Black Dahlia: ‘Ghostland’ and Another Good Story Ruined (Updated)


Ghostland, Page 136.
“Ghostland” by Colin Dickey, Page 136.

OK, who can spot the mistake in the highlighted passage? (And yes, Dickey is about to invoke the name of Kenneth Anger, who has caused more grief for historians than any other writer). This occurs in a chapter of “Ghostland” that opens with the Black Dahlia at the Biltmore.

Update: Here is a response from Colin Dickey:

I came across your post on Ghostland on La Daily Mirror; first of all, thanks for taking the time to read the book. I appreciate it.

Second, just a quick clarification: in the passage you cite, I don’t actually say that Rappe died in Los Angeles (I know of course that she died in SF), only that her death reflects the darker side of a “Hollywood” mythos. I agree, though, that the passage could have perhaps been clearer.

Also, for the record, I’ve never read Hodel’s book, which I’ve long known to not be a reputable source.

If there are any factual errors in the book that you’ve come across, though, I’d be happy to know of them so they can be corrected for future editions. I’ll talk to my publisher about the sentence in question about Rappe so we can make it clearer in the paperback, hopefully.

Thanks again,
Colin Dickey.

San Francisco Chronicle, 1921

San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 10, 1921.


That’s right: Virginia Rappe died in San Francisco.

Now where do you suppose Colin Dickey got the idea that Virginia Rappe died in Los Angeles.

Let’s put on our thinking caps: Black Dahlia … Virginia Rappe …

Could it be?

Black Dahlia Avenger, Page 3.

It is, of course, Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger,” and look at the load of errors we have here. Steve Hodel says that the film industry was connected to the cases of Winnie Ruth Judd, Bugsy Siegel and Caryl Chessman. Seriously?
This is a paragraph that makes my head explode.

Let us catalog the errors:

Caryl Chessman was executed by the state of California even though he never killed anybody.

Winnie Ruth Judd
was taken into custody in Los Angeles, but she was tried and convicted in Phoenix, where the killings occurred.

Bugsy Siegel
was shot to death in Beverly Hills — and for you out-of-towners and others who are unaware how Los Angeles is put together — it’s a separate jurisdiction with its own police department, which opened an investigation with the involvement of the district attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department.

And then there is the Fatty Arbuckle case, which occurred in San Francisco.

And so Steve Hodel’s non-facts take on new life in other books. It is amazing to me that an author who can cram so many mistakes into one paragraph is taken seriously by anyone.

Does anyone really do research anymore in our post-factual age? Apparently not Colin Dickey.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, LAPD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Black Dahlia: ‘Ghostland’ and Another Good Story Ruined (Updated)

  1. mandymarie20 says:

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I read the paragraph differently. I interpreted Dickey’s paragraph to mean the deaths had connections to Hollywood and Los Angeles because they were movie stars, not necessarily that all of the deaths occurred in that geographic area.

    That definitely doesn’t excuse Hodel and Anger’s work. It has influenced and been used as source material for countless works and a generation or more is hopelessly misled by it.


  2. Mary Mallory says:

    What else can you expect in the post-truth, post-factual age? It sounds and feels like the truth, so of course it must be true. After this past election, it’s obvious that people go by gut visceral reaction, not by actual research or facts any more. “Truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert would say, is all that matters, real facts are of course “fake” and “made up,” as claimed by people who couldn’t tell a myth from actual history.


  3. James Scott says:

    I just finished reading Sam Staggs book on the making of “Sunset Boulevard”. He has a page or two about the Black Dahlia. He states Beth Short was a “Victory Girl” a prostitute that specializes in servicing service men in WW2. And she was “well known” in Hollywood Lesbian circles. He also cites Kenneth Alger as a source.


Leave a Reply. Note: Your IP is logged with your comment so a fake name and email address are useless.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.