Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Drugs, Sex, and Murder in 1920s Tinseltown

So, What Happened?

There have been several suggestions for the murder of William Desmond Taylor, some more plausible than others.

Charlotte Shelby
Charlotte Shelby

The first possibility is that Charlotte Shelby killed Taylor. Her motive was that she could not afford to have her daughter deeply involved with a man — any man. Her alibi was contrived, and she spent the rest of her life paying the man who supported her alibi, to keep his mouth shut. On the other hand, the payments may have been to protect her daughter. Elements of this scenario may be true.

The second solution suggested is that Taylor was killed by a hitman hired by drug pushers to silence him. This proposal exists because none of the principals in the case can be easily pinned down as the possible killer. While an interesting theory, it may make too much of Taylor's protectiveness of Mabel Normand.

The third theory is that Mary Miles Minter killed Taylor, probably accidentally. This theory suggests that Minter sneaked out of her house after midnight. She went to Taylor's house, with the gun that she had used in her earlier bungled suicide attempt. She confronted Taylor with undying devotion, waved the gun in order to convince him that if he did not return her passion she would kill herself. The gun went off. Helpless, she tenderly positioned the mortally wounded Taylor, watched him expire, and returned home. Very likely Minter told her mother, and Charlotte devised the cover-up.

This theory proposes that Taylor was not killed at 8:00 p.m. on Feb. 1, but shortly after midnight on Feb. 2. This proposition is consistent with some of the observations at the crime scene, as compromised and confused as it was.

Although the case has irrelevant issues (conspiracies, homosexuality, Taylor's past, and so on), this explanation seems to fit a straightforward interpretation of the facts. Coupled with the observation that District Attorney Woolwine and his corrupt successors all seemed to be covering up the likelihood of Minter as the killer, this seems to be a reasonable interpretation of the mystery.