Two reporters testify and test-bed inferences based on scant reportage

Which faded first, public interest in the Arbuckle trials or the press coverage? Since metrics for the former didn’t exist in 1922, it would seem the latter. As the days stretched into weeks, the number of reporters in Judge Harold Louderback’s courtroom dwindled. The headlines gave way to the death of Pope Benedict XV, the murder of William Desmond Taylor, Lenin’s declining health, the Arthur Burch trial in Los Angeles, and the other intractable problems of the world. By the end of the first Arbuckle trial much of the coverage had already been relegated to below the fold and inside newspapers. This became the norm for the second trial. Fewer stories were bylined. But Marjorie Driscoll for the San Francisco Chronicle and Oscar Fernbach for the Examiner soldiered on. Nevertheless, their copy read as though they were bored by the Arbuckle case or believed their readers were. There was little that was new to report. That Arbuckle wore the same blue Norfolk suit to court each day was like a mantra.

For the authors of books and articles about the Arbuckle case, however, the lack of reportage is either a boon if one wants to get in and get out so as to meet a deadline and page count. For us, however, it means inferring from newspaper sources that are, to paraphrase researcher Joan Myers, dicey. But this relative lack of competition allowed the few remaining reporters to focus on details and hope that they could hold the reader’s attention—an expectation that was also placed on three different juries with three different outcomes.

The prosecution and defense virtually repeated themselves in the second and third trials that lasted into spring 1922. Nevertheless, there were subtle changes in strategy. After the second trial ended in a hung jury—10 to 2 for conviction—the defense understood that it could no longer hold back on Rappe’s past. The newspapers reported this as if it were new, but Arbuckle’s lawyers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago had started to deconstruct Rappe’s “good girl” image before she was even buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Ironically, while the press took less interest in the Arbuckle trial, San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady and his assistants took more interest in the press—indeed, in the earliest pieces written about the Arbuckle case. Therein, they brought into the light the first statements that Arbuckle made to reporters about his Labor Day party and the death of Virginia Rappe.

Curiously missing was the foundation of Arbuckle’s “Good Samaritan” testimony from the first trial, that he gave aid and comfort to Virginia Rappe after finding her writhing on his bathroom floor in room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel, leaving it up to the jury and public to see that he should be seen as a decent man rather than an uncaring rapist. The clipped, matter-of-fact testimony that Arbuckle gave was also intended to emphasize that he was alone with Rappe in the bedroom for just eight minutes—a claim that could be corroborated with nothing but circumstantial evidence.

But Arbuckle’s version of events wasn’t heard by anyone but his lawyers until late November, nearly two months after his arrest. Why hadn’t he mentioned his heroics in room 1219 to the two reporters who had contacted him just hours after Rappe’s death and before his arrest? He likely would have saved himself and the motion picture industry a world of grief as it might have prevented the clamor for government regulation of the motion picture industry and de facto the private lives of performers, producers, writers, etc.

Arbuckle’s fantastically opportune testimony came late. It was like the missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a story that would dovetail with the established timeline as described by prosecution witnesses and account for the physical evidence that had been presented in court, notably fingerprints.. It rendered Arbuckle an innocent victim of circumstances who had, against the odds, stumbled into a medical emergency and found himself accused of rape and murder. But if this puzzle piece was contrived, carved out of new cardboard, so to speak, as Brady and his assistants believed, it was imperative to attack its cardinal weakness, its timing.

Arbuckle said that his original chief counsel, Frank Dominguez, had ordered him not to say anything in his own defense in September 1921. The public animus against was just too much to overcome in the weeks after Rappe’s death. Arbuckle claimed that he was intentionally silenced. But eventually he had been given the opportunity to speak out and took it.

While he hadn’t been particularly forthcoming when interviewed on the day of Rappe’s death, at the first trial and for the first time Arbuckle inserted an alibi of sorts, that he was intending to get dressed in room 1219 to take a female friend out for a drive in his Pierce-Arrow during the afternoon of September 5 and by coincidence he discovered Rappe on the bathroom floor.

The prosecution believed that what Arbuckle told the two reporters on September 9 was important to have before a jury not for what was said but also for what wasn’t. A close reading, or rather a close hearing of the reporters’ testimony allowed one to infer that Arbuckle was more than a passive participant at the party and his traveling companions were solely to blame for the women, the alcohol, etc. But it was a stretch by the prosecution to believe they could convince a jury that Arbuckle’s omission of discussing his concern for Rappe’s suffering — in light of what he would describe in his sworn testimony two months later — was evidence that he was a man covering up a crime. (see “Arbuckle’s testimony of November 28, 1921).


