Blogging the Wolfe Book, Request Line XX

Large ImageI 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 look at Pages 293-296 at the request of Mary Pacios and Regular Anonymous Correspondent. Say your prayers, because I hope to conclude the Wolfe project this week.

Let’s recap for a minute.

So far that we have seen that:

  • Elizabeth Short did not know convicted forger Arthur Curtis/Curtiss James Jr., as he claimed in 1947, because she wasn’t in Los Angeles in 1944 and 1945 (“Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946” in the district attorney’s files). This has not stopped John Gilmore, in “Severed,” and Wolfe in “Black Dahlia Files” from claiming that they were the best of friends.
  • Elizabeth Short also did not know Arthur Lake for the same reasons, despite claims in “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) that were picked up in “Black Dahlia Files.”
  • Elizabeth Short did know Maurice Clement, but there is nothing to link him to Brenda Allen except lots of wishful thinking. Note in addition, that Wolfe’s purported picture of Clement is actually Salvadore Torres Vara.
  • Officer Fred Otash wasn’t “ensconced at the California Club” to keep track of Los Angeles’ powerbrokers because the historic record shows that he was a uniformed officer at the time.
  • Elizabeth Short was not pregnant when she was killed, nor was her uterus removed by the killer. We know this from the LAPD summary of the case included in the district attorney’s files. Note that this book is titled “Black Dahlia Files” rather than “What I Pasted Together From the Black Dahlia Files” or the more appropriate “Severed: 2006.”
  • Wolfe didn’t have a convenient 1962 conversation with Aggie Underwood of the Herald on the Queen Mary in the middle of the Atlantic. I typed that and just started laughing. It is amazing to me that anybody could say that with a straight face. Wolfe claims that at the time he was “on hiatus” from “The Loretta Young Show,” which had in reality gone off the air the previous year, and Underwood, as city editor, was fully occupied merging the staffs of the Examiner and the Herald-Express to form the Herald Examiner. And then there was the matter of contract negotiations with the Guild. And she received a presswomen’s award in Denver in late June. By that time, the cleverly titled “New Loretta Young Show” was in preproduction.

But wait. There’s more.

Wolfe is correct in stating that Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 1947, the day Elizabeth Short was presumably killed. But how do we know? Answer: Siegel’s enormous but heavily censored FBI file, which is available online. In fact, Siegel’s FBI file shows that he was not only in Los Angeles; Siegel was under surveillance in Los Angeles on the day in question. An agent watched him move out of Chateau Marmont and into the home in Beverly Hills where he was killed a few months later.

In other words, Wolfe wants to use just enough of the FBI files to show that Siegel was in Los Angeles but repress the essential information that agents were following Siegel, because that would squelch his theory.

Nasty work.

OK, Pages 293-296.

This section has to do with profiler John Douglas and I’m going to jump to the essence of this material, which is a beautifully written section on Page 295 that summarizes Douglas’ thoughts on who might have killed Elizabeth Short. Wolfe tends to be wordy, but this section is a model of clear, incisive thought.

Oh wait! I wrote this and Wolfe ripped me off.

What was I thinking?!

Here, side by side, are Page 295 compared with my website and my 1997 Los Angeles Times article.

When confronted during an appearance at the Los Angeles Press Club, Wolfe told intrepid partners in crime Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak of the 1947 Project that he paid big bucks to Douglas’ publisher for use of that material. And indeed Wolfe credits Douglas’ “The Cases That Haunt Us.”

Except he didn’t get it there.

He got it from me. Word for stinking word.

But I won’t claim anything in the adjoining column about Bugsy Siegel. “Paroxysm” is not part of my vocabulary.

Let’s polish off Page 311 while we’re at it.

“There’s reason to believe that Det. Harry Hansen had deciphered the silent scream and solved the case long ago.”

Oh? How incredibly odd that Hansen didn’t mention that in his 1971 interview with Tod/Todd Faulkner for The Times. That’s the article, by the way, that erroneously gives Elizabeth Short the middle name Ann.

“Hansen knew the secret of the autopsy—that the victim was pregnant at the time she was murdered and a postmortem hysterectomy had been performed.”

But Holmes! The LAPD summary says that she wasn’t pregnant and her uterus was intact!

I know, Watson, I know.

