100 Years Ago This Week: November 14–18, 1921

One hundred years ago Roscoe Arbuckle’s trial for manslaughter in the death of Virginia Rappe began. Most of that first week was taken up by jury selection. Although Arbuckle’s chief defense lawyer, Gavin McNab was reportedly against including women on the jury, he and prosecutor Matthew Brady settled on five women and eight men, including one alternate.

Although the procedure of accepting and rejecting jurors is tedious, we devote some attention to this deliberate process because it reveals much of the trial strategies of both the prosecution and defense.

For those of you who have followed this blog, we discussed the possible testimony of George Glennon, the St. Francis Hotel detective (see George Glennon, the muted witness). His midnight interview with Virginia Rappe on September 5, 1921—conducted hours after she had been found in Arbuckle’s bedroom variously in a state of shock and hysteria, tearing at her clothes—was intended to be used by the defense to quickly end the trial in an acquittal. If a jury had heard that Rappe had absolved Arbuckle of injuring her, the case in all likelihood would be over. No matter how much circumstantial evidence there was in room 1219, her words would underscore Arbuckle’s professions of innocence. He only need take the stand and provide an anodyne account that that would make him out to be nothing less than a decent, caring gentleman.

However District Attorney Matthew Brady and his deputies challenged Glennon’s simple question-and-answer statement as hearsay and managed to keep it out of the record. Accusations of witness tampering were being made against both sides so the objection may have been borne of that suspicion.

Similarly, McNab and his colleagues intended to get the doctors who attended Rappe to “speak” for Arbuckle. Here Maude Delmont factored. She had, as Rappe’s companion at the Labor Day party, looked after Rappe and taken charge as her ersatz medical power-of-attorney. She spoke with some authority, despite being inebriated, and was the person the attending physicians consulted about what was wrong with Ms. Rappe. But the Prosecution saw to it that Delmont’s comments to the physicians were also barred from the record.

At the end of the second week of the trial, one of these doctors, Melville Rumwell, was called to the stand as a defense witness. He, too, like Glennon, had spoken with Rappe in the hotel about her condition. Again, the answers Rappe gave Rumwell were believed to have exonerated Arbuckle. These too were stricken as hearsay.

This defense strategy is intriguing on several levels, given the prosecution’s determined effort to prevent a jury from hearing a narrative that included the words of Rappe and Delmont. While it seems counterintuitive to silence the victim and the accuser, we think we understand Prosecutor Brady’s motivation. At the time Rappe’s injury occurred, Delmont’s initial statements might have intentionally downplayed Arbuckle’s involvement without really knowing what the truth was. She didn’t want to be at the center of a sex scandal. Rappe, too, may have been likeminded. They didn’t, like other guests, see any gain in getting Arbuckle in trouble, whether he did something injurious behind the door of room 1219, something desperate to save his reputation, or something that, as he made it out to be, the Good Samaritan redux.

In other words, Brady and his deputies were building their case on the belief that Arbuckle had injured Rappe in a clumsy attempt at rape or possibly rough consensual sex and they couldn’t afford to let anything Rappe or Delmont had said that evening stop them.

Roscoe Arbuckle and costar Alice Lake in The Rough House (1919) (Private collection)

George Glennon, the muted witness

Roscoe Arbuckle’s first trial for manslaughter was to begin on Monday, November 7, 1921. But the following day was Election Day and Armistice Day would be celebrated later in the week. So, Judge Harold Louderback of the Superior Court of San Francisco County announced that he would delay the opening of the trial one week.

This gave the prosecution and defense breathing space to consolidate their strategies. Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden had been dispatched to Chicago to get the testimony of Mrs. Katherine Fox. She had been Rappe’s mentor and virtual foster mother since 1905. Mrs. Fox had been responsible for coaxing Rappe to become a teenage art model, dancer, and stage performer. Undoubtedly, Mrs. Fox also directed Golden to other associates who might contradict the testimony of the three Chicago witnesses deposed by Arbuckle’s lawyers, Alfred Sabath and Charles Brennan.

The Chicago witnesses for the defense, especially the nurse/midwife/provider of adoption services, Josephine Rafferty Roth, would help convince a jury that Rappe’s bladder and sex organs had been ravaged by unwanted pregnancies, bouts of cystitis, and the invasive procedures the treatment of those conditions involved in the early twentieth century.

Arbuckle’s lead attorney Gavin McNab, however, had an even stronger card to play in house detective George Glennon. Glennon had initially been interviewed and dismissed by the District Attorney’s office only to be later chosen as a witness for the defense.

His testimony might have been enough to sway a jury to acquit Arbuckle of the manslaughter charge. But what he had to say was largely squelched by prosecution objections on the basis of hearsay.

Despite not being able to deliver on Arbuckle’s behalf, Glennon may have been rewarded for his willingness, having made the curious career move from hotel dick to movie theater manager, a job he held until Prohibition ended and he went back to his preferred profession of bartending.

