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Taylor's bungalow as seen from the rear, with garage.

The Charade

Next morning, Peavey does his ordinary run for Taylor's milk of magnesia (to make things look routine as possible), and “finds” the body even though he knows well in advance what he will find. Even so, it is no less distressing. In his earliest accounts of seeing Taylor's body on the morning of February 2, Peavey states that he found his dead employer lying in a pool of blood. Interestingly enough, this devastating detail given in his first interviews, is omitted entirely in all his later versions of what took place. Although prepared in advance, Peavey is emotionally still very affected.

From Los Angeles Record, February 2, 1922:

"'Good night, Henry, good night,' he said to me when I left him yesterday," said Henry Peavey, Taylor's colored valet, between sobs as he told of the tragedy that ended the life of his beloved employer last night. "'Good night, Mr. Taylor," I said to him, and that's the last I saw of him until I opened the door this morning and found his dead body, his feet stretching toward me on the floor." The negro broke into soft sobs and then declared passionately: "I wish I could get the man that did it. I'd go to jail for the rest of my life if I could get him." As Peavey talked, he was taking some white cloths clotted with blood from a wire paper basket and placing them in the court incinerator. "His blood," the negro said, pathetically. "We just used the cloths to clean up the room." "Mr. Taylor was the most wonderful man I ever worked for and I don't see how anybody would want to kill him. I have been with him six months." Peavey said that he came to Taylor's apartment early today, intending to go through the usual round of his duties. "I was going to fix his bath water for him," said the valet, "and then give him his dose of medicine. After that I was going to fix his breakfast a couple of boiled eggs, some toast and a glass of orange juice. "When I opened the door I saw him lying there stretched out on the floor, his feet toward me and the floor all bloody. "I turned and screamed and the landlord came rushing in." Peavey said he lived at 127 1/2 Third Street. "I have not been staying with Taylor during the night, but have been sleeping in my room." Peavey's theory was that somebody slipped into the open door of Taylor's apartment when Taylor took Mabel Normand to her car late last night, and shot him from ambush inside the room.

From Los Angeles Examiner, February 3, 1922:

"I've worked for a lot of men," he went on, "but Mr. Taylor was the most wonderful of all of them. I came here this morning intending to fix his bath and get his breakfast, which I always does. And before the bath I'd bring him a dose of medicine. It was always just the same -- for breakfast two soft-boiled eggs, toast and a glass of orange juice. "And having it in my mind to make everything just as nice as I could, knowing he would be pleased and say a kind word, I opened the door. "And then I found him stretched out on the floor, which was all bloody and his feet toward the door. "And then I backed to the door, pretty near overcome with horror, and yelled for the landlord. The way I figure it is that somebody slipped in last night when Mr. Taylor took Miss Normand to the car and shot him from hiding. But how could any one kill such a man as he was?"

Three days later, at the Coroners Inquest, Peavey' came across to reporters this way:

From Los Angeles Examiner, Feb. 5, 1922:

[Coroner Nance] "What did you see?" "I saw his feet, and I said 'Mr. Taylor'--just like that. Then I saw his face, and I turned and run out and yelled. And then I yelled some more--" And then Henry broke into high pitched laughter as he recalled his fright and terror. Laughed as he thought of himself going in and speaking to a dead man. It was a huge joke--no doubt about it. And the joke was on him. Of course, He laughed and those in the room laughed with him...

From St. Louis Globe Democrat, Feb. 5, 1922:

"Who was the first person that you told Mr. Taylor was dead?" It was then that the negro began laughing in a hysterical manner. He doubled forward in the chair. His shrieks of laughter caused a real sensation. A number of women spectators appeared frightened by the actions of the witness who was finally quieted. He was then asked...

