William Desmond Taylor (April 26, 1872 – February 1, 1922) was an Irish-born American actor, successful film director of silent movies and a popular figure in the growing Hollywood film colony of the 1910s and early 1920s. His murder on February 1, 1922, along with other Hollywood scandals such as the Roscoe Arbuckle trial, led to a frenzy of sensationalistic and often fabricated newspaper reports. In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, the name Norma Desmond is a reference to both Taylor's middle name and one of his actress friends, Mabel Normand. Taylor's murder remains officially unsolved.
At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 2, 1922, the body of William Desmond Taylor was found inside his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, 404-B South Alvarado Street, in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles, California, which was then known as a trendy and affluent neighbourhood.
The Alvarado Court Apartments stood on the southeast corner of Alvardo and Maryland Streets in the then fashionable Westlake District. The property is now a Ross clothing store parking lot.
A crowd gathered inside and someone identifying himself as a doctor stepped forward, made a cursory examination of the body, declared the victim had died of a stomach hemorrhage and was never seen again, perhaps owing to his own embarrassment, because when doubts later arose, the body was rolled over and it was discovered the 49-year-old film director had been shot in the back.
In Taylor's pockets were a wallet holding $78, a silver cigarette case, a Waltham pocket watch and an ivory toothpick. A two carat (400 mg) diamond ring was on his finger. A large but undetermined sum of cash which Taylor had shown to his accountant the day before was missing and apparently never accounted for. After some investigation, the time of Taylor's death was set at 7:50 in the evening of February 1, 1922. Whilst being interviewed by the police five days after the director's body was found, Mary Minter said that following the murder a friend, director and actor Marshall Neilan, told her Taylor had made several highly "delusional" statements about some of his social acquaintances (including her) during the weeks before his death. She also said Neilan thought Taylor had recently become "insane."
More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police. Newspaper reports at the time were both overwhelmingly sensationalized and speculative, even fabricated, and the murder was used as the basis for much subsequent "true crime" fiction. Many inaccuracies were carried forward by later writers who used articles from the popular press as their sources.
William Desmond Taylor is buried under his birth name "William Cunningham Deane-Tanner" in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California.