Column: Could Charlotte Selby be Mr. Taylor's murderer?

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared May 13, 2006.

WORTHINGTON - Did you lie about your age and pay adult fare to see Jane Russell in “The Outlaw?” I did not - but you see - I heard of such goings on.

I never did see “The Outlaw,” but I have seen posters here and there through the years. My word: by this summer of 2006, Jane Russell could wear her Outlaw outfit to a Worthington band concert and some might ask why she was so dressed up. “The Outlaw” was a 1943 film. Many, many today wear less than Jane did 63 years ago.

The reason I have “The Outlaw” in mind: there is one scene, I only guess about one minute in length, in which Jane Russell marries Billy the Kid. There are just three actors in that scene: Jane, Billy and The Reverend. This is what gets interesting.

The Reverend is Carl Stockdale. Did you see “The Bank?” Carl Stockdale played Charles, a cashier, in “The Bank.” He was The Bailiff in “Colleen.” He was The Admiral in “The Love Parade.” He was The Man Whose Shoes Need Fixing in “Prosperity.” He was The Missionary in “Lost Horizon.”


Carl Stockdale had a role - never a big role - in at least 310 motion pictures. I had never thought of this: I don’t doubt through the decades many actors and actresses made a good living just appearing before a camera as The Reverend or The Admiral or The Judge in 310 films.

I have a reason for going on about this. I only lately learned Carl Stockdale was born at Worthington. Maybe even more surprising: Carl Stockdale was born at Worthington - Feb. 19, 1874 - before the town was two years old. Through the passing of years, the pioneer Worthington boy made his way to Hollywood where - 1913, when he was 39 years old - he appeared as The Rancher in “Bronco Billy’s Conscience.”

Carl had a brother, Frank, born in Ohio, who also played bit parts in a couple of hundred films.

All of this leads to the greatest role Carl Stockdale played, which was a role not in front of cameras.

On the morning of Feb. 21, 1921, two days after Carl’s 47th birthday, a Hollywood director, William Desmond Taylor, was found dead on a floor in his bungalow in the Westlake Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

This was strange: there were people in the house, and other people came into the house from outdoors. Someone never identified leaned over the director’s body and said, “He died of natural causes.” Actors and actresses, friends, came and went. Things - letters, photos, clothing - disappeared. Two hours went by before the coroner arrived, turned the body over and discovered William Desmond Taylor was murdered. Shot in the back.

There was not much evidence. Clues were hard to come by. A theory shaped which had it that a woman dressed like a man broke into Taylor’s house the evening he was shot.

Stories from Taylor’s life are familiar. He brought fame and stardom to Mary Miles Minter, putting her in starring roles when she was only 16. It was known Taylor also had an illicit relationship with his teen star.


Police came to suspect that Mary Minter’s mother, Charlotte Shelby, furious when she learned of the relationship between the 50-year-old director and her teen-age daughter, decided to shoot the man.

Enter Worthington’s own Carl Stockdale. “Charlotte Shelby couldn’t be the killer,” Carl said. “I was at Charlotte’s house from 7:30 to 9:30 the night Taylor was murdered. We were playing cards.” (You know how two people can sit playing cards, hour after hour.)

Carl Stockdale gave Charlotte Shelby an alibi, and she was never charged. The murder of William Desmond Taylor remains what the TV shows now call a “cold case.”

Carl Stockdale continued his career. He was The High School Janitor in “Cynthia.” That’s an Elizabeth Taylor film. He was Sen. Burdette in Jimmy Stewart’s film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He did a scene with Barbara Britton and Richard Denning in the “Mr. and Mrs. North” TV series - but that scene was deleted.

Carl Stockdale of Worthington, card-playing friend of Charlotte Shelby, died at Los Angeles March 15, 1953. He was 79.

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