Wednesday, March 31, 2021

WILLIAM DESMOND TAYLOR: Murder in 1920's Holywood

Hollywood Director and Screenplay Writer William Desmond Taylor was MURDERED! Dashiell Hammett's "Sam Spade", Raymond Chandler's "Philip Marlowe", or Rex Stout's "Nero Wolfe", would still be asking: "Who-Dun-It?"

As of this writing, the question still reminds. This is that story.

The setting for the murder of William Desmond Taylor is 1920's Hollywood. To set that stage, a little history is in order. My article about the real story of the founding of "Tinsel Town" and the creation of the motion picture studios Taylor and others worked:

"HOLLYWOOD: Segregated Housing, Motion Picture Studios and Movie Palaces"

Will be found at the following link:


One of five children, William Desmond Taylor wasn't William Desmond Taylor at his birth. He was William Cunningham Deane-Tanner, born on April 26 1872, in Evington House, Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland. His father was retired British Army Officer, Major Kearns Deane-Tanner, of the Carlow Rifles, 8th Battalion, King Royal Rifle Corps. William's mother was Jane O'Brien Deane-Tanner.  

Above, Evington House that was originally built around 1835.

Between 1885 and 1887, William attended Marlborough College, below, in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, and founded in 1843. 

In 1891, William Cunningham Deane-Tanner left his home and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the United States to tour. At some point that year, he made his way to Kansas, and spent time on a "Dude Ranch". Where, William, took part in some plays, such as he had done at college, and then left for New York City. There he took odd jobs and bit acting roles as Cunningham Deane. 

While in New York City, Cunningham Deane saw the Broadway musical, "Florodora", that had originated in London, England. In the cast was Ethel May Hamilton, who used the stage name of Ethel May Harrison, and was a member of the "Flordora Sextet"

Now calling himself, Pete Tanner, William met Ethel and started to court the young actress. Whose father dealt in English antiques and was a Wall Street Stock Broker. The two were married on "December 7, 1901, at the "Little Church Around the Corner", located at 1 East 29th Street. William's father-in-law set him up with an Antique Store and business thrived. 

In 1903, his daughter, Ethel Daisy Deane-Tanner was born. The family became well-known within the Social Society Circles of New York City, but what was also known, were Pete's affairs and heavy drinking. 

Then, on October 23, 1908, William Cunningham Deane-Tanner took his regular lunch, asked that a messenger bring him $600, and just disappeared without a further word to anyone. 

Stated by Ethel, at the 1912 divorce proceedings, was the fact that William suffered from depression. He was known to experience amnesia and have no knowledge of periods of time and events that had just passed. Ethel believed William had one of those spells and left her and "Daisy", forgetting they existed at all.

Biographers and mystery buffs have pieced together some of the life of the man, now calling himself William Desmond Taylor, during the four years before Ethel's divorce was granted. 

During those missing four years, evidence points to William Desmond Taylor, being in Canada, Alaska, and the northwestern United States. The evidence shows that Taylor was mining for gold in the Klondike of Canada's Yukon Territory, located just east of Alaska. While supplementing his income by  appearing on the legitimate stage in different towns throughout Canada and Alaska.

At the same time, Ethel was being granted her 1912 divorce in New York City. Her missing husband turned up in San Francisco, California as a Producer of Legitimate Stage Plays. There, he met some of Pete Tanner's old New York City acquaintances. They provided William Desmond Taylor with the needed financial assistance to relocate to Los Angeles and the Hollywood Film Industry.


William Desmond Taylor first on-screen appearance was in Biograph Studios, "The Sins of the Father", released March 14, 1913. His two co-stars in the short film were Francis Ford, the older brother of future Director John Ford, and Hazel Buckham. Who would make forty-seven short dramas between 1911 and 1917 and leave the film industry.

Taylor would appear in nine more short dramas during 1913. Below is a still from "The Iconoclast", released on March 29, 1913, by Biograph.

