William Desmond Taylor
Picture: wikimedia.org

The Crime of Passion That Shook Hollywood

Back in 1910, Hollywood was a long cry from today's brilliance but even then there was no lack of people dreaming of becoming famous. Alongside the production of the first films however, the era of early Hollywood is also associated with a dreadful murder, which still remains shrouded in mystery.

When talking about the first stages of the film industry, the first name that pops up is that of William Desmond Taylor - actor and director, who worked on dozens of films. However, history does not associate him as closely with his work as it does with his enigmatic death.

Taylor's first break was in the film The Awakening. At the time he was still in the process of completing his education at a boarding school in Kansas and married his girlfriend. In the coming years he would direct at least 40 films and perform some of the first stunts in the movie industry, including jumping off a rope bridge and riding a horse at a gallop.

He was a social person, his vibrant talent promising a brilliant career. It all ended on February 2, 1922, when his personal assistant Henry Peavey found him dead.

Taylor had been shot, the bullet located between his neck and shoulder. Initially, police thought they were dealing with an armed robbery but after investigating the crime scene they found evidence of forced entry.

William Taylor
Picture: wikimedia.org

The neighbors testified that on the night of the murder they had heard the sound of a firearm going off and had seen a man with dark hair leaving Taylor's apartment.

The police had a different version. The last person the director had spoken with was the actress Mabel Normand. She explained that she had gone to Taylor's apartment to take a few books and threw her suspicion at his assistant - Henry Peavey.

According to her, Peavey offered his services to others and had problems with authorities due to falsification of documents. Peavey, in turn, testified that Mabel was a drug addict and would snitch on anyone for a dose of cocaine.

As police questioned him, a new suspect emerged - Mary Miles Minter. She and her mother, Charlotte Shelby, were angry with the director because even after his relationship with Mary, he did not give her the promised role. It is not clear how long their extramarital affair went on for but a crime provoked of passion seemed like the logical explanation.

A.38 caliber pistol was found in Shelby's home, the same type of gun used to kill Taylor. During the interrogation, Mary was unable to contain her fury due to the fame that had slipped through her fingers. The evidence was circumstantial and no accusations were filed against them.

Mabel Normand
Picture: wikimedia.org

Even with that, the investigation became no less convoluted. Several days after the homicide it became clear that director Taylor led a double life. Before arriving in Hollywood he had been living in New York, had a wife and child, and his real name was William Tanner.

Additionally, he was not just a movie director, he also financed gold digging expeditions in the Canadian Yukon. When the media got hold of this story it essentially made solving the case impossible.

The murder was decorated with made-up facts, and during the first month alone there were 300 people that came to the police station to confess that they had killed William Taylor. No one was arrested and the case remains unsolved.

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