The story subsequently related of a mysterious doctor (who strangely never later turned up) coming on the scene, and pronouncing Taylor as having died from a hemorrhage is a complete phony, inasmuch as the doctor was a phony. The purpose of this charade was to allow studio people to rummage the place, before the coroner arrived, without suggesting they were tampering with the crime scene. Again, the police have no reason to think the studio has any purpose other than to look after its important interest, by recovering anything which might, if found as evidence, be thought of as injuring Paramount studio’s reputation. There is no suggestion that killer is being covered up for; they all are sincere in expressing their wish to see him apprehended. Only what was done was done, and now what mattered most was that the bad publicity be smothered and contained as best it might be.

The Time Element Problem

It has generally been assumed that Taylor's murder took place within the last quarter hour prior to 8 o'clock, but could this be wrong? The final conclusion that the murder took place within this time frame rests entirely on chauffeur Howard Fellows' testimony. On the other hand almost every known newspaper account of the first day after the shooting gives 9 o'clock or closely thereabouts as the time of the shooting

The following are some articles that support the 9 o'clock version as being the correct one. True, it is not uncommon to find errors in the newspaper first editions; nevertheless, where they are consistent does support a case for their accuracy.

From New York Tribune, Feb. 10, 1922:

Los Angeles, Feb. 9.--Evidence supporting the theory that William D. Taylor, murdered film director, was the victim of a hired assassin came to light today with the opening of a wide-spread investigation of the mystery by District Attorney Thomas Lee Woolwine. The "fighting prosecutor," as he is called, personally questioned witness after witness, to lay a foundation for the grilling of at least two film stars, who will be called before him tomorrow... Patrolman Albert Long, whose statement does not seem to have played a part in the investigation carried on by the detective bureau, was the witness who added new facts concerning the activities about the Taylor bungalow on the night of the shooting. The policeman said that shortly after 8 o'clock in the evening he had seen a man loitering in the street which skirts the side of the court in which the director's bungalow is located. He said the man wore a cap, an overcoat and a "mussy suit," which he was unable to describe in greater detail. The description fits that of the man who, according to Mrs. Douglas MacLean, a neighbor of Taylor, was seen loitering about the front of the house two or more minutes after the firing of the shot that took the life of the director. If the man seen by the policeman is the murderer it would indicate that the assassin was a cool-headed, professional gunman, who for some as yet unexplained reason remained within a stone's throw of the scene of the killing, trusting to luck to escape should the crime be prematurely exposed...

If murder happened at 9:00 this would have probably been the killer before the event, not after, which only makes more sense.

The very credible testimony of George Arto, brother in law of King Vidor, also helps to support the case against the 8:00 pm shooting. The "third man" mentioned in these pieces with Peavey and Davis, may have been a studio person who simply wished to be kept out for publicity reasons, and had connections or clout enough himself to effect this.

From Los Angeles Examiner, February 22, 1922:

An amplified statement secured yesterday by The Examiner from George F. Arto, motion picture writer, gives new facts which tend to change the whole theory of the crime as to its time element. Arto, it will be recalled, passed front of the Taylor house on the night of the murder and, as he states, saw Peavey standing on the sidewalk talking to a man of swarthy complexion -- a rough looking character. This was at approximately 7 o'clock. His memory refreshed by circumstances to which his attention had been called since giving his first statement, he remembered yesterday that he returned to the bungalow court at 7:45 o'clock. He is positive of this, he said, as he phoned a young woman who lives near the Taylor bungalow, on whom he was calling. He told her in this conversation that he would be over in five minutes and, looking at his watch, he found the time to be 7:40. He immediately started to walk from his home at 220 South Bonnie Brae street. He reached a point in front of Taylor's house within five minutes. "At that time," he said, "I saw no one around. Miss Normand's car had gone, and Peavey was not in sight." He went to the house of the young woman, and sat in the front room next to the window until about ten minutes after eight. "During that time," he declared, "I heard no shot and am positive that I would have heard a shot been fired." Arto is familiar with firearms, having tested guns for the Savage Arms Company and would be able, he asserts, to distinguish a pistol shot from the backfire of automobiles. As close to the scene of the crime as was either Mrs. MacLean or her maid, Christian Jewett, and in a better position to hear and observe, Arto nevertheless was not attracted by any unusual noises. Hence, it is now believed possible that the murder may have been committed either before or after the time fixed by Mrs. MacLean. And District Attorney Woolwine yesterday admitted the likelihood that the man seen by Mrs. MacLean leaving Taylor's front door was Howard Fellows, the film director's chauffeur.