Above, on the left is William Desmond Taylor as "Spanish Don Jose", Francis Ford as "Mike Flanagan" and Ann Little as "Sylvia". In the background is the fourth credited actor, William Weston as "Pedro".

Nine short films started off 1914, as William Desmond Taylor moved to starring roles. His 10th film was "The Night Riders of Petersham", released on April 9, 1914, and his first full-length feature. Taylor portrayed "Richard", who arrives in the Southern Town of Petersham to claim his inheritance. There he falls in love with "Emily Burnay", played by Margaret Gibson, more on her later.

As the story progresses, "Richard" runs afoul of "Coke", played by George Cooper. "Coke" is the local leader of "The Night Riders", which are apparently the Klu Klux Klan without calling them that. In the end "Richard" wins "Emily's" hand and "Coke" leaves Petersham forever.

Two more short dramas were filmed in April. Which were followed by William Desmond Taylor being given his first Directing assignment. 

Unfortunately, no stills exist for the short drama, "The Smouldering Spark", released on April 29, 1914, at a running time of Ten-Minutes. The short drama starred British actor, Edward Coxen as "Jack Martin", Canadian actor, William Bertram as "Frederick Miller", American actress, Ida Lewis as "Mrs. Miller", American actor, George Field as "Tom Miller" and American actress, Kathie Fischer as "Ellen Miller".

The plot is a story of redemption, a favorite of the period besides "B" Westerns, in which "Jack Martin" is blamed for the theft of money by "Tom Miller". Who, finally has a moment of conscious and redemption and, at the end confesses to his family that he took the money and framed "Jack". Permitting, "Jack Martin" and "Ellen Miller" to come back together in a life of happiness.

Two more acting roles followed, including the major motion picture "Captain Alvarez", released on May 18, 1914.

William Desmond Taylor, billed as William D. Taylor, portrayed "Robert W. Wainwright aka: Captain Alvarez".

Edith Storey portrayed "Bonita-- Donna Arana's Niece".

Above, Edith Story pleads for the release of William Desmond Taylor.

The story takes place in Argentina, as "Robert Wainwright" arrives to take care of his father's estate, but because of the circumstances revolving around the corrupt government. "Robert" joins the rebels and becomes "Captain Alvarez", overthrows a dictator and wins the hand of the lovely "Bonita".

Dennis Deane-Tanner, William's younger brother, showed up in 1914, and may have appeared in a minor uncredited role in "Captain Alvarez" as blacksmith. However, Dennis, who had an unrelated New York City Antique business, had fallen from the same apple-tree his brother did. Back in the same year, 1912, Dennis abandoned his wife "Ada" and two daughters. The three were destitute and William started sending them fifty-dollars a month. 

Above, Dennis Gage Deane-Tanner at either 35, or 36 years of age. There would be speculation that it was Dennis who murdered his brother.

According to Daisy Deane-Tanner, with her mother, the two saw "Captain Alvarez" and Ethel pointed out that William Desmond Taylor was her father. The young girl started a correspondence with her father that lasted until his death.

Two more acting roles in 1914, including "The Criminal Code", released September 28th. In which he may have, without on-screen credited, partly Directed, followed "Captain Alvarez". "The Criminal Code" is important, because of the leading lady, actress Neva Gerber. She became Taylor's "partner" for the next five years.

William Desmond Taylor now switched to full time Director. Although there were two films, one in 1914, in which he had an unconfirmed minor acting role. Along with one in 1915, "An Eye for an Eye", that he Directed and co-starred with Neva Gerber.

In all, after "The Criminal Code", Taylor Directed six more 1914 films, and nine 1915 films.

1916, saw William Desmond Taylor Direct another nine feature films. These included the 50 minute long biography, "Davy Crockett", released on July 16, 1916, and starring popular Dustin Farnum. It was only the third motion picture about Crockett and the longest to date. 

Above, American actor, Dustin Farnum and, British actress, Winifred Kingston as "Eleanor Vaughn".

