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 body is discovered and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short’s body has been identified by her mother, Phoebe, sister Virginia and brother-in-law Adrian. The inquest is next.
Note: Because this project is incredibly time-consuming, I have decided to end my page-by-page blogging of the book once I reach the funeral, which I presume will be soon. After that, I will take requests for specific pages. Mary Pacios and Regular Anonymous Correspondent have already given me enough to keep me busy for a week and I invite anyone else to submit their favorites. I will take them in numerical order to maintain some semblance of chronology.
My goodness, chronology is certainly a challenge for some people!
“When Phoebe and Ginnie recovered their composure, they were escorted to the coroner’s hearing room in the Hall of Justice, where the inquest into Case # 7569 was scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m.”
In reality, the family identified Elizabeth Short on Jan. 20, 1947, as reported in the Los Angeles Times and the Examiner of Jan. 21. The inquest was held Jan. 22, 1947, as evidenced on Page 327 and Page 339 of Wolfe’s own book.
But my dear Holmes! How could this happen?
Shall we check the end notes, Watson?
Statistically, this should be from either Will Fowler’s “Reporters” or John Gilmore’s “Severed.”
Care to make a friendly wager, Watson?
Not with you, Holmes!
Ha. Not attributed to anyone! But let’s not quit so easily.
What does M’sieur Gilmore have to say? Ah, “Severed,” Page 147.
Holmes! Why are you never wrong?
Because I am a fictional creation, Watson, just like so much of “Severed.”
“The family members were then escorted upstairs to a hearing room on the first floor of the Hall of Justice. Phoebe testified during the inquest, along with [Harry] Hansen, Red Manley and Jess [Jesse] Haskins.”
Let’s see if Will made this error. Nope, he doesn’t talk about it. How about Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger?” Hm.
“At the coroner’s inquest, held in Los Angeles on January 22, 1947, seven days after the discovery of her daughter’s body, Mrs. Short identified Elizabeth at the coroner’s office and testified that she ‘was twenty-two years of age, a waitress by occupation, and to her knowledge had never been married.’ ”
What’s really interesting, is that we know Wolfe had access to the correct information, because he cites the Jan. 21, 1947, Examiner on Page 367 of his end notes. He apparently found it easier to lift something fictitious from “Severed.”
“The nine inquest jurors were presided over by Coroner Ben H. Brown.”
Well, no. It was actually Deputy Coroner Edwin Lenox. Give Wolfe a chance to make an error and he will.
“In what was an inquest into the most bizarre murder case in the history of Los Angeles, the testimony was rather perfunctory and without surprises. Ordinarily in a homicide case, a full copy of the autopsy report is presented to the jury and read and elaborated upon by the medical examiner on the witness stand; but in the Black Dahlia Case, the jury was not presented with a copy of the report, which had been sealed. And the transcript of the inquest reveals that, as Dr. [Frederick] Newbarr read the report, Coroner Brown [Lenox] interrupted when he approached the most significant part of the autopsy—the description of the organs of the victim that had been removed by the killer.”
Now I don’t know how many inquests Wolfe has ever attended. They are extremely rare these days.
First: What he says about the procedure is quite wrong. I’ve read probably half a dozen transcripts of inquests, notably in the Jeanne French case, and most of the time Newbarr didn’t even attend. Instead, someone, usually Lenox, read his report into the record. So in fact, it was unusual to have him there in person.
Second: Wolfe is also entirely wrong in stating that jurors got copies of the medical report. Just as in a jury trial, jurors aren’t given copies of any reports. Material is submitted into evidence.
Third: Because medical reports often contain key material that can be used to identify or eliminate suspects, the presentation was almost always incomplete. Remember, the purpose of an inquest is to determine the cause of death, not to air lots of extraneous gory details.
Fourth: Nothing was missing from the body of Elizabeth Short.
But clearly Wolfe is headed somewhere with the claim that something was gone:
“Had Dr. Newbarr been allowed to continue, the dark forensic secret sealed within the autopsy report would have become public, and the startling motive and MO in the murder of Elizabeth Short would have become evident to the jurors. But the truth was concealed within the sealed report, where it has remained hidden for more than fifty years.”
Oh isn’t this just so interesting?