Another curious and interesting story is this:

From Los Angeles Examiner, February 4, 1922:

An excellent example of habitual observation was brought to light yesterday when Mrs. Ida Garrow, a modiste living at the Rose of Sharon Apartments, told Examiner investigators that on Wednesday night as she was walking down Ocean View avenue, at the intersection of Alvarado street, she noticed a man acting in a very peculiar manner. "It was about eight thirty, or possibly twenty minutes of nine," said Mrs. Garrow yesterday, "Wednesday evening I was hurrying to my club which meets at the corner of Grand View and Ocean View avenue. I was late for a class that was studying Hebrew which I did not want to miss, but as I have trained my observational faculties in the study of astrology. It is without voluntary effort that I perceive whatever comes within the range of vision. "As I came to Alvarado street, I saw a tall, slender, smooth shaven policeman, whose face I would instinctively recognize if I were to see him again, walking toward Ocean View avenue. Walking with him was another man, to whom I did not pay particular attention, because my curiosity was aroused by the peculiar actions of a man who was coming toward me a few feet in front of the policeman. Although the policeman was not paying the slightest attention to this man, the man was glancing back apprehensively over his shoulder, and at times looking in away from the street which would be directly in toward the court where the body of Mr. Taylor was found. "As the policeman got closer to this man, the man crossed the street, and I noticed as he crossed that he was short and stout and wore a long overcoat, but there was the shadow of a building falling at such an angle that I could not determine whether he wore a cap or a hat." Who was the policeman walking down Alvarado street at 8:30 or 8:45, and what did he see? This slight clue given by a careful observer may lead to very important developments in the mysterious murder whose points are now baffling the keenest detectives of the city.

With respect to other witnesses, the following come from some of the main newspaper accounts of that first day.

Shot down while writing at a desk by a mysterious assassin, William Desmond Taylor, well known motion picture producer and director, was found dead today in his bungalow in the Westlake District. Death was caused by a bullet wound in the back, just below the left shoulder, according to police. Taylor, who was 50 years old and wealthy, apparently was killed between 9 and 10 o'clock last night. The body was found today by a colored servant when he reported for duty at the house. Police detectives who first reached the scene reported that death was from natural causes and it was not until nearly an hour later when an undertaker was removing the body that the bullet wound was found. Additional officers immediately were dispatched to the house and a comprehensive investigation was begun. The bullet wound caused an internal hemorrhage and Taylor accidentally died a few minutes after being attacked. Detectives questioned neighbors, who stated they heard what apparently was the report of the revolver shortly after 9 p.m. but at that time believed it was caused by an automobile. The police immediately began search for Edward F. Sands, former secretary of Taylor. Robbery was not the motive for the murder it was announced, as officers found $73 in the pocket of the slain man, as well as a large amount of jewelry in the house. Taylor's revolver was found in a drawer of the dresser in his bedroom on the second floor of the pretentious house. It had not been discharged and none of his personal effects had been disturbed. The officers reported they are confident that revenge was the motive of the mysterious slayer. The police records state that when Taylor went to England a year ago on a business and pleasure trip he left Sands, then his secretary, in charge of his personal affairs and when he returned he reported to Detective Sergeants Herman Cline and E. R. Cato that Sands had robbed him of money, jewelry, clothing and a valuable automobile. A felony warrant was issued for Sands and the police say he never was found. A second robbery at the Taylor residence was attributed to Sands by the police. Among the witnesses questioned by the police during the morning were Mabel Normand, Edna Purviance and Douglas MacLean, prominent film stars. Miss Normand admitted having visited Taylor's bungalow in the early evening yesterday to discuss a new production and that he had escorted her to her automobile at the curb shortly before 9 p.m. Taylor was to telephone to her later in the evening. Miss Normand said he did not do so. Miss Purviance, who lives in a house adjoining Taylor's bungalow, returned home about midnight and saw a light burning in Taylor's study. MacLean and his wife, who live in the same district, stated they heard the shot fired after 9 o'clock. They thought at the time it might be an automobile exhaust. They described a strange man whom they saw in the street. Miss Normand told detectives that while she was talking with Taylor early last evening concerning a new picture production the robberies of the Taylor home were mentioned. "He told me he feared Sands and that he had a premonition of something wrong," Miss Normand was quoted as telling officers.9