In 1917, Taylor would Direct another eight motion pictures and three starred Jack Pickford. Who had gotten his start in motion pictures through the "Art of Nepotism", because he was the younger brother of "America's Sweetheart" Mary Pickford. One of these features was Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer", released on December 10, 1917. Jack Pickford, at 21 years of age, portrayed "Tom" and Robert Gordon, at 22 years of age, portrayed "Huckleberry Finn". While, 13 years old, Clara Horton, portrayed "Becky Thatcher".

Above left, Jack Pickford as "Tom" and on the right, Robert Gordon as "Huck".

May 13, 1918, saw the release of the William Desmond Taylor Directed "Huck and Tom" starring Jack Pickford and Robert Gordon.

"Huck and Tom" was  Taylor's second film for 1918, and on June 23, 1918, William Desmond Taylor saw the release of his Comedy Drama, "How Could You Jean?", starring Jack's older sister, Mary Pickford.

Above, Casson Ferguson as "Ted Burton, Jr.", stares at the antics of Mary Pickford as "Jean Mackaye".

Taylor and Pickford immediately followed "How Could You Jean?", with "Johanna Enlists", released September 15, 1918. 

Above on the film's set is William Desmond Taylor, on the left, looking at his leading lady, Mary Pickford. 

The story was about a young girl who lives on a farm. When an entire regiment of United States soldiers encamps on it and she becomes the center of attraction to the men.

Speaking of enlisting during World War One! Although the two Mary Pickford features were released late in 1918. Like most motion pictures, they had been shot earlier that year, because, in July 1918, William Desmond Taylor had enlisted in the "Canadian Expeditionary Force" as an Army Private. 
He trained for the next four months at Fort Edward, Nova Scotia, and then sailed on a troop ship from Halifax. Arriving in London on December 2, 1918, Taylor was posted to Hounslow Barracks, London. After which, because of his film work, William Desmond Taylor, was assigned to the "Royal Army Service Corps of the Expeditionary Forces Canteen Service" at Dunkirk, France.

On January 15, 1919, Private William Desmond Taylor was promoted to the temporary grade of Lieutenant. By March, 1919, Major Taylor, Company D, Royal Fusiliers, had reached his final billet at Bergues, France. 

After his enlistment ended, William Desmond Taylor returned to Hollywood. There he was honored with a formal banquet at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Which was given by the Motion Pictures Directors Association.

Taylor's first motion picture upon his return was the Comedy, "Captain Kid, Jr.", released on April 6, 1919, and starring Mary Pickford.

On November 23, 1919, a version of novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" was released, Directed by William Desmond Taylor. The film starred actress Mary Miles Minter and a little background is in order, because Taylor became her "Mentor" and possibly something else.

Above, Mary Miles Minter in "Anne of Green Gables".

At the age of five, Juliet Reilley, her father was J. Homer Reilley, was dominated by her "Stage Mother", actress Charlotte Shelby, actually Lily Pearl Miles, her maiden name. Who wanted to recapture her own lost acting dreams through Juliet. 

Lily would finally got her daughter a role in the play, "Cameo Kirby". Which was written by Booth Tarkington, the novels "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Alice Adams", and Harry Leon Wilson, the novels, "The Ruggles of Gap" and "Merton of the Movies". All four novels would be turned into very successful motion pictures, The first from Director Orson Welles, the second starring Katharine Hepburn, the third starring Charles Laughton, and the fourth starring Comedian Red Skelton.

Juliet's mother kept pushing her daughter as "Juliet Shelby". At the age of nine, using the "Shelby" name, the preteen actress starred in her first motion picture, as "The Child", in a 1911 short subject Drama, "The Nurse".

However, Charlotte Shelby's plans were about to run into trouble in 1912, Chicago, because of the Child Labor Laws covering a ten years old girl appearing on stage. Her quick action was to get the Louisiana birth certificate of Charlotte's sister's deceased daughter and Juliet Reilley now became, "Mary Miles Minter".

