Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Lookies

At right, one of the formative publications of my youth, which was included with the purchase of the World Book Encyclopedia. The Lookies had a wonderful motto: “We don’t guess, we look it up.”

Page 22

I really don’t want to get derailed into Thelma Todd as I can’t see what it has to do with the Black Dahlia case. I’m going to take a rain check with the simple proviso that given Donald H. Wolfe’s track record, there are going to be errors and misstatements. I'll dig into it later if necessary, but this will have to do for now:

“Nevertheless, D.A. Buron Fitts insisted that her death was a suicide, though there were rumors among the movieland cognoscenti that Thelma Todd had been murdered by one of her intimate acquaintances—a mob boss who suddenly left town on the night of Thelma’s ‘suicide.’ ”

In fact, Fitts said: “We want it distinctly understood that we aren’t imputing this to be a murder. But there are circumstances that do not satisfy us. We intend to clear them up.” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 1935)

Moreover, the Los Angeles Police Department, under the auspices of crime lab chief Ray Pinker (the same man who had his hands in his pockets at the Black Dahlia crime scene), took Todd’s Lincoln and, using a volunteer, sealed the garage and started the engine to see how long it would take to render him unconscious. In 90 seconds, Detective Joe Whitehead was pounding on the door to be let out of the monoxide-filled garage.

It should also be noted that Todd’s death was investigated by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. And in testifying before the grand jury, Pinker said that blood found inside Todd’s car contained carbon monoxide, excluding the possibility that the stains occurred before she started the car’s engine. According to testimony before the grand jury, Todd became unconscious from the fumes and struck her head as she collapsed, causing a wound that bled.

Eventually, the jurors found the evidence of suicide or accident so compelling that several of them refused to hear any more testimony.

I’ll leave Thelma Todd at this: It’s impossible to say Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts tried to cover up the case when it went before the grand jury.

What are the sources for this nonsense?

Samuel Marx and Joyce Vanderveen, “Deadly Illusions”; Andy Edmonds, “Hot Toddy”; and the Thelma Todd inquest report. Apparently Wolfe has some aversion to original sources such as newspapers. I’m mildly curious about the source of the Todd inquest. But not enough to go digging for it.

Page 24

Oh, more on Uncle Vern, the disgraced former prosecutor who never worked for the district attorney’s office. I don’t have time for this today.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, a Moment of Silence

Wednesday was the 61st anniversary of the kidnapping of 6-year-old Rochelle Gluskoter from the frontyard of a home around the corner from where her parents, Abe and Miriam, were preparing to open their market at 8464 S. Central Ave. Rochelle’s skeletal remains were found in a remote part of Orange County on Nov. 9. 1947. The case was never solved.

Page 21

Now back to all Wolfe’s stuff about “Uncle Vern,” who is presented as a disgraced former prosecutor but really wasn’t. This is terrible research and worse writing. Just an out-and-out lie.

“… resigning in 1938 under a cloud of scandal, along with Mayor Frank Shaw and District Attorney Buron Fitts.”

These comments, along with remarks about Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley assembling an archive of city and county documents on old cases, show a distressing unfamiliarity with local government. The district attorney is a Los Angeles County post, an entirely separate jurisdiction from the city of Los Angeles.

Wolfe is also wrong when he says Frank Shaw resigned—he was defeated in the Sept. 16, 1938, recall election and on Sept. 26, 1938, greeted his successor, Fletcher Bowron, and turned over the keys to his office.

But wait. Buron Fitts not only didn’t resign as district attorney in 1938, he held office for two more years until he was defeated in the 1940 election by attorney John Dockweiler, who had the endorsement of—Mr. Corruption himself, Joe Shaw, Mayor Shaw’s brother. (For the record, The Times endorsed Fitts).

What's this? Fitts got an indictment against Joe Shaw? Fitts won a conviction against Joe Shaw and William Cormack on 63 counts of selling answers to Civil Service exams for the police and fire departments? Shaw and Cormack were sentenced to five to 70 years in prison?

My goodness. It’s certainly a challenge to say Fitts and Mayor Shaw were in a corrupt conspiracy when Fitts sent the main offender, his brother Joe Shaw, to prison.

Oh boy. We’re heading quickly into vintage malfeasance: Paul Bern and Thelma Todd. I consider myself a specialist rather than a generalist and stick to the Black Dahlia case so I may take a rain check on some of this material unless it turns out to be somehow connected to the murder of Elizabeth Short.

Wolfe dispenses with Bern’s suicide in one line:

“Before the days of tabloid scandal sheets, Buron Fitts had covered up enough crimes and scandals to decimate forests of tabloid pulp. One of the notorious scandals had involved the alleged suicide of Jean Harlow’s husband, Paul Bern, who many believed had been murdered by mobster Longy Zwillman.”

“Many believed?” Like who?

