Black Dahlia – Piu Eatwell’s ‘Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ Exhumes Leslie Dillon

Black Dahlia, Red Rose, cover

Since I learned a few months ago that British writer Piu Eatwell was going to “solve” the Black Dahlia case in the forthcoming book “Black Dahlia, Red Rose,” I have been waiting to see if she would open

— Door No. 1 (George Knowlton in Janice Knowlton’s “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer”).

— Door No. 2 (Jack Anderson Wilson in John Gilmore’s “Severed”).

— Door No. 3 (Dr. George Hodel in Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” franchise).

— Door No. 4 (Leslie Dillon in Jacque Daniel’s “The Curse of the Black Dahlia”).

This is, of course, assuming that nobody in their right mind would open Door No. 5 (Norman Chandler/Bugsy Siegel in Donald Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files”).   See “Blogging the Wolfe Book” for more information.

Or perhaps she had a completely new suspect.

Now, according to a new review in The Sunday Times, we have Door No. 4: Leslie Dillon.


It isn’t at all accurate to say that the district attorney’s files are “unseen,” because Steve Hodel has examined some of them pertaining to his father, as have Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, Jacque Daniel (the daughter of LAPD psychiatrist Paul De River – more about him later) and Donald Wolfe, although Wolfe used his research to fake a document.

Oh and I have a copy of the entire file. Fully indexed. But you knew I would.

I haven’t seen Eatwell’s book yet, so I will reserve some judgment. But I can state positively that the grand jury files are massively disorganized and anyone who doesn’t already have a thorough knowledge of the case will be utterly bewildered by them.

The executive summary: Leslie Dillon was the subject of a parallel investigation in the LAPD in which self-styled sex crime expert De River, using the “Gangster Squad,” bypassed lead Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown of the Homicide Division.

De River violated LAPD protocol by doing so, but he was enraptured by the idea that Dillon (who wrote to De River after seeing an article in a pulp detective magazine) killed Elizabeth Short while under the influence of another personality whom he called “Jack Sand.” De River’s investigation blew up, he ended up in trouble and was exposed, not as a sex crime expert, but as an ear, nose and throat doctor for the VA. Dillon sued the LAPD and won a settlement.

The Dillon affair was so ridiculous that the Los Angeles County Grand Jury opened an investigation. During that investigation, the district attorney’s office pursued a large number of suspects – including Dr. George Hodel. It also spent an unbelievable amount of time reinvestigating Dillon.

The bottom line: Dillon was massively investigated and after a long, laborious inquiry was determined to have been in San Francisco when Elizabeth Short was killed. This information is in the district attorney’s files. Presumably, Eatwell ran across this finding if she had access to the grand jury files. So either she didn’t find it or she ignored it.

I will wait to read the book for a final decision, but so far I am not impressed, and certainly not optimistic.

(And no, she didn’t contact me. If she had, I would have warned her).

About lmharnisch

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

14 Responses to Black Dahlia – Piu Eatwell’s ‘Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ Exhumes Leslie Dillon

  1. James Scott says:

    Good work as always Larry. But it makes me sad that we still don’t have an solution for this case.


  2. Eve says:

    How is your book coming, Larry? We are not expecting a suspect out of you–in fact, I’d be shocked if you named one. We just need the facts that are known, and the “facts” that are wrong pointed out by a non-insane person with no axes to grind!


    • lmharnisch says:

      The book is going ahead. It’s slow but I am pleased with the results. People, unfortunately, insist on turning the Black Dahlia case into a whodunit and it’s so much more than that. I will get into one suspect, but only after going through the case thoroughly. It’s much more than “Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with a candlestick.”


  3. Jeff Hanna says:

    Interesting piece, Larry. Just read a long article about Piu Eatwell’s new book in a UK paper – ironically next to another long article about a new book supposedly revealing the “real” Jack The Ripper.
    If I recall, some 15-20 years ago there was TV documentary about The Black Dahlia, hosted by Joseph Wambaugh. I believe he shot your theory (at the time) down in flames. What it always comes down to is that each author of these books or articles is convinced they either know the truth or at least know what cannot be the truth, and the other authors are just flat-out wrong. Poor Janice Knowlton wrote me that the Los Angeles magazine article speculating that the Cleveland Torso Murderer and the Black Dahlia killer might be one and the same wasn’t “worth the toilet paper it was written on.” James Ellroy agreeing that Steve Hodel had solved the case – WHAT? Does he still believe that? The endless rabbit hole – but it remains fascinating.
    I’m glad you’re keeping an open (but very skeptical) mind about “Black Dahlia, Red Rose.” Even though I sometimes disagree with or question your speculations – about The Black Dahlia, Scotty Bowers etc. – I continue to be an admirer of your writing, and always find it very interesting, Larry. Keeping an open mind here too. Looking forward to more of your tidbits.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Thanks for writing.

      I have done so many TV interviews on the Dahlia that they tend to blend together. The one you’re referring to was, as I recall, unusually inaccurate and the whole shtick was Wambaugh shooting down theories. A few years ago, he and I had a very cordial conversation. Retired Homicide Detective Brian Carr, who was actually assigned to the case (unlike Wambaugh) was quite supportive, as you may see in “James Ellroy’s Feast of Death.”

      As for “Black Dahlia, Red Rose,” unfortunately, the average person doesn’t have access to the district attorney’s files, so they can’t imagine what a mess they are. It’s a huge jumble and if you’re not careful you can get some really wrong ideas. (Or if you are Donald “Black Dahlia Files” Wolfe, you can just fabricate documents and think no one will know better.)

      Leslie Dillon was painstakingly investigated in the 1940s. They went to tremendous lengths to see if they could implicate or clear him and ultimately determined that he was in San Francisco at the time. Leslie Dillon as the “killer” is a non-starter.

      The bigger issue is whether there was a police coverup. And allegations like that are a tremendous insult to the many police officers who busted their butts on the case. It is easy to invoke the “gods of noir” and claim that there was a massive conspiracy, but an impartial analysis will show that this was a state of the art investigation — for 1947.


  4. Logan Thorne says:

    So…I have no dog in this fight (as they say), and I was looking forward to Eatwell’s book when I chanced upon this page. I innocently tweeted this page to Eatwell and inquired about your “bottom line” paragraph because I genuinely wanted to know if she addressed your concern. She immediately blocked me. I guess that tells me that her research wasn’t so thorough (or perhaps there’s more to the story that I’m unaware of).


  5. LogynxRunn says:

    So…I have no dog in this fight (as they say), and I was interested in Eatwell’s book when I happened upon this page. I, perhaps naively, tweeted this page to Eatwell and asked her about the “bottom line” paragraph. She immediately blocked me. I was genuinely curious, and thought that if she had more information or addressed the concern in some manner she might have responded to me. But I think that her blocking me tells me all I need to know about her research. This reminds me of Patricia Cornwell’s laughable book about the Ripper being Walter Sickert, and how she discounts all the evidence that shows him not even being in the country during the time of some of the murders.


    • lmharnisch says:

      As I have said before, regardless of how impressive they might sound, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files on the Black Dahlia case are a terrible mess.

      Someone was pitching old files “to make room” and decided to save these papers because they “looked important” so they were randomly shoveled into a couple of boxes. Everything is topsy turvy and there are multiple copies of some files, etc. It’s a complete hodge-podge and in the haste to box up the papers, the Dahlia files were tainted with material from other cases.

      But there are even more pitfalls. Several leads were aggressively pursued in the 1940s and ultimately turned out to be red herrings. And it is very easy to go down a rabbit hole based on some old document in the files.

      Leslie Dillon was exhaustively investigated and ultimately cleared — and he received a settlement from the city of Los Angeles. There are those who will claim there was a massive conspiracy and coverup, you know, wheels within wheels of corruption, the police were inept and corrupt, etc., etc. But that’s just fantasy. The Black Dahlia case was a state-of-the-art investigation for 1947 and to say it was anything else insults the memory of the detectives who busted their tails to solve it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeanne Marie Spicuzza says:

    Great, really fantastic research, Larry. I further agree, every piece of data that I’ve read, seen and researched indicates a thorough investigation on the part of the LAPD, and that the pressure to solve the case was profound. One more visit to UCLA Special Collections planned. Interested in going through the DA files, but admit that I’m daunted at the thought of the task. I believe that you once mentioned that, although John Gilmore claims to have seen the autopsy report, to your knowledge no layperson has viewed it. So looking forward to your book.


    • lmharnisch says:

      The late John Gilmore, the two-bit con man and pathological liar who gave us “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction), claimed that he *had* the autopsy report, but he refused to show it to anyone.


  7. Angela says:

    I’m back again, hopefully with a post to your blog. I’m not quite clear that Piu Eatwell has combed through “previously unseen files” by the LA County Grand Jury. I’ve recently received those files (anyone can by contacting the LA DA’s office and supplying a CD) and have been told that the close to 1000 pages are only those publicly released. Other DA files reside somewhere, off limits to the public. Is Eatwell saying she saw those “unseen” files? Regarding the LAPD, only those files released publicly numbering about 50 some odd pages are available. Other LAPD files, like the 4000 pages devoted to the “Dillon fiasco” are not available. As for the “unredacted” FBI records, they don’t give much of anything because the FBI was not really involved in this case and “redacted” usually means protecting the names and addresses of witnesses. Nothing more.

    I’m with you that others–Hodel, Wolfe, you, Lopez, etc–have already examined the same files. And let’s say for argument sake all of you have impeccable credentials. What’s really apparent and obvious is that everyone has reached different conclusions. I acknowledge that Eatwell has now added the Long Beach PD Rap Sheet article by Buz WIlliams–son of a Gangster Squad detective–who believed Dillon was the killer and his partner Con Keller who said it was Mark Hansen. But that three-part article has many errors at least regarding Hansen where the facts are just plain wrong. Keller said Hansen was Swedish and went to a Swedish medical surgical school…. Not true.

    With the many testimonial contradictions and missing documents, I don’t see how the DA or LAPD files reveal the murderer. What Eatwell does is extrapolation and a lot of surmising. Anyone can easily go in the opposite direction. Neither do I see her motivation for condemning the LAPD’s lack of interest in this 71-year-old case. With hundreds of “cold cases” over the years, why should the LAPD waste taxpayers money on this one?


    • lmharnisch says:

      Piu Eatwell’s claim of “previously unseen files” appears to be mere hype for her book jacket. Anybody who can make as many mistakes in the opening lines as she does is not even worth reading. Simply said, I have read her source material and there is absolutely no way to get from that to her conclusion without a lot of distortion and wishful thinking.

      I did my research years ago with the actual documents, so I have no idea what the district attorney’s office is currently releasing digitally. As I have noted many times, the files are a mess and have been examined by at least half a dozen people. The material was relatively pristine when I looked at it, so I inventoried everything, but as I have said before, these records were preserved during a purge and they are tainted with material from other cases. It’s entirely possible that researchers who came after me tried to “reorganize” the files or possibly walked off with something. The D.A.’s office was unequipped to supervise the files while they were being examined, which is presumably why they went to CD. It’s a good decision that preserves what’s left of the records, but it may or may not be useful to researchers depending on what has been released or withheld. Having read every piece of paper in the files, I can say that there is no slam-dunk incrimination of anybody in those records.

      Given the crackpot nature of most Black Dahlia/crime websites, I wouldn’t even bother looking at something called the Long Beach PD Rap Sheet. Through my own research, I know what became of Leslie Dillon and I have no intention of wasting my time on what sounds like folklore and rumor.

      It’s true, just as you say, that most of the people who have gone through the files have been operating from a predetermined outcome: Steve Hodel (his father), Donald Wolfe (utter fraud), Jacque Daniel (Leslie Dillon/the conspiracy to get her father) and Piu Eatwell (Leslie Dillon/the conspiracy to get Joseph Paul De River). To me, the district attorney’s files are mainly a chronicle of dead ends and red herrings, in such disarray that it’s easy to get off on the wrong track unless you already know the case.

      Again, you’re exactly right. The LAPD has much better cases to pursue that could result in a successful prosecution and conviction, unlike the Black Dahlia.


      • Jeanne Marie Spicuzza says:

        “To me, the district attorney’s files are mainly a chronicle of dead ends and red herrings, in such disarray that it’s easy to get off on the wrong track unless you already know the case.”

        Thank you, Larry, and to the participants on this thread. I think that’s a very sound assessment. I recently requested digital copies of the DA files, but, gratefully, went by your recommendation to look at the newspaper articles from the recommended papers first. Your writing, research and interviews provide solid ground in a dizzying swirl of material, be it well-intentioned or otherwise, on Elizabeth Short. I hope that you’ll comment on the upcoming TNT series, “I [a]m the Night,” previously titled “One Day She’ll Darken.” Looks like we’re in for another George Hodel treatment.


  8. Pingback: This Day in History for January 15 – Body of Elizabeth Short—the “Black Dahlia”—Found (1947) – The Commentary Gazette®

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