By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In 1922, William Desmond Taylor, 49, was found shot in the back, his body sprawled in front of his writing desk. Powder burns marked where the bullet entered his body by the left kidney, and stopped underneath his right shoulder. He died instantly. The police's problem is that they had too many suspects.
William Cunningham Deane-Tanner was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1872. When he was very young he went to Runnymede a ranch near Harper, Kansas established by a fellow Irishman, for "impecunious sons of English society." He was there a short time, and returned to England or Ireland.
During the late 1890s, he relocated to New York where he met Ethel May Hamilton, an actress. They married in 1901, and had a daughter, Ethel Daisy in 1902.
His father-in-law was a broker, and an investor of antique stores on Fifth Avenue. This connection gained him entry into New York society where he was quite popular. However there was darker side to Taylor's life. He was a heavy drinker, a womanizer and possibly suffered from depression.
He became Vice President of the English Antique Shop. He was active in the Larchmont Yacht Club, and was a member of the Art Committee.
In 1908, he disappeared and deserted his wife and daughter. His friends referred to his "mental lapses" and some suspected he suffered from an episode of amnesia where he wandered off. His wife obtained a divorce in 1912.
The day before his disappearance from New York, he went to the Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island and he went on a "spree". He wound up at the Continental Hotel. He asked for $600 to be sent to him, and after this he was never seen again in New York.
His wife didn't know he was alive until 1920, when she was at a movie theater with her daughter and saw him featured as a principal player in the production going by his new name of William Desmond Taylor.
For some years after he left New York nothing else was known about him. He went to Alaska and the northwestern United States, working in mining towns and landing an occasional acting job. In 1912, he wound up in San Francisco. He was broke, and the suave, bon vivant who claimed New York yacht clubs as his playground had disappeared.
Friends from New York lent him money and got him a job at a moving picture company.
During WWI he left Hollywood and joined the Canadian Army. By then he was starring in many movies and eventually moved onto the director's chair. Eventually he became president of the Motion Picture Directors' Association.
Among the pictures he directed were: The Furnace, Sacred and Profane Love, The Witching Hour, Wealth, The Soul of Youth, Captain Kidd, Tomy Sawyer, Johannah Enlists, Judy of Rogues' Harbor, Nurse Marjorie and Jennie Be Good.
These were the days of Prohibition, and a month before Taylor's murder, Paramount Productions released the latest Valentino movie, The Sheik. The movie industry was flourishing, and actors and directors alike bathed in fame and the riches it bought, however there was a dark underbelly to this industry.
In late 1921, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle stood trial for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe (1895-1921), which occurred at a party he hosted at the St. Francis Hotel in Room 1219. The first two trials ended in hung juries. In April, 1922, Buster Keaton testified for the defense, and Arbuckle was acquitted. However his films were banned by censors and publicly he was ostracized.
Adolph Zukor, president of Famous Players-Lasky was faced with moral outrage from various groups who were intent on curbing what they saw as Hollywood debauchery and its negative effect on the general public.
This was to figure prominently in Taylor's murder investigation, when Hollywood movie studios were intent on keeping any salacious dirt about their stars or directors out of the newspapers.
Room 1219, went on to have it own type of ominous reputation when Al Jolson, who starred in the first talkie film The Jazz Singer, died there in 1950, from a heart attack during a poker game.
In February, 1922, Taylor was at the pinnacle of his career. He lived in an apartment at 404-B South Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, and his body was discovered by his servant Harry Peavey when he arrived to prepare breakfast.
From the beginning, the authorities believed the crime was motivated by a grudge. There was no sign of the house being ransacked. Inside Taylor's pockets, $78.20 was found untouched.
The last person believed to have seen Desmond was Mabel Normand, a famous movie star who came to his apartment to discuss an upcoming project.
Since there was no sign of forced entry, the police believed the killer had gained entry through the front door, left unlocked when Desmond escorted Mabel to her auto.
