Blogging the Wolfe Book, An Army of One
I’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul (and where is that darn Mogul, anyway?) and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego about a month before her death.
Wolfe is inexplicably in the middle of an account in which he claims Elizabeth Short impulsively decided to leave San Diego. In fact, the French family asked her to leave after she had been with them a month. In the book’s “Elizabeth Short goes bad girl” section, she is enthusiastically portrayed as a lazy tramp, completely at odds with the facts but lustily depicted in John Gilmore’s “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.
Oh my. Wolfe says Elizabeth Short contacted Red Manley, who replied with the telegram saying he was going to be in San Diego and wanted to see her. I don’t think even “Severed” says this. Let’s see.
Nope. I mean Wolfe isn’t shy about attributing something from “Severed” to the Los Angeles Examiner, but he doesn’t bother attributing this to anybody. It certainly isn’t in the district attorney’s material (recall, if you will, that the title of this book is “The Black Dahlia Files.”). Stay tuned, maybe we’ll find out.
What happens next:
“When the Examiner reporters [recall that Wolfe is erroneously referring to photographer George O’Day as a reporter—of course we only have Will Fowler’s “recollections” that O’Day was even there] phoned in their story, [Jim] Richardson knew he had his scoop—Red may have been the last person to see Elizabeth Short alive. Knowing he had secured his exclusive, Richardson took two of the little, white nerve pills he was in the habit of taking when the scoop-cooker was coming to a boil, and then picked up the phone to clue in Capt. [Jack] Donahoe about Red and Elizabeth Short’s stay in San Diego. Donahoe agreed that ‘Red’ was the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murder, and Richardson set the Examiner headline for Saturday, January 18.”
Hm. I don’t think this is what Richardson said--exactly.
The end notes, Holmes?
Hum. “For the Life of Me,” Page 302.
I do hope this isn’t about JonBenet Ramsey.
To the haz-mat pile.
(This is torture: listening to Schoenberg and reading nonsense about the Black Dahlia case).
Well this makes much more sense:
“For the Life of Me,” Page 302.
Richardson is talking about the identification of the mysterious “Red” (the Frenches didn’t know his name, but told police that Elizabeth Short left with him). In San Diego, Examiner reporter Tommy Devlin was checking motels to see if Elizabeth Short and Red Manley checked in someplace.
“This is where a city editor sweats it out. This is where he needs those little white pills. This is where he needs everything he’s got and everything his reporters have, too. It’s not fun while it’s happening. It’s only fun to think of it afterward, if things go right.
“All through the night and into the next day I waited for word from Tommy and when he called I could have kissed him.
“ ‘I’ve got it,’ he said. ‘I found the motel where he stayed the first time he was down here and where he stayed with the Dahlia the night they left the Frenches.’ ”
Now let’s pull the Examiner for Jan. 18, 1947.
“When told she had to leave the French home, she must have communicated with the ex-lieutenant, described as a tall, red-haired, freckle-faced man of 25.”
Here’s where Wolfe gets the freckles, then, and the conjecture that she contacted Red Manley. But note that she didn’t impulsively leave, either. She was told to hit the road.
But the main point, at least to me, is Wolfe’s contention that Donahoe had no clue about where Elizabeth Short was or anything about Red Manley until he got a call from Richardson.
In fact, the French family contacted San Diego police after seeing Elizabeth Short’s picture in the newspapers. They were questioned by San Diego homicide detectives (after all, she was last seen alive in San Diego) as well as Los Angeles homicide detectives. Reporters got the information because Elizabeth Short’s mother, Phoebe, gave out the Frenches’ address when she talked to Wain Sutton.
This is why the Black Dahlia story gets so complicated: There are an incredible number of unfamiliar names and various agencies, and several competing newspapers. The narrative becomes tangled very quickly unless the people get boiled down to a symbolic one or two—at least in fiction. In the TV movie “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” for example, the vast throng of reporters gets reduced to one—Bevo Means played by the very saintly Tom Bosley.
In the same way, Wolfe reduces the number of investigators to two: Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. Wolfe has Hansen checking Red’s telegram and Brown down in San Diego. Oh but wait, then Hansen is down in San Diego interviewing the Frenches.
In fact, an entirely different crew of other investigators handled the San Diego investigation. And a still different crew of investigators checked Hollywood. Wolfe has nothing of the massive forces involved in the real investigation. It works for fiction, but for history—it’s absurd.
Wolfe ends the chapter with a quote from the Frenches’ neighbor and an all-points bulletin for Red in a funky typewriter font.
In reality, folks,
THE INTERNAL POLICE COMMUNICATIONS IN THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S FILES WERE WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS AND PRINTED OUT ON WHAT LOOKS LIKE HIGH-ACID, PULP TELETYPE PAPER.
End of the chapter. Time for my walk.
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