Blogging the Wolfe Book, The FBI Story

There is an individual on ebay who sells copies of Elizabeth Short’s FBI file for $22 and some bidders drive the price even higher. The fact that the files are available online for free has curbed the demand somewhat. But I don’t know which is worse: a seller offering something that anybody can get for free (oh yes, you do get a “bound” version, if you consider a cheap plastic spiral a “binding”) or the people who buy it for $44.89, like sydney20030_3 .

Update: The price on ebay has gone up to $23, plus $5 shipping. Still free on the FBI’s website.

Page 28

In his treatment of the Black Dahlia case, Donald H. Wolfe is going to deal with the relationship between the police and the newspapers in the 1940s, which was definitely cozier than it is now.

“While today there is only one daily metropolitan newspaper in Los Angeles, back in 1947 there were five and all were zealous competitors—especially on a major murder case that had captured the public’s attention.”

I’m at a bit of a loss as to which papers Wolfe is talking about. I can think of four majors in 1947: The Times and the Examiner in the morning, the Herald-Express in the afternoon and the Daily News (no relation to the Daily News of Los Angeles). There were suburban papers in Pasadena, Hollywood, Long Beach and elsewhere, but I wouldn’t call any of them major. And of course while The Times is the major paper today, there is still the Daily News of Los Angeles, which covers the San Fernando Valley, and the Orange County Register (nee the Santa Ana Register).

And the next milepost in the Black Dahlia story, wiring the fingerprints to Washington. Again, Wolfe’s got it wrong:

“According to reporter Will Fowler, when the Examiner learned that the crime lab had sent the fingerprint card of Jane Doe #1 to Washington, editor Jim Richardson had managing editor Warden Wollard call Capt. Donahoe and request that the LAPD supply the Examiner with a copy of the prints.”

Oh boy. This is a trifecta of errors.

First of all, in newspaper hierarchy, the managing editor outranks the city editor, Jim Richardson. Second, Wollard didn’t ask Donahoe for a copy of the prints. And third, when you fingerprint a corpse, you obviously can’t use a fingerprint card. Instead individual squares are applied to each finger.

Watson! The end notes!

Just as I thought. Wolfe attributes this to Will, in a 2003 interview (by then Will was pretty far gone, I imagine) and Will’s autobiography “Reporters.” The question is why Wolfe doesn’t use Richardson’s autobiography, “For the Life of Me.” This is especially mysterious since Wolfe cites the book in his bibliography. Of course we have already found instances of Wolfe citing a book in the bibliography or end notes and ignoring it so this isn’t a first, alas. But it is significant.

Let’s see what Richardson has to say (“For the Life of Me,” Page 298):

“I thought I had done everything that could possibly be done. I couldn’t think of an angle we hadn’t covered. But I missed on one. I missed one that Warden Wollard, then assistant managing editor (note: not the managing editor—big difference) and now editor of the Examiner, spotted that gave us the first big jump on the story, the jump that made it our story from then on.”


“After I had left for the night, Warden was still around when a couple of homicide squad detectives came to the Examiner and asked if they could have our artist’s drawing of the girl for use in the police bulletin.”

Wollard overheard the conversation and suggested sending the prints to Washington by Soundphoto. He didn’t call the police; the police came to the Examiner.

Page 29

More nuts and bolts of sending Elizabeth Short’s fingerprints to the FBI. It’s wrong but not worth pointing out. Just take my word for it, the book is wrong.

Ah, but what’s the source of Elizabeth Short’s fingerprints? Hm. We’re not told and material like this should be attributed. Just as I thought, the Examiner only ran a close-up of one print, not all 10. A puzzlement. Humph. Not in Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” but there’s a ratty copy in John Gilmore’s “Severed,” although the source isn’t listed. This is shoddy work, folks.

Page 30

“Elizabeth Short had been arrested on September 23, 1943, with a group of soldiers and other girls who were drinking and causing a disturbance near Camp Cooke, an army base north of Santa Barbara, California.”

Uh. No. She was arrested in Santa Barbara, and unless you consider 53 miles “close,” it wasn’t near Camp Cooke. There was no report of a disturbance, nor was she with a big mob of rowdy people. More correctly, she was on a double date and was a minor in possession of alcohol or a minor in a liquor establishment. There’s no excuse for getting these small details wrong since Wolfe clearly had access to the original Examiner (copies of which are included in his book). More important, this constitutes Elizabeth Short’s entire criminal record.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, it looks like Wolfe is going right to the autopsy. That should be interesting.

Here’s a shout out to the World Book (

Rutgers (, 4 hours and 57 minutes? I’m flattered.

Hurry back!

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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