Saturday, February 25, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Loyalty



Just out of curiosity, I did a Google image search for “loyalty.” I got Johnny Cash flipping the bird (turned into a mock motivational poster); another poster for the Army on its values; a picture of a dog, a huge tattoo reading “Love” and “Loyalty” featuring rosary beads, a cross and other Christian symbols; James Montgomery Flagg’s famous World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam; a boomerang; and a couple of ships.

A search for “loyal” brought up a company’s logo; an image of the Boy Scouts; and the cover to Tupac Shakur’s “Loyal to the Game.”

Why am I trying to illustrate loyalty? Because I’m a very lucky man. Lucky because I get to attend the gatherings of two groups whom I respect very much: Retired Los Angeles police officers and retired Los Angeles Times reporters and editors. These are two groups of extremely fine men (and they are mostly men, given the professions and the era) and despite what you might expect, they are very much alike.

Both groups have drinks before lunch, which is a pleasant but not particularly distinguished meal, there’s a little business and a few announcements, a moment of silence for the recently departed and then a speaker. The retired officers say the Pledge of Allegiance, the retired reporters don’t. There’s a little more socializing and then they clear the room.

There’s many other things they share, but what struck me especially, as I attended the retired officers’ luncheon yesterday, was loyalty—loyalty to one another, loyalty to the department (or The Times) and most of all loyalty to the profession.

There are many reasons people become police officers (or reporters) and I don’t think anybody goes into either profession to get rich. Both professions, despite their many differences, require a dedication to integrity and indeed that’s exactly what I have found with both groups. Are there bull sessions? You bet. But what comes through again and again is professionalism and dedication.

I was reminded of that again yesterday when my host told me he was once assigned to ride with an officer who had been transferred over his role in “Bloody Christmas.” My friend told me he rode with this officer for two days, then went to the lieutenant and asked to be reassigned to another partner. He didn’t want to ride with the man because he was too prone to violence.

The reason I’m talking about all of this is because of the portrayals of several figures in the Black Dahlia case: former Chiefs Thad Brown and William H. Parker, and former Capt. Jack Donahoe, who was head of homicide during the Black Dahlia investigation. It is difficult to find three more respected men in the department and until Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” came along, you never heard a bad word about any of them.

There are certainly those who have a different view of Parker. One of the singular moments of my life was interviewing the late U.S. District Judge David Williams, the first African American federal judge west of the Mississippi, who called Parker “the king of bastards as far as the black community was concerned.”

But among police officers who knew him, Parker is always given the highest respect and admiration, as are Brown and Donahoe. And quite frankly, these retirees take the corruption and cover-up charges against Parker, Brown and Donahoe in “Black Dahlia Avenger” and the other Black Dahlia books as a deep, personal insult. They are nothing less than furious.

Page 33

“Although many former LAPD Homicide detectives, including Harry Hansen, long ago conceded that the murderer was deceased, up until the end of the twentieth century, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office continued to refuse the release of Elizabeth Short’s autopsy report, claiming that this public document was being retained because the case was unsolved. Yet, there is not another cold-case homicide on record in Los Angeles in which the autopsy report has not been made available to the public.”

OK, first of all does the LAPD concede that Elizabeth Short’s killer is dead? These detectives were sharp men and always left themselves a way out. They will always qualify it by saying “probably” dead. Considering the number of surviving World War II veterans, it would be illogical to assume conclusively and absolutely that the murderer is dead. He may well be. But we don’t know definitively.

I’m not sure Hansen specifically addresses the issue in the 1971 feature in The Times. Let’s check.

Ah, what’s this? Remember when we talked about: “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 a misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

And what does the 1971 Times profile of Harry Hansen say? “Most bizarre of all was that the corpse had been occupationally bisected and scrubbed clean, points which gave rise to later speculation that the killer had to have possessed more than a passing knowledge of surgery.”

Oops.

And what do we find in Hansen profile? Exactly what I said.

Voila:

“While he was on the case, Hansen refused to speculate either way, saying he preferred facts to suppositions. But, today, so many years after the fact, Hansen does permit himself the subjective luxury of his own opinion.

“It’s fairly realistic to figure the killer is no longer alive. By now, he would have done something, said something, that would have attracted attention. If he is still alive, he’s got it made unless he slips up and blows it. That’s a lot of years that’ve gone by; it would be hard now to go back and dig up new witnesses, new evidence.”

I have to go. In the meantime, let’s play a game: You tell me how many autopsies of unsolved, cold cases have been released in Los Angeles County; cold cases in which no suspect has ever been identified. Wolfe makes it sound routine, but offhand, I’d say the number is few to none.

Shout out to:

Dark Horse Comics (70.96.128.8)

University of Michigan Medical Center (141.214.17.5)

Nashua, N.H. (24.63.32.220)

Hurry back!

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