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Fatty and Duke

The tale of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle has some eerie similarities to the Duke lacrosse scandal.

12:00 AM, Jul 21, 2006 • By JAMES THAYER
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The physical evidence then: The prosecution argued that Arbuckle's weight (somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds) burst Virginia Rappe's bladder during the rape. Yet the defense lawyers showed that such an occurrence--a bladder bursting from this kind of external force--was almost an impossibility. The defense also introduced evidence showing that syphilis or cancer could have cause the rupture, as could coughing, sneezing or vomiting. In Frame-Up, Andy Edmonds writes that Dr. William Ophuls was called by the prosecution and Dr. G. Rusk by the defense, and both agreed that "the bladder was ruptured, that there was evidence of chronic inflammation, that there were signs of acute peritonitis, and that the examination failed to reveal any pathological change in the vicinity of the tear preceding the rupture. In short--the rupture was not caused by external force."

The physical evidence now: The nurse-in-training found the Duke accuser's body to be normal, with no bruises, Newsweek reports based on medical documents quoted in defense pleadings. The nurse determined the accuser had swelling in her vaginal walls, which can be caused by normal intercourse. Fox News has said the victim acknowledged having intercourse with three men before the party. The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus reports that the accuser told police she had performed using a vibrator several hours earlier, which could also have caused the swelling.

Reviewing this and other evidence, Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Susannah Meadows conclude the district attorney "had very little evidence upon which to indict three players for rape." On April 10, results of the DNA tests taken of 46 Duke lacrosse players revealed no connection between the players and the accuser.

Arbuckle's first trial resulted in a hung jury. So did the second trial. At the end of the third trial, the jury deliberated only six minutes, during which time they wrote an apology to Arbuckle which said, "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. . . . There was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. . . . We wish him success. . ."

It wasn't to be. Buster Keaton never deserted his friend Fatty Arbuckle, and in the years ahead gave him a few directing jobs, which Arbuckle did under a pseudonym. But Arbuckle never reclaimed any of the glitter or the money or his reputation. He died June 29, 1933 at age 46, of heart failure, the medical examiner concluded. Buster Keaton was more accurate: "He died of a broken heart."

No one knows how it will end for the Duke lacrosse players.

James Thayer is a frequent contributor to The Daily Standard. His twelfth novel, The Gold Swan, has been published by Simon & Schuster.