The Death of William Desmond Taylor

A century ago, Hollywood’s favorite director was gunned down in his own home. Although there is no shortage of suspects, this murder remains unsolved.

Heather Monroe


William Desmond Taylor, Dec. 1915, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Early Life and Career

William Desmond Taylor was born William Cunningham Dean-Tanner on April 27, 1872, in Carlow, Ireland. His mother was Jane O’Brien. As a teen, William tried to follow his father, British Army Major Deane-Tanner’s, footsteps and join the British Army. He failed his entrance exam, so his father sent him to reform school in Kansas in 1890.

William had higher aspirations and moved to New York to pursue an acting career. He married Ethel May Harrison in 1901, and they had a child by 1903. William got a job as vice-president of a successful Antique shop, and things were going well.

His wife complained William experienced memory loss and sometimes couldn’t find his way home. On October 23, 1903, William abruptly left New York. Ethel blamed her husband’s amnesia. William never returned. Ethel divorced William in 1912 on the grounds of desertion and secured custody of their child.

William spent a few years traveling, taking what work he could get. William worked at an Alaskan gold mine before working his way into acting troupes. By 1912, he settled in San Francisco, California. Although William had plenty of work stage acting, he knew the future was on the silver screen. With a little financial help from his friends, he moved to Hollywood.

By 1913, William was a movie star. When William directed his first film, The Awakening, in 1914, he knew he found his true passion. He directed over 40 films in the next eight years and directed some of the best actors of the era, including Mabel Normand, and Mary Miles Minter.

In 1914, he fell in love with actress Neva Gerber. But she was married to another and didn’t obtain a divorce until after William’s death. She said that she had never known a finer man. The rest of Hollywood agreed; William was a gentleman, and his reputation was above reproach.




Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•