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Tyson's rape trial brings recollections of a famous Region

Tyson's rape trial brings recollections of a famous Region

The recent date-rape case involving a well-known athlete (Mike Tyson) and a

popular young woman (a Miss Black America contestant), although dissimilar in

details and consequences, calls up echoes of a Region date-rape that

reverberated across the nation and forever trashed whatever Gary's claim to

being "the" model city.

Virgil Kirkland had been a renowned football hero at Gary Horace Mann,

worshipped throughout town like a god. As a senior in 1928, he found his way to

Gary Mill Gardens in Miller Beach, where he met and danced with Arlene "Babe"

Draves, a sophomore at Emerson High and one of his idolizers.

Because Babe's parents did not permit her to date, Virgil did not seriously

follow up this chance meeting. He did, however, meet her accidentally a few

times, and when he was hospitalized by a football injury, she visited him in

the hospital.

After Virgil recovered, he returned to school only to be expelled for

"immoral conduct." He found a job in the mill. Meanwhile, the vivacious,

talented, morally upright Babe became highly popular at Emerson and, as a

senior, even starred in the "Spice and Variety" show. Virgil did not renew

contact with Gary's answer to Betty Coed until she graduated and moved to the

home of her married sister.

By then, Babe had informally become engaged. Nevertheless, Virgil took Babe

to a few parties, enjoyed the dates and, at one point, said he was going to

marry Babe. But Virgil also suffered first a malady whose first syllable is

blue, and vowed to friends that there would soon be changes made since he was

not "getting anything off Babe."

On their next date, Nov. 29, 1930, Virgil took Babe to a party in Glen Park,

where he had enough drinks to become high but not drunk, and she, not being a

drinker of hard liquor, only nursed a glass of wine. About 11 p.m., Virgil

steered Babe out onto the front porch, where they were soon joined by another

couple.

Virgil sat with Babe on a small sofa, and spoke to her in a way that caused

her to argue and plead that he take her home. Virgil greeted this prayer by

decking her. When the male half of the other couple on the porch went to help

her, Virgil said it was only a lover's spat and invited him to mind his own

business.

Rebuffed, Virgil then collected four friends, all former high school

athletic heroes, and suggested they all go for something to eat. On the way,

Virgil, who was in the back seat with Babe, ordered the driver to stop near

43rd and Connecticut. There he raped Babe. He then invited the others to do

likewise, and they did.

An hour later, the heroes returned to the party, joked about Babe who had

been left in the car, limp, motionless and naked from the hips down. After

refueling at the party, the heroes then returned to the car and, those not

turned off at the sight of a battered Babe or prevented by alcohol to achieve

an erection, raped her again. In all, Virgil himself raped Babe three times.

After the party, one young woman found a mussed-up Babe in the back seat of

the car, cold. Virgil called the young woman a busybody and shooed her away. He

then wrapped Babe in a coat and left with six friends, dropping off four of

them, and tooling around Gary with the other two.

Finally, at 3 a.m., since Babe had not come out of her long stupor, Virgil

took her to Dr. R.O. Wharton. When the doctor pronounced Babe dead, Virgil and

his two fellow heroes bugged out.

Wharton grabbed his revolver and chased after them, shouting "Halt!" When

they didn't, he fired at the auto as it disappeared in the night. Virgil drove

to Babe's house and reported that his date had fallen and killed herself.

Babe's brother-in-law phoned the police.

During an autopsy at the city morgue, Coroner Chester A. Owen and Dr. James

Burcharn noted two dozen cuts and bruises on Babe's forehead, chin, neck, face,

elbows, breasts and knees, and a goose-egg blood clot on her head. She had died

not long after midnight, they concluded, from an intracranial hemorrhage and

from shock induced by criminal attacks. Right there, Virgil confessed to rape,

as later did the other four heroes.

News of the murder shocked the city as nothing ever had, especially since

the five rapist-murderers had been sports heroes and one was the fire chief's

son. The local paper blamed the tragedy on hootch and Prohibition, as did a

defense lawyer and Virgil's mother. A Chicago newspaper implied that Babe was a

loose woman, that police had illegally obtained confessions, that drinking

among Gary students was a problem "of staggering proportions," and that Gary

had taken on a lynch mob mentality.

When the rumor of poisonous hootch proved false, the local paper thumped for

better parental control. Mayor R.O. Johnson renewed a vow to dry up Gary. And

school Superintendent William A. Wirt blasted newspapers that suggested the

partygoers were students, righteously pointing out that Virgil had been kicked

out of school.

On Dec. 9, 1930, a grand jury indicted the five defendants for assault,

criminal attack and murder. After a change of venue to Valparaiso, the "Whoopie

Trial," as the press delicately dubbed it, began Feb. 23, 1931.

In Valparaiso, where the case had been venued, Circuit Court Judge Grant

Crumpacker disallowed the confession, while the defense tried Babe's morals and

found them wanting. Nevertheless, Lake County Prosecutor Robert G. Estill won a

guilty verdict.

A month later, Crumpacker threw out the verdict. In the second trial,

Crumpacker neglected to instruct the jury in nuances of the law, and it found

Virgil guilty of a charge the jury thought carried the death penalty.

Crumpacker sentenced Virgil to one to 10 years.

Estill said, "I guess we may as well give the others medals and turn them

loose." In fact, he did drop the charges. While Babe's brother swore vengeance,

state Sen. C. Oliver Holmes called the trials "the greatest tragic-comic farce

in the history of Indiana courts."

On Aug. 27, 1937, conditioned on never returning to Lake County, a paroled

Virgil Kirkland walked out of Pendleton a free man.

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