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.Now, I am taking a few requests before wrapping up the project. Today, we’ll look at Pages 239-258 at the request of ColScott.
Wow, almost 20 pages. I won’t be able to do all 20, but let’s crack open “Mogul” and see what we’ve got. I believe this is the Leslie Dillon fiasco.
Let’s recall that the reason the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office became involved in the Black Dahlia case is because of the LAPD’s treatment of Leslie Duane Dillon. Recall that although Dillon had lived in Los Angeles before Elizabeth Short’s murder, he was living in San Francisco when she was killed and in Florida when he read a True Detective article on the case. He wrote a letter to the LAPD that was forwarded to Police Psychiatrist Joseph Paul de River, who began a separate and competing investigation, bypassing Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown.
This is not a career-enhancing move, folks. As you might expect, homicide detectives tend to be protective of their turf and take a dim view of a parallel investigation, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned.
To be brief, the result was a complicated, confusing mess. De River sincerely believed that Dillon had a split personality and that under another personality—Jeff Connors—killed Elizabeth Short. While in De River’s custody, after being lured to California—via Las Vegas—on the pretext of being De River’s secretary, Dillon sailed a postcard out the window of his hotel room saying that he was being held prisoner and wanted a lawyer.
Then police found the real Jeff Connors and everything fell apart. The resulting disaster propelled the case before the 1949 Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which called De River (in real life, an ear, nose and throat doctor with the VA), members of the Gangster Squad and Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. Much of the district attorney’s files deals with the Dillon fiasco.
Yep, Leslie Dillon.
Well, it’s true De River was a civilian employee. I don’t know that he was close friends with Chief Clemence Horrall, but he certainly remained friends with Deputy Chief Joseph Reed. By the way, De River’s daughter, Jacque Daniel, a very nice woman, has written a self-published book on the Black Dahlia case. I’m not sure if it is generally available, although she has had book signings in Southern California.
“According to Dillon, the charges brought against him started when he wrote a letter to Dr. De River in October 1946.”
OK, who can see the mistake in this sentence?
Well, I can tell you who didn’t see it: Book agent Alan Nevins, and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss.
Now then, students, when does Wolfe says Dillon wrote this letter?
And when was Elizabeth Short killed?
It is beyond belief that anybody could get 240 pages into this book and not remember the year the murder occurred. I could quit here and be a happy man.
Aha. Now recall that Wolfe had access to the district attorney’s files, which include extensive testimony from members of the Gangster Squad. And for the benefit of those without access to the files, here are the officers’ names and lengths of their transcripts.
- Officer Loren K. Waggoner. 31 pages.
- Officer John J. O’Mara. 31 pages.
- Officer Archie B. Case. 19 pages.
- Officer John H. Ahern. 44 pages.
- Officer Conwell L. Keller. 9 pages.
- Officer Garth L. Ward. 6 Pages.
- Officer William L. Burns. [Head of the Gangster Squad] 20 Pages.
- Officer Loren K. Waggoner. 31 pages.
In other words, 160 pages of sworn testimony before the grand jury. So does Wolfe actually use Waggoner, O’Mara, Case, Ahern, Keller, Ward or Burns as his source?
Sgt. Stephan Bailey from John Gilmore’s “Severed,” Page 163.
In fact, you know how often Wolfe cites the 160 pages of the Gangster Squad officers’ sworn testimony in this section of the book?
Case and Ahern on Page 261, which doesn’t deal with Leslie Dillon.
OK, let’s look at the purported Detective Bailey in “Severed.” As we have seen in exhaustive detail, “Severed” is full of people who do not exist, most notably “Detective Herman Willis,” who is Gilmore’s alleged source for details of Elizabeth Short’s autopsy. In reality, there was no Detective Willis. We know because, among many other reasons, the LAPD summary lists everyone in attendance at the autopsy and there’s no mention of Willis. In fact there is no mention of Willis anywhere in LAPD records. I’ve never met a retired LAPD officer who worked in the 1940s who ever heard of him.