On March 1, 1915, Mary Miles Minter, started her motion picture career with "The Fairy and the Waif". Four years later, with "Anne of Green Gables", under Director William Desmond Taylor as his protegee, she started her transition away from child roles and her mother. 

Taylor had a double film release on February 29, 1920. The first was a remake of "Huckleberry Finn", and the second, "Judy of Rouges; Harbor", starring Mary Miles Minter. The studio system was attempting to turn her into another Mary Pickford. 

In April, the two released, both, "Nurse Majorie" and "Jenny Be Good".  While on June 1, 1920, Taylor sent Minter the following signed photograph.

Two films without Mary Miles Minter completed 1920 for Taylor.

Next it was the Mystery Thriller, "The Witching Hour". About a man sentenced to death, but a mentalist believes he's innocent and was hypnotized at the time of the killing. The feature started 1921 for William Desmond Taylor with an April 10th release date.

In 1922, William Desmond Taylor, only, Directed two feature films, "The Green Temptation", released April 2, 1922, and "Top of New York", released June 18, 1922.

The point of those release dates, is that by February 1, 1922, William Desmond Taylor was dead!


Above is the February 3, 1922, front page of the San Francisco ExaminerThe first headline is about the death of William Desmond Taylor, shown in the lower left corner, below a picture of actress Mable Normand. 

Up until Taylor's murder, Newspaper Front Page's across the United States, as the second headline  refers too. Were taken up with the "Second Trial" of Actor and Comedian Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle.

It was alleged the Arbuckle had Raped actress Virginia Rappe and her death caused a manslaughter charge against the Comedian. Between, November 1921 and April 1922, there would actually be three trials. 

The first was a mistrial, because of a juror who, no matter what the evidence presented by the Defense, said she would find Arbuckle guilty. The second trial would end in a deadlocked jury and declared a mistrial. The third, would find Roscoe Arbuckle not guilty, but his films had already been banned throughout the United States and several foreign counties and nobody wanted to hire him.

It is believed that Virginia Rappe's bladder may have been damaged from an abortion actually causing her death. It was just a few days before "Fatty" Arbuckle's party, that the rape charges and Rappe's death were associated with, that her abortion had taken place. However, it couldn't be proven that she had been pregnant, because her organs had been destroyed during the initial autopsy. 

Above, Roscoe Arbuckle and below, Virginia Rappe.

The Discovery of William Desmond Taylor's Body

William Desmond Taylor lived in a bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, 404-B South Alvarado Street, Westlake District, Los Angles.

At 7:30 AM, February 2, 1922, Taylor's "Houseman", Henry Peavey, arrived as normal. He entered William Desmond Taylor's bungalow and discovered Taylor lying on his back in the living room. Peavey ran from the bungalow screaming and caused the other residents to come out. 

Paramount Pictures, the studio William Desmond Taylor was working under contract, was immediately called and Peavey was told to expect their representatives. Who would tell him what to do next!

The people sent by studio arrived, finding neighbors and others inside the bungalow, going through the Director's closets and personal belongs. This was stopped and the Paramount Representatives went to examine Taylor's body and then the Los Angeles Police Department was contacted.

Next, the Paramount Representatives got everyone to leave except Henry Peavey. Whom, they instructed to clean-up the blood and the apartment. The Paramount Representatives looked for any incriminating letter's and removed them. They overlooked some in William Desmond Taylor's boots. They also had time to remove all the bootleg liquor in the bungalow.

It should be noted that the still relatively new Motion Picture Industry was under constant attack by State and City censors and Religious groups protecting America's morality. While, the country was already in the middle of the second Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle trial. So, for Paramount Studios, the operative action was "Cover-up"!

My article, "CENSORSHIP Protecting (?) America's Morality In Motion Pictures: 1923 to 1971", will be found at:

Finally, Los Angeles Police Lieutenant Tom Ziegler arrived at the cleaned-up crime scene. He was told by some of the "Souvenir Scavengers" that prior to the Paramount Studio Representatives arriving. A man, stating he was a Doctor, examined William Desmond Taylor's body. The "Doctor" told the on-lookers that Taylor had died of a stomach hemorrhage. After which, he left the bungalow and was never seen again. 

