Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Mabel Turns to Drugs

Sometime during these periods of upheaval, Normand turned to narcotics to help her cope and got hooked. She also became involved with William Desmond Taylor, either as a close friend or a girlfriend. There are some reports that Taylor may have used narcotics but it is certain that he never became addicted. He sometimes broke into tears over Normand's condition.

Concern over Normand's drug dependency may have led Taylor to violence. Deed of Death recounts his having gotten into a fistfight with a dealer who was making a delivery to Normand. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Green said publicly that Taylor had asked the government's assistance in combating dope pushers who sold their goods to film people.

Some who thought Mabel Normand was having an affair with Taylor suspected her of killing him. They thought she might have been jealous of his relationships with other women. Others speculated that Mack Sennett, who was known to still be in love with Normand and always hopeful of rekindling their romance, had murdered Taylor.

Still others believe that a drug dealer Taylor had angered in his efforts to save her from addiction had killed him or hired a hit man to do it.

Normand's career faded after Taylor's death, partly because of the suspicions that followed it. Her addiction and emotional problems may also have contributed to her being out of work for a while. 

Less than two years after Taylor was murdered, Normand found herself in the midst of yet another shooting scandal. She was at a New Year's celebration in 1924, hosted by the wealthy Courtland Dines. Normand's chauffeur, Joe Kelly, got into a fight with Dines and shot him. The latter suffered only superficial wounds and easily recovered. Kelly claimed he acted in self-defense and a jury believed him. The shooting further damaged Normand's reputation leading to the banning of her films in some states and boycotts in others.

She made a comeback in 1926. It was welcomed by Mary Pickford who, far from treating her fellow actress as a rival, took out an advertisement in Motion Picture World in which she said, "welcome back to the screen" to the dark-haired comedienne. The movie was called The Nickel Hopper. She made a few more movies but never got back to the top of her game.

Tuberculosis took Normand's life on February 22, 1930, at the age of 35.

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