From Los Angeles Evening Express, February 2, 1922:

The slayer evidently committed the crime about near 9 o'clock last night. It was at that time that Douglas MacLean, motion picture actor, and his wife, who lived next door, say they heard the sound of the pistol shot. Police also believe that the slaying occurred at that time because of the opinion expressed by the deputy coroner that the man had been dead for more than ten hours when the body was found. The last person who saw Taylor alive, with the exception of the assassin, was Miss Mabel Normand, film star. She visited him at his home last night. She arrived at the home shortly before 7 o'clock, she said. Her statement to Detectives Winn and Murphy follows:.. Douglas MacLean and his wife were having their supper in their home that also adjoins Taylor's house, but to the east, when they heard the sound of a shot. They place the time at about 9:30 or 9 o'clock in the statement they made to Detective Sergeants Wallis and Ziegler.... Mrs. MacLean, however, told the officers that she noticed a man walking rapidly down the walk towards Taylor's home last evening shortly after Miss Normand left. She gave the following description of the man to officers: Height about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches, weight about 165 pounds. He had a muffler about his neck and was at the time wearing a plaid cap pulled over his eyes. She did not notice the clothing he was wearing and was unable to furnish the police with a better description because she says, she was unable to see distinctly at that hour of the night. "I had, of course, no reason to be suspicious of that man at that time," said Mrs. MacLean, when discussing the case with the two detective sergeants. "But now I am convinced that he was the slayer. It was after I had seen him that my husband and I sat down to dinner. That was about 8:30 or 9 o'clock, I guess. "We had just started our dinner when we heard a pistol shot. We did not investigate because we heard nothing further after that to arouse our suspicions and we thought that possibly the sound we heard then was that of an automobile backfiring in the street. Now, of course, we know that it was the shot that ended the life of Mr. Taylor."

See also Los Angeles Record, Feb. 2, 1922, Boston Herald Feb 3, 1922, and Long Beach Daily Telegram, February 2, 1922.

Despite these numerous initial reports and interviews, at the Coroner's Inquest three days later, the accounts of the key witnesses from the bungalow have the time of the shot at 8:00 pm. What caused this change? The following item very likely suggests the woman being spoken of is Faith MacLean, the husband, Donald MacLean. Both worked for Paramount studio.

From Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 9, 1922:

One woman prominently identified with the investigation is said to be in possession of information which she has thus far failed to turn in. She has adopted an attitude of uncertainty in the whole matter, it is asserted. Detectives from the central police station were assigned orders to visit the woman and insist upon the facts in the case. Police informants declare she has been instructed by her husband to "develop" a sudden loss of memory.

Was there a special reason why, aside from those in the MacLean home, others living in the bungalow court were so reticent about or oblivious to the shot?

From Los Angeles Examiner, Feb. 4, 1922:

Other bungalow dwellers say they heard nothing Mrs. Myrtle B. Pratt, who lives at the entrance to the court, says she saw no suspicious character either entering or leaving the place and that she had heard no unusual sound of any description.

