Black Dahlia: Fixing a Small Error Before It Becomes a Big One

Black Dahlia Crime Scene

KPCC recently did a story about the LAPD’s archive of crime photos. And whoever wrote the caption took a logical – but incorrect – guess about the people in this photo of the Black Dahlia crime scene.

Let’s do a little detective work. I’m sure I have seen this photo before. But where?


Here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with Google. So many armchair sleuths and crackpots have linked the Black Dahlia case to the Suzanne Degnan killing that it’s infected Google’s search results.

I thought I had seen this picture before. And indeed a search of Google images shows that it’s on Steve Hodel’s website:


But what’s this?


Oh my. It looks like this photo has been scanned from a book. Could it be “Scene of the Crime: Photographs From the LAPD Archive?”

As longtime readers know, I dislike crime scene photos and I almost never publish them (the morgue shot of Ted Healy being a rare exception). If I had $1 for every time someone stumbled into the Daily Mirror looking in vain for body shots of Carole Lombard, I would be a rich man.

Anyway, “Scene of the Crime: Photographs From the LAPD Archive” and “Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook” are two books that I despise and I refuse to own either one of them. So I’m unable to verify that the photo in question is from “Scene of the Crime.” But that’s my best guess.

Black Dahlia Crime Scene
Here’s the little problem. Rather than “three detectives,” as stated in the caption, we have Det. Harry Hansen on the right, but who’s that gent in the light-color coat in the middle? I say he’s not a detective at all.

Black Dahlia Crime Scene

Let’s get a better look. Notice that the man in the center has something in the right pocket of his jacket.


And here’s the fellow with the rolled-up paper in his pocket. It’s Will Fowler, reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, as shown in a photo in Fowler’s “Reporters.”  And an LAPD detective of the 1940s would never wear a ratty old hat like that.

Black Dahlia Crime Scene

So instead of “three detectives,” we have an unidentified man at left, Los Angeles Examiner reporter Will Fowler, center, and Det. Harry Hansen at the Black Dahlia crime scene.

Black Dahlia Crime Scene

Bonus fact: Notice that every LAPD crime scene photo of this era has the case number (295-771), date (1-15-47) and the photographer’s initials.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Another Good Story Ruined, Black Dahlia, LAPD, Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Black Dahlia: Fixing a Small Error Before It Becomes a Big One

  1. Charlie says:

    My wild guess was it was Will Fowler as well from hearing him on George Putnam’s radio show.


  2. Mary Mallory says:

    Did you send the correction to KPCC?


  3. mandymarie20 says:

    Good detective work


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