The rotund comedian threw the party to celebrate his recent signing of a million dollar contract with Paramount.
With the party in full swing, Rappe became ill in Arbuckle’s hotel room. The actor claimed to have found her when he went to change his clothes. He called for a doctor, who concluded that Rappe was merely drunk.
Rappe continued to be ill for a further three days before she finally attended hospital. By then it was too late, and Rappe died of peritonitis from a ruptured bladder.
Party guest Bambina Maude Delmont pointed the finger at Arbuckle, saying that Rappe had told her that “Roscoe hurt me.” On the back of those allegations, Arbuckle was arrested and tried for Rappe’s death.
One theory held that Arbuckle had raped Rappe, and that his 300 lb weight caused internal injuries that proved fatal. A second theory was that Arbuckle inflicted a violent sexual attack on Rappe with a bottle.
Arbuckle went through three trials for manslaughter, two hung juries and a vicious media circus before he was finally acquitted. The third and final jury even apologized to the star as there was not a shred of evidence indicating his guilt.
Rappe, it transpired, may not have even been a victim of murder; instead she may have suffered cystitis exacerbated by alcohol, endured an illegal abortion, or even carried a venereal disease that caused the peritonitis that killed her. Despite the acquittal, Arbuckle’s movie career was ruined by the scandal. After years of struggling to find work, he died peacefully in his sleep in 1933.