Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

The Faty Arbuckle Scandal

The young film industry had suffered more than its share of bad publicity just before Taylor's death. Two incidents in particular had caused much public outrage.

Fatty Arbuckle
Fatty Arbuckle

The first was the infamous affair of Fatty Arbuckle and the sadly named Virginia Rappé. Arbuckle was a film comedian whose talent had delighted audiences for years. Rappé died at a party Arbuckle was giving at his home. The comedian was arrested and charged with raping her in a way that caused her death. The prosecutor theorized rape by the overweight actor had ruptured the young woman's bladder. A rumor circulated that Arbuckle had raped her with either a Coca-Cola bottle or a champagne bottle although this sensational charge was not made in court.

On the last day of Taylor's life, he may well have read an article about Arbuckle's manslaughter trial in his own daily newspaper.

Screaming newspaper headlines like 'Torture of Virginia Rappé Charged' and 'ARBUCKLE DRAGGED RAPPÉ GIRL TO ROOM, WOMAN TESTIFIES' biased much of the public against Arbuckle.

The president of the Federation of Women's Clubs, Jennie Partridge, said, "It is a disgrace that any girl should have to suffer from this man's ruthlessness. Arbuckle should be made to suffer." Vigilantes attacked theaters showing Arbuckle films.

Arbuckle was tried three times. The first two trials resulted in hung juries. The third jury acquitted him and its foreman read out a special apology to the defendant for "the great injustice that has been done him."

Most people who have examined the case believe that Arbuckle was innocent. It appears that Rappé had gonorrhea and an infected bladder. The ill effects of an illegal abortion may have also contributed to her tragic demise.

Despite the acquittal and ample evidence to show the case against him was fabricated, Arbuckle's career was irretrievably shattered. As the New York Times wrote, "Arbuckle has become, through mischance, a symbol of all the vice that has been indulged in by movie people."

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