Black Dahlia: Piu Eatwell’s ‘Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ – A Name to Remember


Donald Freed in Piu Eatwell’s “Black Dahlia, Red Rose.”

There are many names and many claims in Piu Eatwell’s new book, “Black Dahlia, Red Rose,” but the most important for our purposes is that of Donald Freed, a very pleasant fellow who has written books on O.J. Simpson, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the assassination of John F. Kennedy (with Mark Lane). I think you get the idea.

There’s more about Freed, Dr. Joseph Paul De River and the Black Dahlia case in Brian King’s introduction to his reissue of De River’s “The Sexual Criminal,” which King has posted to the Web.

To quote King’s interview with Freed:

The Black Dahlia: Leslie Dillon, Paul De River and the LAPD: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Black Dahlia: Piu Eatwell’s Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ – A Bad Beginning


[Dillon] was an errand boy for Hansen, and Elizabeth Short was part of the Hansen entourage, and one day, Hansen said to Dillon, words to the effect of “get rid of her.” Hansen, not knowing or caring that his functionary was a dangerous and murderous psychopath, was stunned when she turned up as she did, so that, although he didn’t care what happened to her, he hadn’t thought of that happening particularly. . . . Dillon was simply a runner, a messenger, a small-time hood running errands for N.T.G. and Hansen . . . but he knew where the bodies were buried and he knew who was on the cuff for betting, bookmaking, et cetera. . . .

The Black Dahlia . . . that was the content of the meetings, and police corruption, and Paul de River’s fate, and the near certainty, as we believed then, that he had solved the case, that he had indeed brought in the murderer, Leslie Dillon, and that in order to cover up small-time vice on the part of Thaddeus Brown and [his brother] Finis Brown and other famous badges . . . N.T.G., Hansen, the organized vice of that day, which had the LAPD on the pad . . . to cover that up they let a dangerous psychopath loose.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it is because this is apparently the general thrust of Eatwell’s book.

Freed was one of the first people to contact me after my Los Angeles Times story on the Black Dahlia case was published in January 1997. I visited his home and had a pleasant conversation that was consistent with King’s account.

Afterward, I thanked Freed, added his scenario to the list of things to be checked in my research and went on my way.

I had already run into the De River story in researching the Dahlia case, but I excluded it from the story because of space and because it seemed like nothing but a distraction.

As I went about my research, speaking with retired detectives who had been with the LAPD in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, it became quite clear that De River had no credibility with any of them. I should emphasize that all of the retired LAPD officers spoke highly of Homicide Detective Finis Brown and his brother Thad, who was named acting police chief after the death of William H. Parker. The idea that Finis Brown could be involved in any sort of corruption or misconduct was absurd as far as they were concerned. And rather insulting to his memory, in their opinion.

In contrast, those who had known of De River considered him nothing but a meddling crackpot. News reports showed that he had been “creative with his credentials,” as Freed told me. And De River’s articles for the Herald-Express called his expertise further into question:

Jan. 27, 1960,

Los Angeles Herald-Express, Jan. 27, 1960: Dr. J. Paul De River performs a psychiatric analysis of the face of accused killer Dr. Bernard Finch. Even in 1960 this was considered an archaic idea.

At that point, I filed away Freed’s scenario as just another theory and a rather cracked one.

About five years after our interview,  I was given access to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files on the Black Dahlia case. As I have said repeatedly, the files are a disorganized mess. Some files have been separated, there are phone messages scrawled on the back of random pieces of paper. They full of dead ends and red herrings.

One report is especially pertinent to the question of whether Leslie Dillon killed Elizabeth Short as put forward in Eatwell’s book:

Leslie Dillon

The report is 16 pages, single-spaced, and I won’t post the entire document. Evidently Eatwell quotes from it extensively, according to Google Books. But where she sees wheels within wheels of corruption and a massive coverup, I think it’s a simple case of investigators going through a tremendous amount of work to establish that Dillon was in San Francisco at the time Elizabeth Short was killed.

And here we are:

Leslie Dillon

I don’t believe Eatwell quotes this part of the document, although it’s a bit hard to tell from a search at Google Books.

For me, Freed’s account was one more thing to be checked out and ultimately discarded. I did speak with De River’s children, who remembered him warmly.

As far as I am concerned, Leslie Dillon was nothing but collateral damage in the Black Dahlia case, and a fiasco for the Los Angeles Police Department that cost the city of Los Angeles $100,000. Self-styled sex crime expert Dr. J. Paul De River mounted an unauthorized, independent investigation of an important murder case. This is absolutely not how police work should be conducted and De River paid the price of violating basic police procedures.

Dillon was in San Francisco at the time Elizabeth Short was killed. Case closed.


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.

2 Responses to Black Dahlia: Piu Eatwell’s ‘Black Dahlia, Red Rose’ – A Name to Remember

  1. Jon Ponder says:

    Dillon sued the city for $100,000 in February 1949, but apparently the suit was thrown out four months later. According to John Brian King on page lvi of “The Strange Case of Doctor De River,” in the foreword to “The Sexual Criminal,” “On June 4, however, Dillon was arrested in Oklahoma City for robbing a Santa Monica hotel, and his claim was later rejected by the City Attorney’s office.”


    • lmharnisch says:

      For the city of Los Angeles, as we have seen many times through the years, this is the dance they do over claims:

      Someone alleging police brutality files a claim against the city. The city attorney rejects the claim. The individual then files a lawsuit against the city. The city settles the suit or goes to court.

      As an example, here is the city of Los Angeles rejecting the $83 Million claim of Rodney G. King in the 1991 LAPD beating.

      What Dillon filed in February 1949 was a claim against the city, the standard precursor to a lawsuit.

      In 1949, the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma refused to extradite Dillon to Los Angeles in the purported robbery of a Santa Monica hotel because he felt it was mere harassment of Dillon by Los Angeles officials. Investigation found that Dillon was in Oklahoma City at the time of the 1947 robbery.


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