“He also knew that the address of Dr. Leslie C. Audrain, leader of the Syndicate abortion ring, was in Elizabeth Short’s address book.”

Well no, you see, it wasn’t. Wolfe would really, really, really like for Audrain’s address to be in her address book. So much that he takes a completely different individual and different address and insists that it’s one of Audrain’s aliases. It’s a bit more complicated than that, since there are actually two names—so Wolfe has to claim that both of them are aliases of Dr. Audrain. Of course there’s absolutely nothing in the historic record to show that Audrain was an abortionist—just some flakey mumbo-jumbo in disgruntled former Officer Charles Stoker’s self-published book “Thicker ‘n’ Thieves.”

“According to Aggie Underwood and Finis Brown, Hansen believed an abortionist was involved in the crime and had been pushing for an indictment, which was blocked by Chief Horrall.”

Again, I refer to the 1971 interview in The Times. And as I said earlier today, Wolfe and Underwood never had the Black Dahlia chat on the high seas he keeps talking about.


I flipped the page just for the heck of this and holy smokes.

Page 312

“From his office at Warner Bros. Studios, he [Detective John St. John] was involved in the creation of Jack Web’s “Dragnet” television series, for which he served as technical director, and his reputation as the invincible Homicide investigator was enhanced by the TV series “Jigsaw John,” which was based on his mythological exploits that once again eulogized Parker and the LAPD.”

OK, let’s untangle this mess. St. John had no role in the creation of “Dragnet.” Zero. That credit belongs to Detective Marty Wynn and Capt. Jack Donahoe. And it was for the radio show. Recall that “Dragnet” first appeared on radio and then transferred to television.

“Jigsaw John” was the work of my friend Al Martinez, reporter and columnist at The Times, who wrote a book about St. John published in 1975. And when did William H. Parker die, students? 1966? And when did the TV show air? 1976?

And even if Wolfe means to say the show “eulogized” Parker, does he really mean to say it “eulogized” the LAPD? I don’t think it’s dead.

It’s almost impossible to untangle writing like this.

Oh this is even funnier!

Page 314

“Angry with Gilmore for leaking the story to the press, St. John told him, “I’m concerned. I want to keep a lid on this!” He then asked Gilmore to get more on tape before they brought Smith in for questioning. ‘What we’re going to have to do is have you try to pin him down,’ St. John said. ‘I want to bust this guy so bad it’s killing me!’ “

If this is from anywhere, it has to be from “Severed.”

Watson, the end notes!

Holmes, why are you never wrong?

Let me get this straight, the Los Angeles Police Department has any number of detectives available. But instead of using any of them, St. John wants a civilian to take on the job of getting a recorded interview. Gosh, that would so much stand up in court. Not!

Oh about this supposed “leak to the press.” The 1982 story in question is a feature on the Black Dahlia case when the Herald-Examiner was in its death throes. (It ceased publication in 1989).

I’ll quote just a bit of it:

“Even if Gilmore has succeeded in solving the crime, could anyone be convicted of a crime when so little evidence remains? Not easily.

”You’d have to have a lot of corroboration,” says LAPD’s St. John. “First, it would have to be proved to be true, and second, you’d have to have corroboration of it.”

St. John says the department continues to get information on the Black Dahlia “from time to time” and “as time permits, we look into all of it. You never know—it’s one of those things.”

Tomorrow, the last installment—I hope.

And if anybody has some final questions, send them in. The party is just about over.

Shout out to:

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Hurry back!

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Another Good Story Ruined, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Cold Cases, Crime and Courts, Donald Wolfe, History, Hollywood, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Blogging the Wolfe Book, Request Line XX

  1. John M. says:

    This is all simply fascinating for so many reasons.One quick question regarding potential plagiarism in the Wolfe book: You’ve provided a side-by-side of your material vs. Wolfe’s; is it possible to also show the root material from Douglas’ “The Cases That Haunt Us”? I would assume that Wolfe could say that he used the same source material as you did, so his prose matched yours.Also – why would he have to PAY (“he paid big bucks to Douglas’ publisher for use of that material”) to use factual material in a nonfiction book? Why not simply cite the material clearly?


