Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Paint by Numbers

I’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.”

Page 52

Wolfe is using the “Laura” format and we’re at the point in the story where we learn about Elizabeth Short’s childhood. Wolfe has dispensed with her father, Cleo Short, at least for now, and is dealing with Elizabeth Short’s childhood illnesses. The narrative about the murder investigation has gone into hibernation as the book introduces buckets of background material.

Page 53

Mary Pacios, author of “Childhood Shadows,” is described as one of Elizabeth Short’s schoolmates, but that’s not really true as Elizabeth was quite a bit older and in fact was Mary’s babysitter.

Good grief. Bob Pacios is introduced as Mary’s younger brother. He’s an older brother and served in World War II. Well, Wolfe had a 50% chance of getting that right and still goofed it up.

Page 54

Now why on earth does Wolfe do this:

“…when Elizabeth was sixteen, Phoebe made an arrangement for her to stay with ‘friends’ in Miami Beach during the winter.”

There’s absolutely no reason to set off “friends” in quote marks unless he’s trying to make some point, although I can’t imagine what it is.

Not the end notes again, Holmes!

Lead on, my dear Dr. Watson.

Hm. “Childhood Shadows,” Page 16.

Well, this is far worse than I thought. Here’s the whole quote from “Mogul”:
“Elizabeth began having asthma attacks shortly after the family moved to the walkup on Salem Street. Muriel remembered that sometimes the attacks were so bad that their mother would have to call the doctor in the middle of the night to give Elizabeth an adrenalin [note to ReganBooks’ proofreaders, that should be capitalized as it’s a trademark] shot. In February 1939, she had to be sent to Boston Hospital for an operation to clear her lungs. The doctors told Phoebe that it would be better for her daughter to be in a milder climate during the wintry months; and in 1940, when Elizabeth was sixteen, Phoebe made an arrangement for her to stay with ‘friends’ in Miami Beach during the winter. In Miami [note: Miami and Miami Beach aren’t the same, as any resident will tell you], she obtained a part-time job at a beach resort and wrote that she hadn’t had an asthma attack or cold during the entire winter.”

And here’s Wolfe’s purported source material from “Childhood Shadows.”

“That same year, Bette Short [note that Mary Pacios refers to Elizabeth Short as Bette, one of several names Elizabeth used during her brief life] turned sixteen and started traveling. Her asthma and lung problems had worsened and she developed bronchitis. Mrs. Short thought Bette might be better off in a warmer climate, away from the coldness and the dampness. She arranged for Bette to stay with family friends in Miami Beach. Bette could spend the winter there earning money as a waitress, figured Mrs. Short, and come back in the spring.”

So where on Earth did Wolfe get this stuff about the doctor making a midnight call to administer an adrenaline shot?

Let’s take a wild guess and try John Gilmore’s “Severed.” Because if it isn’t there, I can’t imagine where he got it.

Holmes! Why are you never wrong! [You know, I’m sure that’s in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories but I’ll be darned if I can find it. One of my favorite quotes, too].

What we have here, Watson, is a brief, unattributed appearance from “Severed,” Page 20.

“Says Muriel, ‘She had asthma like me and Ginnie, but sometimes she had it worse than we did. Sometimes the three of us would be sitting up all night struggling to breathe. We’d take turns sitting in the rocking chair, but when it got really bad Mama would have to call the doctor. He’d come even in the middle of the night and give us a shot of adrenaline.’ ”

Still, nothing about Boston Hospital or an operation in February 1939. I haven’t a clue where Wolfe got that; it’s certainly not in his alleged source material. This is poor, poor works, folks. Obviously, these end notes are merely window dressing that Wolfe never imagined would be verified by a research drudge.

Oh let’s have some fun and check Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” just for the heck of it. Buried at the bottom of the pile of Dahlia books. How symbolic. Then again, I won’t let Janice Knowlton’s “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer” in the house or it would be at the bottom of the pile. Sheesh, Hodel doesn’t even have an index entry for Medford, Mass. Well, nothing about midnight shots of adrenaline, thanks to amazon’s online search.

And you know what’s really odd? To the best of my knowledge the Shorts were so poor they didn’t have a phone, which was a luxury in 1947. Remember that when Wain Sutton of the Examiner contacted Phoebe Short to give her the song and dance about Elizabeth winning a beauty contest, he called a neighbor.

Page 54

Ho-ho! I wish crime buddy Nathan Marsak were here to lead us all in a chorus of the SLA’s slogan. Donald H. Wolfe, you are so busted!


“Very little is known about Elizabeth’s time in Miami. The family did not reveal where she stayed, what she did, or who her acquaintances had been. There were only the photos found in Elizabeth’s memory book of unidentified companions and servicemen she met.”

OK, dear readers. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s files list Elizabeth Short’s precise whereabouts in Miami Beach; where she lived and where she worked. The documents in fact, are titled: “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June, 1, 1946” and “After June 1, 1946.” And of course, the people in Elizabeth Short’s scrapbooks were identified. One needn’t look any further than Wolfe’s own book, Page 86.

I swear, the man is absolutely incapable of reading what’s in front of him.

There’s certainly a reason Wolfe doesn’t want to play fair with his readers, and although I’m not positive, I imagine it’s so he can concoct some nonsense about Elizabeth Short’s time in Los Angeles, lifted right from “Severed,” which has fabricated several years’ worth of imagined events such as Elizabeth Short being a junior hostess at the Hollywood Canteen and knowing murder victim Georgette Bauerdorf. (Did I mention that “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction?)

So Wolfe is just going to pretend that awkward little list of Elizabeth Short’s jobs and residences stays well hidden.

And this book calls itself “The Black Dahlia Files.”

Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Manila, Philippines (, home of the other side of the George Hodel family.

Luxembourg (

Dark Horse Comics ( Usagi Yojimbo rocks!

Greenville, SC (

University of Michigan Medical Center (

Symantec (

East Kentucky University (

Hurry back!

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