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 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.
- Dr. Leslie C. Audrian did not have any criminal record as an abortionist, despite claims in “Black Dahlia Files” that he did. Note that Wolfe’s claims about his office number are contradicted by the historic record.
- 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.
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.
“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!
“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.
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