I am 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 telling the story in “Laura” format with the discovery of the anonymous, butchered body and the narrative proceeding in flashbacks. At this point, Elizabeth Short is in her late teens and living at Camp Cooke, Calif., after an argument with her father.
The two-minute executive summary: We have caught Wolfe in a nasty bit of literary fraud. In order for his story to work, he has to ignore a crucial document in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files (remember, the title of this book is “The Black Dahlia Files”).
June 1, 1946” and “After June 1, 1946,” demolish
He writes that “little is known about Elizabeth Short’s time in Miami,” despite having access to documents that spell out her actions precisely. He does this because the documents “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to
the remainder of his book. On the other hand, he wants to use some of the juicy material inthem, so he attributes the information to other documents. The bottom line: Wolfe’s maneuver in quoting from the documents while failing to disclose their existence proves conclusively that this book is deliberately concocted with ruthless disregard of the facts.
Wolfe also, for reasons that completely escape me, identifies Mary Pacios as “Mary Hernon.” I would never presume to speak for Mary (whom I consider a friend) but if I were her I would be furious.
I also explored the roles of Wolfe’s conspirators in this book: Agent Alan Nevins, researchers Alan and Cathy Buster, and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. I have no idea what Morgan and Bliss did on the project, but I can tell you precisely what they didn’t do. The interest in checking the facts in this book appears to be absolutely zero.
Voting in my informal poll on whether to continue this blog is 11 in favor and no opposition. The blog continues. The poll is no longer “sticky.”
As for commenting. Note that it is moderated, in other words, nothing gets posted without my permission. I’m inclined to be fairly strict in rejecting posts that are off-topic and for reasons of propriety—no profanity, please. I have to think of my younger readers, like the folks at Montclair (N.J.) High School (184.108.40.206).
I mention this after I rejected a post yesterday because of profanity and because its contents couldn’t be verified—and that’s the way we do things around here.
Still, the post raised an interesting point. The thrust went along the lines of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” and contrasted my quibbles with Wolfe’s book and the absence of my book (still in progress) with “Mogul’s” track record on various bestseller lists.
I have to admit I’m guilty as charged. My book is still in the works and Wolfe’s book was selling well, at least briefly (current Amazon ranking: 36,283, which puts it ahead of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger at 92,884 and behind John Gilmore’s “Severed” at 19,483).
Of course, this assumes that book sales are one’s only criterion. There is something to be said for being able to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror.
Behold “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” ranked by Amazon at 19,940, ahead of “Mogul” and nearly even with “Severed.” Shout out to crime buddy Kim Cooper.
As for the bestseller lists, friends tell me that Book Soup is trying to figure out how to unload a bunch of autographed copies of a certain Black Dahlia opus. It seems they’re not selling.
Time for Sgt. Chuck, a purported member of the 6th Armored Division, whom Elizabeth Short supposedly met in Los Angeles in January 1943—two months before the 6th even got to Camp Cooke. (Note to Wolfe’s editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss: This what we call fact-checking and you may find that it comes in handy. With the advent of the Internet, this takes all of two minutes).
“Investigators learned that Elizabeth had been living at Camp Cooke with ‘Chuck,’ the sergeant she had met in Los Angeles, and Chuck had threatened and beaten her. Elizabeth had filed a complaint with his commanding officer and she tried to attach Chuck’s paycheck and obtain damages. But damages were denied, and the sergeant was shipped overseas. Elizabeth then moved from the army [note to ReganBooks, this should be capitalized as it referred to a branch of the armed forces] to Vera Green’s apartment on Montecito Street in Santa Barbara….”
No, Holmes, not the end notes again!
Watson, get a grip man.
Ha. “Information regarding ‘Chuck’ was found within the Black Dahlia Case files of the Los Angeles District Attorney.” Of course that’s Los Angeles County, but Wolfe finds local jurisdictions terribly confusing.
What’s interesting here (“interesting” being a relative term; interesting to a research drudge) is that this refers to two boxes of jumbled papers. Of course Wolfe knows precisely where he got it, and so do I. Let’s get it.
As I’m digging out the document, ponder this: Where don’t we find Sgt. Chuck? And how come he has no last name? Is that a bit odd?
Well it is. First of all, does our pal Chuck appear in the undated LAPD summary of the case in the district attorney’s files? Nope. Wouldn’t Chuck appear in the summary if he were deemed an important part of the case? Yes. Hmmmm.
