questions now turned to what happened after Arbuckle stepped aside.

“We all rushed in,” Delmont said, claiming that she led the way into 1219.

Rappe was found lying on the “twin bed” nearest the wall, screaming, tearing at her clothes, and crying out, “I’m hurt, I’m dying. He did it.”

Asked who was present in the room, Delmont named Zey Prevost, Alice Blake, Fred Fishback, and Harry Boyle. As to what was done for Rappe to bring her out of her hysteria, Delmont answered a battery of questions. “I took off her clothing [. . .] and we put her in a cold bath. [. . .] Yes, she was pretty fully clothed [. . .] Had on shirtwaist, stockings and everything. [. . .] She commenced to tear at her clothes. [. . .] Virginia would scream, then faint by turns.” 

Delmont didn’t know how or who dried off Rappe following the cold bath. She only remembered that Rappe was rolled in a sheet. Then another room was engaged for her. 

Leland asked what was Arbuckle doing during this time? Delmont recalled seeing him wandering around indifferently. But when room 1227 was ready, he started to carry her there. But halfway, Boyle took Rappe from Arbuckle when it seemed as though he might drop her.

As the lunch hour approached, Leland got to the end. He asked Delmont what happened in room 1227. she said Rappe finally regained consciousness.

She said Rappe pressed her abdomen. “Oh, it hurts me here! [. . .] Maudie, what has happened to me? What could he have done to me?’

“Don’t you remember anything?” Delmont asked.

“Not one thing,” Rappe said. “I can’t remember anything.”

When the hotel doctor saw her in room 1227, Delmont, without naming which one, claimed that Rappe wouldn’t tell him what happened. 

She just screamed, “Don’t touch me!” Then Delmont continued, describing that she was left alone with Rappe, that the doctor came again.

“What did you do afterward?” Dr. Leland asked. Here Delmont accounted for George Glennon’s visit, which was virtually a social call in 1227 and, as Rappe slept, in 1220. “Oh,” Delmont recalled fondly, “the house detective—he was very nice—he and I went back and drank all the gin and orange juice.” The bibulous pair also consumed the last of the scotch until three in the morning. Then Delmont returned to 1227 and slept in the same bed until six. On Tuesday, the nurses came.

Dr. Leland asked the jurors if they had any further questions. One raised his hand.

“Did Miss Rappe offer any objections when Arbuckle went into the room with her.”

Delmont answered, “No.”

[1] pp. 000–000: “Death Revel Reviewed Before Jury,” San Francisco Call, 13 September 1921, 1, 2;“Woman Witness Tells Why She Is Actor’s Nemesis,” Oakland Tribune, 13 September 1921, 2; United Press, “Arbuckle Sees Ray of Hope,” [Long Beach] Daily Telegram, 13 September 1921, 1; “Sensational Details of Party Told at Virginia Rappe Inquest,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 September 1921, 7; Robert H. Willson, “Stories Told Coroner Jury Conflicting,” San Francisco Examiner, 14 September 1921, 4; A.P. Night Wire, “Proceedings of the Day,” Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1921, 1, 2.

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