Between 8 and 9 p.m. the neighbors heard what they thought was an auto backfiring, but now the police believed it was actually the shot that killed Taylor.
Another neighbor who lived in the house across the courtyard said she heard three shots fired around 2 a.m.
Rumors swelled in the wake of the murder. It was said he had a premonition of his death, and had told Mrs. Berger who prepared his taxes that he received "mysterious phone calls and anonymous letters." They would hang up when he answered the phone.
He told a friend Charles Maigne, that he feared someone had come into the apartment when he was gone. They had walked on his bed with dusty shoes and left gold-tipped cigarette stubs. What worried Taylor is that these were clues that Edward Sands, the criminal he made the mistake of hiring as a valet, was coming into his apartment when he was not there. At that time there were two outstanding warrants against Sands for robbing Taylor.
Upon discovery of the body, Peavey roused the neighbors and E.C. Jessurun who owned the bungalow court. He immediately came to the scene.
Taylor had lived at the apartment for three years, and many prominent stars would gather at this home. The walls were hung with autographed photos.
On the second floor, where his bedroom was at, Taylor kept a loaded revolver which was found on the dresser. This was the only firearm found, and it had not been used. The one used to kill Taylor was taken by the murderer.
Word spread through the Lasky Studios where Taylor worked, and the news spread to various Paramount companies on location.
Peavey told police, everything inside was the same as when he left it the night before.
In February, during the inquest into Taylor's murder Henry Peavey collapsed when taken into the morgue to view his boss' body. Once on the witness stand he became hysterical, laughing loudly when asked what he did when he found the body.
At the same inquest Mabel Normand confirmed she was the last one to see Taylor alive. Henry Peavey left the apartment approximately 15 minutes before she did.
Normand then went on to say that several letters, written to her by Taylor at different times, were missing from her home. She could not account for their disappearance.
When she went to Taylor's apartment with police to look for letters she had sent him, none could be found. She said she was sure they were there until recently, because after Taylor's home was robbed, he showed her over the place and displayed a packet of letters and telegrams she had sent him from New York.
This alerted the police that found few personal letters or papers in the apartment, with the exception of items found in his safe deposit box which were related to investments. Had someone taken letters and other personal papers from the apartment? Could it have something to do with the fact that the movie studios were called before the police?
Detectives did find a filmy nightgown belonging to Mary Miles Minter (born Juliet Reilly) who was 19 years old, along with childish love letters she had written to Taylor. It was clear she was infatuated with him. By then she had starred in over 50 films, but the scandal would tarnish her career so thoroughly that studios refused to renew their contract with her. She stopped acting in 1923.
In the months to come, even her mother, Charlotte Shelby (real name Lily Pearl Miles Reilly), a former actress would come under suspicion as the murderess.
By the end of the month two men who were members of a "bootlegging gang" which carried on extensive operations in Hollywoodland were taken into custody. A third man escaped. The police went after these suspects because a woman who belonged to the gang told an officer she'd overheard the men threaten Taylor's life because they feared in was "interfering with their business."
Even though Taylor had made a great deal of money throughout his career his estate had been whittled down to $20,000. He spent large sums in presents to motion picture actresses, or perhaps paying off a blackmailer.
His lavish lifestyle added up to spending $50,000 per year.
As the newspapers dug into Taylor's background, they brought to public attention facts about his younger brother, Denis Gage Deane-Tanner who followed him to New York. In many aspects he mirrored his brother's life.
He married in 1907, and had three children. Five years later, his wife Ada went to the Edward Livingston Trudeau Sanatorium in the Adirondacks to be treated for tuberculosis, which is suspected she contracted from Denis since he and many of his close and distant relatives had the disease.
He was treated for tuberculosis at the Acoaxcet Sanitorium in Westport, Massachusetts, and the Ogden Farms Sanitorium in New York during their courtship.
