Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Drugs, Sex, and Murder in 1920s Tinseltown


What was going on? What on earth could William Desmond Taylor have in his home that would induce such a frenzy of cover-up?

Fatty Arbuckle
Fatty Arbuckle

It certainly wasn't a robbery. Taylor's jewelry and money had not been taken, and nothing valuable seemed to have been removed from the house. The scavenging studio people — there were at least three going through drawers and closets — must have believed that something would direct suspicion toward someone. The questions were: Who was that someone? Why would it matter?

The movie industry was run by a nervous group of moguls. If there was one thing they feared, it was scandal. Each unfortunate episode created terror in the money men of Hollywood. The famous rape case in which the popular comedian Fatty Arbuckle was the accused generated a great deal of adverse publicity. The screen idol Wallace Reid, weakened by his addiction to morphine, died of a heart attack.

Will Hays, Postmaster General
Will Hays, Postmaster

Coupled with these sensational cases and other reports of orgies and dope parties was the appearance on the Hollywood scene of Will Hays. Hays was no stranger to licentious living, having recently been a member of the Cabinet of Warren G. Harding. Hays, hired by Hollywood to improve its image, to censor the racy bits in films, and to monitor its employees' behavior, was in full tilt at the time of the Taylor murder.

Another scandal would have been one too many.