Monday, April 10, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Request Line VII

I have ceased 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 uses the “Laura” format, in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks.

The two-minute executive summary:

I am taking a few requests before wrapping things up. We have found the usual reliance on John Gilmore’s “Severed,” (recall that the title of this book is “The Black Dahlia Files,” although “Severed: 2006” would be more appropriate) and extensive manipulation of the scant material that Wolfe actually takes from the district attorney’s materials. Wolfe also engages in a hearty and enthusiastic smear of Capt. Jack Donahoe, based mostly on Vincent Carter’s “Rogue Cops” with a healthy dose of embellishment.

Next, we tackle Page 162 at the request of Regular Anonymous Commenter. I was actually going to do this the other day and was so aghast at the nonsense about Donahoe that I had to defer it for a day.

Aha! Regular Anonymous Commenter is asking about the “infantile genitalia” yarn embraced so enthusiastically by “Severed” and all those who have followed. As we’re about to see, this is yet another of the tall tales by Will Fowler, author of “Reporters.” This was one of Will’s favorite stories in the whole world and he relished nothing better than trotting it out and setting it through its paces, like a trick pony.

(Picking up from Page 161).

“Part of Donahoe’s strategy in misleading the press and the public in the Black Dahlia case involved his references to Elizabeth Short as a suspected lesbian. Will Fowler and Herald Express reporter Bevo Means were told by a Donahoe underling and a deputy coroner that Elizabeth Short couldn’t have sex with men. ‘Something in the autopsy indicated lesbian pathology,’ they were told.”

Note a couple things here. The source of this story isn’t identified. It’s just “a Donahoe underling.”

To the end notes, Watson!

Holmes! The source is Will Fowler!

Of course. I mean who else would have the audacity to use a grand-sounding but empty phrase like “lesbian pathology?” What on Earth is that supposed to be?

And then three of the most frightening words in the English language: “Will Fowler recalled.”

“ ‘It was a leak,’ Will Fowler recalled, ‘and Bevo jumped on it, figuring if she couldn’t have sex with guys, she was having sex with women.’ Following Donahoe’s calculated plant of this sensational, misleading information, a number of stories appeared in the newspapers indicating that the autopsy report established that Elizabeth had infantile sex organs, and therefore could not have normal relationships with men. This misinformation initiated by Donahoe has been promulgated by a number of journalists for more than fifth years.”

Actually, no.

This is two questions masquerading as one, so let’s deal with them separately.

First, the theory that Elizabeth Short might have been a lesbian came about this way: Once Robert M. “Red” Manley was cleared of the murder, Donahoe and Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown started the investigation all over again. They were baffled by the “missing week” between the time Elizabeth Short was left at the Biltmore on Jan. 9, 1947, and the day her body was discovered, Jan. 15.

They knew that Red Manley helped her check all her belongings at the bus station, leaving her with nothing but the clothes she was wearing. They couldn’t figure out how she survived for a week without a change of clothing or access to her cosmetics, so they got the idea that she might have been with another woman and used the woman’s clothes and makeup.

One of the detectives extended this theory to the idea that she had been with a lesbian and was killed in a lesbian love triangle. Granted, this is quite a leap and the notion that lesbians were murderous degenerates says much about the 1940s. Eventually, this scenario was discarded, but not before a variety of stories appeared in the newspapers of the day.

Today, this scenario is laughably wrong, but it’s also wrong to claim that police intentionally misled the newspapers. Yes, the detectives actually suspected this.

Now for the real meat of this paragraph:

“a number of stories appeared in the newspapers indicating that the autopsy report established that Elizabeth had infantile sex organs.”

This is a flat-out lie. There is absolutely nothing in the original newspaper accounts about the infantile sex organ yarn.

Nor is it in Aggie Underwood’s “Newspaperwoman” of 1949.

Or Jim Richardson’s “For the Life of Me” of 1954.

It’s not even in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” 1958.

Or John Austin’s “Hollywood’s Unsolved Mysteries,” 1969-1970.

Or Todd Faulkner’s flawed but influential 1971 Los Angeles Times article “Farewell, My Black Dahlia.” (Recall that this is where Elizabeth Short accumulated the false middle name “Ann” that has even spread to her FBI file).

The first occurrence, in fact, is….

Are you ready?

Will Fowler!

“Reporters,” Page 86 (1991)

“The tone of the letters she never mailed reflected that Elizabeth had been deeply hurt many times as she almost desperately looked for one man after the other, seeking someone who would love her. I believe all these rejections came after she had gone to bed with her lovers and they discovered they were unable to have sexual intercourse with her… because of the infantile entrance to her vagina.”

Quickly followed by “Severed,” (1994)

Page 124:

“ ‘There might have been the possibility of spermatozoa traces from the laceration of the area below the navel down to the pubic area, if the attacker had some sexual usage of that area of the body. It would have been impossible for him to have inserted his penis into her vagina. ‘But,’ he said, ‘the body was then completely washed—removing all traces of semen or blood.’ [and yes, there is a missing quote mark in the original text someplace].

“ ‘Are you saying,’ Hansen asked, ‘that she could not have normal sex?’ ”

There’s more, but I don’t need to quote it. And from there, Will Fowler’s story spread far and wide. Of course what’s really interesting is that Wolfe cites a letter Will wrote to Mary Pacios, dated Feb. 5, 1988, in which Will says he made up the story.

Of course, he eventually recanted the story to me as well, claiming sheepishly that the coroner’s office has misled him.

Oh and by the way, the source for this story in “Severed” is my favorite fictitious detective, Herman Willis.

There’s a reason I keep saying “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Howell, N.J. (67.85.16.177)

Laguna Niguel, Calif. (68.5.34.33)

Seattle (67.150.217.69)

Hurry back!

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