Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
I have ceased 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 uses the “Laura” format, in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks.
Yesterday, I explored the history of “courtesy cards,” which are a key element of Vincent A. Carter’s book: “LAPD’s Rogue Cops Cover Ups and the Cookie Jar.” Today, we’ll look at Page 167 at the request of Mary Pacios.
Holy smokes! Thanks a lot, Mary.
“Although Hansen [that is presumably Detective Harry Hansen] discovered that Finis and Donahoe were in league with Gangster Squad in derailing the Black Dahlia case, he continued pursuing his own avenues of investigation, and he had begun deciphering the silent scream. Harry Hansen knew that a man with advanced medical knowledge had methodically bisected the body. He knew the approximate location of the murder site. He knew the dark secret of the autopsy. He knew there had been more than one person in attendance at the sacred setting. And he suspected that one of them was the short, dark-complexioned man who drove the old black Ford sedan—Brenda Allen’s procurer, Maurice Clement.”
OK, let’s tear this apart. First of all, is there anything truthful in it? Well, a bit—but only a bit.
I’m going to break this down into individual sentences.
- “Although Hansen discovered that Finis and Donahoe were in league with Gangster Squad in derailing the Black Dahlia case, he continued pursuing his own avenues of investigation, and he had begun deciphering the silent scream.
- Harry Hansen knew that a man with advanced medical knowledge had methodically bisected the body.
- He knew the approximate location of the murder site.
- He knew the dark secret of the autopsy.
- He knew there had been more than one person in attendance at the sacred setting.
- And he suspected that one of them was the short, dark-complexioned man who drove the old black Ford sedan—Brenda Allen’s procurer, Maurice Clement.”
Let’s get rid of the easy stuff.
Harry Hansen knew that a man with advanced medical knowledge had methodically bisected the body.
True. That was the prevailing belief among investigators, including Hansen, Police Chemist Ray Pinker and autopsy surgeon Dr. Frederick Newbarr. Harry Hansen testified to this belief before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury.
He knew the approximate location of the murder site.
False. Investigators suspected several locations but never found any evidence at any of them. Police still have no idea where Elizabeth Short was killed.
He knew there had been more than one person in attendance at the sacred setting.
False. Way back, Wolfe makes up some mumbo-jumbo about Elizabeth Short’s body displaying two types of knife work, one controlled and the other angry and frenzied. This is ridiculous.
And he suspected that one of them was the short, dark-complexioned man who drove the old black Ford sedan—Brenda Allen’s procurer, Maurice Clement.”
Again, this is ridiculous. Hansen never suspected Maurice Clement of anything. Nobody did. And let me emphasize that Maurice Clement was never “Brenda Allen’s procurer.” Wolfe has tied himself in knots to manipulate material in the district attorney’s files to implicate poor old Maurice, to the point of altering testimony that actually refers to another person named Otero.
OK, that leaves us with:
“Although Hansen discovered that Finis and Donahoe were in league with Gangster Squad in derailing the Black Dahlia case, he continued pursuing his own avenues of investigation, and he had begun deciphering the silent scream.
Let’s strangle this little monster in its cradle. As I noted earlier, there were few more respected men in the Los Angeles Police Department of the 1940s than Jack Donahoe. In fact, one never hears a bad word about him from anyone, certainly not anyone who knew him. The only people with a bad thing to say about Donahoe are the authors of sleazy Black Dahlia books.
Let me elaborate on that. I had a phone conversation with retired Police Capt. Ed Jokisch the other night, a fine man who is in his 90s and still sharp as a tack. Ed worked homicide in the 1940s, and yes, he did play an extremely minor role in the Black Dahlia case although he mainly worked other cases. Ed has nothing but praise for Donahoe as a respected, honored man, an inspiring leader and as straight as they come. It grieves him terribly to read scurrilous nonsense in these Dahlia books about a man whom he describes as “like a father and like a brother to me.”
Now the idea that Finis Brown was “in league” with anybody is equally absurd. Finis was a fairly bland, introspective man, a complete contrast with his more outgoing brother, Thad, who was chief of detectives for many years and served as acting police chief after the death of William H. Parker. Finis was, in the words of Ed Jokisch, “a bulldog,” And Ed has absolutely no question about Finis Brown’s honesty.
Let me be blunt. Finis Brown and Jack Donahoe were two scrupulously honest men and diligent investigators. It is insulting to their memory to tar them with ridiculous accusations of corruption.
I just turned back to Page 165 to find more trash.
“One of Hansen’s problems was that he was an honest cop devoted to his calling. He always defended the Force, yet had to deal with the corruption that surrounded him. He had an intense dislike for his boss, ‘Big Jack’ Donahoe, but kept his silence. The secret of the sealed autopsy established a motive in the pathological murder and provided avenues of investigation that Hansen believed Donahoe and the Gangster Squad were blocking. When Hansen discovered that Finis was reporting everything he was investigating to Gangster Squad commander Willie Burns, he began to suspect that Finis was a Gangster Squad operative, and they had a falling out; Hansen stopped confiding in Finis and locked up his private Dahlia files.
