If you’ve been wondering about the unexplained death of William Desmond Taylor, you’ve come to the right place. The 49-year-old Hollywood actor was said to be murdered on the 1st of February 1922.
He was well-known in the early 1920s in Hollywood for being an actor and a director. Let’s have a glimpse of William Desmond Taylor’s early life before we go into what led to his death.
1. Who was William Desmond Taylor?
William Desmond Taylor originally known as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner was born on 26 April 1872. He was an Irish American actor and film director in his early 20s. He was known to have directed fifty-nine silent films and starred in twenty-seven films between 1913 and 1915.
He was one of the five children of Major Thomas Kearns Deane-Tanner, a retired British Army officer. Taylor was known to have attended Marlborough College in England from the year 1885 to 1887. He left for Kanas in 1891 where he got to learn about acting before he moved to New York City.
Taylor was in New York where he met Ethel May Hamilton and courted her. She was an actress who had acted in a stage musical. Ethel’s father was a renowned investor in an antique store where Taylor was later employed.
On December 7, 1901, they got married and had a daughter the following year. Taylor was a very popular man in New York City. He was known to be a depressed heavy drinker and womanizer.
On the 23rd of October 1908, Taylor mysteriously disappeared, leaving his wife and daughter. There were rumors from his friends that Taylor suffered from mental illness while some thought he had amnesia. This led to his wife filing for a divorce in 1912.
In his later life, he changed careers from acting to producing. In 1912, he arrived San Francisco, California, and changed his name to William Desmond Taylor where he reestablished himself with the help of some friends who gave him money.
2. William Desmond Taylor’s Hollywood Life
Taylor made his debut appearance in acting in 1913 for a Motion Picture Company in New York. He later acted for Vitagraphy studios close to Balboa Amusement Producing Company.
It was at Balboa he met an actress known as Neva Gerber who he was engaged until 1919. She loved and respected Taylor and referred to him as a man of personal culture and refinement.
In 1914, Taylor began directing films, starting with a movie titled The Judge’s wife. He later left Balboa for the American Film Manufacturing Company. It was there he directed The Diamond from the Sky series. He later joined Pallas pictures in 1915 and became a subsidiary of Player’s Laskey after one year.
In July 1918, Taylor got into the Canadian Expeditionary force. This was at the end of World War1. Taylor then left Fort Edward after training for about four months at Hounslow Barracks, London in December 1918.
After he left the military service, Taylor directed well-known stars like Mary Miles Minter and Dustin Farnum. It was at this time that his ex-wife and daughter found out he was in Hollywood.
It was said that in 1921, Taylor visited his ex-wife and daughter where he made her (his daughter) his legal heir.
3. The Unexplained Death of William Desmond Taylor
On the 2nd of February 1922, Taylor was found dead in his apartment at Alvarado Street in Los Angeles.
It was said that this drew a lot of people to the house as a person who claimed to be a doctor examined the body and announced that Taylor’s death was because of a hemorrhage.
He was taken for further investigation when it was revealed that Taylor had been shot in the back with a small pistol.
3.1. Investigations of William Desmond Taylor’s Death
During the investigation, there were some items discovered at the crime scene. The items include:
- A wallet containing $78 was found in Taylor’s pocket
- A pen knife
- A pocket watch
- A silver cigarette case
- A diamond-carat ring on his finger
These items found showed that the killer didn’t have the motive to rob the deceased.
However, it was said that Taylor had shown his accountant a large sum of money the day before his passing. This led to the investigation and interview of those around him.
4. Theories Surrounding Taylor’s Murder
Since Taylor was a popular figure, there were different theories and speculations surrounding his death. Listed below are some of the suspects and witnesses surrounding Taylor’s death.
4.1. Mabel Normand
Mabel Normand was known to be a well-known comedic actress who Taylor was deeply in love with. She had asked him to get rid of her dependency on cocaine.
She told the investigators how her repeated relapses were unbearable to Taylor. It was even said that before Taylor’s passing; he was willing to testify against Mabel Normand’s cocaine dealers.
Robert Giroux concluded these dealers found out about Taylor’s readiness to tell on them and hired a killer to eliminate him.
According to Normand’s statement, she had happily left his apartment the evening he was murdered. She even commented on how they blew air kisses as she left his place that day.
She was known to be the last person that saw Taylor before his death. This made her the prime suspect.
The fact that the story of her cocaine addiction became popular made people to say nasty things about her, putting a dent in her reputation. Eight years after Taylor’s death, she died of tuberculosis.
4.2. Edward Sands
Edward Sands was known to have been previously convicted of embezzlement from the US military before Taylor’s death. It might interest you to know that Sands had worked for Taylor as a cook and a valet barely seven months before his death.
It was also said that Sands had once forged his name on checks and also wrecked his car while he was away.
4.3. Henry Peavey
Henry Peavey was the next valet after Sands disappeared. He was the one that discovered William Taylor’s body. It was said that a reporter was so convinced that he was the director’s killer that she made a ploy to trap him into confessing.
It didn’t go as planned as Peavey was smart enough to understand what went down at the place of the ‘trap’
4.4. Mary Miles Minter
Minter was a popular child star who was groomed by Taylor. It was said that she was just three years older than Taylor’s biological daughter. During the investigation, they found love letters written by Minter to Taylor in his apartment.
This brought to the conclusion that they had an ongoing sexual affair before his death. Based on her statement, it was revealed that her love for Taylor was one-sided as he explained himself to be old enough to be her father. There wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Minter was the killer.
Her letters to Taylor were later printed all over newspapers and this made people see her differently from the decent and modest girl she was. She later got married to a Danish businessman and died on the 4th of August 1984.
4.5. Charlotte Shelby
Charlotte Shelby was Mary’s mother who literally forced her into acting at a very tense age. It was said that she didn’t have a cordial relationship with her daughter.
She made Mary whose birth name was Juliet steal the identity of her dead cousin just to make sure she looked older on paper.
Shelby was tagged a suspect because she had a beef with Taylor on the grounds that he defiled her daughter.
It was said that Shelby had severally threatened to kill Taylor because of his close relationship with Mary. It was however concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence for an indictment of Shelby.
4.6. Margaret Gibson
Margaret Gibson was one of the actresses that worked with Taylor when he first entered Hollywood. She was said to have been charged with prostitution in 1917.
This made her change her name to Patricia Palmer. She was also once jailed and charged with extortion.
Barely a few months after Taylor’s death, she worked with Famous Players Laskey productions which were Taylor’s studio at that time. She died in 1964 and confessed to killing Taylor before her death.
5. In the End
Taylor’s murder was known to be the first murder people were really interested in. This was because the people connected to him were well-known celebrities. It was also recorded that the story about Taylor’s murder sold out the most in the United States.
We hope we’ve been able to satisfy your curiosity about the unexplained death of William Desmond Taylor. Kindly share this information and leave a comment below.