Did an actress’ deathbed confession solve a 40-year-old cold case?

Director William Desmond Taylor’s 1922 murder left an indelible mark on a scandal-ridden Hollywood.

Joe Shetina
12 min readJul 22, 2021



— February 2, 1922. 7:30 am.

The two-story bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles did not seem solemn enough to be a murder scene that morning. Police responded to the apartments to find Hollywood studio people traipsing through the place, rummaging through the resident’s belongings like well-dressed, unabashed burglars.

The owner of the bungalow, William Desmond Taylor, was lying on the floor, largely ignored, as if an afterthought to his own death.

Sketch of the crime scene.

Floored at being met by a crowd, the police were soon informed that the dead man was a Hollywood director. His death, and the leftover ephemera of his life, would soon become a matter of publicity.

Henry Peavey, the dead man’s valet, found the body that morning. It’s likely he also placed the first call to the studio instead of the police. At some point during the morning, a doctor who identified himself as a studio physician for Famous Players-Lasky (Taylor’s studio, which would later be known as Paramount Pictures) had inspected the body and determined the cause of death to be a “stomach hemorrhage.” How this so-called doctor missed the bullet holes in Taylor’s back is a mystery, but eventually, the true cause of death was discovered.

No one on the scene confessed to knowing the doctor’s identity and no one involved ever saw the man again.

William Desmond Taylor’s death was not just mysterious, it was also incredibly inconvenient. Hollywood was already fighting off charges of “moral turpitude” in the wake of the Fatty Arbuckle trials, and the sordid circumstances surrounding the director’s murder only brought more scrutiny.

But who killed William Desmond Taylor? And why? And could Hollywood survive another scandal of this magnitude? There seemed to be a lot…



Joe Shetina

They/he. Writer of fiction, screenplays, plays, reviews, essays, and poetry. Chicago. https://linktr.ee/jshetina