  2. Larry says:

    Quick, Watson, into the time machine!Los Angeles Times article by Larry Harnisch: Jan. 6, 1997“Cases That Haunt Us,” 2000“Black Dahlia Files,” 2005Holmes! That means your article appeared before John Douglas’ book!The material in the article is based on my interview with John Douglas, conducted in 1996. Douglas (who collaborated with co-author Mark Olshaker) really had no knowledge of the Black Dahlia case until I told him about it.Note that this material doesn’t appear in “Cases That Haunt Us.” Just my article, which I subsequently put on my website in the “director’s cut.” For example, the phrase “was comfortable wallowing in blood” cannot be found in “Cases That Haunt Us” (use amazon’s “search inside” feature to see for yourself). But it occurs in my 1997 story AND “Black Dahlia Files.” As for paying big bucks, that’s a question for Donald H. Wolfe.


  3. ColScott says:

    I still would like some more Dillon stuff worked out.Like was he ever really a suspect?


  4. Larry says:

    I had to treat Dillon somewhat briefly as he’s a bizarre diversion from the Black Dahlia investigation.Was he a suspect? Absolutely, at least as far as Joseph Paul de River was concerned. I’m not sure Harry Hansen and Finis Brown ever took him particularly seriously.Nonetheless, investigators spent oceans of time eliminating him. What finally did the trick was locating a receipt Dillon signed from a garage sale up in San Francisco in close proximity to when Elizabeth Short was killed. Investigators talked to all sorts of people in San Francisco to eliminate him as a suspect. It truly was an exhaustive investigation, in my opinion. If I get more time I’ll go back and pick up some of the Dillon stuff. It’s quite a story. But, unfortunately, a real diversion from the main story, which is the murder of Elizabeth Short.


  5. John M. says:

    Ahhh! The Douglas book appears AFTER your LA Times article. Elementary. No “Search Inside” option for his book on Amazon, alas.I’m guessing Wolfe took it from Douglas’s book, and Douglas failed to credit your previous version. That’s me being optimistic.As for the rest (especially the alleged pasted-together memo), I remain <>fascinated<>.


  6. Larry says:

    Actually, you guessed incorrectly. Amazon doesn’t let you “search inside” on the hardback version of “Cases That Haunt Us” but offers it on the paperback version. Here’s the link: a search for the key phrase “wallowing in blood” or just “wallowing,” which is found in my Los Angeles Times article and in the Wolfe book, but not in “Cases That Haunt Us.”


  7. John M. says:

    RE Amazon “Search Inside”: A GREAT feature, but sometimes inexplicably inaccessable (as when I tried it unsuccessfully on all editions of “Cases That Haunt Us,” only to have it work with <>your<> link).Thanks to your link I was able to confirm that, at least via “Search Inside,” there is nothing in Douglas’s “Cases That Haunt Us” that is like the material Wolfe uses in his book; i.e. I see some of the material in the narrative, but not in “list” format like in your pieces. I will most certainly search out a physical copy of the book to confirm, but as of now it seems like Wolfe paraphrased your material without the slightest attribution.Most provocatively, you are correct in that Wolfe picked up word choices in your piece that do not occur (as far as I could see via “Search Inside”) in Douglas’s book. Almost like the way a mapmaker will insert a fake place name in order to trip up copycats…Still troubling: He “paid big bucks to Douglas’ publisher for use of that material.” That’s nonsensical. Proper citation is all that’s required.I hope you’ll consider creating a central repository web page for your material regarding Wolfe’s book so it can be seen in list format and more readily appreciated in context. This is an important issue for all writers of nonfiction, and the fact that Wolfe’s book is published by a major imprint makes it all the more vital that these issues are brought to light.FYI: The very first day that Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature became available, I used it to spot two instances of my material being used without citation or attribution by a single publisher. I was able to extract a nominal payment and corrections in future editions.Awaiting more intrigue …


  8. Kim says:

    I am the person who Donald Wolfe told that he, or his publishers (I believe he said “we”) had paid for the use of material ostensibly from Douglas’ book. He also said he personally liked Larry Harnisch, and if it turned out by some oversight that he had used Larry’s material without attribution, that he would be extending an apology. I promptly suggested that he should also get any money he paid Douglas’ publishers and give it to Larry!As far as I know, Larry is still waiting for the apology and the cash. So if you have enjoyed this blog, please make your Amazon purchases through his links. You don’t even have to buy the items he highlights, just click one and search for what you want, and Larry will get a cut of the purchase price. Also, send cookies.


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