Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Imagine My Surprise



Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Crime That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format, in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when police have arrested Robert M. “Red” Manley, the last person known to have been with Elizabeth Short.

I was, I have to admit, skeptical of the claim by former Officer Vincent A. Carter that he was at Hollenbeck Station when Manley was interrogated. But I found a picture of him in October 1947 teaching youngsters how to shoot. So that part of the story holds up. Of course, while Carter says Elizabeth Short wouldn’t sleep with Red, Wolfe turns this into:

“According to Administrative Vice officer Sgt. Vincent Carter who was at Hollenbeck when Manley was interrogated, the story Manley told [Aggie] Underwood for public consumption wasn’t exactly the same story he had told detectives and Brown during the interrogation. Desperately trying to save his marriage, Manley publicly denied having an affair with the murder victim, while privately admitting that he had indeed been intimate with Elizabeth Short.”

Page 74

This appears to be a straight lift from Aggie Underwood’s jailhouse interview with Red Manley, which appeared in the Herald-Express Jan. 20, 1947. Let’s see if it is.

Well, no, it isn’t a perfect quote. Wolfe drops words here and there and swaps “Miss Short” for “her.” Nothing crucial, but it shows a certain disinterest in treating quotes as anything other than raw material.



Large ImageBut here’s something interesting: Wolfe adds “Manley said he drove around the block before pulling his car up to the curb where Miss Short was standing.” Now that isn’t anywhere in Underwood’s story. In fact it isn’t anyplace in the official documents or original news reports and I can’t imagine where Wolfe got it unless he simply made it up. Who’s going to know?

Hmmmm. We know from our statistical analysis, that Wolfe’s three major sources are 1) Will Fowler’s “Reporters,” 2) John Gilmore’s “Severed” and 3) the Examiner. Let’s check in with Will.

Nope. But here’s one paragraph from “Reporters” that Wolfe didn’t use:

Page 87

“A reliable nonfiction author must always deal with facts, even though he has the privilege to dissect and conjecture them. The author must not ever be tempted to stray from the basics in a moment of weakness to dream up these pieces of sensational non-information in order to entertain his readers.”



Large ImageI wonder if Will appreciated the irony of that statement. He was a smart man. I’m sure he did. And obviously, it was totally lost on Donald H. Wolfe.

How about “Severed”?

Oh this is hilarious!

“Severed,” Page 103-104.

“The street he’d just turned onto was one-way, so if the girl crossed the street when the light changed, he might not be able to get around the next block to catch her before she disappeared into one of the office buildings.”

As I believe I’ve said, “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. Elizabeth Short was standing across the street from the Western Air Lines office when Red picked her up. And where exactly was the office? As anybody who has researched the story knows, the Western Air Lines office was on Pacific Highway, the main drag along the coast. Not a exactly a little, one-way street in downtown San Diego. California geography really baffles some people, doesn’t it?



Large ImageBut nothing about circling the block. In fact, “Severed” says (wrongly) that Red couldn’t have circled the block.

My head’s spinning. That’s it for today.

Hurry back!


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