Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Drugs, Sex, and Murder in 1920s Tinseltown

Mary Miles Minter

William Desmond Taylor with Mary Miles Minter
William Desmond Taylor with
Mary Miles Minter

Another suspect was the young blond movie star Mary Miles Minter. Several pieces of evidence led investigators to believe that she was the murderer.

First, there was a love note of adolescent enthusiasm, complete with symbols of love and kisses, found in Taylor's apartment. Second, there was the pink nightgown, conveniently monogrammed with "MMM." Minter, a mere 19-years-old, had all of the characteristics of a swooning teenager. Coupled with the fact that Taylor reportedly repulsed her enthusiastic advances toward him was the knowledge that she was clearly unstable. She had attempted suicide (albeit clumsily) and she was a first-class neurotic prima donna on movie sets. What more likely suspect than a slightly wacko movie ingénue?

Further, Minter had a classic stage mother, an avaricious control freak who kept her in an emotionally childish state. Charlotte Shelby, Minter's monster of a mother, was extremely protective of her daughter. Mary Miles Minter was, after all, the source of the wealth that Shelby needed to maintain her Hollywood lifestyle. She wasn't an unlikely suspect herself.

Fortunately, Minter and her mother were able to provide each other with alibis for what was believed to be the time of the murder.

What is fascinating about Minter as a suspect is that the first district attorney, Thomas Lee Woolwine, charged with investigating the case apparently ignored the evidence against Minter. It is likely he engaged in a cover-up. Woolwine not only suppressed pieces of evidence (such as the pink nightgown and Minter's ownership of a .38 revolver), but lost them. Why?

Even more curious is that Woolwine's successors as district attorney, Asa Keyes and Burton Fitts, both reopened the case during the next seven years after the murder, and, despite the evidence that Minter had a strong motive and had given conflicting accounts of the hours surrounding the murder, dropped their inquiries. Again, one has to ask why. Who wanted Minter protected? Could it have been that all three district attorneys were so politically ambitious that they bowed to pressure from one or more of the powerful movie studio heads? After all, the larger-than-life Samuel Goldwyn was in love with Minter. Did he have the influence to protect her?

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