“Author Eliot Paul (Life and Death in a Spanish Town, Random House, NY, 1939) was visiting Los Angeles at the time and was one of the few to note that the slashing of the mouth from ear-to-ear was characteristic of an age-old Sicilian mode of murder—connoting the mortal danger for those who violate the code of Omerta (silence). Although the symbolism was apparently lost to the investigators and the press, the morbid message would have been recognized by the Sicilian Capo de Capo of the city—Jack Dragna.”
And who might Eliot Paul be? Writer, eh? In Los Angeles, eh? Well, according to The Times, he was in Los Angeles in August 1946, New York in November 1947. And his name was Elliot (with two Ls) Paul.
Oh look what I found on Google! “The Black Gardenia” by Elliot Paul, 1952. Gangsters, Hollywood and aspiring starlets. Did he really name a character Finke Maguire? What’s this?
You have GOT to be kidding me.
OK, Wolfe is wrapping up some loose ends. He talks about the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s purse and shoes. Except he goofs it up.
“Robert Hyman, the proprietor of a café [note the telltale accent mark that Microsoft Word insists in putting on cafe for no good reason] at 1136 South Crenshaw, reported that someone had put a relatively new pair of high heel shoes and a large handbag in an incinerator behind his café, which was near Pico Boulevard—just twenty blocks north of Thirty-ninth Street and Norton. Suspecting they may be connected to the murder, Hyman removed the items from the incinerator and placed them on top of a trashcan while he called the police. But by the time the police arrived to check out the report, a rubbish truck had made its rounds and removed the shoes and handbag, along with the trash.”
Where on Earth does Wolfe get this incinerator business? It’s certainly not in any of the original reports. He says it’s in the Examiner, Jan. 20, 1947.
Let’s just see, shall we?
Oh this is interesting, the Jan. 20, 1947, Examiner leads with the arrest of Red Manley. So that should tell us something is wrong, since at that time Red Manley was still a suspect and he had been cleared by the time he identified her purse and shoes.
Uhhh. Actually, the purse and shoes were found Jan. 24.
Oops. And the newspapers of that date say nothing about an incinerator.
More about the purse, shoes and Red Manley.
Oh my, aren’t we just going to moralize a bit over poor Red Manley:
“The adulterous affair with Elizabeth Short ultimately turned his life into a nightmare. Manley’s shadowy face had been published along with his shabby story in newspapers nationwide, and his moment of marital infidelity cost him his marriage, his job, his sanity and ultimately his life. Divorced by Harriet the following year, Manley was plagued by guilt and was in and out of mental institutions before being remanded to the Patton Asylum for the insane, where he committed suicide.”
Now remember, the only person claiming that Red slept with Elizabeth Short is Wolfe.
But he’s not playing fair with the reader at this point. Remember Wolfe quoted the district attorney’s interview with Red back on Page 80, the one conducted in 1950?
He didn’t tell you who else was there.
Like Harriette Manley. The Harriette Manley who divorced him “the following year.”
Oh, and his suicide? Notice there’s no date. Of course he could have gotten the correct date out of John Douglas’ “The Cases That Haunt Us.” But instead he went to…. I’ll guess “Severed.” Or no source at all.
Nope, Will Fowler in “Reporters” Page 86.
“Not only had his face been displayed and his story published in newspapers throughout the country, but the wife he had betrayed eventually divorced him.
“Not so long afterward, Robert Manley was remanded to an asylum for the insane, and shortly thereafter, committed suicide.”
Manley actually died in 1986, as reported by me in the Los Angeles Times and cited in “Cases That Haunt Us,” Page 238.
Some people can do research and some people cannot.
Note that Wolfe concludes with one final mistake:
As show in the adjoining photo, Elizabeth Short’s tombstone reads:
July 29, 1924—Jan. 15, 1947
Wolfe cites this as
July 29, 1924—January 15, 1947
The man clearly cannot read what’s in front of him.
We are now at the funeral of Elizabeth Short. The minister drew his text from Deuteronomy 33:24:
“And of Asher, he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.
“Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
“There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky.
“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee, and shall say, Destroy them.
“Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew.
“Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.”
That’s it for page-by-page blogging.
From now on, I’m taking requests.