I have ceased 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 uses the “Laura” format, in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks.Now, I am taking a few requests before wrapping up the project. Today, we’ll continue with our examination of Page 218 at the request of Mary Pacios.
I hope Wolfe doesn’t lean so heavily on Vincent A. Carter’s “Rogue Cops” today. Yesterday’s go-round was quite time-consuming. Poking holes in one bad book is hard enough; poking holes in two bad books is even worse.
Oh, thanks a lot, Mary!
We have a whole cast of characters to untangle today. And there’s no way to make this short or easy. It’s going to be tedious.
Now before we get started, let me emphasize yet again that according to the district attorney’s files, Elizabeth Short wasn’t in Los Angeles in 1944 or 1945 (recall that this book is titled “The Black Dahlia Files” rather than the more appropriate “What I Pasted Together From the Black Dahlia Files” or the shorter “Severed: 2006”).
First, our cast of characters, in order of their appearance:
- Fred Otash, a disgraced former LAPD officer, referred to by James Ellroy as “The Late, Great Freddy Otash.” Ellroy says Otash was a snoop for various scandal magazines of the 1950s and there has always been speculation that he had knowledge of—if not participation in—one of the famous Mickey Cohen attacks. What’s certain is that Otash was accused of brutality in the 1940s for roughing up a street preacher at Pershing Square. I know, because it’s in the minutes of the Police Commission in the city of Los Angeles archives.
- Ray Pinker, head of the LAPD crime lab.
- Norman Chandler, Wolfe’s target of choice in his scenario that Elizabeth Short was pregnant with Chandler’s love child.
- Arthur Lake, a CDP (conveniently dead person) who played Dagwood in a string of 1940s movies and is a key figure in John Gilmore’s “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) involving the Hollywood Canteen and murdered socialite Georgette Bauerdorf. “Severed” goes into a long, fictitious tale of Elizabeth Short knowing Bauerdorf, having them work together as junior hostesses at the Hollywood Canteen, etc. Recall that Elizabeth Short wasn’t in Los Angeles when Bauerdorf was killed in October 1944. Oops.
- Brenda Allen, a notorious madam of the 1940s who was implicated in a huge scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department.
- Dorothy Chandler, wife of Norman Chandler.
- Patricia Davies Van Clive—boy, you got me on that one. Wolfe identifies her as Lake’s wife, but after he mixed up the Murphys, I’m just not sure he can keep track of anybody. Ah, no wonder I can’t find her in Proquest. Her name was Van Cleve. Oops. Well this is odd. Wolfe identifies her as “said to be the niece of actress Marion Davies.” But the Jan. 26, 1928, Times obituary on Marion Davies’ mother, Rose C. Douras, refers to Patricia Van Cleve as a granddaughter. Doesn’t seem to be much question about it, eh? And when Marion Davies’ father died, Patricia Van Cleve is listed in the April 27, 1935, Times obituary as a granddaughter. A July 6, 1937, Times story refers to Lake and Van Cleve, so presumably they were married by then.
- Arthur James, a convicted forger who served two years for violating the Mann Act. James came forward after Elizabeth Short was killed, claimed he met her in 1944 (remember, Elizabeth Short wasn’t in Los Angeles in 1944-1945) and took her to Arizona, where he was arrested. James is a prominent figure in “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction).
- G.K. Chesteron. Wow, I hope Wolfe doesn’t accuse him of killing the Black Dahlia! As soon as I see the name of a CDP (conveniently dead person) I start to worry.
Oh, whew. Wolfe just says he was a fan of the Father Brown books and says his stepfather knew Chesterton. Odd, isn’t it, that Wolfe never mentions his father, Sailing Wolfe, or his great-uncle Bernard Baruch?
This is funny, Wolfe (Page 217) describes Otash as an “illustrious private eye.” Well, I suppose if you consider it illustrious to work for Confidential magazine, be convicted of doping a race horse (The Times, May 12, 1960), and being called along with Mickey Cohen to testify on racketeering (The Times, March 14, 1959) then Otash fills the bill. In a Nov. 27, 1981, Times article, Otash claims he and his partner beat up Johnny Stompanto and dumped him in the Hollywood Hills without his clothes.