She left the children with her husband and mother. Then on August 24, 1912, his daughter's fourth birthday, he kissed his children and left the house in good spirits. He never returned. Like his brother he was connected with the antique industry and had vanished so completed that his New York friends never saw him again, nor did he contact his wife or children.
Ada and her children eventually moved to Monrovia, California where her brother-in-law ran a tuberculosis sanatorium.
An anonymous source said Denis played the blacksmith in one of his brother's most popular films Captain Alvarez (1914), however this has never been substantiated.
Denis never contacted his family in the United States or Britain. It was believed within the family that Denis eventually succumbed to tuberculosis while living in anonymity in either the United States or Europe.
William Desmond Taylor was sending Ada $50 per month when he was killed, to help support his nieces.
In April 1922, a sensational expose was made of the Ku Klux Klan following a raid at Inglewood where a man lost his life. A grand jury investigation began with promises to bare all. Within a few days, the names of over 1,000 members of the klan, many said to be prominent in the "business, official and civic life" were uncovered.
By the end of April, police sought Taylor's killer among the Ku Klux Klan. Honore A. Connette, a former Los Angeles and Rochester newspaper man was being held in connection with the murder, and he pointed the authorities in that direction. The police had arrested him, because he wrote stories about the murder that included intimate details of the murder that were unknown to the public. He had also suspiciously set sail for Hilo, Hawaii within days of the murder. Connette said he was being framed by rival newspapers.
Connette and Gareth Hughes, an actor were cleared of the murder after being "grilled" by the district attorney.
Information was then leaked to authorities, claiming it was all false in order to connect the klan not only with Taylor's death but that it was a "systematic attempt to ruin the whole motion picture industry."
The district attorney received 3,000 letters from across the United States and Canada confessing to Taylor's murder, and giving as motive that Taylor had been involved with their wives. These letters were attributed to the klan, because they were all similar in style and content.
John N. Pyles a private detective who was soundly beaten by the Knights of the Open Palm was aiding law enforcement to find victims of the klan. He said, "there are more than one hundred men and women in Kern County who have felt the weight of the open palm. Some of them merely have been warned to get out of the county. They have gone. Some have been beaten. Some have been stripped and scourged with ropes and tortured with sticks that had nails in them, and other have been tarred and feathered and left to die by the roadside."
After three months of Taylor's murder, it was obvious authorities were clutching at straws in order find any lead, no matter how ludicrous in order to find his murderer.
Along with the Ku Klux Klan, police investigated a connection between Taylor's death and the murder of John T. Brunen, a friend of Taylor. He owned the Mighty Doris and Colonel Francis Ferrari Show, which was wintering at Williamstown, New Jersey.
In March, Brunen was murdered in Camden. A charge of buckshot had been fired into the back of his neck from what appeared to be a sawed off shotgun through a window. He was known in theatrical circles as "Honest John".
At first authorities believed he, along with Taylor, may have been marked for death by a gang which the two men had quarreled with, possibly years before. They called this the "wiping out old scores" theory, noting the similarity that both men were shot from behind.
In mid-April, the shotgun used to kill Brunen was discovered in a creek near the murder scene.
The Wiping Out Old Scores theory ended by the end of April when Charles M. Powell who worked at the circus confessed to a murder-for-hire plot, where he was paid by Henry C. Mohr, Brunen's brother-in-law. He said Mrs. Brunen incited the murder. The one who broke the case was Ellis H. Parker, a chief detective for Burlington County.
Soon after his arrest Powell attempted suicide in jail after the confession.
Eventually Doris Brunen the widow, and her brother were charged with killing Honest John. The motive was said to be mistreatment of Mrs. Brunen by her husband. Powell was also charged, but worked with the prosecutor, and claimed he had been promised $1,900 to commit the crime.
Doris Brunen was acquitted, however Harry Mohr was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Powell was sentenced to 20 to 30 years, and in 1923, he was removed to the Trenton Asylum for the Criminally Insane after developing "pronounced insanity."
