Blogging the Wolfe Book, Family Ties

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files,” more properly titled “Stuff I Scraped Out of ‘Severed’ Thanks to John Gilmore, Who Calls My Book ‘a True Crime Classic’ and ‘Crap’ ” (If you figure that one out, you’re good).

Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We just finished the portion of the story in which Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego in the last month of her life.

I heard from one of Elizabeth Short’s sisters yesterday, as I do from time to time. Out of concern for her privacy, I won’t quote the e-mail, but she asked what I knew about the upcoming Brian De Palma movie. I told her I turned down a chance to attend the sneak preview, but that several people who saw the movie said it was horrid. Sample comment: “There is so much wrong with this film that I don’t even know where to start!”

Large ImageThe sister expressed dismay that so many people are so hungry to cash in on the family’s tragedy, and so totally hardened to the grief they continue to feel nearly 60 years after the murder. As I have said again and again, for the Short family, the murder is not some macabre curio of old Los Angeles; for them it’s as if it just occurred. The continuing flood of sleazy, crackpot books only reopens old wounds. And don’t even get me going about the websites plastered with body shots that have made their way onto record jackets. And the free FBI files going for $25 a pop on Ebay. You know who you are.

To the haz-mat pile! The good news is that we’re on

Large ImagePage 68

Total pages (not counting “end notes” and the index) 357. Hey, we’re nearly 20% of the way through the book.

OK. This chapter is titled “Red,” so I’m going to guess (remember I haven’t read ahead) that it is lifted more or less intact from Aggie Underwood’s jailhouse interview with Robert M. “Red” Manley, the only bylined story of any original account of the Black Dahlia case. With some garnishes from “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

Hm. Wolfe is starting with Jim Richardson suspecting that Red and Elizabeth Short might have left San Diego for Los Angeles late in the day. He continues to call photographer George O’Day a reporter, but at least he is consistent in his mistake. Recall that Elizabeth Short’s father went from strict churchgoer to Jack Daniels’ best amigo in a few pages, something that caused no intellectual whiplash to Wolfe’s agent, Alan Nevins, nor to his two editors, Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss.

Any bets as to whether Wolfe bothers to attribute this? It should be in Richardson’s “For the Life of Me” if it’s anywhere.

Large ImageLead on, Watson!

Well, Holmes, it’s supposed to be from “For the Life of Me,” Page 301.

Quick, Watson, the haz-mat pile!

Ah. This is more like it:

“For the Life of Me,” Page 301

“She left the French place about six o’clock on the evening of January 8 with a man known as Red,” Tommy [Devlin] reported. “This Red sent her a telegram January 7 from Huntington Park saying he would pick her up the next day. She told Mrs. French and Dorothy he was taking her to Los Angeles A couple of weeks before she left, Elizabeth told Dorothy one morning that she had a friend named Red who was at a motel near San Diego. When Red picked her up January 8 he had his car and carried her bags out to it. Mrs. French and Dorothy met him and I’ve got a good description of him. He’s our baby. Send somebody out to check that telegram. He may have given an address when he sent it. I’ll start prowling the motels around here for the license number of his car.”

So it wasn’t Richardson’s idea, it was Devlin’s. And notice, please, no mention of photographer George O’Day. That comes from Will Fowler’s “Reporters.”

Oh this is interesting (well, OK, to a total research drudge):

Large Image“But at the Mecca Motel, known to be a ‘hot pillow joint’ located less than twelve miles north of Pacific Beach, the clerk recalled a couple that matched the description; however, they had not registered in January. The clerk recalled them registering back in mid-December. ‘Yes, the man was tall, freckle-faced, had red hair, and was in his mid-twenties,’ the clerk recalled, ‘and he was with a striking young woman with jet-black hair.’ ”

Now if you haven’t spent years researching Dahlia stuff you wouldn’t notice what’s going on here. Wolfe is claiming that Red and Elizabeth Short checked into a motel during his previous visit to San Diego—something that is totally unsupported in the original documents. And this nonsense about the Mecca Motel being a “hot pillow joint”—where on earth did Wolfe get that?

Let’s just see if he hangs this on anybody.

Aha. Maybe from “Reporters.” I swear, one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is “Will Fowler recalls…” I considered him a good friend and he lied his head off to me.

Large Image“Reporters,” Page 81

“In the meantime, the crew of George O’Day and reporter Tom Devlin continued checking hotels and motels, looking for anything that would lead them to the identification of ‘Red.’ And coming up with a winner, Devlin located a motel where a red-haired man had registered the previous December. Unbelievably, he hadn’t signed in with the usual Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He had actually entered Elizabeth Short’s real name at the motel a dozen miles north of San Diego. He also signed his name: Robert Manley from Huntington Park.”

