Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Funny Papers


Oh dear…. oh dearie, dearie, dear. Just out of curiosity, I decided to check the address Wolfe gave as his home when Bugsy Siegel was killed. This was 803 N. Roxbury Drive (“Mogul,” Page 26).

First the good news. Wolfe actually lived there. Now for the bad news: It turns out that Wolfe’s mother sold the house to Sol Hurok in—what’s this—1944? That’s three (count them 1… 2… 3…) years before Siegel was killed.

This is where Perry Mason would say: “No further questions.” The whole business with Bugsy Siegel and Wolfe’s family is an out and out lie.

Another blog review of the “Black Dahlia” screening is in and it’s even worse than the first.

“There is so much wrong with this film that I don't even know where to start!”

Where was I? Oh yes. I was about to have a rhetorical conversation with myself about some nits being too small to pick. Let’s backtrack for a moment (what do you mean, backtrack? We’re only on Page 32) to Page 4 in Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles,” which refers to the Examiner press line publishing the paper, including “Felix the Cat.” That didn’t sound familiar to me but I didn’t have the time to check. Then a couple days ago I went down to the Los Angeles Public Library and pulled the microfilm on another story from 1947 and took a moment to check the comics page.

Guess what.

No “Felix the Cat.”

I do have a copy of the Aug. 10, 1945, Examiner in my archives so I checked that too.

No “Felix the Cat.”

The comics lineup for the Los Angeles Examiner in 1947 was:

“Steve Canyon,” “Buz Sawyer,” “Rip Kirby,” “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” “Little Miss Muffet,” “Lone Ranger,” “Little Annie Rooney,” “Mandrake the Magician,” “Bringing Up Father,” “Blondie,” “Tillie the Toiler,” “The Nebbs,” “Secret Agent X-9” and “Tommy of the Big Top.”

And yes, I also checked the Sunday comics.

No “Felix the Cat.”

Does this matter in the least? By itself, not in the least. Piled on the heap of other mistakes, misrepresentations and fiction? It shows that even the smallest details in “Mogul” may not stand up to scrutiny. And compared to Wolfe not living near Siegel when he was killed it’s small potatoes indeed.

Now back to the autopsy of Elizabeth Short.

Page 32

“Dr. Newbarr was quoted by the press as saying that he believed the victim was ‘killed and mutilated while tied in a bath tub.’ ”

Well no, Newbarr didn’t say that. He did speculate that she was cut in half in a bathtub [note to ReganBooks proofreaders, bathtub is one word not two. Did I mention this is a $30 book when you include sales tax?], but he never said anything about her being killed in a bathtub, nor that she was tied up at the time.

Of course, we’re not going to get any help from the end notes. Wolfe doesn’t even bother to attribute this because he can’t, so he just says Newbarr was quoted in the press. And of course Newbarr was a smart medical examiner (despite what you may read in Janice Knowlton’s “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer” about him missing things) so he only offered the use of a bathtub as a possible scenario.

Yikes! The following paragraph is totally wrong and completely made up:

“What was clear to Dr. Newbarr and those who had studied the condition of the corpse on Norton Avenue was that the deep cuts were not brought about by the same instrument that was used to severe
[severe? How about sever? Did I mention this is a $30 book?] the corpse. The slashed mouth and cheek areas exhibited the ragged cuts of a knife, while the mutilation and bisection of the body was accomplished methodically with a surgical instrument by someone who was proficient in surgical procedure—two different cutting instruments, two MO’s. One instrument was employed before death and the other was employed after death. The fact that the body had been bisected by someone with advanced surgical knowledge was never disclosed at the time and the withholding of this vital information led to the misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

Aha. Now here is where Wolfe is apparently planting what he’s going to use as a smoking gun later on. This is only a guess on my part, but since it’s totally false and completely fabricated, I strongly suspect we’re going to hear about this again.

Let’s break this down:

“What was clear to Dr. Newbarr and those who had studied the condition of the corpse on Norton Avenue was that the deep cuts were not brought about by the same instrument that was used to severe [sever!] the corpse.”

  • Danger sign No. 1: This isn’t attributed to anyone. Wolfe never talked to Newbarr, who died in 1976, so it’s a complete mystery as to where he supposedly got it.

  • Danger sign No. 2: Nobody who was at the crime scene ever said this on the record; not Will Fowler, not Detective Harry Hansen, not Detective Finis Brown (the two lead investigators), not reporter Aggie Underwood and not anybody else I can think of.

  • Danger sign No. 3: Nothing like this is in the excerpts of the autopsy report published in the transcript of the inquest.

For Wolfe to just drop this in as though it was well-known fact is nothing more than sheer fiction.

“The slashed mouth and cheek areas exhibited the ragged cuts of a knife, while the mutilation and bisection of the body was accomplished methodically with a surgical instrument by someone who was proficient in surgical procedure—two different cutting instrument, two MO’s.”

The surgical proficiency of whoever killed Elizabeth Short has been well-established. The FBI files excerpt published by Wolfe on Page 341, citing FBI document No. 62-82627-24, correctly states: “The body was cut into around the waist with a very sharp instrument and the cut was very cleanly done—none of the internal organs being touched except [censored]. There is some speculation that the murderer has had some training in the dissection of bodies.”

But there is absolutely nothing about the lacerations to the face being ragged, or anything about them at all.

“The fact that the body had been bisected by someone with advanced surgical knowledge was never disclosed at the time, and the withholding of this vital information led to the misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

Now wait. Let’s backtrack and pull out Jack Webb’s treatment in “The Badge,” which dates from 1958. I have been told by people (usually dealers who were trying to sell a copy for lots of money before it was reissued—I’m thinking of a particular shop in Pasadena) that this account is the best thing ever written on the Black Dahlia case. Actually, it’s full of mistakes and overlaid with a snide, superior, moralistic commentary on how it’s Elizabeth Short’s fault that her murder was never solved.

But even Webb (“The Badge,” Page 31) alludes to the killer’s proficiency: “Afterwards he (or she) drained the system of blood, scrubbed the body clean and even shampooed the hair [that’s one of Webb’s many mistakes, folks]. Then it was neatly cut in two and deposited at 39th and Norton.”

The perpetuated misconception about the crudeness of the bisection arises in (as we might expect) John Gilmore’s “Severed.” Gilmore, curiously and despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary, continues to insist that the body was sawed or hacked. Have I mentioned that “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction?

Tomorrow, Page 33.

Shout out to:

Naperville, Ill. (12.31.231.1) My hometown!

A certain Air Force base in Virginia

RMW Architecture and Interiors (63.124.221.4)

Hurry on back!

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