I have my search engines set to scour the Internet for material related to the Black Dahlia and this morning discovered yet another slasher version of the Elizabeth Short case. Think nudity and blood. It is a shame to see such talent wasted, but proves my contention that Hollywood is incapable of telling the story of Elizabeth Short without reducing it to sex and gore.
Where was I? Ah yes. I am blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the story is told through flashbacks. We’re at the point where we are exploring Elizabeth Short’s mid- to late teens, and have found a particularly nasty bit of fiction in which Wolfe has identified Mary Pacios, author of “Childhood Shadows” as “Mary Hernon.”
I had to take a day off to process the memorial to Otis Chandler and am in the middle of taking a poll to decide whether I should continue this time-consuming little project. So far, nobody is begging me to quit.
This book is such junk.
OK, here we go:
“Elizabeth found that the sunshine in Vallejo, California, was often obscured by fog and the Bay area was a long way from the glittering glamour of movieland. She tried to persuade her father to take her south to Los Angeles for a visit, but Cleo thought her movie star dreams were foolish.”
Now there is absolutely no basis in reality for this. Obviously Wolfe is building up Elizabeth Short as a star-struck young woman (no shortage of them in the 1940s—or now, for that matter). Let’s see where he got it.
My dear Holmes, not the end notes again!
Watson, don’t complain. Research is rarely pretty.
Ha! Not attributed to anyone. Wolfe is simply making things up. Even John Gilmore’s “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) doesn’t have the nerve to channel this fabricated scene—or maybe it just didn’t occur to him.
Well, now this is an interesting blend of fact and fiction. Wolfe says that according to the district attorney’s files on the Black Dahlia case, Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown called on Cleo Short after Elizabeth was killed and found him in a drunken stupor. That’s true
But what’s next is totally wrong. So wrong that I won’t entirely untangle it.
Wolfe says Cleo and Elizabeth stayed in Vallejo for a few days (he gets the people wrong) before they (so far, true)—accompanied by “a Mrs. Yanke” went to Los Angeles. In reality, Mrs. Yanke stayed in Vallejo and lent her apartment to Cleo and Elizabeth Short.
Not the end notes again!
Watson, the end notes are our friends.
Ha. Attributed to Harry Hansen’s grand jury statement in the district attorney’s files. Some of it is there. But much more isn’t. For example, Harry Hansen never discussed Mrs. Yanke in his grand jury testimony. Of course, the only people who would know that are the few of us who have seen the files.
Did I mention I inventoried and catalogued the Black Dahlia files?
So where does Wolfe find this business about Mrs. Yanke if it isn’t where he says it is? Hmmmm. Could it be in the document that Wolfe doesn’t want to acknowledge “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946” because it trashes his Bugsy Siegel scenario. And if that gets trashed, he has no book?
Oh let’s check.
Holmes! Why are you never wrong?!
Here’s the beginning of
Prior to June 1, 1946
Sometime in 1942 E. and her mother, Phoebe Short (1) saw the father, Cleo Short (19) on the street in Medford, Mass., at which time Cleo Short (19) had a conversation with E., according to Mr. Short (19). Later, E. corresponded with him and wrote to him that she would like to come out to California and live with him and care for him. E. did come in December of 1942 and stayed with him for a few days when he was living on Nebraska Street with Mrs. Yankee (20) [note that this document was dictated and transcribed, so many names are spelled phonetically—quite annoying for a researcher] in Vallejo, Calif. E. then went with her father to 1028½ W. 36th St., Los Angeles, and there lived at Mrs. Yankee’s place for approximately three weeks. Mrs. Monte (21) who lived in the rear of this address saw E. there at the time.
In other words, Wolfe knows without question that what he’s putting forth is nonsense because he has the evidence in his hand of where Elizabeth Short really was. But like the three card monte swindler, he’s going to keep it hidden, figuring that nobody will ever know the difference.
And even worse:
“According to Mrs. Monte, Cleo was an alcoholic and was drunk most of the time, and he and his daughter had many arguments over money and his drinking.”
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Wolfe just say that Cleo was a churchgoing Baptist who berated Elizabeth about her trampy lifestyle? Are we supposed to have forgotten that little nugget? From way back on Page 51:
“It was said that Elizabeth had begun dating a number of servicemen, and Cleo complained that she was seeing a different boyfriend every evening and staying out very late—sometimes all night. A churchgoing Baptist, Cleo admonished Elizabeth for living a licentious life.”
So how did Cleo go from being an abstemious Baptist to total sot in five pages? And here’s an even bigger laugh:
“While in Los Angeles, Elizabeth had met “Chuck,” a sergeant in the Sixth Armored Division stationed at Camp Cooke, north of Santa Barbara. Mrs. Monte recalled that on January 29, 1943, following an argument over her father’s drunkenness, Elizabeth had left word that she was heading north to Camp Cooke with the sergeant.”
There’s lots of ways to disprove this: Mrs. Monte never said a word about “Sgt. Chuck.” In fact, police were never even able to locate “Sgt. Chuck,” although he appears rather prominently in “Severed.”
But let’s have more fun. How much do you want to bet that the 6th Armored Division wasn’t at Camp Cooke in January 1943?
Why Holmes! The 6th Armored Division didn’t arrive at Camp Cooke until March 1943!
Watson, some people can do research and some people cannot. It’s that simple. If our “Sgt. Chuck” even existed, he would have been in balmy, beautiful Freda, Calif., in early 1943. (Here’s a satellite picture of Rice Army Air Field, which was nearby).
And for even more fun (OK fun for a total research drudge) let’s see how Steve Hodel handled this phase of the story in “Black Dahlia Avenger.” Oh my, it’s even worse.
“Black Dahlia Avenger,” Page 18.
“In January 1943, Elizabeth traveled to Santa Barbara, California, where she applied for and was hired at the post exchange at the Camp Cooke military base. [California geography certainly puzzles some people doesn’t it?] Her employment there was brief, after which she left to seek her father, who, she discovered, was living close by in Vallejo, California. She stayed with her father briefly, but both were uncomfortable with the living arrangements and she returned to Santa Barbara in September 1943.”
Time for my walk.
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