Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Murder Most Foul: The Death of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor

The Murder of William Desmond Taylor

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Henry Peavey was the servant of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor. He arrived at the Desmond Taylor home/luxury apartment at 7:30 AM on February 2, 1922. He opened the door and immediately spied the body of his employer lying dead on the den floor. It would turn out to be a strange story of corruption in law enforcement, sex, a vengeful stage mother. So died one of the most successful directors of Hollywood. Soon Hollywood would learn, Taylor was Anglo-Irish, not English and had run away from an unhappy marriage in NYC, leaving behind a daughter and a wife.

Many years later, Taylor appeared in this movie, while he was still an actor, his wife in New York saw it and got in touch with him and an accommodation was reached about child support and spousal support. His wife and daughter, whose existence was unknown in Hollywood, attended his funeral.

Charlotte Shelby was a stage mother from hell. Blessed with a beautiful underage daughter, she used a fake ID and the family name of her older sister's dead daughter to get her daughter on the New York Stage. Mary Miles Minter at 5, breaking into the Broadway Stage. Mary was born Juliet Reilly in Louisiana.

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Mary Miles Minter in 1919, a young Hollywood starlet at the center of the web which would ensnare William Desmond Taylor.

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The rear of William Desmond Taylor's Bungalow

William Desmond Taylor's Den and his booze cabinet.

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The cause and the victim, friends.

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Mary Miles Minter Shelby in a sultry photo more fitting to the 1920's and being an adult, taken almost immediately before the murder. Mary had a physical romance with Assistant Director James Kirkwood, Charlotte Shelby told Kirkwood that she would kill him if he touched her daughter again. Possessive to the point she would allow no one to interfere with her gravy train. Charlotte made threats and she wasn't joking.

Death photo of William Desmond Taylor/William Deane Tanner, touched up by the press for release.

The coat William Desmond Taylor was wearing when he was shot, indicating he was murdered the night before February 1, 1922. An anomaly noticed by police, the shot was at a bizarre angle, the bullet entered his body from

Faith Cole MacLean, above,  and her husband, actor Douglas MacLean, were Taylor's neighbors, and Faith is widely believed to have seen Taylor's killer. The couple was startled by a loud noise at 8 pm. MacLean went to her front door and saw someone emerging from the front door of Taylor's home who she said was dressed, "like my idea of a motion picture burglar". She recalled this person paused for a moment before turning and walking back through the door, as if having forgotten something, then re-emerged and flashed a smile at her before disappearing between the buildings. MacLean decided she had heard a car back-fire. She also told police interviewers this person looked "funny" (like movie actors in makeup) and may have been a woman disguised as a man.

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Mary Pickford's younger brother Jack with Taylor on the set of Tom Sawyer(1919)

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Map of the Murder Scene

In the late 1960's King Vidor read that they were tearing down the William Desmond Taylor Bungalow. He would pick up an age appropriate lock from the ruble. Today the complex is long gone replaced by a Ross Clothing Store parking lot. 

LAPD Detective William Michael Cahill, Sr.  reported to King Vidor many years later that substantive progress was made on the case, but within a week he was ordered to put other cases as a higher priority. He assumed the fix came from the DA's Office. Three LA County DA's were found to have committed or suspected of Bribery.  

Can you pick the murderer out of this photo? 

Charlotte Shelby Reilly, who went by her maiden name, Juliet Reilly, who went by her dead cousin's name so she could by pretending to be 5 years older than she was and Granny.

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Charlotte Shelby the murderer 

On June 5, 1937 Margaret filed a lawsuit against her mother alleging financial mismanagement, claiming Charlotte had stolen $48,750 (roughly almost $2 million in 2007 inflation-adjusted terms) from a safety deposit box in a Los Angeles Bank. A jury awarded her $20,000. On September 13, 1938, she publicly accused her mother of having killed William Desmond Taylor in 1922. Margaret testified that Mary had an unrequited infatuation with Taylor, since 1919. Wikipedia 
Shelby's defense was that her daughter was an alcoholic and could not be believed in regard to the murder accusation. The DA did not follow up with any further investigation, three DA's in a row were paid off. 

Mary Miles Minter, real name was Juliet Reilly, her Mom Charlotte Shelby, she kept her maiden name, and sister Margaret Shelby, born Margaret Reilly, shown above. Charlotte Shelby believed that Mary and Taylor were having an affair. Many close Taylor confidants knew that Taylor was gay. No one who actually knew them, believed it, but Charlotte did. Faith MacLean a Taylor neighbor, saw a very short person wearing a very heavy coat. Police asked if it had been Edward Sands, whom she knew well. She said definitely not. Then they asked if it could have been a woman. She said she thought that a definite possibility. The Shelby/Minter/Reilly home called Casa de Margarita had 40 rooms and still stands at 701 South New Hampshire Avenue Los Angeles now serving as a youth home. Her previous home had belonged to Mary Pickford  has been used for several TV shows. Mary was forced to sell the house in 1932, moving into a home at 144 Adelaide Drive in Santa Monica, where she would live until she died. 