Forensic Investigators, the forerunners of CSI, arrived and were told about the mysterious doctor. They rolled Taylor's body over and discovered a bullet wound in his back. The Forensic Investigators concluded, at the scene, that he had been shot, at least once, by a .38 caliber pistol that used a specially made bullet. 

Found on William Desmond Taylor, was a wallet with $78 (Adjusted for inflation, at the time of this writing, to $1,221), a silver cigarette case, a Waltham pocket watch, a pen knife, a locket containing a picture of actress Mabel Normand and on Taylor's finger was a two-carat diamond ring.

At the time, Robbery, wasn't considered the motive for the murder. However, according to William Desmond Taylor's Public Accountant, he had taken out a large amount of money the day before. How much was never determined, or what happened to it?

The above photo of William Desmond Taylor's body was touched-up by the Press at the time of its release.

No murder weapon would ever be found!

The Night of February 1, 1922

Her name was really, Amabel Ethelreid Normand, but the Worldwide movie fans knew her as Mabel Normand. She was the last person, known, to have seen William Desmond Taylor, ALIVE! 










Mabel's first motion picture role was at the age of 17, in the 1910, Comedy Short, "Indiscretions of Betty". Over her career, Mabel Normand would be directed by Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplain and even herself. 

Mable would appear with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in seventeen short subjects and her name would be connected, indirectly, with his trials. Her career started to decline, beginning with the banning of their motion pictures. 

However, Normand also appeared in sixteen films with Charlie Chaplain. Later, as a Producer, Mabel Normand worked with studio head Mack Sennett and also, wrote Screenplays.


Above, Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, in the 13-minute short subject, "Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day", released on January 14, 1915.

On February 1, 1922, Mabel Normand dined with William Desmond Taylor at his bungalow.

The official story was that Normand and Taylor had a mutual appreciation of reading. William had invited Mabel to his bungalow to get a book he wanted her to read. After dinner, she left with the book, and didn't see him again.

Mabel Normand was the second person questioned in the murder. Henry Peavy had been the first at the scene. 

What brought on a grueling interrogation of Mabel Normand, by the Los Angeles Police Department, was her statement that she left William Desmond Taylor's bungalow at 7:45 PM.   

The Official Time of Death was 7:50 PM. 

In the end, Mabel Normand was never considered a suspect in the murder by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Besides the lurid newspaper stories about Mabel Normand being the lover of William Desmond Taylor. It would come out that she had been, or possibly still was, a heavy cocaine user. She had gone to the Director for help with ending her addiction. Mabel would admit, in interviews with the Police Department, to still having relapses.

One theory, by crime author Robert Giroux, in his 1990 work, "A Deed of Death". Is that William Desmond Taylor was killed by Mabel's drug suppliers, because Taylor was planning to turn them into the police. According to this theory, Normand's suppliers hired a hit man to kill the Director and he laid in wait until Mabel left the bungalow. Which would explain the closeness in the time. However, this is only an unsupported theory like many others.

Later, in 1924, Mabel Normand's chauffer, Joe Kelly, shot and wounded amateur golfer Courtland S Dines using Normand's pistol. 

The story:

There had been heavy drinking by Mabel with the married Courtland at his home. On orders from Normand's friend and housekeeper, Mrs. Edith, possibly, Ethel, Burns. Joe Kelly, was sent to get the actress out of Courtland's house. Earlier, Mrs. Burns and Kelly had expressed the same fear that Mabel Normand might be considering committing suicide. Locating the pistol was easy and Joe was given the task of getting rid of it. The need to get Normand out of Dines house took priority. 

However, according to Joe Kelly, an argument broke out between him and Courtland Dines. Dines became very abusive, picked up a whiskey bottle and started for the chauffer to hit him with it. On reflex, Joe Kelly pulled out Mabel Normand's pistol and shot Courtland Dines in self-defense. After taking Normand home, he went to the police to report the shooting. 