So where do we find Sgt. Chuck? Aha. He appears in a memo dated Feb. 20, 1951, by Frank Jemison of the district attorney’s office among a list of 22 suspects, including “A Chicago police officer,” “Sergeant ‘Chuck’ name unknown, Dr. George Hodel, Dr. Paul DeGaston, Dr. A.E. Brix, Dr. M.M. Schwartz, Dr. Arthur McGinnis Faught, Dr. Patrick S. O’Reilly and someone quaintly referred to as “Queer Woman Surgeon.”
Now what does Jemison have to say about old Chuck?
“Sergeant ‘Chuck’ (last name unknown) was seen with victim on numerous occasions at Camp Cooke in the spring of 1943. She testified that he had assaulted her at the court-martial proceedings there and he was ordered overseas as a result of it. She then attempted to obtain his personal property which it was necessary for him to leave behind. It is agreed by investigators that this could be a revenge murder committed by such a person as Sergeant ‘Chuck.’ Thus far numerous associates of victim at Camp Cooke have been interviewed and a search has been made for the records of this court-martial proceedings which would reveal the full name, background and information on this suspect. Thus far they have not been found. The investigation of this suspect is pending. See Los Angeles Police Department reports.”
In other words, there were lots of rumors about Sgt. Chuck and in fact the reporters looking into the Black Dahlia case turned up similar accounts, which are what appear in “Severed,” Page 28:
“Because the housing shortage was bad on base, Beth hadn’t been assigned quarters and was sleeping wherever she could find the space. One sergeant tried to stake a claim on her by appearing generous, sympathetic. He said he felt sorry for her since she couldn’t quarters and offered her the spare cot in his house trailer temporarily, if she wanted it. She eagerly moved in, but she thought he understood the situation: It wasn’t romance she was after—just a roof over her head while she tried to save enough money to get to Hollywood.
“The manager was disappointed the day Beth notified him that she wasn’t well and couldn’t show up for her shift. Whether the sergeant thought she’d been overly encouraging or not would never be clear. She rebuffed his advances—he called her a ‘tease’ and struck her, giving her a black eye.
“She complained to the commanding officer and quickly was moved into quarters with Mary Stradder, a WAC sergeant.”
Well “Severed” presents its own bundle of problems and I don’t want to explore them today, but we don’t have all the details that appear in “Mogul.” Let’s check in with Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows.” Hm. She should cover it on Page 20, but is silent on the subject.
How about Steve Hodel, “Black Dahlia Avenger?” Hm. Also silent.
Isn’t it peculiar that nobody has been able to identify Sgt. Chuck? Not the Los Angeles Police Department, with all its resources and the military’s cooperation? Not the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office? Not the Los Angeles newspapers? (Although reporters did find rather vivid accounts of a particularly violent, brutal MP who was sent overseas—again, never identified).
For the record, I’ve never found anything definite about the man either. To the point that I wonder if he even existed.
Contrast the nebulous stories about Sgt. Chuck with the verified account of Elizabeth Short’s boss at PX-1, Inez Keeling, in the Jan. 17, 1947, Los Angeles Examiner: “She never visited over the counter with any of the boys and always refused to date them. She was one of the few girls in my employ who didn’t smoke or occasionally take a drink. She lived in camp and never went out nights.”
Nothing about Elizabeth Short living off the base, nothing about her living in a house trailer and nothing about any sergeant.
At a minimum, any credible account of the Black Dahlia should hedge the story of our old pal Sgt. Chuck by stating that he could never be identified nor any of the stories verified.
Time for my walk.
Shout out to:
Montevideo, Uruguay (220.127.116.11)
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, France (18.104.22.168)
Kerkira, Greece (22.214.171.124)
Toronto, Ontario (126.96.36.199)
AOL user in Reston, VA (188.8.131.52)
Some flavor of Windows: 95%
Mac OS X 3%
An interesting thing about those Amazon sales numbers… while the big A won’t reveal how many books must sell to reach a certain sales point, personal experience has shown that a little independent press for a book with a built in cult following (which I’d estimate resulted in maybe a dozen daily sales max) can = a top 2000 ranking. So Wolfe’s 36,283 could actually just mean a book selling every 4 days via Amazon… or less!>>Similarly, one of my anthologies made the LA Times non-fiction best seller list the week after a signing at Vroman’s. I dunno what we sold, but I can tell you that my hand didn’t get stiff that day. >>My point? Even “bestselling” books barely sell in this world, and the score keeping reflects a very minimal amount of commercial activity. Though as a writer, it’s still very neat to ride those occasional sales spikes, however little they signify.