The Mansion, Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Children̢۪s Institute, Inc.)

We now know that police believed that some corrupt shenanigans were going on in the DA's Office. They believed that Charlotte was a viable suspect, she had threatened Taylor before. Charlotte was never called in for questioning. She owned a gun which disappeared indefinite time before the murder, same model and caliber as the murder weapon. But it is even more interesting than that. The Minter/Shelby family alibi was the visit of actor Carl Stockdale, who was a personal friend of Charlotte's. Much later it was discovered that Charlotte paid Stockdale $200 a month for the rest of his life. But it gets more interesting than that. Belle Simpson the Shelby/Minter live in maid, pictured in the center below, was committed to an insane asylum by Charlotte and the District Attorney's Office. She would stay their for 39 years, until her death. She told family that she knew something about the murder that she shouldn't and that was why she was there.

People forget the collateral damage innocent victims in crimes, especially murder. Mabel Normand was a huge star, her career collapsed almost immediately after the murder. Apparently, corrupt studio execs, used the murder to get out of expensive contracts with Mabel and Mary Miles Minter. Taylor was gay, but they planted evidence that Minter and Taylor were having an affair. William Desmond Taylor was like a father to both Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter. Young ladies only had platonic relationships with Taylor. 
Mabel Normand had been then there the night of the murder, arriving at about 7 PM and leaving at a 7:45 PM. Five minutes after she left, Taylor walked her to her car and kissed the car window and whispered Good-Bye. The Chauffeur verified this. Mabel had a drug problem. Taylor was known in Hollywood for being fanatically anti-drug, baring users and dealers from his set, even if they were important actors/directors/movie moguls. It is believed that Taylor took a paternal interest in her and was trying to ween her off and blacklisting anyone who sold drugs to her. She was like a daughter to him. At Taylor's funeral, Mabel cried her eyes out, everyone said his death broke her heart. 

When asked about her hobbies, Mabel replied: "I don't know. Say anything you like, but don't say I love to work. That sounds like Mary Pickford, that prissy bitch. Just say I like to pinch babies...and get drunk". NOTE: In fact, she and Pickford were actually good friends. Imdb

Whoever killed Taylor had obviously waiting for Normand to leave.

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Mabel Normand with her attorneys, she had graduated from the casting couch in Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops to comedy stardom. The scandal gave the studio a way to drop her contract under the morals clause. Not helped by her drug problem. A love affair was an easier, not dirty scandal and the perfect morals charge.

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William Desmond Taylor's Chauffeur/Secretary/Gentlemen's Gentleman Edward Sands disappeared before the murder. An inference was drawn that they were more than employer and employee. Sands had stolen checks, then cashing them, worth several thousand dollars and he also stole and pawned several possessions in Northern California, all after Taylor went on an extended vacation in Europe. Sands disappeared so successfully that no one has ever found out what happened to him. Turns out that Sands real name was Edward Snyder and he was from Ohio. He had been court marshaled in Naval Service during WWI. Snyder/Sands worked in the Ship's Store. He was found to be overcharging the crew for goods they purchased and pocketing the "surplus". He was convicted of embezzlement, after a term in the brig, he was dismissed from the Navy in New Hampshire, Snyder made his way to California and changed his name to Sands. Mary Miles Minter was bemused by Sands who effected an exaggerated British accent, similar to his employer, who had developed his own fake British Accent. Mary Miles Minter would call Sands the Cockney behind his back because his British Accent was so effected and phony. When Taylor returned, he received this in the mail, signed with Taylor's real, secret name. Taylor was Irish, not English, he was an excellent actor, for him it was easy portraying a high society Brit, fooling Los Angeles Society, but fooling a grifter from Ohio apparently was beyond even his ability. In the opinion of everyone who new him, Taylor was the character he portrayed, they called Taylor the gentleman director.

Another fact that came out during the investigation, but was covered up by the DA's Office, which was probably taking bribes from Famous Lasky Players Studio/Paramount. Apparently, a couple of months before the murder, Henry Peavey had been arrested in West Lake Parks for Public Indecency. Taylor hired a lawyer for him and the charge seemed to have been dead docketed. While the file appears to be lost, an inference has been drawn that Peavey may have been soliciting boys for his boss in Westlake Park which had a reputation for male prostitution.