Warden Woolard of the Los Angeles Times was one of the two who interviewed Arbuckle after the news broke about Rappe’s death and he testified at both the second and third trials. Due to the abbreviated coverage of these trials, we can only infer that he repeated his original reportage of Saturday, September 10, 1921, to one of the two assistant district attorneys who conducted the examination. To him Arbuckle seemed to be a man unconcerned about the problem that Rappe’s death presented and confident he could straighten the matter out with the chief of police in San Francisco. But the prosecution would question why many of the details Arbuckle later testified to were not mentioned on September 9. Woolard’s interview with Arbuckle happened at Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater which may sound innocuous but was at the time a seat of power in Hollywood so it’s likely Arbuckle was being counseled by Frank Dominguez or Milton Cohen to arrange for it as damage control. We can infer that the prosecution framed the arrangement of this interview as an indication that Arbuckle’s comments were something less than extemporaneous.

Unfortunately, Woolard’s testimony revealed little beyond what he had originally reported. At the second trial, however, he added that although Arbuckle denied hurting Rappe, he had pushed her down on the bed to keep her quiet. Arbuckle also said that there were no locked or closed doors at the party all afternoon. In regard to Maude Delmont’s description of the party being “rough,” Arbuckle responded that the only thing rough about the party was Delmont herself.

After Woolard left the stand, the jury heard Arbuckle’s first trial testimony read into the record of the second by Assistant District Attorney Leo Friedman, who was known for the insinuating tone he added to such readings.

Woolard said that he was prompted to seek out Arbuckle on September 9, 1921, hours after Rappe’s death, because he had read a San Francisco Chronicle wire that, apparently, had been written by someone who had heard Delmont’s side of the story as well as earlier comments by Arbuckle. The San Francisco reporter of these accounts was George R. Hyde. He took the stand at the third trial on March 25, 1922—just after Woolard presumably repeated much of his testimony from the second trial.

We have little to work with regarding Hyde’s testimony, only one detail emerges, that he made a long-distance telephone call to Arbuckle’s house and that someone he presumed to be Arbuckle answered his questions. Unlike Woolard, however, Hyde was asked to provide a carbon copy of his interview notes to the defense though it appears that they provided any useful revelations. That said, we must infer that either Leo Friedman or his colleague, Milton U’Ren, treated Hyde’s published interview as a de facto deposition that could be used to challenge statements Arbuckle later made under oath, such as his declaration that he was never alone with Rappe and that doors were never locked in the suite. Like so many paper cuts, the inconsistencies would not be fatal in themselves but could add up if the jury had the patience to process them.

Neither Woolard nor Hyde were cross-examined. The defense elected not to do so as not to give their stories any more time on the stand . To do otherwise risked calling attention to them, imprinting them on the jurors’ minds. Arbuckle’s lawyers did, however, argue that the two reporters’ testimony should be inadmissible. But the court allowed the testimony. It was then followed by another reading of Arbuckle’s first trial testimony on Monday, March 27 by Leo Friedman.

Inexpert witness shopping (Chicago style) and other random thoughts regarding the third Arbuckle trial

In the wake of the second Arbuckle trial, Chicago lawyer Albert Sabath told the Chicago Tribune that he intended to leave for San Francisco to take part in the upcoming third trial. Undoubtedly, he was waxing in his importance to Arbuckle’s defense. In October 1921, a month before the first trial began, Sabath had deposed a doctor and two nurses on behalf of the Arbuckle defense team, and allowed for highlights of their statements to reach the press. Given other stories out of Chicago at the time, Sabath, too, may have been looking for witnesses who could support the contention that Rappe had a child out of wedlock. San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady called this pre-trial reportage propaganda.

The first trial had been a hung jury: 10 to 2 for acquittal. The more that Rappe’s purported past was heard in court, the greater the doubt was among jury members that Arbuckle had committed a crime. If Rappe had cystitis and other gynecological complications caused by being sexually active since adolescence she would seem more of a victim of her own lifestyle. For any rumors or uncorroborated hearsay to have an effect they needed to be published before the jury was chosen. Once selected the jurors would be sequestered in a hotel and any mention of the Arbuckle case would be scissored from their copies of the San Francisco papers.

Sabath had been retained since September 1921, probably by Arbuckle’s personal lawyer, Milton Cohen, soon after Arbuckle’s arrest. Sabath was in a position to help Arbuckle. His law partner was his uncle, U.S. congressman Adolph Sabath, his father, Joseph Sabath, was a Chicago judge, and Albert was well connected in Chicago society and its underbelly given the people his law office represented. Albert Sabath likely also knew Rappe in life. Her one-time fiancé, Harry Barker, had been one of Sabath’s groomsmen at his January 1914 wedding.

