Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Shot in the Back

Shortly after, at about 8 p.m., Taylor was shot in the back inside his home. A single bullet killed him. Many people believe his killer slipped through the door that he had left open while he saw Normand off. The assassin likely waited for the director to return to the house, then ended his life with a single shot.

In the bungalow directly to the east of Taylor's, Faith MacLean, wife of actor Douglas MacLean who had appeared in films directed by Taylor, was seated at her table and enjoying the last course of her evening meal. Her husband had finished his dinner and was upstairs playing cribbage. Suddenly she was startled by a sudden, explosive noise.

Faith looked outside in the direction of the sound. A stranger, who appeared to be a man in his late 20s, came onto the lighted doorway and their eyes met in the early evening's darkness.

Crime scene, arrow points to body
Crime scene, arrow points to body

The man calmly turned around and went back into Taylor's house. A few minutes later he emerged and strolled out of the courtyard through the area between the MacLean and Taylor homes. Reassured by the stranger's unhurried manner, MacLean assumed she had heard a car backfire and thought no more of it — until the next morning.

At about 7:30 a.m. on February 2, Henry Peavey arrived at Taylor's home to fix the director's breakfast. He was carrying a bottle of milk of magnesia that his employer had requested. The valet bent down to pick up the morning newspaper from the doorstep. He had a key, and when he opened the door, let loose a blood-curdling scream.

The fully clothed body of William Desmond Taylor lay on his living room floor. A chair was astride one of his legs. It was later discovered that his pockets held a wallet with $78 in it, a silver cigarette case, an ivory toothpick, and a Waltham pocket watch. A two-carat diamond ring was on his finger. Above his hand he wore an item that had just come into vogue: a wristwatch.

A crowd gathered, and someone phoned the police.  But some people got there before the police did.

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