Blogging the Wolfe Book, Request Line XXII

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 345-357 at the request of Regular Anonymous Correspondent. Say your prayers, because I hope to conclude the Wolfe project this week.

Yesterday I got derailed
on Wolfe’s purported photo of poor old Maurice Clement (actually Salvadore Torres Vara) and excerpts of “Severed” author John Gilmore’s interview with Arnold Smith/Jack Anderson/Jack Wilson.


What do you mean?

A: What?

What do you mean do I think anyone can do that?

A: Actually do that?

J: Cut someone in half?

A: Isn’t that what our relationship is all about?

J: What’re you saying?

A: I’m empty here and we are in the Sahara Desert.

J: (Orders more drinks). Arnie, I’m not really clear right now. I just wish Al was here, was with us.

Today I’ll try to do better.

OK. Here we go. This section is Appendix B, titled “The Hodel Hypothesis.” The question here is how does one conspiracy nut disprove other conspiracy nuts? Hm. Does that seem too harsh?

Page 345

Oh! I love this already:

“In the investigative nonfiction books published about the Black Dahlia case, two authors accuse their fathers of being the pathological killer.”

Now there are lots of ways I would describe Janice Knowlton’s “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer” (written with Michael Newton, by the way) but “investigative nonfiction” isn’t one of them. Knowlton was really crazy and it was easy to make fun of her while she was alive—she used to leave long, rambling voice mail messages on my answering machine. But once she killed herself I’ve only felt sorry for her. It’s an extremely tragic story.

I also wouldn’t describe Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” as “investigative nonfiction.” “Dahlia Avenger” has a wonderful “high concept”: Retired homicide cop goes through his dead father’s belongings and discovers that dad was the worst serial killer in the city’s history.

The problem is that Hodel’s “high concept” disintegrates immediately. Greatly simplified, Hodel’s entire approach is to reverse-engineer his scenario from the assumption that his father, Dr. George Hodel, knew Elizabeth Short, based on two photographs found in George Hodel’s belongings. But it’s not enough to claim that he knew her, Steve Hodel also claims that his father killed her.

Elizabeth Short’s sisters say the photographs aren’t her, so we know the story is bunk. But instead of responding to that, Steve Hodel changed his story to say that it doesn’t matter because they only served to interest him in the case. In fact, whenever someone punches a hole in his theory, which is not especially difficult, given his reliance on vast, shadowy conspiracies, powerful people in high places and wheels within wheels of corruption (sounds like Donald H. Wolfe, doesn’t he?), he erects a massive bypass to explain it away until his whole scenario looks like network of leaky plumbing.

The bottom line is this: If you are a person who believes that having venereal disease is a worse scandal that committing murder, Steve Hodel’s theory is for you. Others may have problems with it.

Page 346

Ah. Busted again. Understand that Elizabeth Short’s family issued its statement on Hodel’s photos through me. Wolfe uses their denial, but attributes it incorrectly to the Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2003, Page 27. In fact, it appeared in L.A. Weekly.

By the way, Wolfe says the photo of Elizabeth Short on Page 347 was taken in 1946. I doubt that its date has ever been successfully verified. Note, however, that despite the myth that she only wore black, she is in a light-colored outfit.

Page 348

Wolfe raises the same point I do on my website about the absurdity of Steve Hodel’s claim that his father sent a telegram to Elizabeth Short in 1945, when it is actually dated 1944. Wolfe, however, gives the month as July, which I certainly can’t tell from my scan, nor from his.

Page 349

The Man Ray photo. Steve Hodel jumps through a series of hoops to show that the position of Elizabeth Short’s body was intended to duplicate a photo done in the 1930s for the cover of “Minotaur” magazine, a small prewar journal published in Paris.

However, the connection between George Hodel and Man Ray has been enthusiastically shot to pieces.

Wolfe also goes through Steve Hodel’s handwriting samples, comparing crackpot notes sent to the newspapers after the Black Dahlia murder (hence the incredibly uninventive name Black Dahlia Avenger) with writing on Jeanne French’s body.

This, of course, ignores the fact that homicide investigators found footprints on and around French’s body that revealed the killer’s shoe size—far too small to have been George Hodel. I mean, why bother with a more ephemeral and intangible science like handwriting analysis when you’ve got shoe prints to compare?

If the shoe doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

So I’m skipping all this handwriting mumbo-jumbo. If you think someone who was plastered and had just stomped a woman to death (he also used something like the handle of a socket wrench) did his best work writing “Fuck You” on a body in lipstick, this may be significant to you. Otherwise it’s best to move on.

Page 351

The phrase “brutally murdered” is one of my special pet peeves. Like there’s a nice way to murder somebody.

Then Wolfe deals with Hodel’s claim that his father killed Elizabeth Short at the house on Franklin. There’s zero to show that, by the way.

Wolfe is actually correct in stating that investigators suspected Elizabeth Short was murdered at the Astor Motel. But they discarded the theory after tearing the place apart.

Page 352

Wolfe shoots down the theory that Elizabeth Short checked into a hotel on Washington Boulevard. Hm. Looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Page 355

Wolfe says that Dr. Hodel wasn’t a surgeon. That’s right. He wasn’t.

And except for any last questions should do it. I’ll probably tie things up with a summary and leave the site as it since interest will undoubtedly grow leading up to the release of the Black Dahlia movie, which was horribly panned by a review audience.


And here

And here

Shout out to:

Simon and Schuster (

Chicago, Ill. ( Windows 98? Upgrade!

And who is the dude in Kerkira, Greece?

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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.

4 Responses to Blogging the Wolfe Book, Request Line XXII

  1. Regular Anonymous Correspondent says:

    You are probably technically correct in saying Man Ray created his “Minotaure” photo for the cover of the magazine of the same name (the cover of every issue was some kind of visual allusion to the magazine’s name), but he didn’t even get the cover. Just an inside page.The photograph was never exhibited or published again until around 1980. As if to underscore its lack of significance in its own time, the only print somehow ended up with a crease down the middle, which appears in all recent reproductions, including the one in Hodel’s book


  2. Larry says:

    Of course, the complete and total inaccessability of the Man Ray photo has almost no significance for true subscribers to Hodel’s theory. They state that Man Ray could have fled the Nazis pausing only to take the negative of this photo. Or that he grabbed the proof sheet. Or that he merely “described” it to George Hodel (vividly, no doubt). If you want to believe, you can talk yourself into anything.No matter how absurd it may be.


  3. Regular Anonymous Correspondent says:

    I think they should stick with “described it”. That’s the only way to explain why George the Evil Genius did such a lousy job of copying it.


  4. Larry says:

    <>I’ve deleted the message but I’m leaving this up: <>I could easily spend an additional month picking up loose ends in the Wolfe book and then torture myself by doing a blog on “Black Dahlia Avenger.” But at some point, one has to concede the brevity of human life.


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