Got everybody straight? OK, here we go:
1. Otash “had been ensconced at the California Club, where he kept the distinguished residents and power brokers of the city under surveillance for Ray Pinker and the Gangster Squad. According to Otash, it was at his California Club suite that Norman Chandler rendezvoused with women who were often brought there by his playboy friend, actor Arthur Lake, who was on Brenda Allen’s “A” list. Although Dorothy Chandler did not care for Lake because of his licentious lifestyle, Lake was one of the few people Norman was close to. They had been best friends for many years, and Norman had been best man at Arthur Lake’s wedding to Patricia Davies Van Clive [Cleve], who was said to be the niece of actress Marion Davies.
2. Arthur Lake had first met Elizabeth Short in 1944 at the Hollywood Canteen. Both their names had been found in the Bauerdorf diary, and Lake admitted that he knew Elizabeth when he was brought in by the Sheriff’s Department for questioning.
3. If Arthur James was correct—that Elizabeth Short had been pregnant when she was murdered, and the father of the unborn child was Norman Chandler—it would explain the extraordinary efforts by the Chandler faction at City Hall to cover up the secret circumstances of the horrendous crime.
It will be interesting to see how Wolfe attempts to pull this off; like watching slow-motion video of a card cheat.
Let’s dispense with the easy things first.
We can dump Paragraph 3, because we dealt with James’ claims yesterday. I’ll simply add that there is nothing to show The Times didn’t do its best to compete with the Examiner on the Black Dahlia story. I would say, without getting out a pica stick to measure them, that The Times and the Examiner devoted roughly the same number of column inches to the story, although The Times did play the story inside. Again, The Times considered itself the city’s family paper, contrasted with the more sensational Hearst publications.
Paragraph 2 is false because Elizabeth Short wasn’t in Los Angeles in 1944. Therefore, her name wasn’t found in Georgette Bauerdorf’s diary and Arthur Lake couldn’t possibly have admitted knowing Elizabeth Short. He couldn’t have known her. For the record, when Bauerdorf was killed, authorities interviewed every single person who worked at the Hollywood Canteen. If Elizabeth Short had been a junior hostess there, she would have been interviewed.
I imagine Wolfe’s source is “Severed.”
To the end notes, Watson!
My, aren’t we lightly sourced on this page? Especially considering the allegations involved.
OK, Paragraph 2 is hung on “Severed,” Page 154, just as we surmised. Except the material is really on Page 155.
But then, incredibly, Wolfe says he interviewed Aggie Underwood, former city editor of the Herald-Examiner, in 1962. That, folks, is a neat trick. Let’s dig a bit, using amazon.com’s “search inside” feature.
“By 1962, Ben Williamson had become the national news editor for Time magazine and he and my mother moved to New York City. I had been working at Samuel Goldwyn Studios on the ‘Loretta Young Television Show’ and during the show’s hiatus, I was on my way to Europe for a holiday. I had a ticket for a bunk in Tourist Class on the Queen Mary, and Ben and my mother were putting me up at their Fifth Avenue apartment until the sailing date.
“My Black Dahlia puzzle box had been stored away for years, until my mother gave one of her parties during my stay—and Aggie Underwood was one of the guests. I didn’t remind Aggie of the appointments she had failed to keep almost a decade earlier, but I discovered that she, too, was sailing on the Queen Mary on her way to a holiday in Europe and the Greek Islands. When the boat sailed, I spotted Aggie on the passenger list, but decided I wasn’t going to bother her-besides, she was in Cabin Class and I was down in the bowels of the ship in Tourist. However, in the mid-Atlantic, I felt Joe Friday coming on, and I snuck into Cabin Class and found Aggie in the Mermaid Bar. While engaging her in holiday chitchat, I slowly steered the conversation into the Dahlia latitudes. Perhaps it was because Hearst had died and she was safely in the mid-Atlantic that Aggie felt free to talk about the Black Dahlia case.