Rappe had no living family and few willing to step forward to contradict anything Sabath’s witnesses said. As the Tribune put it, the defense could “tear to fragments the character of Virginia Rappe, who is dead and cannot speak in her own behalf.” Barker, a friend and business partner in the Sabath family’s real estate holdings in California before and during the Arbuckle case, would have known about some of the blank spots in Rappe’s history, which could then be creatively filled to raise doubts among the jury.

“The vote of 10 to 2 for conviction by the last jury,” Sabath said on February 7, “ended the defense polity of shielding the name of Virginia Rappe. It appears impossible to free Arbuckle and at the same time steer the testimony clear of the facts about Miss Rappe’s condition. We must show the kind of life she led. We must lay bare every shred of information on her past.”[1]

Arbuckle’s lead attorney Gavin McNab, concerned about keeping the defense under his control, declared “Sabath’s sole service for the defense is the gathering of depositions in Chicago. We know nothing of his intended visit to San Francisco or the witness he is supposed to have found. The defense counsel list will remain the same as in the two previous trials.”[2] But Sabath did arrive in San Francisco and brought with him Virginia Warren, one of the nurses he had deposed in October.

Warren’s story—or rather stories—were already being floated in the press during the third week of October 1922. But now, for the third trial, she would be groomed to take the stand.

We will discuss her again in a post marking the hundredth anniversary of her testimony. For the present, we want to editorialize briefly on the quality of Sabath’s witnesses and why McNab consented to having them deposed.

One reason was to replace Harry Barker, who had testified on behalf of Arbuckle at the first trial (see Bit Player #5: The Sweetheart). District Attorney Matthew Brady had already brought charges of perjury against two defense witnesses and was threatening to do the same to Barker, who had faced a withering cross-examination during the first trial which left him looking like a cad if not an outright liar.

To fill this void, Sabath located three more doctors to add to Dr. Maurice Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s deposition was allowed to be read at the first trial. He said he had treated Rappe for cystitis in 1913. One thing the prosecution skipped over during the cross-examination of Dr. Rosenberg’ was his role as a house physician for an infamous Chicago brothel.

An angle that Brady could exploit was that Chicago was known for corruption and organized crime and any defense witnesses from there would be easy to denounce. Arbuckle’s defense understood this as well so they had to be wary of the quality of witnesses Sabath deposed. One such case was John “Butch” Carroll, whose criminal background went back at least to an 1896 murder during a burglary attempt gone wrong.

“Butch” Carroll’ was best known for the saloons he operated on the “levee” of the Chicago River or “West Side.” These were known haunts of Chicago’s underworld, where one risked life and limb, as in the 1908 case of a salesman from Cincinnati who was killed by a stray bullet meant for another man’s wife in a domestic argument.

Carroll’s bars also offered entertainment, typically young, pretty singers wearing short skirts. His Palm Garden, at 948 W. Madison St., also featured a “house of ill repute” on the floors above. One Chicago police chief lost his job because of the payoffs that Carroll and other bar owners arranged so that no one shut them down. Chicago newspapers are rife with criminal cases in which Carroll’s name surfaces, sometimes as a defendant. What they don’t report is the names of their attorneys. Even so, one can assume they had the backing to afford the best lawyers, such as Albert Sabath’s firm.

When Sabath showed “Butch” Carroll photographs of Virginia Rappe, he recognized her. He said she sang in his bar in 1911—which would have been the Palm Garden. It was not the kind of establishment that Harry Barker described taking Rappe to during their courtship, but we can’t discount Carroll’s claim out of hand. Although Rappe wasn’t known for her voice, she could dance. Our research shows that she had an early theatrical career that would have required her to sing as well. Conversely it’s known that her mother, Mabel Rapp, a familiar face among Chicago’s demimonde, had steered her daughter away from this kind of life.

Although he identified Rappe in photographs, whatever else “Butch” Carroll added to Rappe’s history or legend is unknown. His deposition wasn’t used. But what he succeeded in doing for Sabath and for Arbuckle was further assert in newspapers that Rappe was an immoral young woman years before she arrived in the comedian’s suite in the St. Francis Hotel. Achieving the effect of tarnishing her reputation would require more than just one witness and one angle. It also required the temporal space in which to work. Sabath found 1914 to be particularly useful for it is the one year in which Rappe disappears from newspapers after her arrival from Europe in early January 1914. (The last reportage being about her dress, which exposed her underwear from the ankles to just above her knees as she danced the tango with her female companion in an ocean liner’s ballroom.) In that year Dr. Fred A. Van Arsdale claimed he delivered Rappe’s baby. Sabath also deposed two more doctors who claimed to have advised Rappe to stop drinking alcoholic beverages because of abdominal pain. Sabath also found two witnesses who attended a drinking party at which Rappe went into hysterics—rather than anything to do with obstetrics.

