Nurse Rita Stapleton, a native from Bluefield, West Virginia, arrived in Springfield in late 1975 and started working at Cedars where she began dating new intern Dr. Tim Ryan. However, Rita had competition for Tim from her friend Nurse Pam Chandler. Eventually realizing how much of a crush Pam had on Tim, Rita bowed out. However, Tim would still not leave Rita alone, even though she did her best to get him interested in her friend, Pam; going as far as setting them up on a date. Then Rita's sister, Eve, came for a visit from Bluefield and Tim became attracted to Eve. Soon, the wild Tim continued to date Rita, while also dating Eve. When Eve found out that Tim was interested in Rita, she blamed her sister for leading Tim on; until Rita was able to trick Tim into showing what a leach, of a man, he could be in front of Eve. By this time, in 1976, Eve got disgusted and promised not to return to Springfield ever again. At this time, Dr. Ed Bauer’s marriage to the immature Holly was just about over, especially, after Ed learned that baby Chrissie wasn't his biological daughter, but was Roger Thorpe's biological child!
Betrayed by Holly, Ed was open to Rita's charms and they started dating. It was around this time that Rita received a call from Eve and learned that their mother, Viola, had started to have dizzy spells and Rita convinced Evie to move to Springfield with Viola to be treated at Cedars. Days later, intercepting a phone call from Holly to Ed, Rita learned from Ed that Viola had a cyst in her brain and that's what caused her dizzy spells. Rita was devastated and Ed comforted her by assuring her that the doctors at Cedars would help her. Thankfully, Viola would wind up making a complete recovery. Meanwhile, Ed and Rita would fall in love. Through all of this, Viola wondered why Rita wouldn't talk about her time in Texas, when she worked at the Granger ranch. Viola and the rest of Springfield were about to find out the answer to this question. Once the private nurse of wealthy Texan Cyrus Granger, who died in 1975, Rita inherited a hefty inheritance and was accused by Granger's son, Malcolm, of murder. Though there was no evidence to implicate her in Granger's murder, Malcolm continued to harass her. Malcolm followed Rita to Springfield and when Rita and Malcolm were having an argument at Cedars, Malcolm had a heart attack and became a patient of Dr. Justin Marler's. One night, Malcolm's call button went off and when other nurses arrived, Malcolm was already dead from a heart attack. For a while, Rita was under suspicion for causing Malcolm's fatal heart attack.
Because of the accusations Malcolm made about Rita killing his father, Cyrus, the Granger family attorney, Raymond Shafer, officially requested for the hospital review board to bring Rita up on charges. Though, Rita was eventually cleared of Malcolm’s death, she was then placed on trial for the death of his father, Cyrus. Ed stuck with Rita throughout off of this and, finally, proposed marriage. During the trial it became clear that Rita was hiding something but she refused to answer questions about her time in Texas. Though the case looked bleak against Rita, Roger Thorpe stepped up at the 11th hour and confessed that at the time Cyrus died, Roger and Rita were together making love. While Roger's confession helped to exonerate Rita, Ed was so shaken by the fact that Rita was once involved with his adversary, that he broke things off with her.
Meanwhile, one day, Rita witnessed Mike receive Springfield's "Man of the Year" award. Not wanting to have the Bauers see her, Rita decided to hide near the back of the hall where she noticed a bearded man also hiding. Very curious, Rita followed him out of the building, after the ceremony, to a nearby hotel room. When Rita caught up to him, she asked who he was and was shocked when he revealed himself to be Ed’s presumed dead father, Bill Bauer! Though Bill wanted to let his family keep on believing that he’d died in a plane crash, Rita demanded that Bill tell his family that he was still alive and eventually Bill heeded Rita's demands. When Ed found out, he went on a drinking binge. Rita caught up with Ed, one night, at a hotel where he seemed to be drinking himself to death. Rita tried to get Ed to see how much of a miracle it was that Bill was still alive and Ed seemed to respond. Unfortunately at that very moment, Bill came across the street to the hotel and was accidentally struck by a car. Ed from his hotel room witnessed Bill being hit by the vehicle and immediately rushed out to help his father. When Bill recovered from his injuries and Ed and he made up, Ed got off the alcohol again. Unfortunately for Rita, things weren't that lucky, Ed refused to forgive Rita when he found out that she knew before anyone else in Springfield that Bill was still alive and didn't tell him.