In response to this scandal, several movie theaters pulled more of Mable Normand's motion pictures and the Ohio State censorship board banned all of her motion pictures from the State.

On February 23, 1930, in Monrovia, California, Mabel Normand passed away from tuberculosis at the Pottenger Sanatorium. She was 36 years of age.

The Considered Suspects By the Los Angeles Police Department

Henry Peavey 

Peavey had been working for William Desmond Taylor for six months prior to the murder as both a cook and valet. Prior to Taylor, Peavey had worked for the wife of Christy Cabanne, an Assistant Director to D.W. Griffith.

Three Days before the murder, 
Peavey had been arrested for "social vagrancy" while being "lewd and dissolute". Which under "California Penal Code 647 (a)" was a "sex crime". Taylor was scheduled to appear in court, February 2nd, on Henry Peavey's behalf.

Some reporters, working for Publisher William Randolph Hearst, believed Peavey was concealing information. They actually had him kidnapped a few weeks after the murder. The plan was to scare him into confessing to it, or at the least, reveal what information he was withholding. 

According, to the January 7, 1930 issue of the "Los Angeles Record" newspaper, Henry Peavey believed, the still unsupported theory, that Mabel Normand was the murderer.

Peavey died one year later, from tertiary syphilis, at the Napa State Hospital, in Napa, California. 

Edward Sands

Prior to Henry Peavey, Edward F. Sands was the cook and valet for William Desmond Taylor. He had been born Edward Fitzgerald Synder. Synder would go by the names, Edward Fitzwilliam Strathmore, and Jazz!

Although, Sands was born in Marion, Ohio, he spoke with a distinctive British accent. Mary Miles Minter would refer to it as "Cockney"! 

William Desmond Taylor apparently trusted "Sands" and left him in charge of his affairs in 1921. When Taylor took an extended vacation. This was a mistake, because when the Director returned home he discovered his valet gone. Also, missing was his car, a large supply of specially made  cigarettes, jewelry, and most importantly, Taylor's check book. Which Sands used to forge and cash checks.

After Peavy was installed as cook and valet, a letter from Edward Sands was received by Taylor. It included a pawn ticket for some of the jewelry taken, but more important was the name the jewelry had been pawned under, Willian Deane Tanner! A name the Director had never mentioned to anyone from before his arrival in Los Angeles. 

The questions remain:

What did his ex-valet know about the life of William Desmond Taylor and how did he acquire that information?

Then, one of those distinctive cigarettes was found smoked and crush on the doorstep of Taylor's bungalow. Footprints were left on the bed and more jewelry had been stolen. The Los Angeles Police Department located receipts indicating the jewelry had been sold in Northern California by Edward Sands. Further investigation uncovered Sands had deserted from the United States Coast Guard.

The one thing never found was Edward Sands and he remains a suspect in Taylor's murder.

Charlotte Shelby Reilly

Above, Charlotte Shelby on stage and below, Shelby in 1923.

By all appearances, Mary Miles Minter's mother, Charlotte Shelby Reilley, had a motive for the murder.

She believed, incorrectly, that her, 19 years old, daughter had been, 49 years old, William Desmond Taylor's lover for the two years prior to his murder. Charlotte came to this conclusion, because of the intense love letters Mary had sent William. Which Charlotte Reilley discovered prior to the murder. Eventually the letters would be found out by the press and released to the public in sensational scandalous articles.

It would be discovered that Mary's love letters were a one-sided fantasy of the young actress. William Desmond Taylor had remained purely professional with Mary Miles Minter.

The Detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department initially discovered that Charlotte Shelby owned a .38 caliber pistol. A pistol that used the same special bullets from the William Desmond Taylor murder. She became a suspect with a motive to murder Taylor.