The following draft passage is where we introduce him into our account of Labor Day, September 5, with the working title of “The Life of the Party.”


Around midnight, Virginia Rappe received a visit from George Francis Glennon, the stout, middle-aged house detective at the, St. Francis Hotel. As a defense witness during the first Arbuckle trial, Glennon said that Maude Delmont and Dr. Beardslee were in room 1227 when he arrived. Despite the late hour, he wanted to speak to Rappe.

Glennon held various jobs over the years. As a boy, he operated a freight elevator and, in later years, worked as clerk, a chauffeur, and as a bartender, a job at which he excelled. Prior to Prohibition, Glennon was described as “the best mixologist in the business” while employed at the Hotel Terminal’s bar on Market Street. We can assume he had a brutish attitude, having made the news for striking an effeminate young man who had “lisped” a request for a “beauty special,” a lavender-colored cocktail with a dash of ice cream.[1] The blow cost him a ten-dollar fine. The coming of Prohibition however forced him out of bartending altogether. – at which point he found work as a special policeman.

The special police were essentially security guards and privately paid by the businesses that hired them. Special police were employed by banks, penny arcades, movie theaters, skating rinks, and the like. They worked as night watchmen in warehouses, factories, and on San Francisco waterfront. They also worked as hotel detectives. Since they carried firearms and could arrest people, they were licensed by the San Francisco Police and were considered peace officers as well. Thus, Glennon possessed a modicum of authority if there should be trouble in the hotel in the form of an unruly guest, room thief, call girl, and any other criminal acts on the hotel’s premises.

So the Arbuckle party, despite being hosted by a frequent and famous guest, couldn’t be ignored. There was liquor in plain view in Room 1220, seen by maids, bellboys, waiters, and now an assistant manager, Harry Boyle. It had also become known that an unclothed woman at the party had been found in severe distress and had to be carried to an empty room. By the time Glennon arrived late in the evening, she had already been seen four times by the two hotel doctors.

However when Glennon was a defense witness at the first Arbuckle trial, he was prevented from discussing his brief conversation with Rappe, as the prosecution objected on the basis it was hearsay.

Glennon’s account was reported in the newspapers though and, unlike the accounts provided by Drs. Kaarboe and Beardslee who said she barely spoke, he said he found Rappe to be alert and responsive to his questions. She was no longer agitated. If Glennon indulged in any small talk with her, it went unreported. Instead, Glennon got to the point, asking a battery of questions that had nothing to do with her welfare but rather serendipitously worded as though by a lawyer to exonerate Arbuckle when the time came.

Glennon said he asked Rappe if Arbuckle had hurt her and she answered “no”. Then Glennon asked if anyone had hurt her. “I do not know,” Rappe allegedly said. “I may have been hurt by falling off the bed.”[2]


[1] Universal News Service, “Beauty Special Was Too Much for This Bartender,” The [Pomona]Bulletin, 10 September 1919, 6.

[2] “Girl Said to Have Cleared Arbuckle: Clown’s Lawyer Has Statement from the Hotel Sleuth,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, 11 November 1921, 1.

100 Years Ago Today: Virginia Rappe returns to L.A., September 16, 1921

Before Virginia Rappe’s coffin was sealed, Lehrman sent his final instructions. “Tell her,” he wired, “Henry said that he still loves you; she will hear.”[1] One of Halsted’s morticians took care of whispering the sentiment into the dead woman’s ear.

This privilege might have gone to Maude Delmont, but her role as Rappe’s caregiver no longer extended to Rappe’s corpse, whereas Lillian Gatlin offered to accompany Rappe’s coffin on the trip back for the honor of doing so. Nevertheless, Delmont was miffed that she had been denied the chance to chaperone Rappe’s body given the devoted attention she had provided when she was alive. She quoted a tactful telegram from Lehrman thanking her for the courageous manner in which she had “defended unfortunate Virginia” and that it was his most sincere wish that she go with Rappe’s body.[2] But, as the state’s star witness, Delmont was stuck in San Francisco and the District Attorney’s office could hardly risk her disappearing.

Outraged at Lehrman’s last minute decision to ask Lillian Gatlinto accompany the body on the trip, one made behind her back, Delmont shouted at reporters, “She shall not go”. “There will be serious trouble if she tries to. She did not know Virginia Rappe.”[3] But Delmont’s willingness to sign a murder complaint against Arbuckle now meant it was impossible for her to leave San Francisco for the immediate future. A policewoman had been assigned to watch her, not only to prevent witness tampering but to prevent the witness from disappearing.

On Friday afternoon, September 16, Rappe’s coffin was taken by hearse to the Southern Pacific’s Third and Townsend Depot.[4] There Gatlin purchased a first-class ticket for herself and one for the body to be stamped corpse. For the deceased to travel by first class was not an extravagance but rather a railroad regulation. But the corpse’s accommodations were hardly that of a Pullman car. The silver coffin was placed inside a large pinewood crate, which was nailed shut, and loaded into one of the dark green baggage cars of Owl, the Southern Pacific’s night express to Los Angeles.

