William Desmond Taylor – 1922

By | February 14, 2017

“Dey’ve killt Massa!”


An autographed photograph of Mary Miles Minter


Irish-born Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor escorted numerous film stars, including Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter. By 1922 Taylor was head director at Famous Players-Lasky, a Paramount subsidiary. On the evening of 1 February 1922 Mabel Normand visited Taylor. His butler, Henry Peavey, a black man who spoke for some reason in a falsetto, gave Taylor and Normand drinks and left them at 6.30pm. One hour and 15 minutes later, Normand was driven away by her chauffeur. At approximately 8.15pm a sound like a car backfiring was heard.

At 7:30 next morning Henry Peavey arrived and found Taylor lying on the floor, a dried streak of blood at a corner of his mouth and two .38-calibre bullets in his body. Peavey ran into the street shouting, according to the Los Angeles Examiner, “Dey’ve kilt Massa! Dey’ve Kilt Massa!” Mabel Normand alerted the studio who sent executives over to carry out a damage-limitation exercise. Eventually the police were called when neighbours tired of Peavey’s hysterics.

Mary Miles Minter was a beautiful blonde ingenue, being groomed to replace Mary Pickford. Her mother, Charlotte Shelby, disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with William Taylor so much that she had threatened him. Discovered in Taylor’s bedroom was a love note with a letterhead in the shape of a butterfly. On the wings and body of the butterfly was written MMM. The note read: “Dearest — I love you — I love you — I love you — — —” Then followed a sequence of ten kisses in the shape of Xs. The love note was signed “Yours always! Mary”.

Mary admitted, “I did love William Desmond Taylor. I loved him deeply and tenderly, with all the admiration a young girl gives a man like Mr Taylor.” Her mother confessed to owning a .38-calibre pistol, but insisted she obtained it for protection against burglars, not to use against Taylor. In fact, Mrs Shelby insisted, she had no objection to her daughter’s infatuation for the director. The murder ended Taylor’s life and Mary Miles Minter’s career. The public tarred her with guilt by association.


404-B South Alvarado Street, Los Angeles, California, USA


8.15pm Wednesday 1 February 1922


Film director King Vidor took a close interest in the murder in 1966 and spent a year investigating the crime. He concluded that the murder was committed in a fit of jealousy by Charlotte Shelby.


Despite his public reputation as a ladies’ man, Taylor was also said to have had male lovers.


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