Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Tick, Tick, Tick

Page 39

We’re blogging Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Yesterday, one sentence. Today, let’s try to double that, eh?

“The Examiner headline story of Friday, January 17, included the Santa Barbara police photos and an interview with Santa Barbara policewoman, Mary H. Unkefer. Juvenile Officer Unkefer had been called into the 1943 case when Elizabeth Short was arrested for drunk and disorderly and was identified as a minor.”

Hm. I’d really like to move more quickly, but writing such as this doesn’t lend itself to light treatment.

I simply don’t know what Wolfe means when he says “the Examiner headline story” because all newspaper stories have headlines. In fact, as shown on Page 30 of Wolfe’s book, the Elizabeth Short story took a banner headline, about an 8-72-2 all caps with a 4-42-2 ital and a 2-30-2 with the story set at two-column. I won’t bother to decrypt that for the non-pros. Anybody who understands that knows exactly what I’m talking about. Note the eight-column layout, unlike today’s six-column pages.

The Examiner ran one of the Santa Barbara police mug shots—singular.

And no, she wasn’t arrested for drunk and disorderly. It was for being a minor in possession of alcohol. Nothing more.

Further, Unkefer was more correctly a jail matron. Note that Wolfe describes her as a police officer and a juvenile officer, as if he’s not sure exactly what she did.

Page 40

Wolfe goes on to state, without the least factual basis, that Elizabeth Short’s neighbors complained about wild parties.

Uh-oh. Now this is wrong:

“It was obvious to the arresting officers that the soldiers were staying there over the weekend with the girls and that a good deal of drinking was going on.”

This statement is attributed to absolutely no one and is untrue. Nothing like this was ever published in any of the original newspaper stories and is nothing but a pointless and gratuitous smear for the sake of smearing. Real historians don’t do this.

Notice what Wolfe does:

“Miss Green claimed that one of the soldiers found in her bedroom was her husband,” Officer Unkefer recalled. “But we later learned her husband was a soldier overseas.”

Actual quote from the Examiner:

“She was living in a court with a Vera Green,” Miss Unefer [note Wolfe has fixed the spelling—lrh] also said. “There were four soldiers from Camp Cooke in their cottage when they were arrested. Miss Green said one of them was her husband, but we later learned her husband was a soldier overseas.”

Nothing about the bedroom. That’s another gratuitous smear, just for the sake of smearing. This is poor work, folks.

Page 41

A brief and apparently superfluous detour into the use of henna and speculation on how recently Elizabeth Short hennaed her hair before she was killed.

Oh this is cute: “It was also observed that bleach had been applied to her eyebrows.”

Quick, let’s check that…. Wolfe’s thrown it in so causally, but it’s not true. And of course he says: “IT” was also observed. By whom?

Not the end notes again, Holmes!

Absolutely, my dear Watson.



Unattributed. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

Now for the record, this nonsense about the bleached eyebrows doesn’t turn up until well after the body was found. And it appeared in the Daily News, along with some other nonsense about the killer trying to change Elizabeth Short’s appearance. Eventually all of this grew into the wholly absurd—but incredibly popular—myth that the killer gave Elizabeth Short some sort of postmortem makeover: washed and set her hair, did her eyebrows, etc.

Oh this is just nuts.

“When Will Fowler returned to the Examiner city room with copies of the Santa Barbara photos and arrest record, Richardson assigned rewrite man Wayne Sutton to locate Elizabeth Short’s mother.”

There are a couple things wrong with this, besides the obvious mistake that Will probably didn’t even go to Santa Barbara. In order for this story to work, Will has to drive up to Santa Barbara, do a bunch of reporting, drive back to Los Angeles and talk to Richardson, who only then has Sutton call Elizabeth Short’s mother.

Total time, four or five hours, given a minimum three hours round trip (probably more before the freeways), plus allegedly finding Unkefer, plus allegedly getting the stuff from the police, (copies of her arrest record? This is in the days before Kinko’s. Imagine the time it would take for a Photostat or a picture to be developed). That would be half a news cycle or more. Any paper that operated like that would be absolutely clobbered by the competition and rightly so.

Did I mention Sutton’s name is spelled “Wain”? Almost everybody gets that wrong. Even Will. Oops.

Time for my walk.

Ps. I can’t imagine anybody finds this all that interesting, but my traffic statistics indicate otherwise. I guess there are some real research buffs out there.

Shout out to:

Griffis Air Force Base (

Curitaba, Brazil (

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton (

Fannie Mae ( Good grief, still using Windows 98? Upgrade!

And my favorite mystery guest: (

Hurry back!

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