Another Sabath witness—or phantom witness—was Estelle Wyatt, described as a “negress” and the “widow of a preacher”. She was quoted, before boarding a train in Cincinnati for Chicago, as having “nursed” Rappe in a South Side Chicago hospital twelve years earlier. She said that Rappe was so grateful for her service that, “up until five years ago, she frequently sent her presents to show her appreciation.”[3]

We took interest in Wyatt since we, the authors, are both from Cincinnati and this is one of two connections that the Arbuckle case has to our hometown. (The other is the resting place of Albert Royal Delmont, Maude Delmont’s first husband.) People of color are mostly absent from the Arbuckle case., except for Wyatt and a contingent of African American clubwomen who had attended the preliminary investigation and may have attended Arbuckle’s subsequent trials. Also, as we noted in a previous blog entry, Virginia Warren was possibly an African American who passed for white given her census data.

Mrs. Wyatt, however, doesn’t have a verifiable Chicago connection and that would make “her” claim about Virginia Rappe suspect. But Wyatt’s existence isn’t. An Estelle Wyatt lived in Cincinnati in 1922 given her real estate transactions in College Hill, which is still a largely middle-class African American suburb a century later. She was a widow according to U.S. Census records from 1930 onward. Her occupations were listed as nursemaid (1930) and seamstress (1940). Her two sons were born in Ohio in 1911 and ’13, respectively and their World War II draft cards indicate Cincinnati as their birthplace.

Our reason for the “scare quotes” is the possibility that the identical stories published in hundreds of newspapers about her leaving Cincinnati to be deposed in Chicago was likely planted—perhaps without her knowledge, consent, or the payoffs that Matthew Brady believed were used to create the battery of Chicago witnesses and depositions he faced.[4]

Photomontage of Roscoe Arbuckle pouring himself (or a revenant Virginia Rappe) a glass of gin, ca. 1921 (Calisphere)

[1] The original wire story appeared variously credited to the Associated Press, Hearst International News Service and the Chicago Tribune-New York Times, idated February 7, 1922.

[2] “New Artuckle Case Witness,” Salt Lake Tribune, 9 February 1922, 14.

[3] “Negro Woman Going to Testify Behalf ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle: Negress Says She Nursed Virginia Rappe and That Actress Grateful,” York Daily News-Times, 11 March 1921, 1. This is just one example of many.

[4] An Illinois state attorney and commissioner were present for Sabath’s depositions. We are currently investigating the possibility that these still exist in the state’s archives.

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.

Document Dump #7: Ernestine Black on Maude Delmont

[Ernestine Wollenberg Black (1881–1970) was the daughter of the San Francisco merchant Louis Wollenberg and his wife Fanny, both German Jewish immigrants, and the widow of another San Francisco journalist, Orlow “Orin” Black.

Black was also a suffragist, feminist, and a conspicuous member of Noël Sullivan’s progressive circle in San Francisco during the first half of the twentieth century. She is conspicuously absent from the Arbuckle canon. The reason, perhaps, is that she is the only journalist to sympathize with Maude Delmont and wrote one of the first profiles about her early in the Arbuckle case.

No stranger to covering unpopular people and issues, Black is most often cited today for her interview with the actress–director Lois Weber, who championed birth control in her controversial film Where Are My Children? (1916).]

MRS. DELMONT IN COURT AT TRIAL OF “FATTY”

By Ernestine Black

A tall, slender, distinguished looking woman slipped into Judge Harold Louderback’s court this morning and from an inconspicuous seat in the rear of the room listened to the case of The People vs. Roscoe Arbuckle. The woman was none other than Mrs. Bambino Maud Delmont, who signed the complaint charging Arbuckle with murdering Virginia Rappe.

Whether Mrs. Delmont would be called as a witness has been the outstanding interrogation that has punctuated every article written on the case, has harassed the district attorney’s office, and has been asked wherever people gather to discuss the fate of the one-time film comedian.

The answer to that important question lay folded in the brown hand bag of the woman, who softly glided into court room this morning and, observed by few, sat down to get her first impression of the scene in which she is cast to play the role of complaining witness against the man who was once her host at an ill-fated party.

SHE WATCHES M’NAB[1]

In that bag was folded the subpoena which the prosecution had just served upon Bambino Maud Delmont. That subpoena settles the question of her appearance in the legal drama upon which the curtain has just gone up.

