I’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is telling the story in “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story in which Elizabeth Short is in San Diego about a month before her murder in January 1947.
I got a phone call last night from retired Police Capt. Ed Jokisch about the copy of “Mogul” I gave to him. He started out: “That no-good S.O.B. Vince Carter” and it went downhill from there. Ed, who is in his 90s, is a good friend and worked in homicide in 1947 after serving in the Navy during World War II. Ed was a close friend of Capt. Jack Donahoe, the head of homicide during the Black Dahlia investigation, and is staunchly loyal to him. As far as Ed is concerned, there were few finer people in the world than Donahoe, an opinion shared by everyone except a few scurrilous Black Dahlia books.
Donald H. Wolfe’s new book The Black Dahlia Files (HarperCollins Canada, $36.95) is the latest of numerous works about a gruesome 1947 Los Angeles murder, never solved, in which a young woman was cut in half and dumped in a vacant lot. One earlier author suggested that his own father committed the crime; others were almost equally imaginative. Wolfe’s thesis is that the murderer was the mobster Bugsy Siegel. In making his argument, he also devotes several pages to a cold-case investigation done by [John] Douglas in 1999. Douglas theorised that the killer was someone who had a “rigid, patient, compulsive and deliberate” personality—and probably “stuttered…”. If he were alive, Siegel, who was indeed a psychopathic killer, would probably sue for libel.
I’m taking a rain check on some aspects of the French family, who befriended Elizabeth Short for most of December 1946 before asking her to leave in January 1947.
Wolfe makes an incredible statement:
“Mrs. French’s husband had been killed in the war and Elizabeth told her that she, too, was a war widow—that her ‘husband,’ Major Matt Gordon, had been killed in a plane crash in India while flying for the army’s air force. [note to ReganBooks, the publishing house without proofreaders: branches of the service are capitalized].”
And there are some other little goodies here:
“…initially the Frenches believed that their houseguest often wore black because she was in mourning for her dead husband and baby. But her frequent late night dates and frivolous lifestyle seemed to belie that conclusion.”
The material about Elizabeth Short’s claim that she was a widow whose son had died is certainly true. That was one of the regular sob stories to get sympathy. But I don’t recall ever reading that French’s husband was killed in the war or that the Frenches believed Elizabeth Short work black because she was in mourning.
I know, Holmes, the end notes!
Shall we guess, Watson? I suspect John Gilmore’s “Severed,” although I’m not positive. That doesn’t sound like Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows” or Will Fowler’s “Reporters.”
Just as I thought. Wolfe doesn’t bother to attribute that to anybody—of course that’s because he can’t. Nobody’s ever said that Elvera French was a war widow or mentioned the notion that Elizabeth Short might have worn black because she was in mourning. This is very poor work, folks. As for wearing nothing but black, recall Red Manley’s description that she was in a frilly white blouse and beige topcoat the last time he saw her.
What more proof could you want than Wolfe’s own book? Look at the photo of Harry Hansen holding a picture of Elizabeth Short adjoining Page 211. Guess who isn’t wearing black. Go ahead—guess.
Let’s press on.
“Elizabeth told the Frenches she had been working in Hollywood as a movie extra and was expecting some money to be sent to her at the Western Union office.”
“The expected money-wire never seemed to arrive and instead of getting up in the morning to look for employment, Elizabeth would stay out late at night—sometimes until two or three in the morning—and then sleep until noon. Her late dates, she said were ‘with prospective employers.’ ”
Now anybody who has read the original newspaper accounts (and I assume that includes Wolfe) knows this is wrong. The day after being befriended by the Frenches, one of them took Elizabeth Short to the Western Union office to get $100 sent by Gordon Fickling, her former boyfriend.
And all the stuff about her staying out late and sleeping until noon sounds like “Severed” (25% mistakes, 50% fiction), so let’s see where Wolfe got it.
Lead on, Watson.
My dear Holmes! There’s no attribution whatsoever!
And the line about her staying out until 3 a.m. with “prospective employers?” No attribution at all, Holmes!
Nasty business, Watson. An unsubstantiated smear by our friend Mr. Wolfe. Nasty business.
Time to go.
Shout out to:
Kuala Lumpur [ISP Redacted]
My old pal in Kerkira, Greece [ISP Redacted]
George Washington University [ISP Redacted]
University of Quebec at Montreal [ISP Redacted]
Encinitas, Calif. [ISP Redacted] 23 hours!
Some version of Windows: 92%
Mac OS X 5%
Linux 2% (my regular reader on Road Runner in San Diego) 126.96.36.199
Check out my post on the 1947 Project.
And hurry back!