For most of the journey south, the train lacked the scenery that the coastal route took and mostly traveled in darkness before it pulled into Los Angeles’ Central Station by mid-morning. The Los Angeles Examiner found a headline (“Tears, Flowers, Friends, All Are Missing”) in what little ceremony there was to sliding Rappe’s coffin, enclosed in a plywood box, from a baggage wagon into the back of a waiting white hearse. The mortuary workers did take the trouble to display Lehrman’s blanket of 1,000 tiger lilies. The choice was deliberate—for he said to the press more than once that Rappe had fought off Roscoe Arbuckle “like a tiger.”

In gold letters, a white ribbon draped across the lilies read: “To My Brave Sweetheart, From Henry.” The poignancy of Rappe’s neglect—and penury—was also taken up by a brief editorial in the Los Angeles Times, which noted that a “flood of light is shed on the lives of the pretty, highly dressed movie-picture stars by the fact that when Virginia Rappe died as the result of her injuries in San Francisco, there was not a penny in sight to prepare for her burial. She was absolutely broke.”

Thirty minutes after Rappe’s coffin arrived, Arbuckle’s manager, Lou Anger, and his lead defense lawyer, Frank Dominguez stepped off the Lark, the train that took the Southern Pacific’s coastal route. If they saw Rappe’s body being picked up at the train station, no one would know anyway, for they refused to answer any questions directed at them.

Virginia Rappe’s coffin being loaded into a hearse (Calisphere)

[1] Burton L. Smith, “Arbuckle to be Tried on Charge of Murder [. . .] Body of Virginia Rappe Is Being Brought to Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, 17 September 1921, 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ernest Hopkins, “Tragic Return of Body Marks End of Trip Virginia Rappe Planned for Pleasure,” Akron Beacon Journal, 16 September 1921, 25.

[4] The following is corroborated in Arthur Turney, “Unescorted Body of Virginia Rappe Is Received in L.A.,” Los Angeles Evening Express, 17 September 1921, 1; “Rappe Girl’s Body to be Shipped to Los Angeles Today: Will Be Accompanied by Lillian Gatlin, Scenario Writer and Friend,” San Francisco Chronicle, 16 September 1921, 6; “Pen Points by the Staff,” Los Angeles Times, 18 September 1921, 20; “8,000 at L.A. View Body of Virginia Rappe,” San Francisco Examiner, 19 September 1921, 3; “Thousands Pass Before Bier of Virginia Rappe,” Wichita Daily Eagle, 19 September 1921, 1; “Mob Blocks Traffic at Hollywood,” Los Angeles Record, 19 September 1921, 1, 2; “Virginia Rappe in Final Rest,” Los Angeles Times, 20 September 1921, 2.

100 Year’s Ago Today: Bambina Maude Delmont takes the stand for the first and last time, September 13, 1921

[The following is taken from or work-in-progress, in which we describe the testimony at the second session of the Coroner’s Court, conducted by San Francisco County Coroner T. B. W. Leland before an all-male jury. Following her appearance, her importance to the prosecution of Arbuckle quickly faded. Nevertheless, District Attorney Matthew Brady kept open the possibility that she might appear in court again as late as March 1922, during the third Arbuckle trial.

We have various theories about why Delmont wasn’t put on the stand again at any subsequent venue related to the Arbuckle case. One of these is that much of what she stated behind closed doors and even in the Coroner’s Court was “unprintable.” It is usually assumed that her account of events differed so greatly from others’ statements that it was deemed unreliable and too much of a risk to the prosecution.

When the defense had an opportunity to call her to the stand, they refused. Of course, her describing the real nature of Arbuckle’s party may have been the cause. By having his Labor Day party in a hotel suite, Arbuckle may have thought he’d found a loophole in a Hollywood maxim cited in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, to wit, “never do before the camera what you would not do at home and never do at home what you would not do before the camera.”] 

Still dressed in black, Maude Delmont was again aided by a policewoman who, beside her, made Delmont appear taller. Delmont looked tense, fragile, ten years older than her real age (late thirties), and hardly what one would imagine of a flinty, hard-drinking daughter of a frontier dentist. The corners of her mouth drooped, 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. The intimacy was quickly revealed to be less than a week. “But friendship,” Delmont said, “cannot be reckoned by the clock. 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.”[1]

Delmont faced a packed courtroom, including Arbuckle sitting between two policemen and wearing a new blue Norfolk jacket with a pair of knickerbocker trousers. His bloodshot eyes were fixed on Delmont while he squeezed and twisted his green golf cap in his fists and 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

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. As though by rote, with lines almost certainly rehearsed beforehand, Delmont repeated much of the same story she had told in her original statement, as it appeared in the press albeit with changes that were hardly negligible, which got the attention of everyone at the defense table.