Doris Brunen sold the circus and went to live with a family member.
Both Mohr and Powell were paroled in 1934.
In a queer twist, Ellis H. Parker who was the Burlington County's Chief of Detectives for 44 years was convicted in 1937, along with his son, Ellis, Jr. of conspiracy to kidnap Paul H. Wendel. Father and son had plotted to seize Wendel and torture him into confessing his involvement in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.
Parker who was once given credit for solving the Brunen murder, and dispelling any connection to William Desmond Taylor found himself on the other side of the law. He claimed that since the Brunen's dog didn't bark, the assailant must have been someone he knew. He then exposed the murder-for-hire plot behind the crime.
Ellis Sr. was sentenced to six years and his son to three years. Ellis lost his home, was ousted from his position as chief of county detectives and suffered from declining health. In prison he worked as a clerk in the library and in 1939, was placed in the penitentiary hospital.
Wendel told his story of the "confession". He said he was abducted on February 14, 1936, and taken to Brooklyn for 10 days. He claimed he was tortured into making a false confession. Then he was transported to New Jersey and kept a little over a month in New Lisbon State Colony for the Feeble Minded.
Prior to Richard Hauptmann's execution in 1936, Parker tried to provide the confession but it was ignored. Until his death in 1940, Parker believed that Wendel was responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Even the spiritualists got in on the show. In May, 1922, Guy Bogart, secretary of Longer Life League announced that Dr. James Martin Peebles, a famous spiritualist who had died in February passed along a message that he was cooperating in the production of motion pictures by helping his "earthly spirit friends".
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's curiosity was piqued by this announcement.
Prominent local mediums believed this would open a vast field of director talent hitherto untouched by the motion picture industry. William Desmond Taylor might continue to exercise his talent in directing films on earth and "advising the police of the identity of his murderer."
According to Dr. Peebles, the weather on the other side was similar to Southern California's.
If Taylor did try to help police to find his killer, he whispered in the wrong ears.
Another who tried to cash in on Taylor's death was William Edward Taylor, 34, who in October 1922, came forward to claim he was Taylor's son. He said the famous director married Olive Randall, his mother, a waitress in 1892 when he came to Laramie, Wyoming. He was the product of this union.
There were rumors he wanted to exhume Taylor's body, and identify certain scars on the corpse as proof this was his parent. And of course he wanted to claim part of the estate which was in probate but slated to pass on to Ethel Daisy Tanner. Within a month he dropped the fight after he came to Los Angeles. He thought the man his mother had eloped with was Taylor, however the man in the picture only had a strong resemblance to him.
Was this why he abandoned the lawsuit, or was he convinced in some other way? Taylor was known to have been traveling through the United States in those years, so the claim was not implausible.
In December, when the first year anniversary of Taylor's death was fast approaching, Los Angeles authorities were looking again at a connection with a raid on the headquarter of an alleged nationwide drug ring in New York. The belief was that Taylor was killed by agents of the drug ring because he wanted to stop them from selling narcotics to prominent film stars. Supposedly the raid disclosed that the "ring" had ramifications in Hollywood. The raid was supposed to have also found the names of movie stars who were served by the ring.
This theory like others died a slow and silent death. Whether there was any truth to it, or if the story was squelched remains unknown.
In March 1923, the "ring" theory had evolved into a "blackmail ring". According to crime experts, millions of dollars were secretly being extorted from wealthy men and women from what were referred to as "crime scavengers."
Two months later, some newspapers reported that perhaps the reason Taylor's murder remained unsolved was that Los Angeles officials found themselves in a maze of scandal, where it was thought more expedient to forget one crime, rather than expose "100 big and little fish." Uncovered were: "unconventional love affairs of a dozen women, a trail of drug use at certain parties using cocaine and heroin, and it was hurting the picture business in which Wall Street had just taken an important financial hand and millions were at stake."
It was observed that no crime had brought so many "fake theories and dragging of false scents over the trail."
