Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Teutonic Thoroughness


Several years ago, I was interviewed by a writer for the German magazine Stern about the Black Dahlia case. In explaining what was wrong with the various Dahlia books, I said: “They lack Teutonic thoroughness.” Of course, it was to be amusing and the writer thought it was an uproarious thing to say. But as a German, he could appreciate the full meaning of that statement, while most American writers wouldn’t understand it.

Here are two models of the good side of Teutonic thoroughness: Ritter von Koechel, above, and Wolfgang Schmieder, who catalogued the works, respectively, of Mozart and Bach. You know from the title that “Das Bach-Werke Verzeichnis,”at left, isn’t going to be a light read.

Page 21

“It was the Hearst papers that gave the Black Dahlia story the biggest play.”

This is certainly true in comparison with The Times, but the Daily News scored several firsts in the Dahlia coverage and even The Times scooped the Examiner on occasion. The competition between the four major papers ensured that no single paper prevailed every day.

Hm. Wolfe’s going to get into his grandmother Bessie Harkins and her boyfriend “Uncle Vern,” a.k.a. Vernon Hamilton, supposedly a former prosecutor. Not a familiar name. Let’s see what happens.

“Vern’s name was Vernon Hamilton, and he had been an assistant district attorney in Los Angeles before resigning in 1938 under a cloud of scandal, along with Mayor Frank Shaw and District Attorney Buron Fitts.”

Wolfe is certainly right that Frank Shaw was corrupt and that he was defeated in a recall election by Judge Fletcher Bowron.

Good grief…. Here’s a historic sidelight. A Vernon Hamilton (a different one, I’m sure) of the Westminster-Midway City Lions Club appears in a minstrel show in June 1956. The idea that people were still doing minstrel shows in blackface in the 1950s is, I must say, breathtaking. Even for Orange County. As for The Times running a picture of two men joking around in blackface, it's pretty painful.

Hm. This is looking really, really bad. Vernon Hamilton was an attorney in Los Angeles, all right, and—what’s this? had an office in the Subway Terminal Building in 1934? Looks like quite a colorful character who handled several murder cases as a defense attorney. I don’t see anything about him ever being a prosecutor though. Let me double-check. Private practice in 1942, private practice in 1934, private practice 1931, private practice 1928.

Nothing about him resigning in 1938, nothing about him being a prosecutor—ever. Kind of unusual for a defense attorney to take a job that pays less with the district attorney’s office. Looks like Vernon Hamilton was well established in private practice as early as the 1920s. There’s nothing in The Times about Vernon Hamilton being a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office or resigning in 1938—zero. Given Wolfe's poor track record on accuracy, I'll have to assume Hamilton probably wasn't a prosecutor unless I see some conclusive proof.

I hope Wolfe doesn’t hang much of his story on "Uncle Vern" because I don’t want to get derailed into debunking all of this—it’s very removed from the Dahlia case. On the other hand, if Hamilton’s connection to the district attorney’s office is entirely fabricated, “Mogul” is worse than I ever imagined. And it looks like we’re heading into the Thelma Todd case, very far afield from Elizabeth Short.

On the bright side—if one can say there's a bright side to what appears to be a total lie—is that at least there was a Vernon Hamilton in Los Angeles in the time period and he was even a lawyer. This is light-years ahead of "Severed," which is filled with purported "interviews" of people who don't even exist.

I have to go for a walk and clear my head.

Here’s a shout out to:

The Rand Corp. 130.154.0.250

Vatterott College 67.130.177.34

City of Los Angeles 161.149.63.203

Chase Manhattan Bank 170.148.92.42

Fidelity National Title Co. 63.164.5.222

and

Chicago-Kent College of Law 66.158.3.199

Hurry back now.

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