With trembling hands, Delmont took sip after sip of warm water so as not to lose her voice or composure. She described everything in “minutest detail” from the trip to Selma to the Palace Hotel breakfast, where a bellhop handed Rappe a note inviting her to Arbuckle’s suite at the St. Francis Hotel. Delmont said the note read, “Come on up and say hello.” It bore Arbuckle’s signature.

Delmont made no mention of Fred Fishback or Ira Fortlouis playing any role in the invitation. Instead, she went on to the Labor Day party and once more reporters were forced to censor themselves rather and give only the gist. Instead of being forced into room 1219, Delmont no longer would say that Arbuckle had dragged Rappe by the wrist. Nor did she repeat that he had always wanted Rappe since 1916. Delmont made it seem as though Rappe entered that room 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. “I can’t say if he went into the bathroom with her,” she said at one point. I guess he dragged her in.” But this last statement was not allowed to stand. Delmont, however, said she saw Arbuckle walk past Miss Rappe and close the connecting doors between 1220, the parlour room, and his bedroom. When a juror asked Delmont if she had verbally objected to when Arbuckle locked the door on himself and Rappe, Delmont said no.

Fifteen minutes passed before Delmont began to worry about Rappe. “I didn’t see why Virginia would not come out,” Delmont said. “I didn’t think it was nice for her to be in there with Mr. Arbuckle.”

Other accounts of the same testimony suggested that Delmont was alerted to something wrong not by Rappe’s silence but by her scream at one point.

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

“As a woman in agony,” replied Delmont.

There was no response from inside room 1219 as Delmont tried to get Rappe’s attention. “Then I became angry,” Delmont said, “and I kicked ten or twelve times on the door of the room, but there wasn’t a sound.” After more time passed, Delmont called the desk. Harry Boyle took the call and came up at once and his presence in room 1220 prompted Arbuckle to open the door of 1219.

Touched-up and discarded photograph of Maude Delmont, September 13, 1921 (Calisphere)

Delmont continued, describing what happened after she, Zey Prevost, and Alice Blake entered Arbuckle’s bedroom up until Rappe was carried out. Throughout her testimony, however, Dr. Leland could hear that Delmont had changed her original story. Perhaps getting looks from Arbuckle’s lawyers, Dr. Leland interrupted Delmont and lectured her on the significance of her testimony as a complaining witness.

“I am here to tell just the truth,” she protested. Nevertheless, Leland warned the witness to “consider her statements well.”

“Maybe I am leading you,” he continued, attempting to tease additional details from Delmont, whom he presumed to be fatigued from a night of Grand Jury testimony.

“Sometimes people go to sleep and just say yes,” Leland said.

“I’m not asleep,” Delmont replied and candidly added, “for I had a little hypodermic before I came here, and I am all right.”

Observers took her to mean an injection of morphine, of which dry mouth is a tell-tale side effect. Her drinking, too, raised eyebrows and made for the logical impression that she was an alcoholic—morphine being a temporary palliative for the side effects of alcohol abuse, including delirium tremens. Delmont admitted to drinking on the way up from Los Angeles to San Francisco—six whiskies while in Selma alone.

Dr. Leland asked about her prodigious capacity on Labor Day afternoon. 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. She had been dancing, as well, and getting very hot in her black dress. “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.”

Dr. Leland asked Delmont about what Rappe and Arbuckle had to drink. Rappe may have had two or three drinks, both gin and orange juice. Rappe, said Delmont, was more interested in dancing and having a good time. Leland pressed on, asking if it were possible that Rappe had been drinking before Delmont had been allowed to join the Labor Day party.

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


[1] The following passage is adapted from “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; and Robert H. Willson, “Stories Told Coroner Jury Conflicting,” San Francisco Examiner, 14 September 1921, 4; and A.P. Night Wire, “Proceedings of the Day,” Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1921, 1, 2.

100 Years Ago Today: Virginia Rappe’s last bad day, September 8, 1921

Virginia Rappe was finally taken by ambulance to the Wakefield Sanitarium at 1065 Sutter Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, September 7, 1921. Her presence in the small private hospital was quickly noticed by the nursing staff.

The Wakefield Sanitarium, also known as the Wakefield Hospital, wasn’t an institution that specialized in high-risk pregnancies—and abortions for its wealthy clientele, as it has been described by others looking to dish some dirt. It admitted men, women, and children, especially accident victims who required surgery. The hospital was private though and intended for patients who wanted to avoid the populations—and diseases—of general and charity hospitals. It was staffed by top-tier doctors, and patients were often referred there by doctors who taught at Stanford University’s medical school, including Virginia Rappe’s doctor, Melville Rumwell.

Rumwell specialized in taking female surgical patients. Early in his career, he made a real name for himself in saving the life of a mother and child in a difficult birth. The mother honored him by naming her newborn son “Melville.” But Dr. Rumwell had also earned the opprobrium of tent-city dwellers in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, especially that of the women, when he served as a city medical officer in charge of homeless people. He was seen as uncaring and unmindful of their plight. In Rappe’s case, he dialed back the nature of her illness to alcoholism, at the time the term would have been closer to a diagnosis of alcohol abuse disorder today. That is, Rappe was still being seen as suffering from having had too much to drink—even two days later!

