By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
New Times' attempts to reach Kirkpatrick for comment were unsuccessful. However, responding to charges against his book in a 1987 Los Angeles magazine interview, Kirkpatrick is quoted as saying, I don't see any purpose in replying... . I believe I did the best job humanly possible."
Long takes issue with numerous points in Kirkpatrick's book. In A Cast of Killers, Kirkpatrick claims that several studio executives at the scene were incinerating papers in the fireplace when police arrived at Taylor's home the morning of the murder. Long points out that the director's bungalow did not even have a fireplace, nor was a fireplace ever mentioned in early press reports of the crime.
In one of the most fortuitous interviews in the history of crime detection, Vidor discovered (according to Kirkpatrick's book) that Taylor was a pederast, that Taylor paid his male housekeeper to solicit young boys for him in public parks and that Taylor had a secret hideaway that he used for his taboo trysts. But the source of this-a set designer who worked with Taylor-is never quoted as saying any of it. Instead, Vidor hypothesized the chicken-hawk scenario while thinking aloud, and the set designer confirmed" the story-in-progress through a series of silences which Vidor somehow managed to variously interpret as affirmative, negative or noncommittal.
Kirkpatrick strongly suggests that Charlotte Shelby, whom he pins as the culprit, struck again 15 years later. But as Long points out, there's evidence that the second Ôvictim" died of complications linked to chronic alcoholism.
Shelby was only a stage mother back in the Twenties, but she became a major player in the Taylor murder story. King Vidor's notes indicated that he thought the mystery man seen leaving the murder house actually was the middle-aged Charlotte Shelby disguised in men's clothes.
That doesn't fly at all," says Long, pointing out that the fiftyish Shelby didn't resemble the young man" leaving the house. Mary Miles Minter clearly didn't think her mother killed Taylor, either, and certainly she was very close to the situation."
Had Minter known Shelby had committed the crime, says Long, the actress would certainly have blown the whistle on her. Both Minter and her sister allegedly hated their mother, and the pair found themselves involved in lawsuits against Shelby on more than one occasion. So whodunit?
Whoever it is, the culprit probably is long dead. Mary Miles Minter, the last surviving principal, died almost ten years ago. And even if someone were to come forward tomorrow and confess, the case is so convoluted by this time that anything he or she said probably would be challenged.
You've also got to remember," says Long, that a certain percentage of murders do go unsolved." Factor in strong evidence of a deliberately sloppy police investigation (Long's research suggests that Paramount executives may well have been in cahoots with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office) and it becomes clear that the person who shot William Desmond Taylor got away with murder.
Perhaps the case was doomed from the start. The killer owes a large debt of gratitude to another Paramount luminary who'd made unsavory headlines just six months before Taylor's body was found. Following a gin-soaked soiree held the preceding Labor Day weekend, popular silent-screen comedian Fatty Arbuckle had been charged with the death of a guest named Virginia Rappe. The victim, a prostitute and sometime actress, died of a ruptured bladder after her corpulent host allegedly sexually brutalized her.
Although Arbuckle was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, the lurid escapade took its toll on Tinseltown. Called on the carpet by outraged newspaper editorials, the fledgling film colony vowed to sweep future scandals under the rug.
The town had just been through two Arbuckle trials and a third one was pending at the time Taylor was killed," explains Long. The last thing that Hollywood wanted was another trial. The powers that be really didn't want Taylor's murderer to be found. They just wanted the whole thing to die out as quickly as possible."
Long has a storehouse of information, but he's still not ready to finger the perpetrator of the murder that will not die. I really just have degrees of probability," he says. Certainly there were plenty of detectives who were totally convinced that Charlotte Shelby was the one, and they had more information than I did. I'd put Shelby at about 30 percent in my mind, but no higher than that."
Pressed to suggest an arrest, Long smiles. I've personally always liked the theory that the murder was committed by a vengeful Canadian army veteran who'd served under Taylor years before," he says. But I'll admit the odds on that aren't too good-particularly since Taylor was in the British army.