Unsolved: The Murder of “Big Bill” Taylor

William “Big Bill” Taylor

A heavy frost clung to the grass as I entered the sacred grounds of Charlottesville Cemetery. The small cemetery sits on the southern edge of Old Route 220, within a stone’s throw of Del Grosso’s Amusement Park, and I had to wonder how many people pass by it without realizing it was there. I had to admit I had forgotten it was there – I, like the majority of travelers, tend to take the much faster Interstate 99 instead of Old Route 220 when we travel the Bald Eagle Valley.

For the locals passing the small cemetery that cold morning, it must have appeared a busy place. I was joined at the cemetery by Zech and Jen – who were accompanying me on the day’s journey – and at this stop a couple relatives and the cemetery’s groundskeeper had gathered to pay respects to a murder victim resting in these sacred grounds.

My aunt was waiting as we pulled onto the sacred grounds. Having found it before I had arrived, she led the way over to the simple grave of the unsolved murder victim. Walking to the western edge of the small cemetery, we stopped at the simple stone to remember the World War Two veteran whose 1962 murder remains unsolved. The name on the stone reads: “William E. Taylor / 1903-1962 / Pvt. ERTC U.S. Army / World War II but most remember the man resting here as “Big Bill” Taylor.

“Big Bill” was born November 28, 1903 in Tipton to James and Mary Taylor. A veteran of World War Two and a retired employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Taylor was known around the region as “Big Bill” due to his height and weight.

On the morning of March 10, 1962, Taylor left his home near Tipton and headed to Altoona for the day. Before leaving town, he first stopped at the Tipton Post Office to pick up his $240 pension check. To his disappointment, when Taylor arrived at the post office, he discovered the check had not arrived. The check he was waiting on would not arrive until later in the day.

Leaving the post office Taylor next stopped at the Rossi Bar and Service Station in Tipton. It was here he found a ride to Altoona, where he would spend his final day.

Upon arriving in Altoona, Taylor was first spotted at the Texas Hot Wieners luncheon located on Fourteenth Street. Taylor was next reported at the Adeline Café on Eleventh Street where he asked the bartender to borrow a couple dollars. The exact amount he borrowed is not known – in some places it is listed as two dollars and other places as three dollars. What is known is Taylor borrowed the money around three in the afternoon and authorities believed this was the most money Taylor had on him all day.

The next definite place Taylor was spotted was at The Tavern, a couple doors down from Adeline’s, where he was seen around eight that evening. At some point after leaving The Tavern, Taylor was seen at the Coney Island restaurant on Twelfth Street,

Taylor was last spotted alive outside Brown’s Bar near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and Fourth Street around 10:30 that evening. It was here Taylor was seen with an unidentified man who had purchased a six-pack of beer for him. Lexington Avenue would be the alley where Taylor was discovered dead two hours later, only two and a half blocks away.

Note: In the information released to the newspapers, authorities initially stated Taylor was last spotted alive at 10:30 at both Brown’ Bar and Coney Island. In the handful of follow-up articles, they state Taylor was last spotted at Brown’s Bar.

Using what little the police revealed about Taylor’s last day, one thing that is not mentioned is: how long did he stay at these bars? Did he make an appearance and leave? Did he sit, drink, and socialize for hours? Did he spend more than five hours at Adeline’s or had he left and went somewhere else in town before coming back to the same area? These are questions that are never answered in the information released to the newspapers.

The next time Taylor is seen, he was dead. His lifeless body was discovered in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 11, 1962. Around 12:30, Taylor was spotted by a teenager returning home from the ice-skating rink. The teenager noticed a body lying against the fence and continued on his way without notifying the police of his discovery.

About half an hour later, two men returning from visiting a friend discovered Taylor’s lifeless body as they traveled along Lexington Alley. The car lights illuminated the figure still leaning against the fence behind the building at 124 Chestnut Street on the eastern edge of Altoona. The snow and fence were stained red with the blood of William “Big Bill” Taylor.

