Hollywood in the 1920s was a wild place as this extract from an article written by Jane Dixon shows. She’d obviously graduated with honours from the School of Purple Prose
Filmdom welcomed William Desmond Taylor, gave him a seat among the mighty, hearkened to his word, moved at his command. Its men looked and admired. Its women looked—and loved. What richer sea could a love pirate sail? A list of the girls, the women, taken aboard the love pirate’s ship of dreams for a brief cruise on the sea of pleasure would read like a slightly deleted directory of the screen’s feminine stars.
Now, if we may believe rumor, the sated appetite of the love pirate called for stronger stimulants than a conquest of hearts. One report has him a member of a cult with an unmanly ritual. Another speaks boldly of drugs—opium, cocaine, Lethian fogs of forgetfulness, ending in wild orgies, during which women, in jealous frenzies, tore the clothes from each other’s bodies and, stripped to the waist, fought like tigers for the favor of the pirate ship captain.
Who sped on its horrid way the leaden pellet which brought the eventful story of the love pirate’s life to a tragic close? Was it one of the fair ships he had scuttled? Was it another pirate vessel, jealous of a rival’s plunder? Was it a legitimate craft, the captain of which could not endure the depredations of the modern Captain Kidd? Was it a derelict, its crew gone mad from dipping into a contraband cargo of drugs?
William Desmond Taylor was an actor and director who was murdered in 1922.
At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 2 the body of William Desmond Taylor was found inside his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles.
A crowd gathered inside and someone identifying himself as a doctor stepped forward, made a cursory examination of the body, declared the victim had died of a stomach hemorrhage and was never seen again, perhaps owing to his own embarrassment, because when doubts later arose, the body was rolled over and it was discovered the 49-year-old film director had been shot in the back.
from Married to the Sea (click to enlarge)
More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police:
Henry Peavey, Taylor’s African American valet found the body. Newspapers noted that Peavey wore flashy golf costumes but did not own any golf clubs. Peavey was illiterate and bisexual. He had a criminal record which included arrests for vagrancy and public indecency. Peavey repeatedly accused Mabel Normand of the murder (she had teased him about his wardrobe) and was initially suspected of the crime himself.
Mabel Normand was a popular comedic actress and a close friend of Taylor. They might have had a romantic relationship. Although she and Taylor may have argued on the evening of his murder, she left his home at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had given her. Her career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished through two previous scandals, along with revelations of her drug use and a third scandal involving another lover shot by her chauffeur.
Mary Miles Minter was a popular actress and teen screen idol whose career had been guided by Taylor. Coded letters found in Taylor’s home suggested that a romantic relationship between the 49-year-old Taylor and 19-year-old Minter had started when she was 17.
Charlotte Charlotte Shelby was Minter’s mother. Like many “stage mothers” she has been described as consumed by wanton greed and manipulation over her daughter’s career. Perhaps the most compelling circumstantial evidence was that Shelby allegedly owned a rare .38 caliber pistol and unusual bullets very similar to the kind which killed Taylor. After this later became public, she reportedly threw the pistol into a Louisiana bayou.
Margaret Gibson was a film actress who worked with Taylor when he first came to Hollywood. In 1917 she was tried and acquitted on charges equivalent to prostitution as well as allegations of opium dealing. In October 1964, she suffered a heart attack and as a recently converted Roman Catholic, before dying confessed she “shot and killed William Desmond Taylor” along with several other things the witness didn’t understand and could not remember.
Other suspects included Edward Sands, who had been Taylor’s cook and Faith MacLean, a close neighbour. Various theories were put forward after the murder and in the years since, along with the publication of many books claiming to have identified the murderer, but no hard evidence was ever uncovered to link the crime to a particular individual…… personally, I suspect Jane Dixon.