Rumwell had taken Rappe’s case as a favor to Maude Delmont, a former patient and Rappe’s voluntary guardian for the past three days. Apparently, when it came to his fee—as well as the cost of two private nurses and a private room at Wakefield—he had been told that someone else would cover the cost, that someone being Roscoe Arbuckle. Delmont probably didn’t reach out to the comedian about Rappe’s medical costs. She was also expecting Al Semnacher to return to San Francisco to drive her and Rappe back home and deal with the medical costs later.

Even though the St. Francis Hotel’s doctor, Arthur Beardslee, suspected a grave internal injury, indeed, a ruptured bladder, he testified that he didn’t share his suspicions or the results of his catheterization, which revealed bleeding, with Dr. Rumwell. If he had, Rumwell would have done two things in 1921: he would have attempted “heroic measures,” that is, a high-risk surgery to clean out the massive infection and close the tear in Rappe’s bladder; or palliative care since a bladder rupture, if not operated on immediately, meant certain death from peritonitis and septic shock.

The second option turned out to be deliberate or a fait accompli if Dr. Rumwell took a passive course and simply neglected his patient, knowing she was going to die anyway. In that case, any optimism he expressed was pro-forma for the sake of Delmont and Rappe’s nurses, especially the two who had grown close to her over the past two days.

Delmont may have come around to the idea that surgery was needed since Rappe’s condition only deteriorated. She called one of Rumwell’s colleagues at Stanford to get a second opinion. But she never lost faith in the doctor whom she referred to affectionately as “Rummie.” As Rappe slipped into a coma, Delmont likely interpreted this as a relief since she was no longer in distress.

Meanwhile, on the evening of September 8, Rappe’s night nurse, Vera Victoria Cumberland, had gone back on duty. Before doing so, however, Cumberland learned from Rappe’s day nurse, Jean Jameson, that the latter believed Rappe was suffering from an infection and that “microscopic tests” were in order.”[1]

But “Dr. Rumwell failed to do this,” Cumberland said during a coroner’s inquest, “and I thought his attitude of enough importance that I left the case. I told Mrs. Delmont I thought this ought to be done and she said, ‘Oh, Rummy can’t be bothered, he had a party on tonight.’”

That Rappe’s case had “been handled negligently” wasn’t the only reason that Cumberland resigned.[2] Her other rationale was more personal and might explain why she stood up to the physician. She believed herself to be a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, her namesake, and a countess, and, if true, had a reputation at stake.

“When I realized the circumstances of the case,” she said to the press after Rappe’s death, “I had visions of juries, judges, investigators, and policemen. It was disgusting. Finally, I determined that the fair name of Cumberland should not be dragged into the filth of actors’ misdoings, so I requested my release.”[3]

Naturally incredulous, a reporter consulted Debrett’s Peerage and discovered that Vera Cumberland wasn’t among the issue of either Queen Victoria or her German cousin, the Duke of Brunswick, who currently held title of Duke of Cumberland.

Vera Cumberland (Calisphere)

[1] Associated Press, “Arbuckle Indicted: Manslaughter Grand Jury Says,” Des Moines Register, 14 September 1921, 1, 2; and “The Grand Jury: Evidence Submitted by Witnesses to Arbuckle’s Wild Party and Those Who Attended Stricken Girl,” Des Moines Tribune, 14 September 1921, 1.

[2] “Words of Girl on Death Bed Stir Audience . . .,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 September 1921, 7.

[3] Nurse Reveals Dying Confidences,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, 12 September 1921, 6.

100 Years Ago Today: Dismissing Dr. Beardslee, September 6, 1921

Perhaps the worst decision made by Roscoe Arbuckle and whoever had his ear was to let Maude Delmont stay with Virginia Rappe in room 1227 of the St. Francis Hotel.

Although she didn’t pretend to be a real nurse, she assumed the authority of one. (Delmont’s  younger sister, with whom she lived from time to time, was indeed a registered nurse.)

When the second hotel physician, Dr. Arthur Beardslee, came to see Rappe, he realized that this wasn’t the usual patient with a stomach ache from overindulging on rich food from the hotel kitchen or alcoholic beverages—as Delmont said. What he saw was a young woman he believed needed to be taken to a hospital for immediate surgery. But Dr. Beardslee erred on the side of hospitality, being a hotel doctor, and gave Rappe morphine injections to keep her quiet.

Meanwhile, Delmont had been going back and forth between room 1227 and the reception room of Arbuckle’s suite, room 1220.

The people in that room decided against sending Rappe to the nearby St. Francis Hospital, where Dr. Beardslee was a resident. That risked “notoriety.”