Rita then started dating Dr. Peter Chapman, until she realized that Peter was more charmed by her nemesis Holly. Meanwhile, someone began harassing Rita. First, Rita received some threatening notes and then had an accident where she almost fell down a flight of stairs in the Cedars stairwell. Although she wasn’t entirely sure, Rita felt as if she’d been pushed. Later, Rita had a series of problems with her car, where she nearly had a major accident. Rita was convinced that she was being stalked and brought the threatening notes to Mike and the Springfield police who started an investigation into whether Rita was being stalked. Unfortunately, as 1977 went into 1978, more incidents would occur that were very troubling. The worst would involve Eve, who was temporarily blinded. One day, Eve went to Rita's apartment and had to wait for her to arrive. While Eve was waiting, she heard the door open and immediately assumed that it was Rita. Unfortunately, it wasn't Rita--it was none other than Georgene Granger! Since Eve couldn't see, Georgene remained silent, went to the oven and turned it up and the apartment caught on fire. Georgene then left (although, Evie did smell the scent of Georgene's perfume.) Fortunately for Evie, Rita and Ben soon arrived and Eve was saved. Later, Eve told Rita about the scent of the perfume and Rita realized that her stalker was a woman.
Finally, in mid-May, after Eve had recovered from the smoke inhalation she received during the fire, she was visiting Rita in Rita's apartment building's laundry room. While in the laundry room, Rita and Eve were visited by a seething Georgene Granger who had a gun! Eve recognized her perfume as the same one that the woman who had set the fire wore. Georgene then threatened Eve with the gun, saying she'd take Evie's life as Rita had taken Cyrus and Malcolm's. Rita started wrestling Georgene for the gun, which went off! Luckily for Rita and Evie, the bullet went in and lodged into the laundry room wall. During this melee, Georgene told Rita and Evie that she had killed both Cyrus and Malcolm. In flashbacks, it was revealed that she killed Cyrus the night Rita was having a one-night stand with Roger Thorpe. Georgene had smothered Cyrus with a pillow, mainly so that Georgene and Malcolm could have his inheritance. Unfortunately, shortly after, Georgene became convinced that Malcolm and Rita were having an affair and became insane with jealously! She went to Malcolm's hospital room reaming the riot act about his supposed affair and Malcolm suffered his second fatal heart attack. At this moment, the police arrived and Georgene was carted off to the Clayton prison mental ward
Rita and Ed now decided to renew their relationship and made plans to marry. It was around this time that Roger started becoming violent and he made a pass at Rita. When she tried to fend off his advances, he raped her. Afraid that the truth would endanger any future she had with Ed, Rita kept quiet. Though she contemplated murdering Roger (even going as far as buying a gun), she didn't go through with it and she and Ed married in his mother's house In November 1978. However throughout the ceremony both Eve and Ed's mother, Bert, were very concerned because it seemed as if Rita was walking on eggshells. Though she later revealed the truth to Eve, she swore her to secrecy, not knowing how Ed would react. As for Ed, he adored Rita, giving in to her need for material things, even buying a house next to the Spaulding mansion on Skyline Drive. Then in 1979, months after Roger had raped Holly, who was now his wife. Rita received a visit from attorney Derek, who was working on Roger's defense. Asked to serve as a character witness for Roger, Rita went ballistic and demanded that Derek leave her house! When Derek tried to calm her down, Rita went ballistic and told him that she wouldn't testify for Roger especially after Roger had raped her! That day, Rita, finally, told Ed about the rape. Unfortunately this would lead to a horrible set of events: Ed went ballistic and went to Roger's office at Spaulding Enterprises and started beating him up. It was at that moment that Holly arrived and shot Roger and apparently killed him. When Holly was carted off to prison, Ed blamed Rita for letting it happen, by not reporting her own rape by Roger.
In the meantime, Rita resented Ed having Chrissy live with the Bauers (thus having her take care of her rapist's child). As Ed got more distant, Rita became frustrated sexually and it just increased over time. The final straw came when Ed went off to a medical conference in Chicago, leaving Rita feeling neglected. A little later, Rita surprised Ed with a trip to Saint Lucia. Rita and Ed left for a second honeymoon during the first two weeks of September 1979, with Ed doing nothing but sightseeing. When Ed left Rita because he heard that Holly had been stabbed in prison, a resentful, Rita found herself susceptible to her old lover, Greg Fairbanks’s charms and ended up having an affair with him. Soon she became pregnant! Although she considered having an abortion, she reconsidered after speaking with her mother. Soon after, Rita, unable to stand the guilt, confessed the affair to Ed. Not long after, came the Winter Carnival at Cedars. Rita ran into Holly, Ed and Chrissy and said hello, although Ed seemed hesitant to acknowledge her. When, Holly, Ed and Chrissy moved away from Rita, Rita heard a clown, standing behind her, call out Chrissy's name and Rita immediately recognized the voice—it was Roger!. In that split second, Roger realized that Rita knew he’d been spotted. Rita, trying to escape Roger's clutches ran into the disco hall of mirrors where Roger followed her.
