Expert Witness for the Defence: The connection between “Fatty” Arbuckle and the 18th Battalion

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The front page of the December 1, 1921 of The Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah had numerous important news stories on that day. A British native force on the Afghan frontier was massacred, along with two of the British officers commanding it. Vienna, Austria is subject to bread riots due to the rising price of bread. Another story, that presaged the American entry into the Second World War, almost to the day twenty years later, related how Baron Admiral Kato, of the Imperial Japanese Navy, stated that the American desire of a 60% ratio of naval ship tonnage for Japan compared to 100% for the United States and the United Kingdom proposed by the Americans and British                would not guarantee Japan’s security and that a ratio of 70% would. In a related story, France has determined that, in effect, Germany is in receivership and that allows her, under the Versailles Treaty, to seize German assets in the Rhine Industrial Area. Three Doukhobors, who wished admittance into the United States stripped naked in the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Vancouver, British Columbia.

One story was front and center under the banner headline: The Trial of Fatty Arbuckle.

Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle Circa 1916. Source: Wikipedia.

Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887 – 1933) was an American silent film actor who had been discovered by Sid Grauman who encouraged and promoted Arbuckle’s singing at the Unique Theater in San Francisco. Arbuckle parlayed this exposure with his talent and established and travelling vaudeville troupe, eventually travelling to China and Japan on a performance tour, returning to American in 1909. At that time, he began is career in film as a comedian, eventually commanding a $1,000 a day plus 25% of the film profits with complete artistic control in 1914 and then four years later singing a 3-year $3,000,000 contract in 1918. This contract would be worth $48,000,000 in 2016 adjusted dollars.

On September 5, 1921 Arbuckle and some associated took rooms at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Having come off a grueling film production studio it appears that the party wanted to relax and celebrate and during the events of that night Virginia Rappe took ill and eventually died from perontitis. It was alleged that Arbuckle had raped Rappe and, due to his heavy body weight, the violent sexual intercourse ruptured her bladder, leading to her death. Other, sordid, accusation emerged later and the police charged Arbuckle with manslaughter.

The trial led to a media feeding frenzy. Yellow journalism sensationalized the trial and news stories were printed with daily account of the trial and its participants. William Randolph Hearst stated that this story, “…sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania.”

Suite 1221 of St. Francis Hotel shortly after Arbuckle’s party.

A large part of the tactics of the trial for the defence and prosecution was to discredit witness.

A former captain of the 18th Battalion. CEF, was one of those witnesses.

Source: San Francisco Call. June 6 1919.

Theodore Oswald Hampton Rayward was that man. He was born in Melbourne, Australia on June 14, 1891 and appears to have immigrated to San Francisco, California at some time prior to his enlistment in the CEF. He enlisted at Windsor, Ontario with the 18th Battalion on October 22, 1914 and indicated prior military experience with the 21st Regiment, Essex Fusiliers.

A news story published in June 1917 connects Captain Rayward with San Francisco and Windsor, Ontario:


Theodore H. O. Rayward, now a Captain in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

Theodore Hampton Oswald Rayward known by his classmate and friends of the class of [possibly year] Lowell High School… has just received his commission as a Captain in the Canadian Expeditionary Force now In France. Young Rayward who was born In Australia came to this city when quite young and received his education in the public high schools…He left San Francisco to take a position with the Hercules Powder Company in Chicago and at the outbreak of the war he went to Windsor Canada where he enlisted In the Eighteenth [Battalion].

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 1917.

Lowell High School, San Francisco, 1917. Source: Wikipedia.

With Captain Rayward’s established connection with San Francisco he was called as an expert witness on the Canadian military presence in France during the First World war:

“Captain Theodore Rayward of the Canadian expeditionary forces testified at the manslaughter trial of Roscoe C. (Fatty) Arbuckle today in refutation of defense testimony by Mrs. Rene Morgan, war nurse, that she was connected with the Canadian forces.

Mrs. Morgan testified that she attended Miss Virginia Rappe, whose death was made the basis of the trial. The testimony was a continuation of prosecution rebuttal.

Mrs. Morgan said on the stat that she had been affiliated with the “Fifth Company” in the Canadian hospital service at the front.

Rayward testified that there was no “Fifth Company.”

Mrs. Morgan said also that she served in the battle of the Marne[i] during 1917. Rayward said the battle was in 1918.”

Source: The Deseret News. December 1, 1921. Page 1.

The claim made by Mrs./Miss Morgan that she was a nurse with the Canadian Forces was not able to be fully explored as she went missing:

“To fill in the interim, Miss[ii] Rene Morgan, South Pasadena nurse and defence witness was called for further examination. She could not be found…”

Source: The Bisbee Daily Review. November 29, 1921. Page 5.

Whatever the impact of the testimony of Captain Rayward, the Arbuckle trial, the first of three, was to result in a deadlocked jury and a mistrial was declared.

One of the most sensational trials in American history during the “Roaring Twenties” is directly connected to on the the men of the 18th Battalion. It is barely a side note in history but it is apparent that Captain Rayward was sought out to testify in one of the trials that would ruin “Fatty” Arbuckle’s career. He was never convicted, but the publicity of this trial wound end his career.

Fatty Arbucke and Buster Keaton Out West
Arbuckle’s nephew Al St. John (right) with Buster Keaton and Arbuckle in Out West (1918). Source: Wikipedia.


[i] There were two Battles of the Marne. The first, from September 6 to 10, 1914 and the second from July 15 to August 6, 1918.

[ii] The previous news article uses Mrs. as the honorific for the witness. It is not known which honorific is correct. A search for a nursing sister with the surname “Morgan” did not find any records.

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