Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Blast From the Past?

It has been theorized that someone from Taylor's past who had long nursed a grudge murdered him. One version holds that Edward Sands was really the director's brother, Denis Gage Deane-Tanner. A purported tipster wrote to the police saying that William had once stolen Denis' fiancée and that the younger brother was bent on revenge.

Denis Gage Deane-Tanner was a mysterious figure. He was born four years after William, their parents' fourth and last child. Unlike William, Denis was able to please his father by getting into the Army as a youth. He was a lieutenant in the British Army during the Boer War in 1899-1902. He traveled to New York in 1903. Like his elder brother, Denis went into the antique business. He would eventually become the manager of an antique store. Denis wed Ada Brennan in 1907. The couple would have three children but one would die while still a baby. Ada's health was not good and she had to be treated for tuberculosis. In 1912, while she was in a sanitarium for that purpose, Denis, like his brother before him, deserted his family without either warning or explanation.

It is rumored that he eventually got in touch with the brother he seemed to imitate and played a small part in Captain Alvarez. George Hopkins has said that Denis worked for William unofficially and without many people knowing about it.

Ada desperately tried to track Denis down. She was unsuccessful in finding her wayward husband but did locate William Taylor. At first Taylor told her she was mistaken, that he was not a Deane-Tanner and had no relationship to Denis Deane-Tanner. Then Ada burst into tears. She and her children were destitute. She did not know how she could possibly pay the bills. Taylor relented. He told her he would give her $50 per month and did until his death.

One reason people have speculated that Denis Gage Deane-Tanner was Edward Sands is that both had a talent for disappearing from their environments. Additionally, the pawn tickets Taylor received were from someone who knew his real name. However, since Sands read Taylor's mail, it is likely he learned his employer's real name from letters. Photographs exist of both Denis and Sands and they look nothing alike with Denis being lean and lanky and Sands quite overweight.

Some have said that Taylor made an enemy while in the army. A rancher named Andrew Cock reported picking up a couple of hitchhikers from Mexican border towns on the day before the Taylor slaying. Cock said that one of the men, 'Spike,' started talking about a Canadian captain under whom he and his fellow hitchhiker, a man the hitchhiker called 'Shorty,' had served. This captain had supposedly been unusually strict. At one point Spike said they were going to Los Angeles to kill this captain and Shorty brusquely told him to shut up. Cock was getting afraid and when he got to the main street in Santa Ana, stopped the car and told the men he was not traveling any farther. As Shorty exited the car, he dropped a gun that Cock recognized as a .38 caliber revolver.

Investigators took Cock to the border towns of Tijuana and Mexicali from where it seemed likely the men might have come. The group went in and out of resorts and saloons until Cock pointed out someone he recognized as one of the hitchhikers. That turned out to be a mouthy drug addict called Walter 'Red' Kirby who had previously been arrested after saying Taylor "got what was coming to him." Kirby had been cleared.

After getting a better look at him, Cock said Kirby was not one of the men he had seen after all. The Army enemy lead, like so many others, hit a dead end.

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