Saturday, April 01, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Pleas and Thank-Yous




Large ImageI’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. Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks.

In response to my decision to stop page-by-page coverage once I reach Elizabeth Short’s funeral, several people, including Mary Pacios and Regular Anonymous Correspondent, have urged me to continue this blog. Given the demands on my time—this blog takes several hours every day—it’s impossible for me to do the entire book, so I will take requests. Mary has already filed a long list of pages she’d like me to cover, including:

Pages 119, 121-122, 131, 167, 197-198, 218, 277, 278-281, 284, 296, 311




Large ImageFair enough.

Anybody else have specific pages? Send ’em in.

Page 90

You know, poor old Wolfe can’t get anything right. He publishes a photo of Phoebe Short on an airplane captioned “Phoebe Short arrives in Los Angeles,” when she has clearly boarded a plane for the trip to Oakland.

Hm. No source for the photo. That’s odd.

Now this is peculiar. Note that the photo is tacked to the wall in the picture of John Gilmore on the back cover of “Severed” and the page facing Page 139 of “Severed.”

I guess it’ll just be Wolfe’s little secret as to where he got that picture. It was published in the Los Angeles Herald-Express, Jan. 18, 1947, Page A-4, and is credited as a Herald-Express photo.

But if you want a copy, it’s in the Gilmore archives at UCLA, Box 15, Folder 1.





Large ImageTime for another botched quote from Phoebe:

“Betty always wanted to be an actress. She was ambitious and beautiful and full of life, but she had her moments of despondency. She was gay and carefree one minute then blue and in the depth of despair the next…. She was a good girl. She wrote often—at least once a week. It was only two weeks ago that I received a letter from San Diego. I can’t imagine who did this dreadful thing. I’m anxious to do anything to help in tracking down the fiend.”

But wait! Hasn’t Wolfe been claiming all along that Elizabeth Short wrote to her mother that she was coming back to Los Angeles with Red Manley? That couldn’t have happened if the last letter arrived two weeks ago, could it?

Hm. The end notes, Holmes?

To be sure, Watson!

Los Angeles Examiner, Jan. 20, 1947.

Hum. Not there.




Large ImageWell here’s the exact quote, from the Herald-Express of Jan. 18, 1947.

“Elizabeth always wanted to be an actress. She was ambitious and beautiful and full of life, but she had her moments of despondency. Sometimes she would be gay and carefree one moment—then in the depths of despair another.

“She has suffered from asthma since she was 10 and during the winters back home, she usually went south. She was a good girl. She wrote often; at least once a week. It was only 10 days ago when she wrote me from San Diego telling me she had a job in the naval hospital there. I never dreamed she was having financial difficulties. Her letters were always so cheerful.”

OK, so what about this:

“I can’t imagine who did this dreadful thing. I’m anxious to do anything to help in tracking down the fiend.”

That’s from the Examiner, Jan. 19, 1947:

“ The mother, Mrs. Phoebe May [Mae] Short, said she was anxious to do ‘anything to help in tracing down this fiend.’ ”

And finally, the Herald, Jan. 18, 1947:

“I can’t imagine who did this dreadful thing. If only I could get my hands on him….”




Large ImageWhew! How’s that for a tortured ancestry for one quote?

Never shy about inserting himself into the Black Dahlia story, Will Fowler always claimed that the Examiner photo of Phoebe Short on Jan. 19, showed the back of his head. I don’t happen to have a reference photo of the back of Will’s head, but I’m skeptical.

Page 91

Now for the coroner’s office. I can already see this is going to be a doozy.

Upon their [Phoebe, Adrian and Virginia West] arrival, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown escorted them to the morgue-viewing window [why on Earth is this hyphenated? It would more properly be “the morgue’s viewing window.” ReganBooks, the publishing house without proofreaders or fact-checkers], where they would have to identify the body that was lying on a gurney behind the glass.





Large Image“Phoebe gasped as the coroner’s aide pulled back the sheet and revealed her daughter’s mutilated face. There was a moment of stunned silence before Ginnie said, ‘I can’t tell, Momma, I don’t know.’

“Phoebe told Hansen that her daughter had a birthmark on her right shoulder that she could recognize. When the sheet was lowered, Phoebe and Ginnie started sobbing. No question—it was ‘Betty.’

“While Phoebe had been brave and resolute from the day she received the call from Richardson’s office, the sight of her daughter’s mutilated remains broke her heart, and she sobbed uncontrollably. Hansen escorted her to a chair and sat down beside her while trying to reassure her that he would do everything in his power to find the person who so brutally murdered Elizabeth. Phoebe wondered aloud why the newspapers and the police had painted such a bad picture of her daughter. ‘She was a good girl,’ Phoebe kept repeating over and over through her tears—‘She was a good girl!’ ”

Now isn’t this just so terribly maudlin?

Think any of it’s true?

Want to bet?

Source, please.

“Severed,” of course, Page 146.