Dr. Arthur Beardslee (FamilySearch.com)

Delmont never disputed this decision. She returned to room 1227 and was satisfied with the effects of the morphine. She also convinced Dr. Beardslee that the only thing wrong with Rappe was gas. She suggested having an enema bag and Dr. Beardslee ordered one.

When he was gone, Delmont gave Rappe the enema, apparently with expertise and little mess. But undoubtedly the experience for Rappe was no less excruciating than her ruptured bladder.

Only Dr. Beardslee suspected the true nature of the injury. On his last visit, in the wee hours of Tuesday, September 6, he catheterized Rappe and extracted a little urine and clotted blood. The results alarmed him but he suppressed any expression of urgency given, perhaps, the inconvenient hour.

Still deferential to Delmont, Dr. Beardslee could only advise that his patient—whose name he incredibly failed to learn—be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Delmont, exercising a kind of medical power-of-attorney before there was ever such a thing, elected not to do so. Rappe would be treated in her hotel room.

Later that Tuesday morning, Dr. Beardslee was informed by Maude Delmont that her personal friend, a famous San Francisco surgeon who had performed an operation on her in the past, Dr. Melville Rumwell, would take over the case.

100 Years Ago Today: The Garden Room, September 5, 1921

The one time that Al Semnacher admitted to entering the bedroom shared by his charges, Virginia Rappe and Maude Delmont, was on Labor Day morning. He asked the two women if they wanted breakfast.

Between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m., the party of three took the elevator down to the lobby. If they looked in on the bar, they may have noticed Maxfield Parrish’s painting The Pied Piper over the bar, in which the piper is depicted leading Hamelin’s children to “the place of no return.”

On their way, Semnacher might have stopped at the desk to check for mail and messages. As it became clear later, he had business contacts in town and he may have notified them of his arrival. Then he, Rappe, and Delmont stepped inside the Garden Court.

The Palace’s elegant lounge and dining room on the first floor is much the same as it was a century ago. Breakfast and lunch were served daily under a vast, gilded skylight of opaque glass, which added to the soft but generous light provided by enormous crystal chandeliers. Potted palms and flowering plants were tastefully placed to give the illusion that one dined outdoors.

Amid the sound of muted conversations, the deferential voices of the waiters, the delicate chimes of plates and flatware—these met and maybe some ceased as Semnacher and his companions followed a waiter to a table set for four.Palace Hotel Palm Court 1920_auto_x2_colored_toned

The Garden Room of the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, ca. 1920 (Library of Congress)

Rappe’s presence in the great hotel was hard to miss amid a sea of white tablecloths. She stood out in a light green ensemble in contrast to Maude Delmont’s nondescript black broadcloth dress. Numerous accounts of what Rappe wore on September 5 exist in reportage and court testimony. One of the earliest described each piece as it lay in tatters before a coroner’s jury. Nevertheless, the reporter’s description of both garments reimagines the woman who wore them in life.

Just three yards of heavy crepe of the brilliant but cool green that the Chinese call jade. A two-piece skirt gathered on a belt. A little sleeveless blouse that hung in straight lines over the skirt. The wide armholes corded and a soft collar finishing the modest cut neck. For sleeves the long white ones of an ordinary white silk shirt waist that could be bought in any shop for $5.

What a contrast to the jetted and braided and embroidered and fringed atrocities of the most expensive modiste!

The sort of frock that any girl could have—if she were as clever as Virginia Rappe.

That girl knew what was becoming to her—had a fine color sense—knew the value of accessories. Her plain white Panama hat—the hat that Mrs. Delmont says Arbuckle was “clowning” in when they broke into the room, has a narrow band of jade green ribbon around the crown.

Ivory and jade—that was the color motif—as the designers would say. Just one touch of the show girl—and that hidden away under the ivory and jade. Garters of three-inch black lace, ruffled on silk elastic with a tiny green ribbon flower at the fastening.[1]

The outfit included a cape as well.

No previous narrative written about Virginia Rappe’s breakfast in the Garden Room pauses over this question: What did she and her companions have planned for the few hours that remained of their time in San Francisco? The drive from Selma to the Palace Hotel would have taken no less than four hours and for what? A night in an expensive hotel and breakfast?

According to Al Semnacher, he intended to drive back to Los Angeles in the late afternoon. Since the drive couldn’t be done comfortably in one day, he, Rappe, and Delmont would spend the night in Del Monte, California on the south end of Monterey Bay.

So, back to the question: What did they plan to do with their afternoon, a few hours really given the late breakfast? If Virginia Rappe hadn’t received a note inviting her to Arbuckle’s suite at the St. Francis Hotel, was there an alternate plan? For one to drive hundreds of miles, eight hours in each direction, without an itinerary or intention strains credulity. Without one, San Francisco was nothing more than an expensive, glorified layover, like Selma, in a long drive through the middle of California and then down the coastline. Rappe had seen San Francisco before. She had spent several days there in July 1920, during the same week as the Democratic National Convention. Even Maude Delmont had been to San Francisco. Al Semnacher often had business there.

