I’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob (and were are those pesky thugs, anyway?), the Mogul (missing in action so far) and the Murder That Transfixed (fixed, yes, but transfixed, hardly) Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short is in San Diego in the last month of her life and has just met Robert M. “Red” Manley.
Wolfe is discussing Manley’s arrest in Eagle Rock after his return from a sales trip to San Francisco. Remember that while Los Angeles police and reporters were madly searching for the mysterious red-haired man last seen with the Black Dahlia, he had left his car in the garage of a friend and driven up to San Francisco.
The usual source for this episode is Will Fowler, who claimed to have witnessed the arrest. I would imagine Wolfe lifts this more or less from “Reporters.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that although the book is called the “Black Dahlia Files” it consists mostly of an embellished rehash of “Reporters” and John Gilmore’s “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. With a bit of garnishing from Jim Richardson’s “For the Life of Me” and Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows.”
Now Wolfe is going happily along insisting that Richardson, the Examiner’s city editor, called poor old hapless homicide Capt. Jack Donahoe to tell him about Red Manley. Wolfe presumably wants the reader to think Donahoe did nothing in the way of investigation but baby-sit the phone waiting for newsmen to call him with tips.Ah, here’s a nice bit of fiction.
“It was hours before [Manley’s companion] Palmer’s car finally showed up, and Robert ‘Red’ Manley stepped out. Dressed in a heavy, gray overcoat and broad-brimmed hat that partially concealed his red hair, he briefly stood near the curb talking to Palmer. As he turned toward his tan Studebaker parked in the driveway, the police detectives jumped out of their car with guns drawn and closed in on the fugitive suspect. Spotting the detectives, Manley quickly raised his arms high in the air and said, ‘I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it.’ ”
This reads like a lift from “Reporters.”
The end notes, Holmes?
Yes, Watson, lead on.
Hum! Wolfe is getting sloppy about his noting. He attributes the quote “I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it” to “Reporters,” but not the rest.
Watson, the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books!
“Reporters,” Page 82
“Ferde Olmo and I sat in the back seat of a homicide stakeout car being used by Sgts. J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers. We were parked at the curb of Palmer’s Eagle Rock house, waiting for his car to drive up.
“Eventually, it arrived and when Manley stepped out, the detectives with guns drawn, darted toward him. Manley raised his arms and Olmo flashed pictures. Manley said, ‘I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it.’ Dressed in a heavy gray overcoat and broad-brimmed hat, he was frightened out of his wits.”
Notice the economy that Will uses and how Wolfe loads his writing down with extraneous words:
Wolfe: Manley quickly raised his arms high in the air.
Fowler: Manley raised his arms.
One thing about Will—he knew how to write tightly; it’s that newspaper training.
Notice that Will doesn’t have anything about Manley’s tan Studebaker parked in the driveway. And why is that?
As anybody who has read The Times’ account knows (and isn’t it interesting Wolfe hardly refers to The Times), it was parked in the garage. In fact The Times ran pictures of the car—and by golly it was black, not tan.
More important, you’ll notice in the photos that it’s daylight outside, not evening, which is when Manley was arrested.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit and simply point out that Wolfe has reduced the LAPD’s homicide bureau to three men: Donahoe and Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. In reality, of course, everyone in the Homicide Bureau was working the case, along with men borrowed from other jurisdictions. But the barrage of unfamiliar names is far too complicated, so Wolfe just tosses them out and has Hansen and Brown do everything.
Meaning that they’d have to be giving Manley polygraph exams in Los Angeles while they were down in San Diego interviewing the Frenches and up in Lompoc and Santa Barbara digging into Elizabeth Short’s time there.
A rather neat trick, wouldn’t you say?
“According to practice, the official record of Manley’s full statement to the police was sealed within the LAPD Dahlia file, which remains locked in the Los Angeles Police Department warehouse; but in an unusual procedure, Capt. Donahoe allowed reporter Aggie Underwood to visit the suspect. As the Examiner’s blazing headlines about Red Manley’s capture landed on thousands of Los Angeles doorsteps on Monday morning, January 20, Aggie Underwood of the Herald Express was escorted by Harry Hansen to Manley’s cell for an exclusive interview with the exhausted suspect.”
There are so many mistakes in this paragraph that I could easily spend a day on it.
Here are a few goofs:
- The Black Dahlia “file,” actually an entire file cabinet, is not in some LAPD warehouse, but locked up in Robbery-Homicide at Parker Center.
- Donahoe and Hansen had nothing to do with Underwood interviewing Red Manley.
Let’s check Wolfe’s source on this. Ah! Proof that Donald H. Wolfe is absolutely incapable of reading what is in front of him. As I said previously, I don’t know what editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss did with this book, but I can tell you all things they didn’t do, which is to check a single reference.
Wolfe cites Underwood’s autobiography (written with Foster Goss) “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.
OMG. Let me check this citation again. Yep, “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.
Well, it isn’t JonBenet Ramsey, but by golly it is close:
“Newspaperwoman,” Page 63:
“On December 5, 1932, an adventurer atmospherically named Captain Walter Wanderwell was shot and killed while in the cabin of his boat, the Carma, tied up at a Long Beach dock. It was a mystery slaying, spiced with attractive girls in the passenger-crew list of a party planning an exotic voyage. For “class” purpose, the vessel became a yacht; the case was dubbed the “yacht death,” the tag preceding by almost fifteen years the similarly identified Overell case at Santa Ana, California, in 1947.”
As Aggie Underwood writes on Page 63:
“What the hell is going on here?”
So, as a service to everybody who doesn’t have a copy of “Newspaperwoman” handy, here is the relevant citation on Pages 7-8.
“Look, fella,” I continued as [Red Manley] inhaled [a cigarette]. “You’re in one hell of a spot. You’re in a jam and it’s no secret. If you’re innocent as you say you are, tell the whole story; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth. That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”
“She’s right,” said Harry S. Fremont, homicide detective. “Tell her everything that happened. I’ve known this lady for a long time on lots of big cases, and I can tell you she won’t do you wrong.”
“What the hell is going on here?” “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.
Time for my walk.
Note to prospective commenters: Consider the phrase in Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” : “It’s possible to speculate with confidence.” (Page 368).
We don’t do that around here. The whole point of this blog is to NOT speculate. Remember the motto of my old pals, the Lookies: “We don’t guess, we look it up.”
Speaking of Hodel, how about his treatment of this episode? He takes it fairly straight from “Newspaperwoman.” In this case, that puts him ahead of Wolfe.
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