7 Unusual Celebrity Deaths from the 1920s

7 Unusual Celebrity Deaths from the 1920s

Back in the 1920s, before social media and constant gossip, it was easier for celebrities to keep secrets even after their deaths. When a celebrity passed away, we didn’t know as much about what happened, leaving many deaths surrounded by mystery and disbelief. Here are some of the strangest celebrity deaths from that era.

Thomas Ince

After producing over 800 films, Thomas Ince earned the moniker “Father of the Western.” His reported death in 1924 at the age of 44 was reportedly due to heart failure. However, questions remain about what truly happened to him.

According to initial reports, Ince became seriously ill while aboard media magnate William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. His wife, son, and physician all agreed that heart disease was the cause.

Thomas Ince photo
Pictured: Thomas Ince

Nevertheless, rumors began to circulate. Some claimed that Hearst shot Ince in the head after mistaking him for Charlie Chaplin, who was also present on the ship and allegedly involved in scandalous activities with Hearst’s mistress. Hearst was then believed to have used his newspapers to cover up the incident. There’s no evidence to confirm that the murder story actually happened, but it’s still a topic of discussion in Hollywood history.

Virginia Rappe

Virginia Rappe is best known for her sensational Hollywood death. On September 5, 1921, the 30-year-old model and actress attended a party hosted by the well-known actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Rappe became seriously ill during the event, which took place in a San Francisco hotel. Doctors identified her condition as drunkenness and gave morphine to relieve pain and calm her nerves. Nonetheless, four days afterward, Rappe passed away due to a ruptured bladder and peritonitis.

Despite Rappe’s history of bladder problems worsened by alcohol consumption, speculation arose that her death was the result of a sexual assault, with Arbuckle the prime suspect due to his notorious drinking habits.

Virginia Rappe photo
Pictured: Virginia Rappe

The police concluded that Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s significant weight caused Virginia Rappe’s bladder rupture during an alleged assault. However, medical examinations did not support allegations of rape. The trial made headlines, with two trials ending without a verdict before Arbuckle was finally found not guilty. The jury determined that Arbuckle did nothing wrong and that there was no evidence linking him to a crime.

William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor was discovered dead in his Los Angeles home on February 1, 1922, from a gunshot wound to the back. This incident sparked a nationwide interest in his murder, which remains unsolved to this day.

Taylor, a well-known actor and director with 59 silent film credits, owned a modest $78, as well as personal items such as a silver cigarette case, a pocket watch, and a locket containing a photograph of Mabel Normand, an actress with whom he was associated. In addition, he wore a valuable two-carat diamond ring.

William Desmond Taylor photo
Pictured: William Desmond Taylor

Several people were considered suspects in the case, including Taylor’s valet and cook, who had a history of stealing from him; Normand, whom Taylor was rumored to be romantically involved with and who was the last person to see him alive (her connections to cocaine suppliers raised further suspicions); Mary Miles Minter, a young actress with romantic feelings for Taylor; and even Minter’s mother.

In an unusual turn of events, actress Margaret Gibson allegedly confessed to Taylor’s murder on her deathbed in 1964.

Martha Mansfield

Martha Mansfield started acting when she was 18 and became famous quickly. She even performed with the Ziegfeld Follies for a while before moving to Hollywood to act in movies. She was in successful films like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with John Barrymore in 1920.

Martha Mansfield photo
Pictured: Martha Mansfield

Three years later, while filming “The Warrens of Virginia” in San Antonio, Texas, a cast member accidentally threw a match. It set fire to Mansfield’s big dress, which had hoop-skirts and lots of fabric layers. Even though the fire was extinguished before it reached Mansfield’s face and neck, she was taken to a nearby hospital. Sadly, she passed away less than 24 hours later. She was only 24-years-old when she died.

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman spent his entire baseball career as a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. Though he had a good career, he’s best known for how he died.

Ray Chapman photo
Pictured: Ray Chapman

On August 17, 1920, during a game against the New York Yankees, Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays. Sadly, Chapman passed away 12 hours later. Mays said that the hit was so strong, it sounded like the ball had hit Chapman’s bat. He didn’t realize Chapman was injured and continued to play. This incident is the only one in baseball history where a player died from injuries during a game.

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan was a famous dancer who popularized modern dance. She performed throughout Europe and later in New York City. Duncan was known for her unusual behaviors, including an incident in which she bared her breasts during a performance in Boston. She was frequently seen wearing long, flowing scarves.

Isadora Duncan photo
Pictured: Isadora Duncan

Duncan died tragically on September 14, 1927, in Nice, France, after one of her signature scarves became entangled in the open-spoked wheel of the car she was riding in, resulting in a fatal neck injury. The New York Times reported her death as a “tragic accident,” stating that she was “hurled in an extraordinary manner” from the vehicle, leading to her instant death upon impact with the stone pavement.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini, the world’s most famous magician, wowed audiences with his spectacular escape acts from 1891 until his tragic death in 1926 at the age of 52. The official cause of death was recorded as peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix.

Harry Houdini photo
Pictured: Harry Houdini

Many people believed J. Gordon Whitehead, a student who surprised Houdini by punching him in the stomach several times after a performance, was responsible for the injury. Whitehead asked Houdini if he could really take any punch in the stomach. Houdini said yes, not thinking Whitehead would actually try it. After being punched, Houdini was in pain but still traveled for a few days. Eventually, the pain became too much, and he died in a Detroit hospital on October 31st.