Who killed Bill Taylor??? When the police first arrived at 8am that morning-- after the studio PR department, of course-- they didn't think WDT had been killed at all. He had suffered from severe stomach cramps for which he took milk of magnesia, and it was assumed that he had suffered a fatal hemorrhage. However, when the coroners lifted his body, they discovered a pool of blood on the carpet and a bullet in Bill's back. Because the entry wound did not match the hole in his jacket, it was clear that Bill had had his arms raised in surrender when he was shot. One hour after detectives had ruled his death one of natural causes, they re-opened the case. It was murder.
And so, the media mayhem began. Rumors ran wild, conspiracies were concocted, and suspects piled up like Saturday night ticket stubs. The shot that killed William Desmond Taylor became the shot heard 'round Hollywood. In time, myth and fiction would bury the truth, innocent people would be crucified, and poor, poor Bill would lie dead without redemption. It was rumored that the crazed finger-pointing that resulted was a calculated attempt to draw attention away from the real killer and the LAPD's massive cover up, as well as to utilize the opportunity to take down two movie stars that studios no longer considered worthy investments-- Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter. Before the search for truth was corrupted, and there were honorable detectives tirelessly looking for answers, the entire city was on the hunt for a ruthless, cold-blooded killer. What was found, and not found, made Hollywood history.
Evidence found at the scene went as follows:
- WDT was shot at close range with a .38 snub nosed revolver. The bullet passed through his lungs, hit his collarbone, and stopped beneath the skin of his lower neck.
- Cigarette butts were found behind the bungalow, where the killer presumably waited for the right opportunity to make his/her move.
- The killing was not the result of a robbery, for Bill had $78 in his pocket, a diamond ring oh his finger, and a $2000 platinum watch on his wrist.
- Throughout the house were numerous letters, photographs, and gifts from both Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter.
- A set of keys was found, but they mysteriously fit none of the locks.
- Witnesses and neighbors in the court, David and Faith MacLean, heard shuffling footsteps behind the bungalow at 7:40pm.
- David reported hearing what sounded like a muffled shot between 8 and 8:15pm.
- Faith saw a man, or a woman dressed as a man, leaving the building not long after. He or she was about 5'10" and of medium build, wearing a long coat.
- Witness Hazel Gillon would later testify to seeing a dark figure depart.
As time passed, questionable and even completely fabricated evidence would also come into play. It was falsely reported that Mabel Normand had been at the bungalow the morning of Feb. 2, searching for love letters she had written to Bill. Untrue. Studio employee Charles Eyton was later sent by the studio to retrieve incriminating evidence, and he grabbed some of Mabel's letters. When he found them to be completely harmless, he turned them over to police. Mabel was not there that morning. A piece of lingerie was also found, bearing the insignia MMM, apparently belonging to Mary Miles Minter. Mary denied the existence of such an article, and after it was found, it just as quickly disappeared. This led to rumors that Bill had a large closet upstairs filled with pornographic photos and underwear belonging to major Hollywood starlets. Also false.
Another mystery came in the form of a handkerchief, which was rumored to be lying on the floor beside WDT with the monogram "S." A neighborhood doctor randomly appeared and offered his services to the police. After making his false diagnosis of "death by natural causes," the doctor quickly disappeared. The hanky went with him. It was also reported that 2 Hartley Service Station attendants and 1 Redline train conductor had testified to seeing a man that matched Faith MacLean's "description" the night of the murder, who in both cases asked directions to Bill's house. Due to the fact that Faith's remembrance of the culprit was vague at best, it is difficult to accept their corroborations. From the beginning, it was clear that someone was tampering with evidence, feeding phony information to the press, and keeping the public away from the truth.
Suspects were aplenty. At the top of the list were Mabel and Mary, who by now the public was certain were both having a torrid affair with WDT. Normand would staunchly defend her platonic relationship with Bill, though Mary would never deny her feelings for the director, whom she claimed to love. The infamous love triangle, which suggested one of the women had killed her lover out of jealousy, would ruin the careers of both women, whom studios failed to protect.
- Henry Peavey, houseman: Along with the immediate suspicion he garnered for being the one to find Bill's body, Henry had a prior arrest for public indecency in park for soliciting young men. Ironically, Bill was supposed to testify on his behalf the day his body was found.
- An Army Officer: When Bill fought in WWI, it was rumored that he testified against a fellow officer at a court martial. Some speculated that the said officer returned to take his revenge on the suddenly famous director.
- Drug Dealers: Bill made it part of his mission to make a war on the dope ring. He personally took it upon himself to send his troubled friend Mabel to a sanatorium for rehabilitation for her growing addiction. It was theorized that some miffed leaders of the drug ring wanted to shut the revolutionary man up.
- Charlotte Shelby: The mother of Mary Miles Minter, she was a greedy, possessive woman, who was known to both own a gun and use it to threaten her daughter's suitors.
- Ada Tanner: Ada was the wife of Bill's brother, Dennis, who had skipped town on her many years ago. When she received a tip that Dennis was working with her rich brother in Hollywood, she came running with her hand out. Bill paid her monthly checks on Dennis's behalf. Did it prove to be too little?
- And the most mysterious: Edward Sands. Ed was WDT's secretary, who some believed was actually his brother Dennis, living under a false identity. Though this proved to be untrue, it did appear that Ed had been blackmailing Bill. He then skipped town with $5000 in forged checks and many of Bill's valuables, which were later found at a pawn shop. Ed was found dead 6 weeks after Bill's murder with a self-inflicted bullet in his brain. Guilt for thievery or murder???
*Update: I just encountered information regarding Margaret Gibson aka Patricia Palmer et al, a silent screen actress who reportedly confessed to Will's murder on her deathbed in 1964. As she was involved in extortion, and knew and worked with Taylor, the motive would seem to lean toward blackmail-gone-wrong, if she did in fact pull the trigger. I still stand by the aforementioned theory of my article, as I am not familiar enough with the evidence surrounding Gibson's plea, but will keep you posted as I learn more. Was her confession the raving of a delirious old woman, or is there truth??? (There is more information about her at Taylorology.com). To be continued...