Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Wreck of the Old 97

Uh-Oh. All I had to do was read the opening line in this section of Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles” to know…

This is not going to be pretty.

“When the Los Angeles Examiner identified the victim as Elizabeth Short, editor [City Editor—lrh] Jim Richardson sent Will Fowler to Santa Barbara to find out more about her 1943 arrest.”

First of all, what amazes me is how Wolfe has reduced the vast cast of characters in the Black Dahlia case to a handful of people. So far the Los Angeles Police Department consists of the head of homicide, Capt. Jack Donahoe, and the two lead investigators, Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. The newspapers consist of one city editor (Jim Richardson) and two reporters: Aggie Underwood for the Herald and Will Fowler of the Examiner.

This is like performing Verdi’s “Aida” with a cast of five.

Although Will told me lots of stories—some of them possibly true—about his involvement in the Black Dahlia case, the trip to Santa Barbara wasn’t one of them.

Let’s see what Will says. Quick, Watson, to “Reporters,” Page 77.

What’s this? Will says Elizabeth Short’s autopsy was performed on the afternoon of Jan.15, the day the body was found. But the inquest transcript says that it was performed the next day. As if I needed more proof that “Reporters” is problematic.

Hm. “Reporters” certainly says Will went to Santa Barbara. (“Reporters,” Page 78).

Let’s check with Richardson and see what he says. Interestingly enough, Richardson’s book “For the Life of Me” makes no mention of Will Fowler whatsoever. Curious, eh? Not once.

What’s this?

“She had worked in the PX at Camp Cook [Cooke] about 160 miles north of Los Angeles and as soon as we got the word we sent Sid Hughes racing up there. He prowled the camp records and came up with a lot of stuff and the name of the girl’s mother, Mrs. Phoebe May [Mae] Short, of Medford, Massachusetts.” (“For the Life of Me,” Page 299)

Sid Hughes? Guess who never appears in Wolfe’s book. Yep. Sid Hughes.

Let’s go back to “Reporters.” Does Will mention Hughes in regard to the Black Dahlia? Not in the least. In fact, whenever I talked to Will about the case, he would put on a furious act about Hughes, saying that “his career was in the crapper by then,” and that Hughes was never at the crime scene, despite accounts by Richardson and Underwood, and crime scene pictures to the contrary.

To Wolfe’s end notes. Hm. “Mogul” cites “the Los Angeles Daily Examiner.” Lousy proofreading again by ReganBooks. Did I mention this is a $30 book?

Was Will even in Santa Barbara? His usual repertoire of Dahlia stories included showing up at the coroner’s office and trying to get a fingerprint by using lampblack and a matchbook cover; getting pictures of Red Manley from Manley’s wife, Harriette; covering Manley’s arrest in Eagle Rock; and being present when police opened Elizabeth Short’s suitcases. I don’t recall anything about Santa Barbara.

There is one more place we can check. The transcript of my Oct. 10, 1996, interview with Will, which I did at his apartment in Sherman Oaks. Hard to believe that was nearly 10 years ago.

Guess what: Zero about Santa Barbara.

For the uninitiated, Sid Hughes was an extremely colorful reporter in the 1930s to the 1950s, ending his career at the Mirror. At one time, he was considered the Examiner’s top-notch writer and it was clear from his comments that Will was fairly jealous of Hughes. Will was certainly guilty of minimizing Hughes’ role in the Dahlia case.

In memoriam, Sidney Hughes, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1958 at the age of 50.

Gosh a whole day on one sentence. Well, I did warn you that this is tedious work.

Shot out to:

Portugal (

Softbank Bb Corp. of Japan (

Atkinson Andelson Loya (

Hurry on back!

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