During the evening of February 1, 1922, silent movie director William Desmond Taylor was shot to death by a single bullet in his Los Angeles bungalow. His body was found the next morning by his houseman.
These would be the only solid facts known about the murder, as the chaos that ensued made it impossible to put together the pieces of the numerous puzzles that surrounded Taylor’s death.
By Hollywood standards, Taylor had led a relatively quiet life. He lived alone and the films he directed did well. He had friends in the business, but was not known to be excessively social. He was “the quiet type.”
After the murder, the police investigators had a Herculean task from the very start. Some of the frustrating aspects of the crime they needed to untangle included:
- Two young actresses who might (or might not) have been having affairs with Taylor.
- The rigidly controlling mother of one of those actresses.
- Taylor’s former personal assistant (who may have been Taylor’s long-lost brother) who had stolen a significant amount of money from Taylor and then vanished.
- Local drug czars, who were worried about Taylor’s efforts to stop the widespread use of illegal drugs in the film industry.
- Taylor’s current houseman who might (or might not) have been having an affair with Taylor.
- Within one month of the murder, more than 300 people had confessed to the murder, some from as far away as Paris.
- Taylor’s neighbor told police she had seen a man leaving Taylor’s residence around the time of the murder, but later stated it was possibly a woman dressed as a man.
- A passerby and a gas station attendant who both claimed a man had asked for directions to Taylor’s house on the night in question.
- Before the police arrived, executives from Taylor’s studio were called and flooded the crime scene, allegedly taking away letters and many pieces of vital evidence.
- A set of keys in Taylor’s possession that did not match any locks in Taylor’s house or at his studio.
- A handkerchief monogrammed with the letter “S” that disappeared after it had been found by the police.
- On the day before his murder, Taylor allegedly withdrew $2,500 from his bank account. The following day, he deposited the same amount back into his bank account.
- A phone call shortly before Taylor’s death that may (or may not) have been overheard by a young actress visiting Taylor.
- Burglary did not seem to be the motive. Money and jewelry was found on Taylor’s body.
- Taylor’s body apparently had been posed by the murderer in the position it was found.
- Soon after the body was discovered, a man claiming to be a doctor rushed in, did a cursory investigation of the body, ludicrously declared the death to have been due to natural causes (despite the bullet hole), and then left, never to be heard from again.
With all this frenzied activity and these bizarre circumstances, the newspapers made the crime and the subsequent unsuccessful investigation into a circus.
Over the years the police would track down various leads and half-truths, but with so many contradictions and dead-ends, the investigation went nowhere and the crime has never been solved.
It remains a notorious case in certain circles. Amateur sleuths continue to weigh the “facts” in order to solve the case. There is an active community on the Internet dedicated to “Taylorology” that discusses all aspects of the crime in great detail.
The murder remains a great mystery worthy of a Hollywood movie.
“Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?” The Crime Library website, pulled 20-Jan-12.
“The Case of the Movie Murder” TRUE magazine, June 1946.