In short, he does not exist.
How about Bailey? Well, Gilmore introduces him on Page 160 of “Severed,” saying:
“The new team member, Detective Sergeant Stephen [I know, Wolfe calls him Stephan—I swear the man can’t read what’s in front of him] Bailey had transferred from robbery and resented his new assignment—as had other officers before him—a kind of caretaker duty, dealing with crazies and chasing leads going nowhere. ‘Hansen and Henry Hudson [that’s another name I don’t recognize that sends up warning flags] were puttering around with the Dahlia case,’ Bailey says, ‘keeping themselves busy by putting together a file on Mark Hansen as a suspect, as though they didn’t have anything else to do. Harry claimed he was actually going to go for an indictment against the guy.’ ”
How does Wolfe use this?
“Former Homicide detective, Sgt. Stephan Bailey, who was working the Dahlia case, recalled that Dillon had written De River at about the time the 1949 Grand Jury was considering looking into the Black Dahlia murder.”
Uh…. No. The grand jury looked into the Black Dahlia case because of the Leslie Dillon fiasco. In other words, Leslie Dillon triggered the grand jury investigation.
And as far as I can tell, Detective Bailey is another nonexistent person in “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. I’ve never seen his name in any of the original newspaper reports on the case. He certainly never appeared before the grand jury and his name isn’t in the district attorney’s files on Elizabeth Short’s murder.
Let’s skip ahead. There’s so much nonsense I could spend weeks on this section.
Oh, here’s a couple of nasty lies:
“[Finis Brown’s] brother Thad Brown, who had become chief of the Detective Division, was a protege of Norman Chandler and was known to be Chandler’s choice for the next police chief. In his Gangster Squad assignments, Finis had to be cautious and avoid casting shadows on his brother’s good name. Early on, Harry Hansen had discovered that Finis was a member of the Gangster Squad and concluded that Chief Horrall, ‘Big Jack’ Donahoe and the Gangster Squad were deliberately misdirecting the Black Dahlia investigation and when he learned that Horrall had assigned Finis as the liaison to Jemison, Hansen wanted little to do with the predictable Grand Jury inquiry.”
First the easy stuff. I already dispensed with Finis Brown and the Gangster Squad and Harry Hansen suspecting him of revealing sensitive material.
How about Thad Brown and Norman Chandler?
Now recall that Clemence Horrall resigned June 28, 1949, and William Worton, a civilian, became police chief July 1, 1949. Worton gave notice that he would step down July 1, 1950. Thad Brown and William H. Parker pursued the chief’s job, as did a number of other senior LAPD officers, including Lee German, head of personnel; Inspectors R.W. Bolling and Hugh Farnham; and Capts. Floyd Hays, Benjamin Stein, Harold Sullivan, Lynn White and William H. Wingard.
Thad Brown was such a Norman Chandler protege that when Brown was turned down for the chief’s job in favor of William H. Parker, The Times wrote an editorial headlined: “Los Angeles Has a Promising Police Chief” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 1950).
Oh, what an interesting little nugget. In the 1950s and before, the police reserves consisted of private individuals who furnished their own uniforms, guns and cars. (“This Killing Is More Than Just ‘Unfortunate,’ Los Angeles Times, Oct. 11, 1950) Please note Vincent Carter, author of “Rogue Cops” was working as a reserve officer during the Black Dahlia investigation.
And let me hammer home this point: The Gangster Squad’s involvement in the Dillon affair was sincere and well-intentioned. De River really believed Dillon was the killer. He was ultimately proved wrong when investigators—who spent forever on this aspect of the investigation—recovered a receipt for a mattress that Dillon and his wife sold in San Francisco within close proximity to the time of the murder.
Hm. This doesn’t look good either:
“Assigned to the case in October 1949, [Frank] Jemison was assured by Chief Horrall and Assistant Chief Joe Reed that he would have their total cooperation in supplying the Grand Jury with whatever information they might need from police files.”