Large Image“On the morning of January 22nd, she [Phoebe] returned to L.A. with Ginnie and her son-in-law. They were met at the airport and brought downtown to the Hall of Justice entrance to the morgue. Harry Hansen and [Finis] Brown were waiting.

“ ‘Harry wanted to talk to Mrs. Short personally,’ Brown says. They went to one side of the room, where Mrs. Short sat in a chair, and Harry pulled up another one and sat facing her, his back to the others, blocking their view of Mrs. Short.’

“She had been telling the detectives she objected to the newspaper stories, and was disappointed that the Examiner reporters—who had been so helpful at first—were saying that Betty seemed to be ‘not a very nice person.’

Snippage

“Hansen was notified by a deputy coroner, and he told Phoebe it was time for her to make the identification—it had to be done for the record. He escorted Phoebe to a waist-high window where venetian blinds were pulled up. The sheet-covered body was on a gurney directly behind the glass.

“Ginnie and her husband joined Phoebe at the glass as the attendant behind the window pulled down the sheet revealing the face.

“Phoebe and Ginnie stared at the face, which in death was still puffed and battered. Ginnie said, ‘I can’t tell, Mama. I don’t know….’ She turned to Hansen and asked if they could lower the sheet a little beneath the left shoulder.

“ ‘She had a beauty mark there,’ Phoebe said. Her voice was distant. The shoulder was bared and Ginnie made a sound. It was Betty.

“The family members were then escorted upstairs to a hearing room on the first floor of the Hall of Justice.”

But my dear Holmes! What about:

“While Phoebe had been brave and resolute from the day she received the call from Richardson’s office, the sight of her daughter’s mutilated remains broke her heart, and she sobbed uncontrollably. Hansen escorted her to a chair and sat down beside her while trying to reassure her that he would do everything in his power to find the person who so brutally murdered Elizabeth. Phoebe wondered aloud why the newspapers and the police had painted such a bad picture of her daughter. ‘She was a good girl,’ Phoebe kept repeating over and over through her tears—‘She was a good girl!’ ”

Not there, is it, Watson? Not a word of it.

Just for fun, Watson, old boy, let’s check the Examiner, shall we? Jan. 21, 1947.

Holmes! What’s this!

“Meantime after refusing to look at her daughter, Mrs. Phoebe Mae Short, who flew here from her home in Medford, Mass., finally asked morgue attendants to remove the sheet from the body.

“With Mrs. Short at the time was the slain girl’s sister, Virginia, now Mrs. Adrian West of Berkeley.

“Both mother and sister stoically contained their grief and emotions as they looked at the body. Said the mother, as she closed her eyes, “It looks like my daughter but I can’t be sure.”

“Mrs. West also ‘couldn’t be sure.’ ”

But what about:

‘She was a good girl,’ Phoebe kept repeating over and over through her tears—‘She was a good girl!’ ”

Offhand, Watson, I’d say that’s not how it happened.

And what about this birthmark stuff? Wolfe says the birthmark was on her right shoulder while “Severed” says it was on her left? I never knew birthmarks were migratory.

Now here’s the actual description of Jane Doe from the Herald, Jan. 16, 1947:

“One large wart center of back of neck and about even with shoulder line, two small warts one inch to the right of this, one small wart to right of the above about one-half inch higher. Two warts to left of midline of neck about on shoulder. One wart on back about one inch to the right of medial line. One large mole on left shoulder.”

But we’re not through, Watson. What’s in the district attorney’s files that Wolfe isn’t telling us? Remember that this book is called “The Black Dahlia Files” although it’s mostly a rehash of “Severed” and Will Fowler’s “Reporters.”

Ready? This is from the LAPD summary of the case, Page 8.

“Mrs. Short, in company with Adrian West and Mrs. West (sister and brother-in-law of the deceased) arrived in Los Angeles and they were requested to make the personal identification of the body. They went to the coroner’s office but returned shortly, stating they could not make the identification because the newspapers had insisted upon taking pictures of them while identifying the girl in the identification room of the coroner’s office. Later in the evening they were accompanied by Sgt. [Finis] Brown to the rear of the coroner’s office and they did make the identification without the presence of the newspaper photographers or reporters.”

In other words, Harry Hansen not only didn’t make a personal vow to Phoebe Short to find the killer, he wasn’t even there. Does that mean the scene in “Severed” is fictitious? That’s my call. As I keep saying, “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. It’s full of people who don’t exist and things that never happened.

Now look at the picture on Page 92 of Wolfe’s book of Phoebe, Virginia and Adrian West at the coroner’s office. That is a portrait of grief. Again, Wolfe doesn’t give a source for this picture. And just to prove that ReganBooks has no proofreaders, Adrian West is identified as “Charles.”

Remind me again how well-researched this book is. I keep forgetting.

That’s it for today.

Shout out to:

Microsoft Corp. (65.54.154.114)

Hurry back. And send in those requests.

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