It was inevitable that the theory of a jealous woman as the killer would come into play.
In August 1923, Mary Miles Minter who was infatuated with Taylor, announced that she had been engaged to him, but kept it a secret because her mother was opposed to the match, saying that Taylor was much too old for her daughter.
Minter wasn't the only one making the papers, Henry Peavey, Taylor's valet was arrested on a vagrancy charge in San Francisco. He was released when he proved he was employed. In 1931, Peavey died in a San Francisco asylum where he had been hospitalized for syphilis-related dementia.
Mabel Normand found that notoriety was a double-edged sword, and her association with Taylor, forever tied her name to an unsolved murder.
The rumors that swirled around Taylor being killed by a drug ring due to his efforts in protecting Mabel Norman persisted long after his death. It was said he was trying to help her kick her addiction to cocaine and opium, on which she allegedly spent $2000 per month.
Her reputation didn't improve when in 1924, she was involved in another shooting.
Courtland S. Dines, 35, a wealthy oil man was partying with Edna Purviance and Mabel Normand on New Year's Eve. Her chauffeur Kelly turned up at Dines' apartment where they were enjoying an "informal party", and asked that she leave with him. She refused. The police believed it was a jealous dispute.
Kelly's version of the occurrence was that he was protecting his employer because "Dines wouldn't let Mabel go and was keeping her intoxicated." He said Mabel had called to be picked up, and that Dines then attacked him with a liquor bottle when he wanted to take the actress out of the apartment.
Ironically the shooting took place not too far from Taylor's apartment, and it was Edna Purviance, who was Charlie Chaplin's leading lady, who told Mabel of Taylor's death on the morning of February 2, 1922.
Kelly's real name was Horace A. Greer and he was a WWI veteran. He had been Mabel's chauffeur for some time.
After the shooting, Mabel Normand, Edna Purviance and Kelly placed Dines on a couch. The injured man was dressed only in his bathrobe and socks. The trio administered first aid and left.
Police learned of the shooting when Greer presented himself at the police station. He threw a .25 caliber revolver on a desk and said, "I just shot a dirty rat. I want to give myself up."
He was arrested, but let out on bail. The trial was postponed for several months since Dines had been shot 3 times, and his health would not permit him to attend the proceedings.
In June 1924, Greer was acquitted of assault with intent to commit murder.
By the end of January, 1924, Mabel Normand and Edna Purviance's movies were barred from theaters in Kansas. The reason being they had admitted drinking while spending time with Dines, and they were violators of the Prohibition Law. Included in this was Mary Miles Minter. The reason given was that "since these women could no longer carry to the screen the charm of childish innocence which movie fans required", their movies were banned in different cities across the country.
In 1926, Mabel Norman married fellow actor Lew Cody on a lark. He proposed to her at a party as a joke, and she accepted. They found a Ventura County judge to perform a quick ceremony. They never lived together, and considered seeking an annulment, but never did.
In September 1929, she entered the Pottenger Sanatorium, and only her nurse Julia and Lew Cody saw her for the next five months. She died February 23, 1930, age 37. There were rumors that her addiction to cocaine and heroin caught up to her, however her death certificate gave tuberculosis as the cause of death. Several fellow actors said she had been suffering from TB for many years, and she had two siblings who had died in childhood from consumption.
Hollywood in these years not only had a drug problem, but tuberculosis and syphilis were also rampant. Syphilis is known to mimic the symptoms of tuberculosis, so perhaps it was only one disease that killed her, however consumption was a much more palatable reason for death than a sexually transmitted disease. No doubt Hollywood big shots would make sure that the industry didn't get hit with more negative publicity.
Poor or insufficient diet could have also been a contributing factor since studios demanded that their actress weigh less than 99 pounds. Lew Cody said that Mabel weighed 45 pounds when she died, and even her family who flew in from the East Coast for the funeral were not allowed to see her.
