Murder of William Desmond Taylor
William Desmond Taylor
Mary's Mother, Charlotte Shelby
A Bag Of Peanuts & Murder
Officially, this remains an unsolved case, however, King Vidor, a famous film maker from the golden age of Hollywood, uncovered the mystery in 1967 while setting out to make a movie based on they murder of William Desmond Taylor. He never spoke publicly of the case again. But, in 1986 when Sidney Kirkpatrick was assigned to write Vidor's biography after the great director's death, he found amongst King's belongings a strongbox that contained the details of what he had uncovered in 1967.
The original story goes;
On February 2, 1922 William Desmond Taylor's home was crawling with police and detectives. Taylor's body had been discovered by his valet, Henry Peavey, and appeared to have at least one gunshot wound in the torso.
Taylor has been in Hollywood since 1912, and had been a successful actor appearing in numerous silent movies while gradually learning his craft. He directed his first film in 1914, and at the time of his death he had directed over 50 movies. Taylor had directed Mary Miles Minter in a number of movies and it was rumored that she was in love with him, but her protective mother would never have approved of a relationship between her twenty year old daughter with the forty something year old William Desmond Taylor.
Taylor was a distinguished gentleman who was admired by many Hollywood actors, and actresses because he was cultured, and well read. Young aspiring stars befriended Taylor because they could learn from him, and better themselves.
One such actress who had hit a point in her career where she wondered what else there was in the world was Mabel Normand. She had been in slapstick movies since her early teens and had very little formal education. Taylor had been lending her books, as Mabel was now very interested in improving her mind.
On February 1, 1922 Mabel Normand arrived at Taylor's to return some books he had instructed her to read. Normand was a lighthearted, good spirit who had a bag of fresh peanuts with her, and she shared some of her snack with her friend as they discussed poetry. Taylor gave her some new books to take with her and walked her to her car. This would be the last time she would see Taylor alive.
At approximately 7:30 AM Taylor's valet, Harvey Peavey, discovered his employers body lying face up in the living room.
Mabel Normand was the last known person to see Taylor alive.
Some time between the moment Mabel waved good-by to Taylor and the next morning when Peavey, discovered his bosses body on the floor of his bungalow, someone had shot and killed William Desmond Taylor.
The newspapers sensationalized the murder, drawing attention to the fact that Mabel was the last person to see Taylor alive, and further stirring the pot by mentioning some love letters that were discovered by police written by the young actress Mary Miles Minter. Speculations were going in all directions, such as Mable Normand could have killed Taylor out of jealousy about his relations to Mary Miles Minter, or perhaps Mary Miles Minter killed Taylor due to jealousy about his relationship with Mabel Normand and then there was the speculation that Charlotte Shelby, Mary Miles Minter could have killed Taylor because he was flirting with her daughter who was Charlotte's meal ticket.
The case went all over the place, even suggesting that Taylor's ex wife, whom he had deserted to come to Hollywood years before, was out to get him. Another popular theory was that Taylor was being blackmailed by some underground drug dealers. Ultimately the case grew colder, while more, and more bazaar stories about Taylor's personal life materialized.
King Vidor in the 1950s
King Vidor was a retired movie director in 1967 who as toying with the idea of making a movie about the sensational Taylor case. Vidor was a William Desmond Taylor contemporary who had met Taylor on several occasions and was friendly with many who knew Taylor. After years of being puzzled by the case but being too busy to give it a second thought, Vidor now had time on his hands and found himself thinking about the case often.
Vidor intervied dozens of Taylor's friends who were still alive in the mid 1960s. He then used his influence and connections to become acquainted with the police and detectives who were on the Taylor case. Most of these men had long been retired, but one was still active, and he gave Vidor a "hush hush" entrance to the actual police files that those outside of law enforcement are not allowed to see.
Vidor discovered that there were indeed a few people within the law who actually knew who killed William Desmond Taylor.
Vidor found a few holes in the files and came across a few things that did not make sense. There was no solid evidence that could convict anyone but it was clear that the alibis of Mable Normand and Mary Miles Minter were airtight. Vidor wondered why the law enforcement allowed the newspapers to go on allowing these two actresses to be treated as suspects when it was clear from the police files that they were cleared.
The killer was Charlotte Shelby, Mary Miles Minter's mother. There was no physical evidence to convict Shelby, but Vidor did find something else.
Mary Miles Minter
The Killer, Charlotte Shelby
Mary Miles Minter was an unhappy girl who was being dragged around by her bossy mother and just wanted to find happiness outside of her tormented home life. Taylor looked like the perfect catch. He was the ultimate father figure who could teach, guide and support a young, naïve girl to greener pastures.
It seems that after a fight with her mother, Mary ran to Taylor's home. Possibly ran inside while Taylor was walking Normand to her car, and declared her love for him after he walked through his front door. Mary's mother was either already in the home too, or arrived shortly after. A few old timers even stated that they believed that Shelby herself had designs on Taylor. He was close to her age, though still older than she, well to do, and charming. Who wouldn't be attracted to Taylor?
Out of jealousy, rage, loss of control, or all of the above; she shot Taylor at close range.
Shelby had connections. Her daughter was commanding a huge salary,and hobnobbing with the who's who of theater and business. Mrs. Shelby also personally knew Thomas Woolwine, the Los Angeles District Attorney, and apparently arranged to be let off the hook by giving D.A. Woolwine large sums of money.
Whenever a detective would become too knowledgeable on the William Desmond Taylor case, Woolwine would immediately take him off the case. He also never discouraged the press from printing stories that presented Mabel Normand as a suspect, when the police files clearly state Miss Normand's alibi as air tight. A few detectives caught on to Woolwine and were well aware of the charade the D.A was playing. One detective who became Woolwine's successor was Buron Fitts.
After interviewing police officers, detectives who were on the case from the 1920s- 1930s Vidor concluded with the help of Leroy Sanderson, a smart officer and detective from the original case, that Buron Fitts continued to collect from Shelby just as Woolwine had done, allowing Charlotte Shelby to get away with murder.
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