The problem for the Police Department was Thomas Lee Wooline, the Los Angeles District Attorney, at the time, and a close friend of Charlotte's. Wooline jused his office to block the detective's investigation of her. Meanwhile, the knowledge of the pistol was leaked to the press. That led to the police finding out that Charlotte Shelby Reilley, allegedly, while on a trip to Louisiana, had thrown the pistol into the bayou, but Wooline created an impasse for the detectives over her.

In 1928, ex-California Lieutenant Governor, Buron Fitts, became the new Los Angeles District Attorney and decided to reopen the William Desmond Taylor murder case. Fitts had been Assistant District Attorney in 1922, would become Chief Deputy District Attorney in 1924 and Lieutenant Governor in 1926.. Now, he wanted to question Charlotte Shelby Reilley, but upon hearing this, she left for Europe to avoid being questioned.  

Almost 20 years after the murder of William Desmond Taylor, Buron Fitts, still the Los Angeles District Attorney, having  been elected four times, finally concluded that there wasn't enough evidence for an indictment of Charlotte.

Above, District Attorney Buron Fitts.

Fitts, recommended that all the remaining evidence and files pertaining to the murder of  William Desmond Taylor be retained on a permanent basis. At some point, all the evidence just disappeared.

Charlotte Shelby Reilly died on March 13, 1957, of what was called an alcohol related illness at the age of 79.

Mary Miles Minter passed away on August 4, 1984, from a stroke at the age of 82. 

She never acted again, after her last motion picture, 1923's, "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine". In 1937, still being mentioned in connection with the murder. MinterL released a statement in the "Los Angeles Examiner":
Now I demand that I either be prosecuted for the murder committed fifteen years ago, or exonerated completely. If the District Attorney has any evidence, he should prosecute. If not, then I should be exonerated... Shadows have been cast upon my reputation.
|Later, when Mary Miles Minter's unpublished autobiography was read. In it, she admitted that with her mother, the two had visited William Desmond Taylor at his bungalow on February 1, 1922. This was before his dinner with Mabel Normand. The two had lied to the Los Angeles Police Department by claiming they had not seen Taylor that day.

Margaret Gibson



Ella Margaret Gibson was an actress who appeared in 147 motion pictures between 1913 and 1929. She used several names for her motion picture credits. These included, Margie Gibson, Marguerite Gibson, Ella Margaret Lewis, Ella Margaret Arce, Pat Lewis, Patricia Palmer and Patty Palmer. The incorporation of the last name of Lewis, came after her 1935 marriage to Elbert Lewis.

On January 31, 1914, the two reel drama, "The Love of Tokiwa", was released. Margaret Gibson portrayed the Japanese young woman of the title. William Desmond Taylor portrayed "Richard Davis", whose in love with the Mission Schoolmistress, Anna Lang", portrayed by Bertie Pitcairn. The story is set in a small Japanese fishing village.

Above, William Desmond Taylor and Margaret Gibson, below, a still from 
their previously mentioned "The Night Riders of Petersham", released on April 6, 1914.

On April 14, 1914, Margret Gibson portrayed "Alice, a shop girl", and William Desmond Taylor portrayed "George Dale, a society man", in the ten-minute long, "The Kiss".

The following link, at the time of this writing, will take my reader to "The Kiss". This is the only known surviving feature of William Desmond Taylor's twenty-seven motion picture appearances.

Taylor and Gibson made one other short motion picture together and that was "A Little Madonna", released April 23, 1914. 

The filming of those four films are the only known meetings of Margaret Gibson and William Desmond Taylor

In 1917, Gibson had been arrested on charges of vagrancy, but in actuality she went to trial on allegations of drug dealing and selling opium. The trial was very public and afterwards, to continue acting, Gibson started those name changes. 

On November 2, 1923, Gibson was arrested for extorting money from George W. Lasher. She told Lasher to pay up, or she would get him charged under the  "Mann Act". The police were also able to tie Margaret Gibson to two convicted blackmailers. They had been arrested two weeks earlier for the attempted blackmail of  Ohio Businessman, John L. Bushnell.

