Hollyweird: William Desmond Taylor

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The Independent Culture

In Hollywood's glitzy society, stories are never ordinary stories and murders are never ordinary murders.

They always have a catch, or take surprising turns.

When the silent-movie director William Desmond Taylor was found dead at home in 1922, with two gunshot wounds to the heart, Paramount Studio executives were called in before the police. In spite of the glaringly obvious wounds, the doctor on Paramount's payroll found Taylor's death to be the result of a stomach haemorrhage.

The reason for Paramount's nervousness was Taylor's secret – and tangled – love life. He'd got involved with one of his actresses, Mabel Normand – and he was also seeing Mary Miles Minter, then a naive 22-year-old Paramount star, as well as Charlotte Shelby, Minter's overbearing stage mother.

Not enough entanglement? Well, there's Taylor's butler, who went missing just after the murder. He was later revealed to be Taylor's very own brother, who was desperately avoiding the cops.

The police soon uncovered the foul play. Normand and Minter were both suspects in the case, which ruined their movie careers, but no one was charged. Indeed, the case has never been solved, making it one of Hollywood's longest-running murder mysteries. Taylor's murder did, however, along with the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle trials, prompt Hollywood studios to begin writing contracts with "morality clauses" or "moral turpitude clauses", allowing the dismissal of stars who breached them.

Charlotte Shelby remains the most likely suspect. She just happened to own a gun, of the same calibre as the murder weapon, which mysteriously disappeared at around the time of the incident.