Virginia Rappe ~ Her Life & Tragic Death

Virginia Rappe

Virginia Rappe was a talented actress who became a household name after Fatty Arbuckle was accused of killing her.

She was born Virginia Caroline Rapp in Chicago, Illinois on July 7, 1891. Virginia never knew her father who was rumored to be a wealthy man. Her mother, Mabel Rapp, was a model and chorus girl. She was known as the "Queen of Chicago's Chinatown." Mabel struggled with being a single mother and was arrested in 1898 for writing bad checks. Soon after they moved to New York City. Tragically Mabel died in 1903 leaving twelve year old Virginia to be raised by her grandmother. She took dance lessons and loved going to the movies. Virginia grew into a beautiful young woman and began modeling at the age of sixteen. She was five feet five inches tall with dark hair and a voluptuous figure. As a fashion model she traveled around the world earning more than $4,000 a year. She also appeared on the sheet music for the popular song "Let Me Call You Sweetheart".

Virginia Rappe 1908
Virginia in 1908 

Virginia RappeVirginia Rappe

Virginia started dating Harry Barker, a Chicago real estate developer, in 1910. He described her as "high spirited and full of fun.". They broke up and she was briefly engaged to a sculptor named John Sample. She went to New York City in 1913 to star in a play by Lew Fields. After several weeks of rehearsal she quit so she could go on a trip to Europe. In 1914 she moved to San Francisco and started a new career designing clothes. Virginia was a modern woman who wore tuxedo dresses and said she wanted to have "equal clothes rights with men". She was engaged to Albert d'Aklaine, an Argentinian millionaire, but broke up with him because he was too old. Then she became engaged to dress designer Robert Moscovitz. She said "He's the most considerate man I ever knew." Before they could be married Robert was killed in a streetcar accident. Devastated by his death she went to New York and worked as an extra in films. Virginia moved to Los Angeles in 1917 and rented a home at 504 N. Wilton Place.

Virginia Rappe 1914
Virginia in 1914 

Virginia RappeVirginia Rappe With Her Dog
                                                                                                                  With her dog Jeff

 She quickly landed a role in the comedy Paradise Garden. Next she costarred with a young Rudolph Valentino in The Isle Of Love. She fell in love with writer and director Henry Lehrman in 1918. He cast her in five of his films including His Musical Sneeze and A Twilight Baby. The former fashion designer was now called  "The Best Dressed Girl in Pictures". Virginia was a homebody who often went to bed before 9:00 PM. She loved to go hiking and spent most of her time with her beloved bulldog Jeff. Unfortunately she had a drinking problem and when she got drunk she started acting erratically. She also suffered from a chronic bladder infection which caused her a lot of pain. Virginia and Henry had a volatile relationship and she was frustrated with his refusal to marry her. They broke up in the Spring of 1921 and she moved in with her close friend Kate Hardebeck. In July she had an operation to remove an abscess from her leg. Just a few months later she would be dead at the young age of thirty.

Virginia Rappe

Virginia Rappe Fatty Arbuckle
Virginia & Fatty Arbuckle

On September 5, 1921 Virginia attended a wild Labor Day party at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco. She had driven up to San Francisco with screenwriter Alfred Semnacher and his friend Maude Delmont. The party was hosted by comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Virginia and Fatty had known each other for several years but she told people she didn't like him. She wore an ivory silk top and jade skirt she made herself along with black stockings and a panama hat. They arrived at the party at noon and Virginia spent three hours dancing and drinking orange gin blossoms. She and Fatty ended up alone in suite 1219 around 3:00 PM. They may have had a sexual encounter. Thirty minutes later Maude found her lying on a bed moaning in severe pain. Virginia cried out "I'm dying".

Suite 1219 At The St. Francis Hotel
Suite 1219 at the St. Francis after the party

Fatty Arbuckle Mug Shot
Fatty Arbuckle's Mug Shot                                                                         Fatty at the St. Francis hotel

Several guests carried her to the bathroom to give her a cold bath. Then Maude began massaging her with ice. The hotel doctor came to the room to examine her. He diagnosed her as being very drunk and gave her morphine. Virginia spent the next four days at the hotel suffering from severe abdominal pain and unable to urinate. She was taken care of by three nurses. One of the nurses, Jean Jameson, said Virginia told her she had "internal trouble for six weeks" and kept asking if she had been assaulted. She was finally taken to Wakefield Sanitarium where she told a friend "To think that I've led such a quiet life and that I should have gotten into such a party." Virginia died on September 9 at the young age of thirty. The official cause of death was a ruptured bladder caused by peritonitis.

Virginia Rappe DeadVirginia Rappe Dead
 Virginia dead in the morgue

Virginia Rappe's Clothes
The ivory top she was wearing at the party

It was Maude Delmont who first told police that Fatty Arbuckle had sexually assaulted Virginia. Al Semnacher told the grand jury that Virginia said "Roscoe hurt me". Stories began to circulate that the overweight comedian had raped her with a champagne bottle. Fatty was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He denied having sex with her and said he found her throwing up in the bathroom. During his three headline making trials the defense trashed Virginia's reputation. They falsely claimed she was a promiscuous, alcoholic party girl. None of the witnesses were able to explain exactly what caused her internal injuries. She had suffered from cystitis, an acute bladder infection, since 1913. According to medical experts a ruptured bladder is usually caused by "blunt abdominal trauma". Is it possible that Fatty, who weighed more than 250 pounds, had accidentally injured her during consensual sex?

Alfred SemnacherAlfred Semnacher Virginia Rappe Testimony
Alfred Semnacher  (left) claimed Virginia said "Roscoe hurt me"

Maude Delmont
Maude Delmont

Maude Delmont never testified at the trials because she had a history of fraud and bigamy. Some people believe Maude made up the story about Virginia's rape so she cold extort money from Fatty. Al Semnacher did testify for the prosecution. However he changed his story and denied Virginia said anything to him about Fatty hurting her. After two mistrials Fatty Arbuckle was acquitted of all charges but his career and reputation were destroyed. He would die from a heart attack in 1933. Virginia was buried at Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles. More than 8,000 people attended her funeral including actress Mildred Harris. She was buried wearing a white dress and her casket was covered in her favorite tiger lilies. Her beloved dog Jeff was so devastated by her death that he stopped eating. Some fans who have visited Virginia's grave claim they have heard her ghost crying.

 

Virginia Rappe CasketVirginia Rappe Casket
Virginia's casket

Virginia Rappe's Dog Jeff
Virginia's dog Jeff