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 proceeds in flashbacks. We are in the last few weeks of Elizabeth Short’s life, in which she met Robert M. “Red Manley,” a traveling salesman from Los Angeles who picked her up on a trip to San Diego.
Imagine my surprise—no, my shock—to read this in L.A. Weekly. Here’s a screen shot to show I’m not making this up.
A writer named Jeffrey Anderson is exploring the legacy of Owens Valley and interviewed a man named Don Odell, identified as: “a semi-retired lawyer and former member of the Inyo County grand jury.”
“Odell muses about his days arguing over a solution down in L.A. City Hall and a conversation he once overheard between Mayor Tom Bradley and an LAPD detective who investigated the Black Dahlia murder named Ralph Asdel. “I’m standing there one day and the mayor is talking to Asdel about Owens Valley and he says, ‘Ralph, someday we’re gonna have to fill that lake.’ ”
It’s a nice picture; Odell overhearing a conversation between Bradley and Asdel, a former LAPD detective who was loaned to the Black Dahlia investigation.
But you’re not going to like this.
Ralph was a friend of mine. I was a pallbearer at his funeral in 2003. He was working in Boyle Heights when he was loaned to the Dahlia investigation. He later worked as a detective in the San Fernando Valley, before going to motors.
And according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times:
“Asdel, who later became a motorcycle officer, injured his leg in an on-duty accident and was forced to go on medical retirement in 1965.”
Tom Bradley was indeed mayor of Los Angeles.
From 1973 to 1993.
Do you think something could something be wrong here? Note: Ralph’s obituary is online and easy to find.
Wolfe is telling the Red Manley saga, using Will Fowler’s yarn virtually intact. In Will’s version, he goes to the Manleys’ home in Huntington Park, interviews Manley’s wife, Harriette, and tells her not to open to the door to nosy reporters.
The source for this ought to be either Will’s “Reporters,” or an interview with him. As I said before, one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is “Will Fowler recalls….” but let’s check.
Yep, “Reporters,” Page 81 and 82.
Should I take the time to see if this is screwed up? OK, I will.
Watson, to the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books!
Why am I not surprised?
Now with any other writer, I wouldn’t bother. This seems to be a straight lift job. But I swear, Wolfe can’t read what’s in front of him.
Here’s Will’s version:
“While I was there, the phone rang. It was Red and Harriet put her hand over the mouthpiece and asked: ‘Do you want to talk to him?’ ”
“ ‘You better not tell him I’ve been here,’ I said.”
Compare this with “Mogul”:
“When Harriet learned that her husband was being sought by the police, she became nervous but cooperative. She told Fowler that she had just heard from her husband, who had telephoned from San Francisco.”
OK, Will, let me get this straight: Every police officer and every reporter in California is looking for the mysterious red-haired man in the murder of Elizabeth Short. You’re at the man’s home, talking to his wife. He calls. She asks if you want to speak to him.
And you say:
If that were a true story and I were your editor, you would be out the door.
And here we see Wolfe’s skill in creating quotes for conveniently dead people:
“Reporters,” Page 82
“She didn’t seem to object when I asked for them all [family photographs] and instructed her—a bride of only 15 months—not to talk to anyone, especially if newspaper reporters started coming around the house.”
“Mogul,” Page 69
“Electing not to inform Mrs. Manley that her husband was the number one suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short, Fowler cautioned her not to talk to anyone about her husband—especially ‘any nosey reporters who may come knocking at your door.’ ”
Of course, Will’s story (which I heard from him countless times) was that he bamboozled his way in the door by flashing his badge (reporters were indeed issued badges by Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz that were later confiscated by Sheriff Peter Pitchess) and claiming that Red had lots of unpaid parking tickets.
Was there any truth to it at all? I don’t know. Maybe. Will also claimed that he was on the stakeout when Red was arrested in Eagle Rock and present when police showed up at the Examiner with Elizabeth Short’s luggage. Since those events occurred at roughly the same time, he couldn’t have been in both places.
Time for my walk.
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