The Murder of William Desmond Taylor
V) - Seven Years Later...
After four years of countless dead ends and false leads the investigation into the murder of William Desmond Taylor was officially closed. However, on 21st December 1929, the dead investigation was spectacularly resurrected on a more political basis when former governor Friend W. Richardson told the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, ‘I know who killed William Desmond Taylor.’
Richardson revealed that around 1926 he received information that a prisoner in Folsom knew all about the murder. Richardson visited the convict and, upon his return to Los Angeles, informed the foreman of the Grand Jury and the chairman of the Jury’s Criminal Committee that he had solved the murder. He said he asked them whether the facts should be presented to the Grand Jury and whether there was any chance of indictment, only to be told that there would be none and that Asa Keyes, the incumbent District Attorney, or one of his representatives, would be present and therefore anybody they intended to try for the murder would be ‘spirited away, bribed or murdered.’
Richardson told the newspaper that he returned to Sacramento on hearing this and explained the situation to the prison board. He recommended that, as there was a strong chance the the prisoner in question could be murdered, quick action should be taken to assure he received adequate protection. As a result of his advice, the convict was paroled and relocated to Vera Cruz in Mexico. Richardson claimed that Keyes, who was then in prison himself awaiting trial for bribery charges, had effectively ‘stepped on the case.’
Keyes challenged the accusation from his prison cell, and wanted to know why Richardson didn’t produce his evidence. Richardson’s response was that it was too late – that it would now be impossible to locate and gather the necessary witnesses.
Buron Fitts, the D.A. in 1929, refused to comment on the matter other than to say he might call Charlotte Shelby in for an interview as she appeared to be the only person involved in the investigation who hadn’t undergone thorough questioning. His comment drew an outraged response from Shelby.
‘I feel injustice to myself, my name, my integrity and my rights as a citizen of the United States to express my indignation at the injustice done to me. I have been maligned and by innuendo implicated in connection with the tragedy.’ Shelby said in her statement. ‘I am now re-establishing my home in Los Angeles after an absence of several years and I feel I have a right to live peacefully and enjoy the confidence and respect of my fellow citizens. There is not one word of truth in anything that has been said connecting me with the case, nor has any public official the slightest evidence which would serve in any way to prove or even indicate that I ever did have or now have information which would lead to the arrest of the person responsible for Mr Taylor’s death. I have nothing to conceal. I am willing and always have been to talk to any authorised persons from the district attorney’s office if the district attorney wishes to see me. I now appeal for justice and to clear my name of slander and misrepresentation.’
‘I came out of Texas, a green and uneducated young fellow in my twenties, and got in with a bad bunch in Southern California. They were smarter than I was, and altogether too fast company for me, but I was useful to them in doing odd jobs, and I can see now they carried me along to make me the goat.
‘This clique was primarily engaged in the dope racket. There was a lot of money in it. They got the stuff off the boats at San Pedro and cleared it through a pharmacy in Los Angeles. One of these crooks was Edward Sands, who had ostensibly worked as a chauffeur and valet for William Desmond Taylor. Actually, Taylor was distributing a lot of 'hype' to people in the movie business, including the actress who committed the murder.
‘Taylor and Sands had a falling out. Taylor left on a trip and when he returned he publicly accused Sands of robbing his home of clothing and jewelry. Sands didn't make any pretense of working for Taylor after that, but I think the robbery was all the bunk, for Sands continued to deliver dope to Taylor and get his money for it.
‘Sands must have been about forty years old. He was a pretty good sort of a guy, for a crook. He always treated me square and I always got my money on time. I met him about six months previous to the murder on a movie location in Santa Ana Canyon. I was doing some electrical work for the company, and he drove Taylor out in Taylor's car. We got talking and became friends.
‘Word was passed around in this dope ring that Taylor had turned 'rat' and was tipping us off to Federal officials. I heard several conversations in which it was remarked that Taylor would be 'bumped' off if he didn't play square. At first I paid no attention, as a lot of that sort of talk was going around; but they kept repeating it and pretty soon I got really interested and began to think they meant business.
‘On the evening of February 1st, 1922, Sands and I were out at Redondo Beach on a job and saw Taylor and two motion picture actresses having dinner at a cafe. We went back to town and Sands went to his apartment for a few minutes, while I waited outside. He told me when he came down that he had just talked with Taylor on the telephone, at Taylor's home, and that we were to deliver some 'hype' to the latter.
‘Sands went and got a big limousine, which he said was Taylor's and had been loaned to him. He picked up his stuff at the pharmacy, and we drove out to Alvarado Street. This was about two o'clock in the morning. We parked the car across the street from Taylor's bungalow court. Sands and I left it and crossed Alvarado Street. There was another limousine at the opposite curb, with a driver at the wheel and the motor going. A woman was coming down the short steps from the entrance to the bungalow court. She was wrapped in a fur coat, either
black or dark brown. I recognized her. She passed Sands and me and got into the limousine hurriedly, and drove away.