“ ‘I was personally concerned that Harry kept saying he was going to yank the papers from the morgue,’ Finis recalled. ‘I said “Harry, you can’t monkey with the coroner.’ [actual quote, as we’ll see, is ‘you can’t monkey with the county’—I swear the man can’t read what’s in front of him] He said I was a fine one to talk about ethics, and I was lucky I wasn’t in jail, or off the Force… Then he laughed, but he was serious.’ ”
Now it will be extremely interesting to see Wolfe’s source on this—I can’t imagine anyone getting Finis Brown to say such things.
Quick, Watson, to the end notes!
Holmes! No attribution!
Well wait, Watson. True, there’s nothing about the Gangster Squad trying to derail the investigation or Hansen disliking Donahoe. A bit of this is from John Gilmore’s “Severed.” But how much?
To the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books!
OK, “Severed,” Page 142.
As we’re finding the page, remind me again why this book is called “The Black Dahlia Files” and not the more appropriate “Severed: 2006.”
Well this is relatively interesting. In “Severed,” Finis Brown allegedly suspects Harry Hansen of shifting the Dahlia files and reports him to Thad Brown.
In other words, Finis suspected Hansen of misconduct. Now in Wolfe’s book this gets turned around so that Hansen suspects Finis of misconduct.
My head is spinning—because it’s all nonsense. Every word of it. As we have seen many times and as I keep saying “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.
How do I know? Well most people haven’t had a chance to read Finis Brown’s statement to the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, and while the material is far too long to reproduce here, let me emphasize that he was extremely careful with his words and almost indescribably thorough—to the point of being painfully tedious.
Finis was not a stupid man by any means, but he was deliberate, painstakingly precise and not particularly charismatic, which many people mistook for being dim. Having read the real words of Finis Brown, the quotes attributed to him in “Severed” are howlingly funny.
Like this from “Severed”:
“I said, ‘Harry you can’t monkey with the county. The coroner runs this whole thing.’ He looked at me as if to tell me to keep my mouth shut or I’d be off the case, and that would make Harry and me enemies because I knew almost as much as he and Willis [oh yes, don’t forget my favorite fictional detective Herman Willis!] did. He said I was a fine one to talk about ethics, and I was lucky I wasn’t in jail or off the force. I said, ‘Up to you, Harry.’ Then he laughed, but he was serious.”
In fact, I’m so sure that this quote is fictitious I will never believe it is true unless I either hear a tape of John Gilmore’s alleged interview with Finis Brown or see his notes.
Oh…. Did I mention there are absolutely no notes in the Gilmore archives at UCLA aside from the transcript of one interview with Jack Wilson? Did I mention that there are no tapes in the Gilmore archives at UCLA? In fact, there is scant raw material for writing any sort of book in the Gilmore archives aside from quite a few rejection notes, a rough draft or two, and some newspaper clippings.
But don’t take my word for it. Go to UCLA yourself. Go through the Gilmore archives—all of them, not just the pictures. Let me know after going through them whether you could write a book based on the raw material there (not counting the rough drafts).
Let me settle one more thing about the Wolfe book. There’s some material on Pages 166-167 allegedly from the Dec. 1, 1949, grand jury statement of Conwell L. Keller.
Oh good grief, this is worse than I thought. Wolfe has investigator Frank Jemison interrogating Keller before the grand jury! Boy, not only does Wolfe have trouble separating city and county agencies, he has trouble with basic governmental procedures. In fact, the questions were posed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Arthur L. Veitch.
Veitch is interrogating Keller about the Leslie Dillon affair, a long story in itself. Basically, department psychiatrist Dr. Paul De River launched a separate investigation of the Black Dahlia case, bypassing the Homicide Division and using the Gangster Squad. Their conduct and treatment of poor old Leslie Dillon is what triggered the grand jury investigation in the first place.
What Keller is talking about before the grand jury is that in preparation for its investigation, the district attorney’s office assembled all the paperwork on the Elizabeth Short case, drawing reports from the University Division (where the body was discovered), Central Division (location of the crime lab) and possibly the Hollywood Division (I’m trusting my memory here) to a central location at City Hall where they were indexed and cross-referenced. Nothing more, folks.
In fact, the material was gathered in a specially secured room to which only Jemison and Finis had keys—even the custodial staff was barred. Until it could be indexed.
Nothing malicious or unsavory. It was actually a good thing all the material was collected and preserved.
There’s more, but that’s enough. I have to get these books off my desk; they’re starting to leave nasty little grease spots.
Shout out to:
Palin Acquisitions [ISP Redacted]