The William Desmond Taylor Unsolved Murder

William Desmond Taylor was a big deal. A director in the pre-talkie era of Hollywood, Taylor was a giant in the film industry. He worked with the likes of the greats of that time: Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford, Jack Pickford, Wallace Reed, and Douglas MacLean.

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In February of 1922, the houseman found William Desmond Taylor murdered. He had been shot to death, and the resulting furor over his passing went well beyond the tabloids of the era. In context, the murder of William Desmond Taylor was yet another bargaining chip for the growing moral majority of the time period to argue against films as a valid form of creative expression directed at the youth of America.

See, Hollywood — Tinseltown, as it was widely known — was not the innocent place one might imagine. There were plenty of scandals, even back in the Roaring Twenties. Not only did you have the death of William Desmond Taylor, but there was also the Fatty Arbuckle rape trial to contend with. Stars were going to secret rehabs to dry out of their cocaine addictions. People were ODing and ending up cast aside.

William Desmond Taylor Unsolved Murder

Mary Miles Minter

It was a wild time. And William Desmond Taylor’s murder was at the center of it all. To make matters worse, the crime was never officially solved, so this podcast episode is all to do with the unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor.

However, there’s a twist to this story that I would rather not spoil for the casual listener. It’s the thing that makes this particular Hollywood murder something of an anomaly, and it’s almost fit to be put on screen. The William Desmond Taylor book from which I’ve drawn most of my research is, of course, William J. Mann’s ‘Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.’ It is a fantastically-researched book, on par, in my opinion, with Erik Larson’s ‘Devil in the White City.’

William Desmond Taylor Murder

Margaret ‘Gibby’ Gibson

As a bonus, I’m including all of the notes from the episode, which don’t amount to much but will whet your appetite. So, without further ado, here we go!

Theme: “Ten” by DJ Sun

You can find my books on Amazon, as well. Here are the links to the first two works in the Rolson McKane tetralogy:

Here are the other links to find both the podcast(s) and my own thoughts and ramblings:

The Principled Uncertainty Podcast

Twitter: @PUPodcast


William Desmond Taylor Unsolved Murder

Wallace Reed drug addictions

Jack Pickford (Mary’s brother) drug addictions

Olive Thomas death

Fatty Arbuckle



  • President of the Motion Picture Directors Association
  • Reclusive and loved to read
  • He was rumored to be bisexual
  • He was quick to lend money, which could have been a factor in his death


  • February 1, 1922
    • WDT and Mabel Normand hung out.
      • Normand was a comedic actress who was going through addiction issues. She had recently left director Mack Sennett and was descending into a terrible funk.
      • WDT had been helping Normand through her addictions to cocaine and opium. She was trying to put her career back together.
      • At one point, she was spending up to 2K / month on drugs, and this was in 1920s money.
    • She leaves at 7:45.
    • At 8:00pm, what is believed to be a car backfire is heard.
    • Faith Maclean, a neighbor, saw a man “with an effeminate walk” go inside.
  • February 2, 1922
    • Henry Peavey, Taylor’s houseman, found the body of WDT, 49yo, at 7:30pm.
      • He was black and was only a minor suspect.
      • A reporter for the NY Daily News was convinced he was the murderer.
        • He (and a guy who would later be killed in the Valentine’s Day Massacre) lured Peavey to the Hollywood Park Cemetery.
        • There, a man in a sheet — they believed African-Americans more susceptible to belief in ghosts — jumped out from WDT’s grave and shouted “You murdered me. Confess, Peavey!”
        • To which Peavey walked away, basically dragging the ghost at his ankles.
    • $78 cash + 2 carat ring, so not a robbery
    • First labeled natural causes until he was turned over and the gunshot was found.
    • When Lieutenant Tom Ziegler arrived, he and other officers found reps from Paramount Studios digging for letters and other correspondences to hide.
      • The crime scene was definitely compromised, all for the sake of protecting the integrity of the film industry which was struggling.
  • The context: Hollywood in the 1920s
    • Scandals
      • Fatty Arbuckle
      • Olive Thomas
    • The moral brigade
  • Suspects:
    • Edward Sands
      • AKA Edward Snyder
      • WDT hired him as his houseman
      • Little did he know, he was hiring a conniving, heartless con man in Sands
      • WDT went to Europe in 1921, and Sands forged $5000 in checks and wrecked WDT’s car.
      • He was gone when WDT returned
      • A few months later, WDT came home to find Sands’ brand of cigarette stubbed out on his porch
      • There was also a note that menaced WDT by threatening to release WDT’s real identity.
    • Margaret Gibby Gibson
      • AKA Patricia Palmer
      • The tale of Gibby Gibson is both the most sordid and the most interesting in this whole affair
      • She was arrested related to vagrancy, opium dealing, (and potentially prostitution) in 1917.
        • She claimed to be doing research for a film role. Haha.
      • In 1923, she was arrested in connection to federal charges related to a blackmail and extortion ring.
      • She did work with WDT while on Hollywood, but the connection between the two is tenuous
      • Don Osborn/ Blackie Madsen
        • They were confidence men who perhaps tried to blackmail and then killed WDT
    • Mary Miles Minter
      • She was 20 at the time of the murder.
      • She was more or less obsessed with Taylor.
      • She wrote letters professing her love for him.
      • He politely but firmly let her down, but she was undeterred.
      • Her mother was overbearing, so there is a weird connection as to why she would fall for the much older Taylor
      • Three golden hairs were found on WDT’s jacket, and they were believed to be MMM’s.
      • There was even a fake suicide situation in 1920 wherein she fired a gun and pretended to be dead as a gag.
      • Truth be told, she was probably really very troubled.
    • Charlotte Shelby
      • The mother of Mary Miles Minter, she was a firecracker of a woman who, at one point, threatened to kill WDT for being in a relationship with MMM.
      • What Shelby didn’t realize is that WDT was most likely in a relationship with a man at the time.
      • She owned a gun that was eerily similar to the one that killed WDT


  • The life, death, life, and eventual death of the case
  • The death of Margaret Gibby Gibson
    • In 1964,

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