Mrs. J. K. Lawrence, who also lives at the Alvarado street entrance, said: "There are so many automobiles passing here all of the time and their back-fire explosions are so similar to a pistol shot that we have gotten so we pay no attention to them whatever. I have no recollection of hearing anything that sounded like a shot at any particular time during the evening in which the shooting occurred, but I might have heard a dozen such sounds without feeling the slightest alarm. I think every occupant of the court should try to recollect anything he or she saw which might in any way throw light on the event." Mrs. Charles Cooley, living two doors from the Taylor residence, said that she and her husband were sitting in their living room reading almost the entire evening and did not hear a sound. They had their blinds drawn and had no occasion to look out, so saw no one. Mrs. Arthur W. Watchter, stated that she and her husband were out for the evening and returned late, but that they did not notice lights burning anywhere. Both she and Mrs. Cooley voiced the idea that people were entirely too unobservant of things going on around them, and Mrs. Cooley said: "When I think that such a kind, fine man as Mr. Taylor is said to have been, was right here helpless, at the mercy of a fiendish murderer when some of us might have gone to his aid and saved him, and we only known what was going on. It seems that we all live too much to ourselves and that there ought to be some better mode of communication between us all.

From Los Angeles Examiner, Feb. 12, 1922:

...Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Lawrence of 400-A South Alvarado also told an interesting story. The family was downstairs on the evening of the murder until about 8:30 o'clock, when Mrs. Lawrence went to the bedroom upstairs. "My husband said he heard a short conversation - portions of it - a woman's laugh, a man say good-by, and then a car driving away,"10 Mrs. Lawrence said. Their apartment is the nearest in the court to Alvarado street. "That is all we know."

The Credibility of Howard Fellows

It has been taken for granted by most scholars that the late arriving testimony of crucial witness Howard Fellows, brother of Lasky employee Harry Fellows, is not to be doubted. Fellows' testimony is critical because it supposedly places almost exactly when the murder was to have transpired. Is it possible, notwithstanding, that Fellows, as part of a cover-up, was lying? His brother Harry, incidentally, was among those who, along with Charles Eyton, searched Taylor's bungalow the morning of February 2.11

From Los Angeles Examiner, February 8, 1922:

Declaring that he called William D. Taylor at 7:55 o'clock Wednesday night and receiving no answer, went to the apartment of the film director. Arriving there at 8:15 o'clock, rang the doorbell and still met with no response, Howard Fellows, chauffeur for the murdered director, last night definitely fixed the time within which the crime must have been committed and added facts regarded as of first magnitude importance in their bearing upon the crime. Strangely enough, this young man, who had been Taylor's driver for nearly six months, had not been questioned at length until yesterday, when an Examiner representative called on him at his home, 1622 Shatto place. He is brother of Harry Fellows, who was Taylor's assistant director. Yesterday Detective Sergeant Tom Zeigler took Howard to the Taylor home, 404-B South Alvarado street. He was partially identified by a resident of the neighborhood as the person he had seen seated in a car on the night of the murder near the scene of the crime and about the time it was committed. Fellows denied this and convinced Zeigler that the man was mistaken. One of Fellows' most interesting statements, other than that relating to his movements and observations on the night of the assassination, had to do with an alleged quarrel between Taylor and Mabel Normand. "I was driving Mr. Taylor and Miss Normand from the Ambassador Hotel, where they had attended a New Year's Eve party, to her home," said Fellows. "On the way they had a quarrel. I don't know what it was about, but both were very much excited. "Mr. Taylor took Miss Normand home and then returned to his apartment. Upon arriving there he broke down and wept. "On the following morning he did up some jewelry in a package and took it to Miss Normand at her home." Henry Peavey, Taylor's colored valet, confirms this. "Mr. Taylor and Miss Normand were very affectionate," continued Fellows. Questioned independently, Peavey said Taylor often caressed her. As to these matters Fellows spoke casually, but when he entered upon the events of the night of February 1, his narrative became astounding both as to its content, and because he never told it before. "I left the house (Mr. Taylor's) about 4:30 Wednesday afternoon," Fellows began. "Mr. Taylor told me he might be going out in the evening and instructed me to be sure to telephone by 7:30. I went to the home of a young lady friend and was there until 7:55. I recall the time accurately because I had it on my mind to call Mr. Taylor and ask him if he would need the car. "I called him two or three times before that hour, but received no reply. I left the house of my girl friend at five minutes to eight and drove directly to Mr. Taylor's. "I reached there about quarter past eight. "There was a light in the living room. I was surprised that Mr. Taylor should be home and not have answered the telephone. "I rang the doorbell. Silence. I rang again. Still, no response. I must have rung three or four times. Then I concluded: `Well, he has some one there and doesn't want to answer. "So I put up the car, I was around back of the house, and it is peculiar that persons in the neighborhood should have heard me walking and not have heard me put up the car. I made a good deal of noise doing this, as the garage is difficult to get into, and I guess I must have backed the car up four or five times. "I am satisfied that I am the man Mrs. Douglas MacLean saw standing on the porch and leaving the house, I wore a cap and a raincoat. "I noticed no cars in the immediate vicinity and saw no one who aroused my suspicions. "Naturally, I am convinced that both when I phoned and when I rang the doorbell, Mr. Taylor was lying there on the floor murdered." Taking the testimony of Fellows and Miss Normand together, it is now possible to fix the time of the murder within fifteen minutes. Miss Normand said she left Taylor between 7:30 and 7:45 o'clock. Fellows called at 7:55. The murder was committed between Miss Normand's leave taking and Fellows' phoning. Hence, for the first time, the police have a picture of the murder as it relates to the time when and in which it was committed. Before Fellows' statement became available there was no conclusive evidence as to the time the bullet of the assassin struck the film director down. testimony as to the shot being heard was so vague as to be unconvincing. It could not be said with finality that the murder did not occur at midnight or at any hour of the night. The acts of the drama leading to the murder must have been brief. It would appear, indeed, that there were no preliminaries, that the intruder, concealed in the room, stepped out and fired the shot. It is therefore deduced that it was a premeditated crime and not one precipitated by a quarrel or any sort of scene more than of momentary duration. One group of police investigators and most of the deputy sheriffs working on the case are now convinced that the visit of Mabel Normand was the immediate antecedent occasion for the crime. This theory naturally takes for granted that Miss Normand had not the slightest intimation that her dear friend was to be shot to death, but officers cannot help but believe that the murderer found the way for his crime paved in some way by the visit of Miss Normand.

From San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 10, 1922:

Walter Vogdes: In contrast was Howard Fellows, Taylor's chauffeur, who followed Peavey. Fellows, a lad with a weak, somewhat furtive face, sat on a bench in Woolwine's outer office and with twitching fingers lit one cigarette after another, each one on the preceding one. When his turn came to enter the inner office he literally ran inside, the way a timorous man runs into an ice cold plunge. When he came out his expression was frightened as he pulled his cap over his eyes and streaked it down the hallway...

Why did Fellows insist it was he whom Faith MacLean saw? How could he be so sure? Is it possible no one heard Fellow's starting his car because he wasn't there in the first place? Finally, it should be noted, Fellows disappeared from public view just after being questioned for hardly more than a day.

From Los Angeles Examiner, February 6, 1922:

[Mabel:] "There is a doubt yet in my mind but that the murderer was not in the house secreted during the time of my short visit with Mr. Taylor," she said. "I can't understand how he could have been brazen enough to have entered during the brief interim when Mr. Taylor came with me to the curbing."

And added to this, how the much more astonishing that Howard Fellows should be knocking at Taylor's door only 15 minutes later, with the killer having committed the deed nicely in between.

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