Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Did Butler #1 Do It?

In June 1921, Taylor sailed for England. He was recuperating from surgery and doctors advised that a vacation with a change of scenery would be a good idea. During his absence, a friend and colleague, playwright and novelist Edward Knoblock stayed in Taylor's Alvarado Court home while Taylor would spend his vacation in a London apartment of Knoblock's.

The director was concerned that Knoblock might want something during his stay and wished to make sure his friend was comfortable. So Taylor signed a blank check, handed it to Sands, and told him to use it if an emergency came up.

Bad move.

Sands filled the check in for $5,000 and cashed it. But that was only the beginning of his thefts.  He forged his boss's signature and cashed other checks. Shortly before Taylor's expected return, Sands brought a large trunk into the house. He asked Knoblock for permission to take a week off for a honeymoon and the guest granted it.

Sands left and never returned. When Taylor returned, a variety of valuables were missing. The director's car was gone but later found, deserted and wrecked. A complaint was issued against Sands on August 3, 1921 but the police were unable to locate him.

It is possible that the valet-turned-thief contacted his victim in December 1921. On Christmas Eve, Taylor received a letter along with two pawn tickets made out to "William C. Dene-Tanner."  The tickets were for Taylor's diamond cuff links. The letter was brief and curious. "Dear Mr. Taylor," it began, "So sorry to inconvenience you, even temporarily, also observe the lesson of the forced sale of assets. A Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year." It was signed "Alias Jimmie Valentine," the title of an O. Henry story about a thief.

The police continued to search unsuccessfully for Sands after Taylor's death, but they never charged him with murder. There was, after all, no evidence to support such a charge. There was not even anything supporting the contention that Sands was in the vicinity at the time of the slaying. Moreover, Sands' crimes had always been motivated by a desire for gain. If he were the killer, why would he have left behind the cash and valuables? However, many believed then and still believe that Sands was the murderer.

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