Lastly, what did Al Semnacher, Virginia Rappe, and Maude Delmont discuss at their table in the Garden Room? That would have been the time to plan their day, the afternoon before them? If Semnacher picked up the San Francisco Chronicle and read from the front page, he could have amused the ladies with a story reporting that a “metaphysical astronomer,” with a certificate from the “Temple of Hashish,” told a Sunday crowd at Coney Island of a celestial event that would occur on Labor Day. Saturn would cross the paths of Jupiter and Mars and have such a deleterious effect on the moon’s tides that the East Coast would be submerged. Times Square could be covered by a foot of water.[2]

Fortunately, the West Coast was on the high ground and the top floor of the St. Francis Hotel a safe space.

[1] “Fate Sealed by the Dress She Made,” Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1921, 6.

[2] “New York to Be Submerged Today, Avers ‘Professor.’” San Francisco Chronicle, 5 September 1921. 1.

100 Years Ago Today: “A Lovely Time,” September 4, 1921

Al Semnacher’s inland route north took the recently completed California Highway 4, the precursor of U.S. Route 99 and present-day Interstate 5. By the late summer of 1921, the road was concrete-paved and designed for the top speeds of trucks and automobiles.

Highway 4 burrowed through the Newhall Tunnel and then up into the mountains past old Fort Tejon and then on to the oil fields and farmland of Kern County before riding along the majestic Castaic-Tejon Ridge and then twisting down to the first major town, Bakersfield. The rest of the way to Fresno traversed the so-called “Garden of the Sun” of California’s prime, irrigated farmland, the San Joaquin Valley, where, to either side of the road, were miles and miles of croplands, producing raisins, grapes, peaches, figs, nuts, olives, oranges, and other crops. The distance between Selma and Los Angeles is a little over 200 miles or almost halfway to San Francisco via Route 5 out of Stockton. The traffic would have been light in the morning, with occasional trucks and horse-drawn wagons, which Semnacher could easily pass in his Stutz motorcar, which shared the same engine with the two-seater Bearcat. Even though the first rains of the dry California summer had recently fallen, the weekend weather was expected to be fair with temperatures in the upper 70s.

Maude Delmont had a friend in Selma, Mrs. Anna L. Portnell, a divorcée, who was well-known in Fresno County society as a prominent member of the Woman’s Relief Corps and a celebrated bridge player. She later testified at the second Arbuckle trial in January 1922 under the name “Annie Portwell.” As a witness for the defense, she acknowledged that Delmont, Rappe, and Semnacher visited her ranch outside of town and that she took them sight-seeing in her car. During the excursion, Rappe allegedly begged, “Please stop the car if you do not want me to die.” Then Rappe left the car doubled up and drank “a quantity of dark colored liquid from a gin bottle. She said it was an herb tea.”[1]

Mrs. Portnell kept the bottle and produced it for the court. That she had kept such a souvenir of Rappe’s visit for nearly five months aroused no incredulity, at least none that was reported in the press. The purpose of having Mrs. Portnell testify was to further pile on that Rappe, despite being made sick by alcohol, drank it nevertheless. For that reason, as Arbuckle’s lawyers insisted, her getting sick at his Labor Day party was nothing unusual for this woman. Gavin McNab and his colleagues, however, must have had to choose between Rappe’s alcoholism or another of their theories, that she suffered from cystitis. Herbal teas were often prescribed to treat the disease before antibiotics. Alcoholism, of course, was more compelling. (Maude Delmont admitted to bringing a bottle of whiskey with her. She also testified that Rappe and Semnacher didn’t partake.)

Semnacher and Delmont never described what they and Rappe did in Selma, even though it was their only destination and the original plan was to return to Los Angeles. Perhaps they played bridge, since Mrs. Portnell made four and Rappe was herself a skilled player. That changed on Sunday morning, September 4, when Semnacher and his two passengers departed Selma for the long drive to San Francisco. He testified that the new itinerary was Rappe’s idea.

Before leaving Selma, Rappe dropped a postcard in a mailbox informing her “Aunt” Kate Hardebeck that she was having a “lovely time” and that she wasn’t coming home yet.

On Sunday evening, Semnacher and his party checked into the Palace Hotel. He took two adjacent rooms with a connecting door. Rappe and Delmont were to sleep in one room and Semnacher in the other. In the morning they would dress and have breakfast.

Meanwhile, Arbuckle and his party were already ensconced in a corner suite of the St. Francis, rooms 1219–1221, the same suite he occupied in June, with a view of the city that gave him pause. “I’d like to spend the rest of my life just looking out at Geary and Powell streets,” he said then to a reporter. “I’d have to give up a lot of palm trees and flower gardens to do it—but it would be well worth while.”[2]

Neither Roscoe Arbuckle, an inveterate violator of speed limits, nor Al Semnacher got ticketed on their way to San Francisco (Private Collection)

[1] “Selma Woman Testifies at Actor’s Trial: Mrs. Anne Portwell Tells of a Visit of Party During Trip,” Fresno Morning Republican, 26 January 1922, 1.