“Aggie said that she had always believed there was a connection between the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf and Elizabeth Short and she had been totally mystified when ‘the Boss’ ordered her off both the Bauerdorf and the Dahlia case. She said she sat at her desk in the city room and did her knitting for several days, neither answering the phone nor speaking to anyone, in a silent protest. She said she had intended to leave the Herald when she was suddenly bumped upstairs to the city editor’s desk.
“Later, she learned that it had to do with the Arthur Lake connection. Aggie recalled that she had heard from contacts in the Sheriff’s Department that both Arthur Lake and Elizabeth Short had been mentioned in the Bauerdorf girl’s diary, and Lake had been brought in for questioning. After the Black Dahlia murder and the mailing of the contents of Elizabeth Short’s purse to the Examiner, she learned that Arthur Lake’s phone number had been found in Elizabeth Short’s address book.”
Now this is a foul bit of work, folks. A long-ago voyage on the Queen Mary, a convenient encounter that’s impossible to check.
You see, Will Fowler, author of “Reporters,” interviewed Aggie Underwood about the Black Dahlia case. Luckily, he recorded it. And it’s in the Urban Archives at Cal State Northridge. I’ve listened to the tape.
Do you know what Aggie says about Elizabeth Short and Georgette Bauerdorf?
Aggie Underwood’s archives are also there. I’ve been through them. Guess what, there’s zero about Georgette Bauerdorf and Elizabeth Short. Not a single word.
I’ve also read a letter by Aggie Underwood on the Black Dahlia case at the Medford, Mass., Historical Society. You know what she says about Georgette Bauerdorf?
And you’ll never guess who received an award as most outstanding woman in journalism in June 1962. In Denver. Make that late June 1962 (Times, June 29, 1962).
“Mrs. Underwood was presented the award at the [National Federation of Press Women’s] 26th annual convention at the Cosmopolitan Hotel here.”
Guess who was honored at a presswomen’s party in September 1962, in Toluca Lake.
And Los Angeles history buffs, what happened in 1962? That’s right. In January, the Examiner ceased publication as a morning paper and merged with the afternoon Herald-Express.
What’s this? The Guild recommended a strike at the Herald in April 1962? Contract not settled in May 1962?
So 1962 would be sort of a bad year for the city editor of the newly constituted paper to be taking a cruise, wouldn’t you say?
And this stuff about “Perhaps it was because Hearst had died…”
William Randolph Hearst had died, all right. On Aug. 14, 1951. Eleven years earlier.
Oh, but it gets better. “The Loretta Young Show” wasn’t on hiatus in 1962. It had tanked the year before, with the last show airing in January 1961. In the summer of 1962, Young was in the news for being an absolutely harridan on the set of her new show, firing people left and right, and getting sued by actress Portland Mason. Attention TV buffs: “The New Loretta Young Show” replaced “Hennessey” on CBS and was on the air from September 1962 to February 1963. Then it, too, tanked.
In other words, Wolfe couldn’t have been on hiatus from “The Loretta Young Show” in 1962 because it was canceled a year earlier. And Aggie Underwood was in Denver in the summer of 1962 after going through the merger and then dealing with negotiations on a Guild contract. And she never mentions Georgette Bauerdorf in her tape at Cal State Northridge.
I’d sure like to see Wolfe’s ticket stubs from the Queen Mary right now. How many times do you need to catch someone in a lie before their entire story collapses?
Let’s wrap up a couple of loose ends. It is true that Underwood was taken off the Black Dahlia case for a short while in 1947 and put on the city desk. However, as she mentions in her autobiography, “Newspaperwoman,” she was put back on reporting. The Black Dahlia case was her last big story before moving to the Herald’s city desk, where she became the first woman city editor of a major metropolitan daily.
I’ll give you one hint about Paragraph 1. Otash was a uniformed patrol officer in 1946 when Wolfe claims he was staked out at the California Club.
That’s it for today. It’s too nice outside for this.
Shout out to:
Judicial Council of California (126.96.36.199)
Peabody, Mass. (188.8.131.52)
Firefox 1.0.4 (184.108.40.206)? Upgrade!