An Early Hollywood Murder Mystery
February 22, 2009 1:58 AM   Subscribe

The bumping off of a famous person is the sort of oyster that any detective delights to open, so you can just bet the family jewels that I was pretty much elated when my Chief, the late Thomas Lee Woolwine, District Attorney of Los Angeles County, called me into his private office on the morning of February 3rd, 1922, and assigned me to represent his office in the investigation of this greatest of all murder mysteries. -- Excerpted from an article archived at Taylorology, a site exploring the life and death of William Desmond Taylor, a silent movie actor and director whose unsolved murder was among the earliest Hollywood true crime scandals. Researcher Bruce Long first published his accumulated information about the case as a small fanzine which evolved into a monthly electronic newsletter and is now a vast archive of articles and interviews, official documents, photos, and more. Although the Taylor case is the main focus, there's also a wealth of supplemental information about the silent film industry and its stars.

The Taylorology electronic newsletter is also archived at Silent-Movies.Com
posted by amyms (7 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Neat. I read A Cast of Killers as a kid and was thoroughly fascinated by the Taylor case.
posted by padraigin at 8:40 AM on February 22, 2009

Seconding A Cast of Killers as a worthwhile read.

"What fiction writer would have attempted something this unbelievable? Even the smallest aspects of the case tend to amaze." -- Anne Rice, from her NYT review
posted by pmurray63 at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2009

And if you find this interesting, you might also want to look up the 1924 case of Thomas Ince (depicted with a speculative solution in Peter Bogdanovich's movie The Cat's Meow).
posted by pmurray63 at 2:29 PM on February 22, 2009

"Small" "fanzine" is an understatement--some of those issues of Taylorology were only circulated to a handful of silent film scholars. It's great that all of Long's efforts to unravel this mess of a case are widely available.
posted by Scram at 2:29 PM on February 22, 2009

This is good. I first read of the Taylor murder in a comic edited by Art Spiegelman called Sleazy Scandals of the Silver Screen. Kim Deitch illustrated the Taylor story and suggested that it was done by a woman in disguise. (A man was seen leaving Taylor's house.) That might have been Mabel Normand or Mary Miles Minter or Minter's mother. And several issues of Taylorology contain articles about a possible deathbed confession by an ex-silent screen actress who was involved with a gang of blackmailers.
There's no shortage of suspects! The "Dinnertime Burglar", for instance. The theory is, this guy who robbed houses between 5:30 and 6:00 while folks were out at dinner saw Taylor saying goodbye to Mabel Normand outside the house and thought they were leaving for a restaurant. When Taylor went back inside, he surprised the burglar who shot him.
And then there's Tayor's secretary, who disappeared. He may have been Taylor's younger brother, nurturing a deep hatred because Taylor seduced his fiancee. Which brings up the question of Taylor's own first marriage and the family he deserted.
Oh yeah, this is good stuff!
posted by CCBC at 3:12 PM on February 22, 2009

We made a video game in grad school about this murder! I posed as Mary Miles Minter for the cover. We were mentioned on A&E!
posted by mdiskin at 6:58 PM on February 23, 2009

The archives in Taylorology are great stuff. From a 1916 interview with Edna Purviance:

"Yes, I am fond of sports, especially swimming and motoring. I dearly
love ice cream sodas, and strawberry short cake. My chief occupation outside
of posing for the camera is keeping down to 123 pounds. I have a perfect
horror of becoming overplump, and so I exercise every day as a precaution.

No, I don't believe in curling one's hair artificially. I believe that a
blonde is much more attractive with her hair naturally straight.

"Mr. Chaplin is calling me. I guess he is ready for that next scene. Good-bye, and please don't print what I said about getting fat--it sounds so prosaic."
posted by goofyfoot at 12:17 AM on February 25, 2009

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