John Gilmore’s “Severed” was once the most popular book on the Black Dahlia case, although it was eclipsed by Steve Hodel’s seemingly endless series of “Black Dahlia Avenger” books.
You may Google “Black Dahlia” while you’re watching “I Am the Night.” Here’s more of what you should avoid.
The late John Gilmore (d. 2016) was a conman, grifter, b.s. artist and pathological liar. Nobody seems to remember him with anything but disgust and disdain aside from Anthony Mostrom, the author of a glowing eulogy in the L.A. Review of Books. (Note: I had my own turn at Gilmore in LARB that made the exactly opposite point).
“Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction, as I have said countless times – always incurring Gilmore’s wrath. I was told that Gilmore hated me and I take that as a great compliment. The hatred of a pathological liar is the highest praise for a conscientious researcher.
Since BethShort.com was a repository for Gilmore’s Black Dahlia photos and writings, it’s most efficient to take them as a whole.
The Black Dahlia website BethShort.com in 1999, when it was the dominant Web resource on the case.
BethShort.com, run by Pamela Hazelton, was once the primary website on the Black Dahlia case, but went dark in 2016 after appeals for money to keep it going. The domain is up for sale and after being up in the thousands of dollars, the price has dropped to its current $477 on GoDaddy. (JohnGilmore.com went dark in 2017 and is for sale on GoDaddy for $900. Maybe someone can get a Black Dahlia twofer).
(Note: I clashed with Hazelton early on about her use of all Gilmore’s body shots and complained to her ISP, so the photos were taken down briefly, much to the temporary relief of Elizabeth Short’s family. This was in the early days of the Internet, when such matters were still unresolved. BethShort.com was a major vector of Gilmore’s Black Dahlia body pictures, which were heavily copied and used on keychains, totes, album covers, notebooks, T-shirts, etc. The merchandising of the Black Dahlia – like the “Living Dead Doll” series is really bizarre.)
Now that Gilmore is dead, with “Severed” eclipsed by the “Black Dahlia Avenger” franchise, and BethShort.com defunct, they are mostly notable for the lies they perpetrated, which have lived on.
I’ll bet you have heard at least one of these:
Gilmore and “Severed” were the source for the “Elizabeth Short worked at the Hollywood Canteen” story.
Gilmore and “Severed” were the source of the “Elizabeth Short was forced to eat feces” story.
Gilmore and “Severed” were the source of the “Elizabeth Short had infantile genitalia” story.
Gilmore and “Severed” were the source of the “Elizabeth Short traded oral sex for shoes” story.
All of them complete lies (welcome to the world of John Gilmore, liar par excellence).
Gilmore’s favorite technique for lying, which he used again and again in “Severed,” was to introduce two actual people, for example homicide Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, and then make up a third person accompanying them who was Gilmore’s supposed “source.”
The best example of Gilmore’s lying technique is his fictitious source on Elizabeth Short’s autopsy, when he introduces the entirely fictional Detective Herman Willis, who was supposedly at the autopsy with Hansen and Brown. This was impossible to confirm when Gilmore wrote “Severed” (1994) but the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files make a note of who attended the autopsy. Guess what. No HermanWillis. And nobody who could have been given the bogus name Herman Willis. The LAPD also stated that there was never a “Herman Willis” or “Willis Herman” on the force.
Another of Gilmore’s favorite techniques was to write to someone famous, like Gore Vidal, and say “Here’s a quote (or book jacket blurb) I’m going to attribute to you. I know you’re a busy person and all of that, so if I don’t hear back in, say, six months, I’ll just assume it’s OK to use this quote.”
The average person equipped with any sort of conscience or moral compass cannot imagine just how sleazy John Gilmore was.
Gilmore also pushed back hard unless you had concrete proof that he was lying. Then he just vanished. He used to claim that his father was an LAPD officer (true) who worked the Dahlia case (maybe knocked some doors during a neighborhood canvass, otherwise no). Gilmore was adamant about this until I produced an old L.A. Times story that said his father was a traffic officer (as you can tell from the uniform Gilmore Sr. is wearing in a photo in “Severed”) and showed a safety film at some event. Gilmore disappeared, without saying another word about his dad.
And guess what happens when a liar meets a liar. Because that’s what happened to Gilmore.
The “Elizabeth Short had infantile genitalia” story actually came from former Examiner reporter Will Fowler, who was another pathological liar (the Black Dahlia case seems to inspire extravagant lies). I spent a fair amount of time with Will over the years and eventually figured out just how much he was lying, using techniques that wouldn’t necessarily be noticed in a one-time interview. Will did it because he liked to “put one over on the competition,” for he considered the Black Dahlia his literary property, and also because he liked to feel superior to whomever he was talking to.
(Trivia note: Will Fowler was the one who made up the “Robert Slatzer was married to Marilyn Monroe for three days and the studios quashed it” story. Straight-up total lie.)
You will notice in the first edition of “Severed,” cover shown above, that the book is dedicated to Mary Pacios. You will also notice that Gilmore deleted her from later editions. If you read Will Fowler’s book “Reporters” (also full of lies and other pitfalls for the unwary) you will get his take on Gilmore and Pacios.
Why is it so important to know the Gilmore’s lies and mistakes in “Severed” and BethShort.com?
Because they take on their own life and appear in what would seem to be credible books. What does FBI profiler John Douglas and co-author Mark Olshaker use in “The Cases That Haunt Us?” when examining the Black Dahlia case. You got it. “Severed.”
And, yes, these lies show up in Wikipedia.
Worked at the Hollywood Canteen…
Forced to eat feces…
Be wary, Black Dahlia novices, there are pitfalls everywhere. (Gosh, I seem to be getting some space in the Wikipedia entry. “Harnisch disputes” … “Harnisch denies” … “Harnisch claims” … In the early days of Wikipedia, everything I ever contributed was ruthlessly wiped out as “self-promotion” and “not neutral POV”)