The Altoona police were called and upon searching Taylor’s body, they discovered a $1.65 in change and found his glasses in the snow nearby. While they were able to determine his identity, authorities were never able to determine if Taylor had been murdered at this location or if he had been thrown from a passing vehicle.

Authorities believed that, due to his size and the nature of his wounds, multiple assailants attacked Taylor. Taylor’s throat had been slashed four times on the left side and there was a swelling at the top of the head caused by being struck by something. Taylor’s right hand was wounded and the coroner removed a small piece of shot, believed to have come from “snake-shot” fired by a pistol. Additionally, it was believed Taylor had grabbed the barrel of the gun when it was fired due to a blister on the wounded hand. Note: While Taylor’s body showed evidence of a gunshot, at no time did any of the newspaper reports reveal locals reporting the sound of gunfire coming from the alleyway.

Altoona police had initially revealed some information about the murder, but on March 15, they made the decision that no more information about the murder of “Big Bill” Taylor would be shared with the newspapers. The Altoona Mirror reported “an official veil of silence has fallen over activities of the detectives,” and that silence was how they addressed Taylor’s murder to the public. This decision may have hurt their investigation as the murder disappeared from the newspapers and from public attention.

Three weeks later, the police department would change their stance and released more information about Taylor’s murder. On April 6 police released the composite of the man believed to have been the last person to see Taylor alive. The mystery man wanted for questioning was described as a white male about thirty-five years old. The man stood just shy of six feet tall, weighed about 135 pounds, with dark hair – possibly black or dark brown – and had small, beady eyes. The description, along with the composite, brought at least eight suspects to the attention of authorities, all of which were known criminals. Running down the leads, none of them proved true.

From The Altoona Mirror. April 6, 1962

With their leads running dry, on May 22 authorities announced a reward of $250 for information about Taylor’s death. The reward went unclaimed.

The motive behind Taylor’s murder remains a mystery. Authorities strongly leaned on the idea the murder was fueled by robbery. It was believed that the murderers had been familiar with both Taylor’s routine and also when the Pennsylvania Railroad sent out the pension checks. With this information, Taylor’s murderers may have believed he had received his check and cashed it – they did not realize that Taylor’s check had been delayed in the postal system.

A second motive that is briefly mentioned in the newspapers is jealousy. Taylor was known to buy women drinks and authorities believed he could have purchased a drink, which upset another man who fancied the same lady. While this theory was not really followed up on, and is quickly dropped, it did receive mention in the newspapers at the time.

In 1985, the murder of “Big Bill” Taylor once again made the newspapers. The May 20, 1985 edition of the Altoona Mirror ran the headline “Man accused of threats claims to know of murderers in 60’s case.” William Dobson was in jail awaiting charges for threatening the lives of a number of people, when he sent letters that revealed he may have had information about the murder.

Dobson’s connection to the murder of “Big Bill” Taylor was known to Altoona police. In the 1960s, Dobson was known as “The Bar Bandit,” having robbed a number of people in the Altoona region. In 1969, detectives traveled to Farview State Hospital, located in Wayne County, to interview Dobson after he claimed to know something about the murder. By the time detectives arrived, Dobson decided he no longer wanted to talk unless he was guaranteed to be moved to the state hospital at Hollidaysburg. All Dobson would tell investigators was there were four men involved in the murder. Authorities were able to rule Dobson out as a suspect due to military records showing he was in Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota at the time of the murder.

Though it is still fresh in the minds of locals, time has erased the murder from the memory of those outside the Bald Eagle Valley. With each passing year, the question of “Who murdered William Taylor?” is becoming harder to answer as the events of that fateful day are slowly disappearing from the public memory.

Knowing we had no answers to the identity of his killer, we finished paying our respects to William “Big Bill” Taylor and left him to rest at the cemetery’s edge. One by one, we left the cemetery, with each of us hoping that one day the piece needed to solve his murder will be revealed and justice served.

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