The publicity over the Lasher extortion had the papers confused over her name and Gibson was referred to as both Margaret Gibson and Patricia Palmer. In fact, the website, IMDb lists her as "Patricia Palmer AS Margaret Gibson", for the short, "The Night Riders of Petersham". While, correctly on the other three shorts she made with Taylor.

Over the next six years, Margaret Gibson could only find sporadic work in the film industry. When the motion picture industry switched to sound her acting  career was completely over. In 1935, Margaret Gibson fled the United States and ended up in Singapore. What caused her very sudden leaving is unknown, but in Singapore, she married Elbert Lewis, an auditor for the "Socony-Vacuum Oil Company" that would merge with "Mobil Oil". There is no surviving information as to how the two met, or why they got married. 

In 1940, Gibson Lewis, had a major medical problem with a bladder infection and couldn't find treatment in Southeast Asia. She left her husband and returned to the United States for proper medical care. Elbert Lewis was killed on March 15, 1945, in a Japanese air strike on the "Socony-Vacuum Oil Field" in Malaysia. The two were never reunited.

We next hear of the one-time actress in 1949, when she moved to a furnished house at 6135 Glen Oak St. in the Hollywood Hills. It was reported that she hardly ever came out of the house.

On October 24, 1964, while still living in her Hollywood Hills house, Margaret Gibson Lewis, suffered a heart attack. She had recently converted to the Catholic faith and, knowing she was dying, called for a priest. Even though, as I have stated, no one knew of any further contact between Gibson and Taylor, other than the four previously mentioned motion picture short drama's.

On her death bed, Margaret Gibson confessed to the February 1, 1922, murder of William Desmond Taylor!

While, according to some of Gibson's neighbors:

They were all together watching the television program, "Ralph Story's Los Angeles". This was Episode 35, October 20, 1964, of the first season, on KNXT (CBS), Channel 2.

In the program, Ralph Story had a segment about William Desmond Taylor's murder.

Suddenly, according to the neighbors, as reported at the time:

Margaret Gibson Lewis:

became hysterical and blurted out that she'd killed him and thought it was long forgotten.

Could this have been true?

It is documented that Margaret Gibson Lewis was in Los Angeles in February, 1922.

One of William Desmond Taylor's neighbors in the bungalows was Faith MacLean. Before her marriage to actor Douglas MacLean on April 8, 1914. Faith Adelaide Cole performed in Summer Stock Theaters and the two met during a run and continued acting together.

It is believed, by the Los Angeles Police Department, that Faith MacLean saw the murderer leaving William Desmond Taylor's bungalow. It is Mrs. MacLean's description that might point to and confirm Margaret Gibson Lewis' death bed confession.

Faith and Douglas MacLean were startled by a loud noise at approximately 8 PM on the night of February 1, 1922. Faith MacLean stated she opened the front door and saw someone leaving Taylor's bungalow. The person made eye contact and smiled at her and continued to walk away. She thought nothing more of it and went back into her bungalow.

When questioned by Detectives, Faith MacLean stated the person leaving Taylor's bungalow could have been a woman dressed like a man. In her testimony, she used the phrase that the man-woman was dressed: 
like my idea of a motion picture burglar
What could have been Gibson's motive, if she had no contact with Taylor for years?

Apparently the records, that disappeared in 1940, contained reported comments heard from Margaret Gibson Lewis suggesting she might have been involved with blackmail related to the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle trial. Some seemed to point to William Desmond Taylor as one of her targets. As Hollywood celebrities were being tied to the Arbuckle scandal by the media for just having been associated with the Comic Actor. Causing fear for their careers as illustrated by what happened to Mabel Normand. Of course, we will never know for sure what, if any, truth there is to Gibson Lewis' confession.

As I had fun in my opening with popular fictional detectives. Your guess is as good as anyone as to who really killed William Desmond Taylor?


































Gordon Douglas: The Little Rascals (Our Gang) - Giant Ants - and Francis Albert Sinatra

When asked to name a "Classic Film Director", depending upon how much you're into motion pictures, what's your favorite ge...