Mabel's father had passed away only months before her. Her mother died in 1932, and in 1945, her brother Claude hanged himself in the cellar of his State Island home. He was the last surviving member of Mabel's family.
In 1930, Ottis Hefner alias Arthur Chance, had been missing from parole for several months.The former convict using an investigative reporter from the United Press as a go between, told the LA district attorney about what he knew concerning the Taylor murder. He said he was one of a group of drug dealers working in Los Angeles. Early in the morning after Taylor's death he accompanied Edwards Sands, Taylor's one-time valet to the bungalow. Hefner said Sands was delivering drugs but found Taylor dead, and fled the next day to Mexico.
He said a motion picture actress left the Taylor home just before Sands entered and discovered the murder.
King a veteran investigator with United Press was the one who tracked Hefner down, using his real name Arthur Chance. He was living in Redwood City and working as a linesman for Pacific Gas and Electric company. Authorities were looking for him since he violated his parole.
The DA's interest in him was the hopes he could lead them to Edward Sands, but he could not help them out. His story was dismissed, however it had a ring of truth that dovetailed with stories that circulated about the underground use of drugs among Hollywood actors.
This provided fodder for the theory that Taylor was executed by organized crime for his interference in the drug trade.
Despite the passage of the Volstead Act, liquor flowed through Los Angeles by the use of secret tunnels. Starting in 1901, underground tunnels were dug beneath the Civic Center. By the 1920s, the tunnels were used to sneak hooch, drugs and other illegal substances into speakeasies. Even tunnels built under the original City Hall, used by judges or attorneys to slip away from long-running court sessions, were used by gangsters.
In Chinatown, old tunnels were already being used to connect gambling parlors, opium dens and brothels.
The search for Edward F. Sands, who was a prime suspect in Taylor's murder would prove fruitless as he committed suicide in 1926.
He was in Connecticut and bought a gun using the alias of King Gibson. Asa Keys a district attorney from Los Angeles went to see if he could identify the body. Who tipped Keys off that a suicide across the country could be Sands is never explained.
Edward Sands AKA Edward Snyder was a conman and sociopath of the first order, and there was good reason to believe he was implicated in Taylor's murder.
In 1915, a man named Emery Salyards, who escaped from the penitentiary at Walla Walla was arrested in Richmond, Virginia. He also went by the name of Charles L. Thomas and Edward D. Sands. The police said he passed worthless checks in many towns. He was widely known to authorities all over the United States as a clever forger, and was wanted in several states for forgery.
This would be the man Taylor hired in 1920 as his butler and valet. He was unaware that Sands had deserted from the Navy, and had been committing crimes for many years. In order to ingratiate himself with Taylor he adopted a cockney accent even though he was born in Ohio.
At the beginning he was almost slavish in his attitude towards Taylor, and in return Taylor trusted him implicitly. However when his boss took a trip to Europe in 1921, he forged $5,000 in checks. He also took Taylor's car for a joy ride and wrecked it.
It was apparent that Taylor feared that Sands was coming around the bungalow before his death.
Later it was reported the District Attorney's office knew that Sands had died in 1926, but covered up the suicide to draw suspicion away from those in the movie industry who could have been implicated somehow in the crime.
The suspicion that the district attorney's office could have been bought off was not a stretch at all, considering the men who filled that office.
Rumors, whispered ones that is, said that Woolwine who was accused of bribery in 1915, turned a blind eye towards Minter and her mama as suspects because he was a close friend of Charlotte Shelby. It was alleged that Charlotte even paid off Asa Keyes who succeeded Woolwine as district attorney in 1923. Shelby was known as the quintessential possessive, stage mother, who saw her daughter's career as an investment. Just about any man who showed an interest in Mary ,or that Mary herself had a crush on, was a target for Shelby's wrath.
In 1916, Minter was involved with director James Kirkwood. He was 40, she was 15. The relationship ended when Minter became pregnant. Her mother secured an abortion for her.
