Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Countdown Begins

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We are at the point in the story when police and reporters have discovered Elizabeth Short’s trunk and suitcases, events that occurred on separate days.

Note: I am now on Page 86 and will conclude this exercise whenever we get to Elizabeth Short’s funeral. I am roughly 25% through the book and have made whatever points I am going to make—and believe me, this tome is not going to suddenly mend its ways and become scholarly.

Thereafter, if someone wants to query about specific points in the book, I’ll entertain them.

Large ImageOK, now get this:

Page 85

“To this day, the contents of Elizabeth Short’s luggage, checked at the Greyhound bus station on January 9, have never been disclosed to the press or the public.”

Page 86

“When the luggage was opened in the newspaper’s conference room, detectives and reporters scrutinized the memory books, which were found to contain dozens of photographs of Elizabeth in Miami, posing with a number of servicemen—including a four-star general.”

Now apparently statements like this do not cause intellectual whiplash to Wolfe’s editors, Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. I have no idea what Morgan and Bliss did on Wolfe’s book, but I can tell you absolutely what they didn’t do.

Large ImageNow where did Wolfe get this nonsense about the four-star general? That’s a new one on me.

Let’s check the end notes.

Ha. Nowhere. Completely unattributed. Tell me you’re surprised.

Aha. Wolfe puts some interesting material in a footnote.

“Some of the material found in Elizabeth Short’s lost luggage by the Examiner was returned to Phoebe Short, but many of the photos of Elizabeth ended up in the Examiner archive, which was donated to the Special Collections Department of the University of Southern California in 1988. Most of these photos vanished from the USC Library in the early 1990s and were eventually auctioned off on eBay in 2002.”

Some of Elizabeth Short’s photos were indeed auctioned off on eBay, but in 2003. The final price, which Wolfe does not disclose, was $7,611.11 paid by Steve Hodel, who published them in “Black Dahlia Avenger,” Page 515.

Large ImageThe eBay photos’ provenance is murky. The seller is a well-known enthusiast of antique motorcycles and says he found them in going through a massive collection of photos searching for pictures of old motorcycles. The seller claims that whoever had the photos didn’t know what they were. Presumably these photos were in the possession of an Examiner employee at some point, but it is unclear whether they were ever part of the USC archives, which holds much of the Examiner material, but has many holes in its collection.

For example, when the Examiner ceased publication in 1962, some material was transferred to the new Herald Examiner. When that ceased publication, the material was transferred to the Los Angeles Public Library, including some Black Dahlia photos now on library’s online database.

Large ImageHowever, a large stack of Herald Examiner photos from the Black Dahlia case are in the John Gilmore collection at UCLA. I will leave it to others to explore their provenance. But look at the photo of Gilmore in the section of photos following Page 210 in Wolfe’s book to get an idea of the vast number in the Gilmore material at UCLA. Gilmore is sitting at a desk with the wall behind him plastered with Dahlia pictures. You can even see the news editors’ crop marks on the photos from where they were prepared for publication.

Did I mention that Gilmore dismisses this book as “crap” even though his book jacket blurb calls it “destined to become a true-crime classic. A must-read!”

I still don’t get that one.

Wolfe has several pages of Elizabeth Short’s love letters lifted from the newspapers. He makes an elementary mistake when he says Matt Gordon died in November 1945. It was in August 1945.

Large ImagePage 89

Now this is interesting. After wallowing in the image of Elizabeth Short as a lazy tramp in San Diego, Wolfe uses Jim Richardson’s quote, which I cited earlier:

“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.”

Page 90

Wolfe claims that Richardson arranged Phoebe’s plane trip from Boston to Los Angeles. This has to be from Will Fowler. In reality, First Baptist Church of Medford paid the tab. Yep, Will Fowler’s “Reporters,” Page 84-85.

Let’s check his homework:

“Reporters,” Page 84-85

Large Image“Wrapping the story, the last paragraph said Mrs. Phoebe May [note: Mae] Short was expected to arrive in Los Angeles from Berkeley and that no date had been set for the coroner’s inquest.

“Footnote: The Examiner had already met Phoebe in Los Angeles earlier, before she flew up to Berkeley to be with her sister, Mrs. Adrian West. [Of course that’s Elizabeth Short’s sister, not Phoebe’s sister.]”

Nothing about the Examiner arranging Phoebe’s flight to Los Angeles, although that was one of Will’s many claims—he also said the Examiner hid Phoebe from other reporters when in fact she was in Berkeley with her oldest daughter. As I keep saying three of the most frightening words in the English language are: “Will Fowler remembers.”

Page 91

Oh you must be kidding!

Large Image“When Phoebe returned to Los Angeles, accompanied by Virginia and her husband, Adrian, they were met at the airport by Examiner reporters, who drove them to the coroner’s office at the Hall of Justice.”

Where on Earth did Wolfe get that? Will?

To the end notes, Watson! And hurry!

Why my dear Holmes! John Gilmore’s “Severed,” Page 146.

To the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books, Watson.

Hum. As we’re switching books, do you wonder why Wolfe would use “Severed” over someone who actually worked for the Examiner—granted Will Fowler is not exactly the soul of veracity but I don’t think that’s a major issue for this opus.

Now before I tell you, guess what “Severed” says.

Go ahead.

Large ImageI’ll wait.

Think it’s all about how the Examiner reporters took Phoebe, Virginia and Adrian to the coroner’s office? I mean that is what Wolfe says, right?

“Severed,” Page 146.

“On the morning of January 22nd, she [Phoebe] returned to L.A. with Ginnie and her son-in-law. They were met at the airport and brought downtown to the Hall of Justice entrance to the morgue. Harry Hansen and Brown were waiting.”

But Holmes! There’s not a word about Examiner reporters!

Not a word, Watson.

Time for a walk.

Large ImageRemember, we’re counting down to Elizabeth Short’s funeral. That’s when I stop.

Shout out to:

Ljubljana, Slovenia (193.77.78.234)

Caltech (131.215.192.127)

Pittsylvania County, Va., Public Schools (216.146.50.3)

Spotsylvania County, Va., School Board (205.174.123.52)

Hurry back!

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
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2 Responses to Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Countdown Begins

  1. ColScott says:

    Not sure why you would stop- this blog is the best entertainment most of us have had this year. IT should be a book itself.PLEASE keep going- the book is so crudtastic we need to get every drop.I was hoping to learn more about Leslie Dillon too…

  2. Sandra says:

    I’m with colscott. I just found you last Friday (09-08-06 – Alas, late again!), and I have been having the best time reading through your blogs.I was actually disappointed when you moved from the the microscopic inspection to the more occasional remarks. Pick every nit!

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