Note, please. Nothing about freckles, nothing about O’Day being a reporter and most of all, nothing about the Mecca Motel being a “hot pillow joint.” That’s strictly Wolfe’s handiwork. Now Red did check into a motel along the highway south of Pacific Beach, but by all accounts Elizabeth Short did not accompany him. In fact, he picked her up on a corner across from the Western Air Lines office, gave her a ride to the Frenches, went to the motel to clean up and came back and picked her up. They went out and he dropped her off at the Frenches.

Period.

So where does this quote come from?

“ ‘Yes, the man was tall, freckle-faced, had red hair, and was in his mid-twenties,’ the clerk recalled, ‘and he was with a striking young woman with jet-black hair.’ ”

Beats me. From the fertile mind of Donald H. Wolfe, apparently.

Large ImageI’m increasingly puzzled about the title of Wolfe’s book because the district attorney’s files (remember, this is called the “Black Dahlia Files”) are virtually absent. Wolfe’s main sources seem to be “Severed” and “Reporters.”

And even then, Wolfe is very selective. Here’s another section from the same page of “For the Life of Me” that Wolfe is using. But he leaves this out:

“She had been a pitiful wanderer, ricocheting from one cheap job to another and from one cheap man to another in a sad search for a good husband and a home and happiness. Not bad. Not good. Just lost and trying to find a way out. Every big city has hundreds just like her.”

But of course that’s completely counterproductive in the “Elizabeth Short turns bad girl” motif, so it’s ignored.

Time for my walk.

Ps. I also heard from Mary Pacios yesterday. She says the Wolfe book makes her so angry she can’t read it. Mary calls it “dishonest” and it is surely that.

Shout out to:

Warner Music Group (65.244.245.5)

Larkspur Hospitality Company (12.154.206.226)

My regular visitor in Kerkira, Greece (213.80.115.71)

New Orleans (68.14.106.216)

Sydney, Australia (203.217.66.172)

Raleigh, N.C. (69.134.176.51)

Win98 user at the University of Windsor (137.207.132.38)

The dudes at Inktomi (72.30.133.13)

Youngstown State University (150.134.171.163)

Hurry back!

About these ads

About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Blogging the Wolfe Book, Family Ties

  1. Fritz says:

    Given that he apparently did absolutely no primary research, at what point can you accuse Wolfe of plagiarism?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been reading the Black Dahila FBI files, I am on the third pdf. All have been 51 pages so far. On what would be about page 112 in the full document they start talking about Interviewing people who were in her address book.The main unnamed person here was a person from Chicago who met Betty on furlough in the LA area. It turned out that he knew one of Betty’s boyfriends from home. I was very interested in the detailed transcript of his time with Betty. It seems to shed light on her motivations at that time in here life. Its the only source that I know of that documents her having sexual relations with anyone.I was somewhat shocked that she would have this person send a card claiming she was married to him to a boyfriend that was Jealous of her relationships. Its easy to see how she could of made someone mad at her.There is lots of interesting details of betty behavior in the FBI 8 page interview starting on about page 118. I don’t want to go in to detail here but I wonder why Wolf didn’t use some info from here to make his points.It would be interesting to know the names of this unknown person and the unknown former boyfriend who received the cards.Jesus Squirrel

  3. Taco Jack says:

    Larry, I’ve been thinking about the Gilmore quote on Wolfe’s book: Is it possible that the publisher selective edited a comment by Gilmore and used it as ‘praise’ for the book? Play along here… the publisher contacts Gilmore after sending him the galleys or whatever. The following is complete speculation:Publisher dials up Gilmore…PUBLISHER: So, what did you think of the book?GILMORE: It’s crap. The Black Dahlia case is a True Crime classic, and Wolfe gets it all wrong.PUBLISHER: Oh. OK. Thanks. (hangs up)WOLFE: What did he say?PUBLISHER: He said it’s ‘a true crime classic.’It’s just like the way a movie studio will selectively pull a quote from a terrible review that makes it appear that the movie has ‘merit’ or is ‘unbelieveable!’Just my conspiracy theory.

  4. Larry says:

    The matter of the jacket blurb is a good question for John Gilmore. I’d be interested in hearing his answer.The account in the FBI files is a complicated, curious issue. Note that the man is talking to the FBI and not the LAPD. And no, he was never identified. I was originally extremely skeptical of this account, but it does fit perfectly with everything that is known about Elizabeth Short. Is it true? I suppose it is, tentatively, but I’m not comfortable signing off on it without more corroboration. I’d make it tentative.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s