In 1925, Minter sued her mother for an accounting of the money Shelby had received for her during her screen career. The case was settled out of court in 1927.
More than one police detective stated that every time they got close to solving the case they were either told to "lay off" or "you're going in the wrong direction."
In 1928, Keyes was found guilty of accepting a bribe from the Julian Petroleum Company and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. His successor Buron Fitts, soon left the office in order to become a prosecutor in the case against Keyes.
In 1932, Fitts investigated the death of Paul Bern, the husband of Jean Harlow. They had been married only two months when Bern was found dead of a gunshot wound, leaving what was suppose to be a suicide note. MGM film producer, Samuel Marx believed he was killed by his ex-common-law-wife Dorothy Millette, who committed suicide a few days later by jumping from a ferry to her death.
Marx accused Fitts of being bribed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer officials to accept the suicide version in order to avoid scandal.
In 1934, Fitts was indicted for bribery and perjury by dropping a statutory rape charge against a millionaire real estate promoter. Fitts was acquitted two years later, however he was also accused of blocking action against the rapist of Patricia Douglas at the MGM Sales Convention in 1937.
In 1937, Fitts was wounded when someone shot several bullets through the windshield of his car. No arrests were made in the case.
Woolwine died in 1925, Keyes in 1934 and Fitts committed suicide in 1973.
Mary Miles Minter died in 1984.
Another suspect came about through a deathbed confession. The author of the book, William Desmond Taylor: A Dossier (1991) received an email in 1996 from Ray Long. He described an elderly neighbor who seldom left her home. Her name was Pat Lewis, she was widowed and was a friend of his mother.
In 1964, his mother had been watching television with Pat when the show Ralph Story's Los Angeles aired a segment about Taylor death. Pat became hysterical and blurted out something along the lines that she had killed William Desmond Taylor. The following day she suffered a heart attack, and in a deathbed confession admitted the same to Long's mother.
According to Ray Long, his mother never made mention of the conversation until much later.
It turned out that Pat Lewis was Ella Margaret Gibson (1894-1964). She appeared in 147 films between 1913 and 1929, and was identified under a variety of names, such as Patricia Palmer, Patsy Palmer, Margie Gibson, Marguerite Gibson, Ella Margaret Lewis, or Ella Margaret Arce.
She started acting when she was 12 years old, and in 1912 she got a job with Vitagraph in Santa Monica. During this time period she made 4 films with William Desmond Taylor.
In 1917, she was arrested for vagrancy which included allegations of opium dealing. She was acquitted but the publicity forced her to change her screen name to Patricia Palmer. She continued working in films but only in bit parts. In 1923, she was arrested at her home on federal felony charges involving an alleged nationwide blackmail and extortion ring.
George W. Lasher informed police he paid Gibson $1155 in order avoid prosecution of the Mann Act which was the White Slave Traffic Act passed in 1910. She had ties to convicted blackmailers, however the charges were dropped.
She only worked in minor supporting roles until 1935, when for unknown reasons she fled to Singapore. There she married Elbert Lewis an auditor for an oil company. Her husband was killed when the Japanese bombed the oil facilities at Penang. She had already moved back to California, and moved into a small house in the Hollywood Hills. She lived on the pension she got as Lewis' widow.
Gibson was living in L.A. at the time of Taylor's murder, but there was no mention of her name in connection to the investigation. Any association between them ended in 1914. All the physical evidence kept as part of Taylor's murder investigation disappeared by 1940, and if there was any information relating to Gibson it is no longer available.
What could Gibson or anyone have been blackmailing Taylor about? There was some speculation that despite his reputation as a lady's man, he was also bisexual. If this was exposed about him, his career would be ruined as well anyone else tied into the scandal.
Despite Taylor's reputation as a gentleman, his choice of friends, employees and emotionally unbalanced lovers left a cast of dozens that could have been the one to put a bullet in his back.
All that's left is speculation, since all the players took their secrets to the grave.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer