Black Dahlia: Blogging “Black Dahlia Files” Part 23 — The Pinata

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

So what’s your point, Harnisch? Isn’t there a little schadenfreude here in dismantling Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles”? Didn’t you make your point at the preface?

Absolutely. So, as Sandy Koufax said: “The question is why.”

The answer is that time after time, people insist this book is thoroughly researched and well documented. And this nonsense spreads from one writer to another until it’s in wikipedia and in otherwise reputable books. One of my goals is to show what real research is like: Tedious, time-consuming, labor-intensive, picayune and thorough. And of course I never imagined when I set out that Wolfe’s book would present such a rich lode of fiction and fraud. As the old saying goes: “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.”

Another blog review of the Sherman Oaks “Black Dahlia” screening is posted and it’s the worst one yet.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t write a review or post any comments on a film that hasn’t been released, indeed a film that might not yet be finished, but “The Black Dahlia” is so bloody awful that I feel an obligation to save everyone in the world from the torture of having to sit through it.

Before I say anything about the film, I should point out that what I saw was the first advance screening, and the film may go through some changes; that is, they may fix some things. But now let me say there is no way they can possibly fix this film without going back and writing a new script, and shooting at least an hour of new footage.

The film is a total mess, from beginning to end, and has almost nothing to do with the Black Dahlia.

Here’s a screen shot:

Page 33

It is impossible for me to translate the noise I just made into type. I scanned the page and it’s loaded with nonsense. Get ready for a long sit.

“The slashed mouth and the blows to the head were characteristic of a rage murder, while the meticulous mutilation and bisection of the corpse with a surgical instrument were indices of a more methodical pathology, suggesting that more than one person may have been involved in the murder and disposition of the body.”

To the end notes, Watson, old boy.

Aha. Wolfe needs an expert so he gets one of the best: John Douglas. But we’re already in shaky territory. Does Wolfe actually interview Douglas? Nope. Another book from the five-foot shelf of secondary sources.

Let me make it perfectly clear: True researchers never use secondary sources if they can avoid it. Repeat after me: Never.

To the bookshelf to dig out “The Cases That Haunt Us” by Douglas with Mark Olshaker. (Hm. I seem to have two copies of “For the Life of Me,” one autographed that I got someplace and another that was a present from Will Fowler for having him over for Thanksgiving one year—Will was a charming man. A real teller of tall tales, but a very charming man).




Oh come on, this can’t be right.

Wolfe cites Pages 324-333 in “The Cases That Haunt Us.” Now in my copy (which, granted, is a uncorrected advance proof) this portion of the book deals with:

Are you ready?

JonBenet Ramsey.

Now I’m going to count to 10 and come down off the ceiling.

OK. Let’s run that quote again:

“The slashed mouth and the blows to the head were characteristic of a rage murder.”

And what does John Douglas (whom I interviewed, by the way—more about that later) say?

Guess what:

“The homicide falls under the heading of lust murder.” (Douglas and Olshaker, “Cases That Haunt Us,” Page 240).

So not only does Wolfe send us to the wrong place (and fudge the details by citing an entire chapter as the source for one sentence). He completely misrepresents what’s said in his alleged source.

To cite a source, make it difficult to verify and then completely contradict what’s said is nothing less than literary fraud that shows utter contempt not only for the readers but for the publisher. ReganBooks, you’ve been had. Did I mention this is a $30 book?

“Autopsy records are ordinarily part of the public record; however, Elizabeth Short’s autopsy report has never been made available to the public. The original explanation for the sealed report was Capt. Donahoe’s claim that it contained certain information that would be known only to the killer and that Homicide [note to ReganBooks’ proofreaders: why is this capitalized?] could use this secret information as a ‘control question’ when establishing the credibility of a prime suspect.”

Again, this is wrong. Autopsy reports are indeed public records when they involve what are deemed natural deaths (like John Belushi) or solved crimes. Autopsy reports on unsolved crimes are normally sealed unless the media go to court in an attempt to gain access. For example, the autopsy of Lana Clarkson, allegedly killed by Phil Spector, has not been released. (Citation: “The full autopsy report was not released at the request of prosecutors, a coroner’s spokesman said.”)

The point is, Elizabeth Short’s autopsy was sealed as are all medical examinations in unsolved crimes.

That’s it for today. Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Bayreuth, Germany [ISP Redacted]

Hurry back!

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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