Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

A Last Goodbye

William Desmond Taylor
William Desmond

On February 1, 1922, William Desmond Taylor was enjoying a rich, full life. In that silent film era, he was one of Hollywood's most successful and respected directors. He had directed such acting greats as Mary Pickford, Dustin Farnum, Wallace Reid and Mary Miles Minter. His notable films included Davy Crockett, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He had recently directed The Green Temptation starring Bett Compson and Anne of the Green Gables. Both motion pictures had been well received (perhaps green was a lucky color for him) so he could look forward to directing many more movies.

The director resided in a California neighborhood called West Lake Park, at the time a fashionable area. His home was in Alvarado Court, a collection of bungalows grouped in a U-shape around an elaborately landscaped garden. Each house was built in a Spanish style with white stucco and red tiled roofs. The occupants of Alvarado Court tended to be people in the movie business. Another director, Charles Maigne, lived next door to Taylor. Acclaimed screen actors Agnes Ayres, Douglas MacLean and Edna Purviance also lived in Alvarado Court.

Taylor's bungalow in Alvarado Court
Taylor's bungalow in Alvarado Court

Taylor's life was not entirely charmed. Earlier that year, his valet had defrauded and stole from him. Taylor had been in England when plump Edward Sands, the director's cook, valet and secretary, wrecked Taylor's car, forged checks for over $5,000, and stole jewels and clothes from his employer. Sands was not caught. He appeared to have simply vanished before the director returned to America.

Taylor's replacement valet and cook, Henry Peavey, had gotten into some trouble unconnected with his job. Peavey had been arrested for vagrancy and indecent exposure, charges often made against homosexuals cruising for partners in those days. Taylor had put up bail for his beleaguered servant. The director had also promised the court that he would appear on Peavey's behalf on February 2.

Taylor was close to the actress Mabel Normand and, for good reason, deeply concerned about her. In some accounts of the case, Taylor and Normand were in love. In others, they were close friends who shared books and laughs. In either case, Normand, like so many people in Hollywood in the post-World War I era, had experimented with mood altering drugs. She became addicted, and Taylor wanted to help her kick the habit.

Normand visited Taylor that day, February 1, to pick up a book on German philosophy. She left Taylor's home at about 7:45 p.m. The director walked her to her car where he teased her about having a copy of the Police Gazette in the vehicle, a lowbrow magazine considered racy in its day. The philosophy book and the cheap, raunchy magazine certainly made for eclectic reading.  Normand blew kisses at Taylor as he waved goodbye.

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