Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Mary Miles Minter

Mary Miles Minter was known to be in love with Taylor. She was a lovely young actress who hated acting. Born Juliet Reilly in 1902, her mother Charlotte changed the family name to Shelby after her marriage to Juliet's father, J. Homer Reilly, collapsed. Shelby appears to have been a classic stage mother." She was determined to see that little Juliet became a successful actress. Mom wanted her child on stage or in the movies rather than in school so she decided that Juliet had to depict herself as older than she was. To that end, Charlotte got hold of the birth certificate of her dead niece, Mary Miles Minter, and christened her daughter with a new name and age.

Mary Miles Minter recalled how her ambitious mother had robbed Mary of her childhood. "My mother tried to keep me a 'little girl' with curls down my back," she said, "but earlier she made me appear and act older than I was. When I was eight, I was passed off for 16, twice my age, and dressed as a midget, with high heels and long skirts, so that I could play the stellar role in 'The Littlest Rebel' at the Chicago Opera House."

When Mary met Taylor in 1919, she was 16 and he was approaching 50. However, the teenager was already established as a screen presence, having appeared in well-received movies like Emmy of Stork's Nest and Barbara Frietchie. She soon had a crush on Taylor. Did he reciprocate her feelings? Did he actually become intimate with her? She was under the age of legal consent so to have sex with her would have been a crime on Taylor's part. Some observers believe Taylor had an affair with her. Others think he was only friendly with the young woman.

The death of the man she loved would be both a personal and a professional disaster for Mary. The revelation that she had, or at least wanted to be, involved with the older man caused a wave of public revulsion. Her films were boycotted.

However, Mary had never enjoyed acting, so the loss of her career did not appear to cause her much grief. She seemed to just want to forget her days as a star. Unlike so many of those close to the murdered director, she had a long, if not always happy, life and lived to be 82.

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