Friday, February 17, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, a Moment of Silence


Wednesday was the 61st anniversary of the kidnapping of 6-year-old Rochelle Gluskoter from the frontyard of a home around the corner from where her parents, Abe and Miriam, were preparing to open their market at 8464 S. Central Ave. Rochelle’s skeletal remains were found in a remote part of Orange County on Nov. 9. 1947. The case was never solved.

Page 21

Now back to all Wolfe’s stuff about “Uncle Vern,” who is presented as a disgraced former prosecutor but really wasn’t. This is terrible research and worse writing. Just an out-and-out lie.

“… resigning in 1938 under a cloud of scandal, along with Mayor Frank Shaw and District Attorney Buron Fitts.”

These comments, along with remarks about Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley assembling an archive of city and county documents on old cases, show a distressing unfamiliarity with local government. The district attorney is a Los Angeles County post, an entirely separate jurisdiction from the city of Los Angeles.

Wolfe is also wrong when he says Frank Shaw resigned—he was defeated in the Sept. 16, 1938, recall election and on Sept. 26, 1938, greeted his successor, Fletcher Bowron, and turned over the keys to his office.

But wait. Buron Fitts not only didn’t resign as district attorney in 1938, he held office for two more years until he was defeated in the 1940 election by attorney John Dockweiler, who had the endorsement of—Mr. Corruption himself, Joe Shaw, Mayor Shaw’s brother. (For the record, The Times endorsed Fitts).

What's this? Fitts got an indictment against Joe Shaw? Fitts won a conviction against Joe Shaw and William Cormack on 63 counts of selling answers to Civil Service exams for the police and fire departments? Shaw and Cormack were sentenced to five to 70 years in prison?

My goodness. It’s certainly a challenge to say Fitts and Mayor Shaw were in a corrupt conspiracy when Fitts sent the main offender, his brother Joe Shaw, to prison.

Oh boy. We’re heading quickly into vintage malfeasance: Paul Bern and Thelma Todd. I consider myself a specialist rather than a generalist and stick to the Black Dahlia case so I may take a rain check on some of this material unless it turns out to be somehow connected to the murder of Elizabeth Short.

Wolfe dispenses with Bern’s suicide in one line:

“Before the days of tabloid scandal sheets, Buron Fitts had covered up enough crimes and scandals to decimate forests of tabloid pulp. One of the notorious scandals had involved the alleged suicide of Jean Harlow’s husband, Paul Bern, who many believed had been murdered by mobster Longy Zwillman.”

“Many believed?” Like who?

For the record, Bern’s nude body was found Sept. 5, 1932, in the closet off his bedroom, a bullet in his temple and a .38 revolver clutched in his hand in what was apparently a death grip. A suicide note on the table:

“Dearest Dear: Unfortunately, this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. Paul.” He added the postscript: “You understand that last night was only a comedy.”


In 1933, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury opened an investigation of Bern’s death. Fitts said: “If information should be disclosed warranting a reopening of the Bern case, such action will be taken.” The grand jury interviewed more than 50 witnesses and issued a long statement concluding: “We are definitely of the opinion at this time that Paul Bern died as a suicide.

“After a thorough and exhaustive examination, we are of the opinion that the facts as disclosed do not warrant the expenditure of public moneys for further proceedings in this case.” I invite anyone who cares to read the entire statement to peruse the March 1, 1933, Los Angeles Times, first page of Part II.

Not exactly a cover-up, is it?

Suggested further reading: “The Lid Off Los Angeles,” a series of weekly articles in Liberty magazine, Nov. 11-Dec. 16, 1939, which prompted a libel suit by former Mayor Shaw. It’s available on microfilm at the downtown Los Angeles Public Library.

A day’s posting on one sentence doesn’t bode well, does it? Especially when Wolfe says exactly the opposite of what actually occurred.

Techie note: I have enabled an RSS feed. The link is http://lmharnisch.blogspot.com/atom.xml This seems to work once I stopped writing in Microsoft Word and pasting it into Blogger. Blogger, btw, has a toolbar for writing in Word and posting directly to Blogger. We’ll see how it works.

A shout out to:

Texas A&M University (165.91.69.122)

South Bank Polytechnic in London (136.148.1.142)

Vastra Gotaland in Sweden (213.80.115.71)

Broadband Access Pool of Finland (80.220.223.10)

Naples, Fl, Philharmonic (63.107.11.106)

Lucas Film (
63.82.98.50)

Hurry on back!

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