Unfortunately, for Rita, Roger caught hold of her and dragged her out! He then forced forced Rita to drive them both up to the deserted cabin at Indian Lake, with a pregnant Rita begging Roger to release her. Meanwhile, Mike got a message telling him that Inspector Albert Montand in France had persuaded Renee to come to the States to help with Mike's investigation of Roger's whereabouts and called him and left a message that Roger had never returned to Paris. This information got Mike's wheels turning some more that something was wrong with Rita and he went over to Barbara's house and told Ed of his suspicions. At the house, Barbara would mention seeing Rita leave the carnival with a clown. After listening to a bug in Barbara's house, Roger learned that Renee had turned against him. The next day, Rita would persuade Roger to let her go to the payphone and call Ed. Rita had the presence of mind to let her colorful scarf fall on a bush near the telephone booth. Ed, though, would get caught up in helping his godson, Kelly Nelson, settle in the Reardon Boarding House. Ed did hear the call a little later and when he was driving away from the Boarding House he would find Rita's scarf. Meanwhile, Roger confronted Renee in her hotel room. During the altercation, Renee bolted in fear yelling out Roger's name and fell down a stairwell to her death. Now knowing that Roger was definitely back in town, the Bauers spirited Holly and Chrissy away to Santo Domingo with Peter Chapman. Later that week though Rita went into premature labor.
Fortunately, Roger loosened the bounds on Rita's wrists and hands and helped calm her down and prevented Rita from continuing into labor. Meanwhile, Ed, Mike and Lt. Wyatt , with the help of Rita's scarf and some witnesses up at Indian Lake, located the cabin. Then they went to go and rescue Rita. Unfortunately, when Ed and Mike (against Lt. Wyatt's wishes) were approaching the cabin, Roger got nervous when Rita started to scream and bolted through the back door. In the process he knocked over a lit kerosene lamp that started to set the cabin ablaze with Rita still tied to the bed. Ed reached Rita in time and both he and Mike got her out of the cabin, but unfortunately Rita had suffered from smoke inhalation and lost her baby at Cedars. A day later, a grief stricken Ed had to tell a devastated Rita that the baby had not survived and that the boy had been his all along. Devastated, Rita finally told Eve and Ed. Ed fired Greg from Cedars and Eve, who’d been dating Greg, dumped him. Greg left town, never to be heard from again, while a distraught Rita decided to get out of town for a couple of months.
After Rita's return, she tried to patch together her marriage to Ed. Unfortunately the marriage continued to be strained. One source of contention was Rita’s actions during a party Ed threw for his ex-mother-in-law, Barbara Norris. At the party a drunken Rita revealed to all, much to Barbara's chagrin, the secret that Barbara was still in love with Roger's father, Adam Thorpe. Ed was livid that Rita would be so cavalier. The final straw for Rita came when Ed invested in The Copper Lantern, Holly's brother's restaurant. Resentful of Ed's preoccupation with the Norris family, Rita became disenchanted again and had an affair with Alan Spaulding, who was married to Ed's niece. Unfortunately, Rita found herself being blackmailed by an anonymous person who knew about the affair (the blackmailer was Andy Norris, though Rita would never know this). One day, Rita's necklace, an expensive gift from Alan, was stolen while she was on vacation at Pine Bluff. Nola Reardon's aunt worked at Pine Bluff and mentioned the theft to her. Nola then let it slip to Ed that Rita had an expensive necklace diamond necklace stolen while she was on vacation. Ed didn't know that Rita owned such a necklace and became suspicious - and began to put all the pieces together.
Ed's suspicions were confirmed when he went to Rita’s apartment - she and Ed were separated at the time - and Rita called out, "Alan, is that you?" Incensed, Ed demanded a divorce! Ed told her off and said that she wasn't the woman he thought she was. Later that day, Rita flew out of Springfield - without telling anyone where she was going. Later, when Alan returned to his club, he received a letter from Rita telling him that she had left town because Ed found out the truth. In the letter, Rita admitted that she had more than just an affair with Alan; she fell deeply in love with him, and would ALWAYS love him. Rita wrote that she couldn't face herself if she complicated Alan's life any more than she already had, so she had to go away. Mysteriously, though, both Alan and Ed were unable to locate Rita in San Francisco when they went looking for her. Ed’s trail ran cold when Eve revealed that she’d lost track of her sister, who had moved away from San Francisco because someone was following her that she didn't trust. That person tracking Rita was Alan’s private investigator Joe Bradley and when Alan’s assistant Diane Ballard (and later Joe Bradley) was killed one of the items missing was Rita’s last known address.