Gavin McNab, chief of counsel for Arbuckle, held Mrs. Delmont’s closest attention.

His cross-examination of prospective jurors; his brilliant tactics; his clever thrusts at the opposing counsel and at the vigilant committee were not lost upon Mrs. Delmont. When she goes on the witness stand, she, too, will be the target for all the heavy guns, arrows and dum-dum bullets that Gavin McNab has in his arsenal.

Small wonder that she listened with intent and appreciative interest.

And in a lull in the proceedings she whispered, “he is a wonder—isn’t he? This is not the first time that I’ve seen him. When I read in the papers that Gavin McNab had agreed to act as counsel for Arbuckle because he believed Arbuckle was innocent, I went to his office to see Mr. McNab.[2]

“He did not know that I was coming.

TALK WITH DEFENSE

“‘Mr. McNab.’ I said, ‘If you know that Arbuckle is innocent, I would like to have you tell me on what you base such a conclusion.’

“Mr. McNab answered: ‘Mrs. Delmont you surely must appreciate the fact that you and I cannot discuss this case!’”

The prosecution continued its interrogation of the juror and there was no opportunity for further conversation with Mrs. Delmont. But there was ample opportunity for her to study the judge, the counsel on both sides and the prospective jurors. Three women sat in the jury box when Mrs. Delmont entered. Three women were there when she left, as quietly and unobserved as she came.

3 WOMEN IN BOX

But they were not the same three. One woman juror was excused during the time that Mrs. Delmont sat in the court room. In the process of eliminating that juror was revealed much of the tactics that Bambino Maud Delmont may expect from the counsel on both sides.

Imperturbable, undisturbed, her one time shattered nerves evidently under, perfect control, Mrs. Delmont glided out just as Louise E. Winterburn. the first unmarried woman called into the jury box. took her seat.

Source: San Francisco Call, 17 November 1921, 2.

Gavin McNab and future client Charlie Chaplin (Private collection)

[1] Common S.F. newspaper abbreviation for Gavin McNab.

[2] Delmont probably means during the second week of October 1921. Another journalist who saw her in the courtroom, Colin Spangler of the Los Angeles Evening Express, inferred that she meant a more recent encounter during the first week of the trial.

100 Years Ago Today: Maude Delmont Is marginalized, September 27, 1921

On Tuesday morning, September 27—the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Fire—the Women’s Court reconvened. The anticipation to hear Maude Delmont on the stand was palpable in Judge Lazarus’ courtroom. Bold, breathless headlines and above-the-fold stories still appeared in the dailies. But already other stories were commanding attention, bread-and-butter issues such as the railroad unions threatening a nationwide strike and a postwar economy still in a recession. The Ku Klux Klan’s growing popularity continued to divide Americans by race, nationality, and religion.

The first two witnesses that day, Zey Prevost and Alice Blake, gave testimony that Arbuckle was present when Virginia Rappe said, “He hurt me.” The third was the chambermaid, a Polish immigrant named Josephine Keza, who had been working the twelfth floor on the day of Arbuckle’s Labor Day party.

From the corridor, she claimed to have heard a woman pleading for someone stop and a man’s voice gruffly ordering her to shut up. Keza, a surprise witness, took Arbuckle’s lawyer, Frank Dominguez, by surprise. He had hoped to cross-examine Maude Delmont and use the “proof” he had, in the form of letters, that she was a blackmailer and intended to blackmail his client.

The next day, when Dominguez was offered the opportunity to call Maude Delmont as a witness. He famously declined and observers at the time believed he had squandered an opportunity to have the case dismissed. [Editor’s note: the alleged letters have never surfaced nor have any arrest records that indicate Delmont was involved in these kinds of schemes.]

It was a victory of sorts for Dominguez. Arbuckle’s murder charge was dropped in favor of duplicate manslaughter charges. But Dominguez soon resigned from the defense team.

His successor, Gavin McNab, didn’t use the extortion angle or any of the evidence Dominguez’s investigators had found on Delmont. Blackmail wasn’t even mentioned when Maude Delmont reappeared in November, subpoenaed as a witness for the first Arbuckle trial but never called.

Although marginalized, she didn’t go quietly. Delmont allegedly confronted McNab in his office in San Francisco’s Merchants Exchange Building, She also attended the first Arbuckle trial—once in the company of a reporter from the San Francisco Call—and participated on the sidelines until her arrest on a charge of bigamy in December.

The Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco, the nerve center of Arbuckle’s defense team from October 1921 until April 1922 (Private collection)

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 Years 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.