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 using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We are at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego in December 1946, about a month before her murder.
Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday. In Wolfe’s portrayal (which is completely at odds with the facts), Elizabeth Short has given the Frenches a phony story about waiting for a friend to wire some money that “never seemed to arrive.” In fact, she got $100 almost the next day, courtesy of her former boyfriend, airline pilot Gordon Fickling.
Now here is a total smear by Wolfe:
“Elvera [French] worked as a civil employee at the San Diego Naval Hospital, and when she came home for lunch, she’d often find Elizabeth still sleeping on the sofa with her fancy clothes strewn about the living room and her exotic lingerie hanging over the furniture.”
I could spend all day on this paragraph. And maybe I will…..
California geography is certainly a challenging subject for some writers. According to Wolfe, Elvera French was working at the Navy hospital in Balboa Park (true) and living in Pacific Beach (also true). So let’s check google maps to see how far she would have to travel to come home for a bite of lunch. Ready?
Gosh 10 miles. Really now, does it make any sense to claim that somebody is going to drive 10 miles on their lunch hour instead of eating a meal, for example, in the hospital cafeteria or bringing something? C’mon!
My hunch is this is another “Elizabeth Short goes bad” story from John Gilmore’s “Severed,” because “Severed” really piles it on at this point. Then again, as we have seen, Wolfe has no qualms about fabricating stories at this point and not attributing them to anyone, so we may hit a blind alley.
Lead on, Watson!
My dear Holmes! No attribution!
Let’s not give up, shall we, Watson? Let’s turn to the Elizabeth Short photo held by Detective Harry Hansen adjoining Page 211 of “Mogul.”
What we know is that the photo Hansen is holding was taken at the end of Elizabeth Short’s life by a young man who picked up Elizabeth Short in late 1946 and took some photos of her at John Marshall High School. In fact, other photos from this session appear on Pages 516 and 519 of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” (is it my imagination, or is the “Avenger” paperback printed on high-acid paper that is already starting to turn yellow?). These are the last pictures taken of her while she was alive.
Now, tell me, does that look like an expensive outfit? I mean, really!
It looks like Wolfe is getting ready to kill off Elizabeth Short, and so we won’t feel too sorry for her, he has to make her a lazy, no-good tramp. Luckily for him, he gets yeoman assistance from “Severed.” The reality, of course, is that according to testimony by her roommate Ann Toth in the district attorney’s files (remember, this book is ostensibly based on the “secret district attorney’s files”) Elizabeth Short was very particular about her clothing, very neat and fastidious; didn’t borrow anyone’s clothing and certainly didn’t lend her things to anybody else. But if we go around saying things like that, the reader might actually—horrors!—feel some sympathy for her.
To Pages 96-97 of “Severed” (25% mistakes, 50% fiction), Wolfe’s alleged source of this material.
Aha! Now here is were we get some of the “Elizabeth Short goes bad” material. I thought it sounded awfully familiar.
“Severed,” Page 97
“Beth slept till half-past eleven almost every morning. The evening before, she’d told Elvera that she was probably starting a new job the next day with Western Airlines, and though she wasn’t sure of the duties, she would begin training soon. Elvera came home for lunch and she found Beth sound asleep on the couch, her clothing spread about the living room—hanging over chairs, on top of the radio, and laid out as though on display.”
Oh my gosh. I just saw the worst nonsense in “Severed.” But I can only debunk one book at a time and “Severed” would be a life’s work. But this stuff in “Severed” about the Aztec Theater manager inviting Elizabeth Short home for shish kabob is just hilarious. Where on earth does “Severed” get this stuff!
I don’t think even Wolfe fell for that one. Nope, Wolfe is completely silent on the subject of late-night shish kabobs with theater managers bent (presumably) on seduction. Late-night shish kabobs, the food of romance!
Get this book out of my face. Back to the pile, “Severed.”
And speaking of “Dahlia Avenger,” let’s see what Hodel has to say about Elizabeth Short’s days in San Diego. Probably something about his evil genius father disguising himself as an itinerant Gypsy fortune teller and pot mender to commit more malfeasance with Man Ray, Diego Rivera and Grandma Moses or something.
Well, Hodel says nothing about exotic lingerie. And except for the idiotic notion that Elizabeth Short bounced between San Diego and Los Angeles like a Wham-O SuperBall to explain all the unverified sightings during the “lost week,” “Avenger” sticks to the newspaper reports. Hodel picks up the $100 money order from Fickling and wisely sidesteps the “lazy tramp” stuff from “Severed.”
You know, there are times when I wonder if my pile of Dahlia books is going to melt down into a very unpleasant heap. Maybe good for the roses.
I can see Wolfe plans further character assassination as he turns Elizabeth Short into a lazy no-good tramp destined for the murderer’s knife. But that’s it for today.
Shout out to:
Richard Griswold del Castillo, author of “The Los Angeles Barrio 1850-1890.” Published in 1979. This looks like great stuff.
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