[2] “Parade Honors Fete Beauties Today,” San Francisco Examiner, 18 June 1921, 13.

100 Years Ago Today: Rappe leaves for Selma, September 3, 1921

On a Saturday morning in September, Virginia Rappe’s new manager—indeed, her first despite being in motion pictures since 1916—arrived in his late model Stutz Model H touring car to pick her up for a weekend trip. She likely placed great hope in him—and in the journey on which they would embark, for Semnacher was one of those people in Hollywood known as an “operator,” who could make small things happen that led to bigger things. He knew a lot of people. He knew Fred Fishback and Roscoe Arbuckle. Whether he knew they too were traveling north to San Francisco, a day ahead of him, will never be known. But it was certainly his business to know as he was always hustling work for his clients and Arbuckle and his entourage were in a position to help.

Al Semnacher was hardly a novice at his work. He had helped aspiring actors and actresses get their starts, first arranging for photography shoots for casting directories, a kind of Sears & Roebuck catalog of talent and faced, with such Hollywood photographers as Fred Hartsook, and then finding work for them as extras or in minor roles.

In 1919, Semnacher opened his first agency with Harry Lichtig as “personal representatives of players and other” in “a general casting business.”[1] The pair represented Lillian Walker, Kenneth Harlan, Pat O’Malley, and Zazu Pitts. Wid’s Daily, the daily newssheet for the motion picture industry,called Semnacher a “hustler Harry” and warned other booking agents to keep an eye on him if they wanted “their laurels.”[2]

Semnacher worked for a time at the John Lancaster booking agency and, in the spring of 1921, went out on his own. Despite his marital problems over the past months—his wife, Lucille, the former personal secretary of the actress Olive Thomas, had left him in a troubled marriage that saw three separations—Semnacher represented a small stable of actors such as the British comedian Fred Goodwins, to which he added Virginia Rappe and her friend Helen Hansen.

A few days earlier, on August 31, Semnacher had encountered Bambina Maude Delmont in front of the Pig ‘n Whistle in downtown Los Angeles.[3] He greeted her with familiarity, as a friend or professional colleague.

“What are you doing?” he asked, according to Delmont.

In the course of telling him, she mentioned that she wanted to go to Fresno, actually, a ranch in the nearby town of Selma, for the weekend. She needed to hitch a ride with someone going north, friendly people who might make for a “pleasure trip.” Semnacher offered his time and car—just like that. “Why, I think I can drive you Saturday,” he said, meaning September 3.

It’s unlikely that Semnacher, a busy man with young actresses in need of work, intended to spend his weekend in Selma or Fresno. This enigma confronts anyone attempting to write about the Arbuckle case because it’s the story that both Semnacher and Delmont recounted later as their original intention. The only really good book thus far, Room 1219, presents Semnacher’s journey as a pleasure trip for himself and his passengers. But this speculation seems almost too careful. Then there is Semnacher’s past relationship with Delmont. She spoke familiarly of Semnacher’s young son, Gordon, suggesting or kidding that the boy come along. How far back did she and Semnacher go?

The “pleasure trip” theory doesn’t take into account that Virginia Rappe was eager to find work and didn’t really have the time to relax in a small town—the “boondocks” to film colony people. She needed to replace the income she had lost as the former live-in mistress and occasional actress for the director Henry Lehrman.

When Semnacher arrived to pick her up, Rappe had packed a suitcase with much more than would be needed for a daytrip to Selma. Rappe’s adoptive “aunt” Kate Hardebeck saw the stuffed suitcase but accepted that “Tootie”—Rappe’s pet name—would be back in a day or two. A lunch basket was also packed for the drive, a little over 200 miles, which could be done in five hours or less.

The only thing left to do was pick up Maude Delmont, at her aunt’s apartment building on Orange Street. Though the two women hadn’t yet met, Delmont’s joining them surely came as a relief to Rappe. It solved the awkward problem of a married man traveling alone with an unmarried woman—for Helen Hansen had, at the last minute, bailed on Semnacher. Delmont as a traveling companion also made Rappe feel more comfortable in a personal way. Since childhood, older, knowing women like Delmont had served as her guardians, chaperones, and mentors in lieu of a mother.

A 1920 Stutz touring car similar to the one that Al Semnacher drove (Library of Congress)

[1] “New Coast Agency,” Wid’s Daily, 9 July 1919, [3].

[2] Harry Burns, “Chit, Chat, and Chatter,” Camera!, 29 June 1919, 7.

[3] The following account is largely based on B. M. Delmont, “Mrs. Delmont Gives Detailed Account of Rappe Tragedy,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12 September 1921, 4; Semnacher’s testimony in the transcript of People vs. Arbuckle; and other corroborative sources.