Now as I just said, Horrall retired in June 1949. (Reed retired in November 1949). And in fact Jemison’s Oct. 28, 1949, memo refers to Chief Worton. We know Wolfe has this document because he used the top of it in faking his “D Memorandum.”
I swear, the man simply cannot read what’s in front of him.
Ouch. This is a real hodge-podge of mistakes and fiction.
Charles Stoker’s “Thicker ‘n’ Thieves.” Poor old Leslie Audrain, a CDP (conveniently dead person, who died in May 1949) accused of being an abortionist.
Stoker talked to the grand jury? That’s sure not in the district attorney’s files on the Dahlia case.
To the end notes, Watson!
You’re right, Watson. Wolfe doesn’t cite the district attorney’s files. He can’t. Although this book is titled “The Black Dahlia Files” Wolfe refers to “Thicker ‘n’ Thieves.”
OK, to the haz-mat pile. This book is so bad. Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” paints it as the story of an honest cop, but again, it is a self-published book and an extremely problematic one.
Aha. Angel City Abortion ring, Pages 150-162 of “Thicker ‘n’ Thieves.”
Here’s Stoker’s smoking gun. And this guy calls himself an investigator.
Pages 150-151. Stoker says he was enlisted to help with an investigation by the California State Medical Board. A couple of investigators told him about an abortion ring allegedly headed by Dr. Audrain (who was dead by the time the book was published and incapable of filing a libel suit).
Stoker says that if the medical board received a complaint about someone performing abortions, it forwarded the information to the LAPD homicide bureau. He claims that the medical board investigators thought their information was being used to tip off abortionists who were part of a protection ring while allowing arrest and prosecution of those who weren’t part of the ring.
Stoker got Policewoman Audre Davis to pose as a pregnant woman and try to get an appointment for an abortion.
Stoker says Davis made an appointment for an abortion.
Stoker says that in the meantime, the supervisor of medical board’s inspectors returned and they apparently told him of their plan. They thought Audrain had been tipped off, Stoker claims.
Stoker says he took Davis to her appointment and then followed her into the building.
But Audrain’s office was locked. At 7:30 a.m.!
And all the next week, Audrain’s office was: locked.
Therefore Audrain was not only an abortionist but had been tipped off by inside informants in the medical board office.
Case closed, book him Dano, read him his rights, if you can’t pay the time don’t do the crime.
Now did Davis ever actually talk to Audrain?
Did Davis ever actually meet Audrain?
Was Davis ever within a mile of Audrain as far as we know?
The most Stoker says is that Davis talked to Audrain’s nurse. Conveniently unidentified.
This case is beyond flimsy. And I’m leaving out lots of stuff about what a head case Audre Davis was.
And that they were accused of trying to shake down a convicted abortionist for $2,500 so he could avoid being arrested. (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 23, 1949) Oh my, there seems to be a wire recording of the shakedown. How awkward.
And that Davis and Stoker had an affair.
And that Davis got busted for being a bookie.
Now what surprises me the most about the way history has tarred Audrain as an abortionist is the fact that he went to federal authorities in the 1930s and filed an extortion complaint against Frank John Thomas Boyle. And I’m especially surprised when someone who is allegedly the head of an illicit ring is called to testify before a federal grand jury about receiving threatening letters that someone was going to blow up his gas tank. People who do illegal things usually stay away from law enforcement, rather than seeking out the law.
Oh. Did I mention that Dr. Leslie C. Audrain was Aimee Semple McPherson’s personal physician? Kind of unusual for an abortionist to be a religious leader’s personal doctor, no? I wonder if Wolfe mentions that. Nope.
I could go on and on with this stupid section but some accommodations have to be made for the brevity of human life.
Good grief: Case and Ahern are not only blamed in the Black Dahlia case. They covered up the death of Marilyn Monroe! (Page 256)
My head hurts from this stupid book!