Black Dahlia: Blogging ‘Black Dahlia Files’ Part 57 — Lines of History

Large ImageNote: This is an encore post from 2006.

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 found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when police have questioned Robert M. “ Red” Manley, the last person known to have been with Elizabeth Short.

I took another vacation from the Dahlia to attend a lecture at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens by Terrence Roberts, one of the “Little Rock Nine.”

During his presentation, Roberts noted that there is no concrete dividing line between what is the present and what is history; it’s continuous. A lo-fi version of his lecture is here.

Large ImagePage 84

This chapter is titled “Inquest,” so presumably Wolfe will be dealing with the public hearing on Elizabeth Short’s murder.

Well this is interesting:

“Although Capt. Donahoe expressed confidence that the LAPD had apprehended the Black Dahlia killer, Harry Hansen became convinced that Robert “Red” Manley had not attended the ‘sacred setting.’ ”
[This is a reference to some malarkey in John Gilmore’s “Severed” attributed to Hansen about the murder scene being a “sacred setting” between killer and victim. As I have noted, although Wolfe’s book is called “The Black Dahlia Files,” it relies mostly on Will Fowler’s “Reporters,” “Severed” and the Los Angeles Examiner. A statistical study shows that 50% of the book is drawn from those sources. The district attorney’s files account for a mere 8% of the book.]

Now I don’t recall Donahoe ever saying that he was sure Manley was the killer; Donahoe was a smart, experienced investigator, although he was more at home handling robbers rather than homicides.

Attribution? Are you kidding? Zero.

Large ImagePage 84-85

Oh boy, this is going to be fun!

One of the more confusing aspects of the Dahlia case involves Elizabeth Short’s luggage and a steamer trunk. Although these are frequently fused into one entity, there were actually two sets of luggage. The first was a large steamer trunk that got misplaced after she sent it from Indianapolis, Ind., to Chicago. The trunk ultimately ended up at the Railway Express office in Los Angeles. There was also a set of suitcases that she had with her and which Red checked at the Greyhound bus station.

Remember that three of the most frightening words in the English language are: “Will Fowler remembers.” So who is Wolfe’s source for this section of the “Black Dahlia Files?” Will Fowler, of course.

“After an exhaustive search, police investigators and Examiner reporters succeeded in finding the luggage that Red Manley insisted Elizabeth Short had checked at the Greyhound bus station on January 9. However, it was quickly confiscated by Capt. Donahoe. Up to that time, newspaper coverage of the Dahlia case had been pictorially weak. There was only the one police mugshot of Elizabeth Short and the press had to resort to artist renderings, along with the usual X marks the spot diagrams to illustrate the crime. Richardson implored Donahoe to allow photographs to be taken of the contents of the murder victim’s luggage, but Donahoe refused, stating that the contents were ‘dynamite’ and were being held in evidence. To this day, the contents of Elizabeth Short’s luggage, checked at the Greyhound bus station on January 9, have never been disclosed to the press or the public.”

If you aren’t up on the Dahlia case, you won’t realize precisely how badly this is done. But to anybody who knows the story, this is hilarious. Without looking, I’m going to guess this is more of Will’s nonsense. Let’s see.

Large ImageOh, worse than I thought. Jim Richardson’s “For the Life of Me.” Allegedly Page 305.

To the haz-mat pile, Watson!

Proving once again that Wolfe isn’t the least bit shy about citing a source and then completely contradicting it, we have Richardson’s account (too long to quote here) of finding the trunk and dictating terms to Donahoe.

Here’s a snip:

“We got the trunk but I had to call in the police to get it. The company wouldn’t turn it over to the reporter. I called Jack Donahue [Donahoe’s name is quite a challenge for many writers], chief of the homicide squad.

“ ‘If I tell you where you can find the Dahlia’s trunk, will you agree to bring it to the Examiner and open it here?’ I asked.

Large Image“ ‘Look, Jim’ he said. ‘If I do that every other paper in town will be after my scalp. Don’t put me on the spot like that. You’ve caused me enough goddam trouble the way it is with all those stories you’ve been breaking.’

“ ‘You want the trunk, don’t you?’ I said. ‘No deal, no trunk.’

“Jack actually moaned. I could hear it.”
Notice that this is, correctly, her trunk, which was found by Jan. 17, when the first photos from it were published in the Herald-Express. Recall that Elizabeth Short hadn’t been identified until that morning’s Examiner and Los Angeles Times, so rather than being “pictorially weak,” the newspapers got photos immediately.

The luggage from the bus station, meanwhile, wasn’t recovered until Jan. 19, 1947.

Large ImageThis is my favorite part:

To this day, the contents of Elizabeth Short’s luggage, checked at the Greyhound bus station on January 9, have never been disclosed to the press or the public.”

Please note the three-column photo on Part 1, Page 2, of the Los Angeles Examiner in which fingerprint technician George Wheeler, left, and Lt. William Cummings are going through Elizabeth Short’s suitcases.

Did I mention there’s a story with the photo?

The headline?

Examiner Scores Third Break in Case

“Discovery last night of missing luggage belonging to Elizabeth Short, mutilation murder victim, was the third important break in the case resulting from investigation by Examiner reporters.”

Large ImageOr even better, look at the photo in Wolfe’s own book, in the section of photos following Page 114, of Ray Giese going through one of Elizabeth Short’s scrapbooks. Obviously Wolfe is incapable of seeing what’s in front of him.


This is even funnier:

Fowler remembers searching a number of Railway Express offices, freight depots and train and bus stations before finding Elizabeth Short’s lost luggage in the storeroom of a Railway Express agency in downtown Los Angeles. ‘The luggage turned out to be a suitcase and some bags—not a trunk,’ Fowler recalled, ‘but sure enough the memory books were inside. After that the Black Dahlia case became the best-illustrated crime story in newspaper history. And it all emanated from the Examiner.’ ”

As I said, three of the most frightening words in the English language are: “Will Fowler remembers.”

Large ImageHow does Wolfe handle this?

“Before this new cache of information hit the headlines, Richardson gleefully called Capt. Donahoe and said, ‘You’re welcome to the luggage we found, Donahoe, but I want it understood that the story is ours exclusively.’ And Richardson laid down the conditions that the LAPD detectives would have to come to the Examiner offices, where the luggage was to be opened and examined. ‘Donahoe blew a fuse,’ Fowler recalled. ‘But what could he do? If Donahoe refused to cooperate, Richardson told him he’d just have to damn well read about the contents of Beth Short’s luggage and the progress of the case in the Examiner.’ ”

Now recall that Will claimed he was present when Red was arrested in Eagle Rock. Also recall that the luggage was found at the same. How on earth Will could be looking for luggage, witnessing the arrest of Red Manley in Eagle Rock and be at the Examiner office to observe the opening of the suitcases is beyond me.

Now just for fun, let’s check in with the haz-mat pile. Where’s “Severed?” Aha. Note the picture of Detective Sam Flowers examining Elizabeth Short’s scrapbooks in the section of photos following Page 138.

Large Image“Severed,” Page 138

“Beth’s trunk was opened officially, revealing clothes, photo albums and dozens of letters going back over the past few years.” Unfortunately, “Severed” isn’t indexed and it’s torture to leaf through all this nonsense, so I’ll pass on finding the passage on the suitcases.

Time for my walk

Shout out to:

Fema [ISP Redacted]

State of Alaska [ISP Redacted]

General Electric [ISP Redacted]

Hurry back!

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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