‘Sands told me to wait for him on the sidewalk, while he went in with the bundle. He came back almost immediately and hurriedly crossed the street to our car, motioning me to step lively with him. As we left the curb I noticed a man in the bungalow court at the rear, adjoining Taylor's home, but directly facing Alvarado Street, open the shutters of a window and look out.
I read in the papers afterward that this was Douglas MacLean's home.
‘When we were in the car, Sands said to me: 'It's time to be going. The old man's got his. He's stretched out deader than a mackerel.'
‘We went downtown and separated. I went to Santa Ana and later to San Pedro. I went back to Los Angeles next Saturday evening to find out what was going on and ran into Sands. I saw him next day, too. He was leaving for San Pedro to take a boat for Mexico, and told me where to reach him at Vera Cruz.
‘I exchanged several letters with him at Vera Cruz after that. He kept telling me to keep my mouth shut and not to mention his name.
‘Sands did not kill Taylor; I'm sure of that. I don't think he meant to run away when he started to Mexico; I understand he was going to arrange for more narcotic shipments. I think Taylor was shot down between about 1:45 a.m. when Sands and he talked together on the telephone, and 2:30 a.m. when we beat it from the Alvarado Street address.
‘I did not travel with the gang after that, and, having lost the guiding hand of Sands, I got into several jams and was sent to Folsom. At the prison I told something of this to Buck Cook, who squealed to the prison officials. Thomas Gannon of the prison board then called me and asked me what I knew about the Taylor murder.’
The press soon located Otis Hefner living under the name of Arthur Nelson in Redwood City, California. He confirmed the details of the story and added that both he and Sands had positively identified the movie actress – clearly meant to be Mabel Normand – leaving Taylor’s apartment.
Henry Peavey, Taylor’s former house servant, was located in Sacramento, from where he told a different story regarding events immediately prior to Taylor’s murder to the one he gave the Coroner’s Inquest. He claimed that, at around 7 o’clock on the night of the murder he heard angry, raised voices coming from the lounge where Taylor was entertaining Mabel Normand. He left for the evening, but said that Taylor’s chauffeur later told him that he phoned the house at 7.20pm but got no answer. Later, finding the house in darkness, he went home without seeing Taylor. According to Peavey, this would have put the time of death at somewhere between 7.10 and 7.20pm on the night of the 1st February 1922.
Peavey said Normand – although he was never quoted as mentioning her specifically by name – was angry because Taylor no longer cared for her in the way that he had, and was paying attention to another movie actress. He claimed that during the initial murder investigation, the District Attorney’s office had threatened him into leaving out any mention of a row between Taylor and Normand.
Detective King didn’t believe Peavey, purely because they had questioned him on a number of occasions immediately after the murder and he had never given any indication that Taylor had been murdered by a movie star (although press reports from 1922 clearly show that Peavey told the authorities he believed Normand killed the director. He also said as much to Hearst reporters who abducted him in an attempt to scare the truth out of him).
On Friday 10th January 1930, Ed King traveled to San Francisco to interview a Mr Crissey and George Powers, the Daily News journalists to whom Otis Hefner had told his story. Hefner, who had been re-paroled in 1926 after returning to prison for violating the conditions of the original parole he received for his own safety, was living at 205 Redwood Avenue, Redwood City, 35 miles south of San Francisco. The reporters told King that a man named Tommy Jones, who had been living at that address with Hefner and also working with him at the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, was believed to be the elusive Edward F. Sands. The man had recently disappeared and had failed to collect his wages from the company office.
The following day, King drove to Redwood City. He interviewed R. W. Briggs, gang foreman of the electric lines under whom Jones had worked. Briggs explained that Jones had actually been absent from work since 6th December 1929, and that the description of Sands didn’t match that of Jones. He also described Jones as barely literate and possessing a deep South accent. He had told Briggs when he resigned that he was taking his wife and two children to Phoenix, Arizona.
King then went to Hefner’s place in Redwood Avenue, but found the place locked and all the curtains drawn. The next day, he contacted Edward Whyte, the State Parole Officer, who informed him that he had advised Hefner to go into hiding to escape the press and that he could have him in his office almost straight away.
According to King, Hefner pretty much confessed straight away to fabricating the entire story in order to gain his release from Folsom on parole. He agreed to accompany King to Los Angeles to tell the same to D. A. Buron Fitts. He was released immediately afterwards, thanks to a plea on his behalf by Whyte, who explained that Hefner had gone straight since his release.
Next: The Shelby's Feud
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