Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Murder of William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor
William Desmond Taylor (born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner, 26 April 1872 – 1 February 1922) was an Irish-born American actor, successful film director of silent movies and a popular figure in the growing Hollywood film colony of the 1910s and early 1920s. His murder on 1 February 1922, along with other Hollywood scandals such as the Roscoe Arbuckle trial, led to a frenzy of sensationalistic and often fabricated newspaper reports. In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, the name Norma Desmond is a reference to both Taylor's middle name and one of his actress friends, Mabel Normand. Taylor's murder remains officially unsolved.
At 7:30 am on the morning of 2 February 1922, the body of William Desmond Taylor was found inside his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, 404-B South Alvarado Street, in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles, which was then known as a trendy and affluent neighbourhood.
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 haemorrhage 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
In Taylor's pockets were a wallet holding $78 in cash, a silver cigarette case, a Waltham pocket watch, a pen knife and a locket bearing a photograph of actress Mabel Normand. A two carat (400 mg) diamond ring was on his finger. With the appearance of the money and valuables on Taylor's body, it was clearly apparent that a robbery was not the motive for the killing, but a large but undetermined sum of cash which Taylor had shown to his accountant the day before was missing and apparently never accounted for. After some investigation, the time of Taylor's death was set at 7:50 in the evening of 1 February 1922.
While being interviewed by the police five days after the director's body was found, Mary Minter said that following the murder a friend, director and actor Marshall Neilan, told her Taylor had made several highly "delusional" statements about some of his social acquaintances (including her) during the weeks before his death. She also said Neilan thought Taylor had recently become "insane".
In the midst of a media circus caused by the case, Los Angeles Undersheriff Eugene Biscailuz warned Chicago Tribune reporter Eddie Doherty, "The industry has been hurt. Stars have been ruined. Stockholders have lost millions of dollars. A lot of people are out of jobs and incensed enough to take a shot at you."
According to Robert Giroux, "The studios seemed to be fearful that if certain aspects of the case were exposed, it would excacerbate their problems." King Vidor said of the case in 1968: "Last year I interviewed a Los Angeles police detective, now retired, who had been assigned to the case immediately after the murder. He told me, 'We were doing all right and then, before a week was out, we got the word to lay off.'"
More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police. Newspaper reports at the time were both overwhelmingly sensationalised and speculative, even fabricated, and the murder was used as the basis for much subsequent "true crime" fiction. Many inaccuracies were carried forward by later writers who used articles from the popular press as their sources.
Through a combination of poor crime scene management and apparent corruption, much physical evidence was immediately lost, and the rest vanished over the years (although copies of a few documents from the police files were made public in 2007). 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. Given Margaret Gibson's thoroughly documented background, the report of her dying confession attracted the attention of film historians, but aside from circumstantial evidence, no independent confirmation has emerged.

“Got a load of logs and took them to the mill.  Commenced putting the siding on the barn this afternoon.”
Leesah

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