Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Charlotte Shelby

Charlotte Shelby
Charlotte Shelby

Some who looked at the Taylor mystery years later would wonder if Mary had been involved in it. Others would suspect her strong-willed mother, Charlotte Shelby. Adela Rogers St. John in The Honeycomb claims certainty that Shelby did in Taylor. Her motive? She disapproved of her daughter's infatuation with a much older man. If she believed that the older man was actually enjoying sexual relations with Mary, she would have been outraged at such exploitative behavior on Taylor's part. 

How to explain the man seen by witnesses at the time of the shooting? Those who think Charlotte Shelby did it believe she cross-dressed to kill. Adela Rogers St. John champions that view in her book, The Honeycomb. She quotes Faith MacLean as saying that she saw a person in a man's outfit "pulling her coat collar up and her hat down the way a woman does" and that she was certain it was "a woman dressed as a man."

In A Cast of Killers, a story is told of a meeting between King Vidor and an elderly, obese Mary Miles Minter. He describes her as looking pitiful, surrounded by photographs from her silent film heyday, and giving the impression of being an overweight version of Sunset Blvd.'s Norma Desmond. She supposedly told him, tears in her eyes, "My mother killed everything I ever loved."

Many investigators believe, however, that the person who entered Taylor's apartment was a man, not a woman disguised as a man. Actor Carl Stockdale testified that he had been with Shelby in her house between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on the night Taylor was killed. In 1937, Shelby asked for a grand jury investigation into Taylor's murder; this was hardly the action of someone who feared having the facts come out. Furthermore, Los Angeles district attorney Buron Fitts said there was no evidence on which to indict Shelby.

The depiction of an aging Mary Miles Minter as wrapped up in her past glory should also be taken with a grain of salt. She had never enjoyed her career and, after leaving the movie business behind, supposedly said at a party, "Don't ever discuss my career, bravo!"

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