Los Angeles Westlake Park, now called MacArthur Park, a roundez-vous for young gay prostitutes. Apparently, Peavey approached some young teens who were there to play, not for the purpose Peavey and Taylor assumed. Peavey had been arrested for "social vagrancy" and charged with being "lewd and dissolute". Some sources report that Taylor kept a bungalow near the park for assignations with teenage boys.

Who murdered Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor/William Deane Tanner?  Hollywood Director King Vidor was a friend of Taylor's. He heard rumors that Mary Miles Minter was framed for a sexual liason by Studio Execs who placed, strategically, incriminating love letters and lingerie at Taylor apartment. Thinking is that this helped squelch rumor that Taylor was gay, which was a much bigger deal then than it is now. And allowed them to dump Mary and her contract. 

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We know that Charles Eyton was reported to have been at the Taylor apartment/death scene when police arrived. He was an executive of the Paramount Pictures/Lasky Players. The police were told he came with several individuals who removed and placed items all over the apartment. Taylor drank moderately, but adamantly against drugs, he was actually helping Mabel Normand ween herself from drugs. 
Drugs placed on scene would give another motive and possible suspect for police to investigate, keeping them away from Taylor's homosexuality and a possible Hollywood connected murderer. 

Mary and Charlotte Shelby, they would live together until mom died in 1957. Morgue attendants who picked Charlotte's body, from an upstairs room testified that the room was stale and suffocating, with the smell of cigarette smoke. 

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In 1957, within weeks of her Mother's death, Mary married her Santa Monica milkman Brandon O. Hildebrandt. He would die in 1965. Mary would live on until 1984. In a closed hearing in the 1930's, 
Charlotte's other daughter Margaret claimed her mother embezzled all of her money from acting. In a shocking moment she said the money went to pay-off LA DA's to cover up the murder of William Desmond Taylor. Margaret Reilly (June 16, 1900 – December 21, 1939), known professionally as Margaret Shelby
In 1981, Minter was severely beaten in a burglary at her home in which more than $300,000 worth of antiques, china and jewelry were taken. A former live-in companion and three other people were later charged with attempted murder and burglary.The police described her as a frail old woman and people were often shocked to learn she had once been a famous movie star. Wikipedia

Two interesting footnotes, do you remember the movie Sunset Boulevard, with aging Hollywood actress Norma Desmond? Norma was named to remember Mabel Normand and Desmond for William Desmond Taylor. 
Mary Miles Minter's sister Margaret married the grandson of President Millard Fillmore.  

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One of those fascinating footnotes, King Vidor made a movie about Billy the Kid in 1931. He filmed scenes in New Mexico, including Ft. Sumner where Billy was buried. The cemetery had a problem that people have repeatedly stolen Billy's Tombstone. King Vidor bought the Tombstone which stands over Billy's grave. 

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Billy is the subject of the most expensive photo ever sold and a new photo, the Croquet Photo is estimated to be worth $5,000,000 

I wrote two blog pages about Billy "The Kid" McCarty with plenty of photos.

His childhood is explained here.

Innocent kid, Tim Masters, spends 10 years in Prison for a Crime he didn't commit.

15-year-old Tim Masters was walking to his school bus stop in Fort Collins Colorado. He noticed what looked like a mannequin in the field, continued to school and forgot the incident. In a few days, Tim would be arrested and spend the next 10 years in prison.

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The Artwork which Detective Broderick decided PROVED 15-year-old Tim Masters' guilt. Is it enough for you, proving a child deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison?


Early in the investigation, lead investigator Fort Collins detective Jim Broderick centered on Masters as the primary suspect due to his failure to report the body found on his way to school. However, no physical evidence linking Masters to the crime was found.
On February 12, investigators searched his home, including the sinks for blood, and his school locker. They found 2,200 pages of writings and violent artwork by Masters in his bedroom, backpack and school locker, along with a knife collection and pornography. The local newspaper with the account of the body's discovery was found on his dresser next to his knife collection. However, no trace of Hettrick's blood or hair was found in Masters' room or among his belongings, including his clothes and knife collection.[4]
Despite hours of police questioning without an adult present, wherein policemen repeatedly told Masters they knew he'd committed the murder,[6] the 15-year-old Masters maintained his innocence. The adolescent was administered a lie detector test after police interrogation; the results were inconclusive. Wikipedia 

Tim would eventually receive $10,000,000 in damages, but the police officers who framed him
got away with it, the department closed ranks to protect one of their own. 

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