For the record, Bern’s nude body was found Sept. 5, 1932, in the closet off his bedroom, a bullet in his temple and a .38 revolver clutched in his hand in what was apparently a death grip. A suicide note on the table:

“Dearest Dear: Unfortunately, this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. Paul.” He added the postscript: “You understand that last night was only a comedy.”

In 1933, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury opened an investigation of Bern’s death. Fitts said: “If information should be disclosed warranting a reopening of the Bern case, such action will be taken.” The grand jury interviewed more than 50 witnesses and issued a long statement concluding: “We are definitely of the opinion at this time that Paul Bern died as a suicide.

“After a thorough and exhaustive examination, we are of the opinion that the facts as disclosed do not warrant the expenditure of public moneys for further proceedings in this case.” I invite anyone who cares to read the entire statement to peruse the March 1, 1933, Los Angeles Times, first page of Part II.

Not exactly a cover-up, is it?

Suggested further reading: “The Lid Off Los Angeles,” a series of weekly articles in Liberty magazine, Nov. 11-Dec. 16, 1939, which prompted a libel suit by former Mayor Shaw. It’s available on microfilm at the downtown Los Angeles Public Library.

A day’s posting on one sentence doesn’t bode well, does it? Especially when Wolfe says exactly the opposite of what actually occurred.

Techie note: I have enabled an RSS feed. The link is This seems to work once I stopped writing in Microsoft Word and pasting it into Blogger. Blogger, btw, has a toolbar for writing in Word and posting directly to Blogger. We’ll see how it works.

A shout out to:

Texas A&M University (

South Bank Polytechnic in London (

Vastra Gotaland in Sweden (

Broadband Access Pool of Finland (

Naples, Fl, Philharmonic (

Lucas Film (

Hurry on back!

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Time for a Reality Check

I was all set, or so I thought, for today’s entry. And then something fell in my lap that I simply couldn’t ignore.

Let’s suppose you are an established author with a well-known book on a particular subject. Let us further suppose that another writer comes along, uses your book as the backbone for his work, runs a picture of you and praises you in his acknowledgements.

He even has a blurb from you on the book jacket saying that his work is a classic.

Now, someone comes along and interviews you about this book. Do you say it’s a classic? That your picture is in it? That you’re praised in the acknowledgements?

Absolutely not. Instead you completely disavow this book.

I just reread that and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than when I typed it.

Here is a scan of the acknowledgements from Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.”

It says: "John Gilmore's Severed was the nonfiction forerunner of investigative books into the murder of Elizabeth Short and proved to be the Baedeker to Dahlia-land. Thanks, John, for all your help."

And here’s a scan of the blurb from the book jacket.

And now here is L.A. Weekly’s interview with John Gilmore. In a screen shot—so there’s absolutely no question that any of this is made up.

This would be like James Ellroy endorsing my research in the documentary “Feast of Death,” and then writing an introduction to Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger,” endorsing George Hodel as the killer. And then refusing to talk about it.

Oh wait. That actually happened.

Curiously enough, L.A. Weekly’s Anthony Mostrom doesn’t seem to ask John Gilmore, “How can you say: ‘There was no way I could appear to be supportive of him in any way’ when you call his book 'a must-read!' "?

Nor did Mostrom ask: “Well, John, after writing the jacket blurb for Donald Wolfe's book saying that it’s a classic, why are you calling it 'crap?' Isn't that considered bad form in the book publishing industry?"

I can only assume follow-up questions aren’t part of Mr. Mostrom’s repertoire. You might want to work on that, Anthony, old boy.

Time for a walk—a long one.

Here's a shout out to:


The Air Force Systems Command (

Symantec ( (you guys rock).

Boeing (

Telekom Malaysia Berhad (

National Archives and Records Administration (

and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (

Hurry on back!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Teutonic Thoroughness, Nathan Marsak Style

You might ask yourself what bright, well-educated people with an arts background (art history for Nathan Marsak and Kim Cooper, musicology for yours truly) discuss when they get together.

Of course, the subject is the prevailing market value of Jabberjaw lunchboxes on ebay.

Kim, consulting her laptop: "32 bucks!"

Nathan: "Nooooo! I should never have blown mine up with an M-80!"

This was followed by an e-mail discussion of "Jabberjaw" broadcasts in German, discovery of a catalogue raisone of "Jabberjaw" episodes and the following riff by Nathan:

Jabberjaw: Ich, Jabberjaw. Die Seele von der Nation schlägt als ein Herz im Willen des Mannes.

Glückliche Kinder: Ja, Herr Jabberjaw. Wir sind Ihre Günstlinge. Lehren Sie uns die Wahrheit, als wir von Zarasthustra gelehrt worden sind.

Jabberjaw: Sie können nicht gelehrt werden. Sie können zerstört werden. Das ist Ihr Gebrauch zu mir. Der Wille von den Staatlichen Nachfragen nein weniger.

Glückliche Kinder: Ja, Jabberjaw! Formen Sie uns mögen so viel teutonisches Ton!!

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, Teutonic Thoroughness

Several years ago, I was interviewed by a writer for the German magazine Stern about the Black Dahlia case. In explaining what was wrong with the various Dahlia books, I said: “They lack Teutonic thoroughness.” Of course, it was to be amusing and the writer thought it was an uproarious thing to say. But as a German, he could appreciate the full meaning of that statement, while most American writers wouldn’t understand it.

Here are two models of the good side of Teutonic thoroughness: Ritter von Koechel, above, and Wolfgang Schmieder, who catalogued the works, respectively, of Mozart and Bach. You know from the title that “Das Bach-Werke Verzeichnis,”at left, isn’t going to be a light read.

Page 21

“It was the Hearst papers that gave the Black Dahlia story the biggest play.”

This is certainly true in comparison with The Times, but the Daily News scored several firsts in the Dahlia coverage and even The Times scooped the Examiner on occasion. The competition between the four major papers ensured that no single paper prevailed every day.

Hm. Wolfe’s going to get into his grandmother Bessie Harkins and her boyfriend “Uncle Vern,” a.k.a. Vernon Hamilton, supposedly a former prosecutor. Not a familiar name. Let’s see what happens.

“Vern’s name was Vernon Hamilton, and he had been an assistant district attorney in Los Angeles before resigning in 1938 under a cloud of scandal, along with Mayor Frank Shaw and District Attorney Buron Fitts.”

Wolfe is certainly right that Frank Shaw was corrupt and that he was defeated in a recall election by Judge Fletcher Bowron.

Good grief…. Here’s a historic sidelight. A Vernon Hamilton (a different one, I’m sure) of the Westminster-Midway City Lions Club appears in a minstrel show in June 1956. The idea that people were still doing minstrel shows in blackface in the 1950s is, I must say, breathtaking. Even for Orange County. As for The Times running a picture of two men joking around in blackface, it's pretty painful.

Hm. This is looking really, really bad. Vernon Hamilton was an attorney in Los Angeles, all right, and—what’s this? had an office in the Subway Terminal Building in 1934? Looks like quite a colorful character who handled several murder cases as a defense attorney. I don’t see anything about him ever being a prosecutor though. Let me double-check. Private practice in 1942, private practice in 1934, private practice 1931, private practice 1928.

Nothing about him resigning in 1938, nothing about him being a prosecutor—ever. Kind of unusual for a defense attorney to take a job that pays less with the district attorney’s office. Looks like Vernon Hamilton was well established in private practice as early as the 1920s. There’s nothing in The Times about Vernon Hamilton being a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office or resigning in 1938—zero. Given Wolfe's poor track record on accuracy, I'll have to assume Hamilton probably wasn't a prosecutor unless I see some conclusive proof.

I hope Wolfe doesn’t hang much of his story on "Uncle Vern" because I don’t want to get derailed into debunking all of this—it’s very removed from the Dahlia case. On the other hand, if Hamilton’s connection to the district attorney’s office is entirely fabricated, “Mogul” is worse than I ever imagined. And it looks like we’re heading into the Thelma Todd case, very far afield from Elizabeth Short.

On the bright side—if one can say there's a bright side to what appears to be a total lie—is that at least there was a Vernon Hamilton in Los Angeles in the time period and he was even a lawyer. This is light-years ahead of "Severed," which is filled with purported "interviews" of people who don't even exist.

I have to go for a walk and clear my head.

Here’s a shout out to:

The Rand Corp.

Vatterott College

City of Los Angeles

Chase Manhattan Bank

Fidelity National Title Co.


Chicago-Kent College of Law

Hurry back now.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Subject Is Roses

I always cut my roses on Jan. 15 as a memorial to Elizabeth Short, because I remember that on the night before the body was found a neighbor had a strange encounter at the crime scene when he went there to dump some rose clippings.

Frankly, it’s scary to chop my roses down to sticks but sure enough by Valentine’s Day they are coming back to life, especially now that they’ve gotten some 12-18-6.

A couple things before we move on.

I thought it would be interesting to see how Steve Hodel, the retired homicide detective, treated the handling of the crime scene in hopes that “Dahlia Avenger,” despite all its problems, would be more accurate than “Severed” and “Mogul.”

The depiction of the press isn’t all that accurate (“Dahlia Avenger” talks about keen competition for a byline when even the briefest glance at the 1947 papers show that reporters never got bylines except in rare instances). And “Avenger” uses Will Fowler’s yarn—of course I fell for that myself the first time around. Will worked for years to embed himself in the Dahlia case.

But there’s none of the absurd claims of discarded cigarette butts and flashbulbs, curiosity-seekers circling the block and people standing on cars.

Here’s the two-minute executive summary before we move on to Chapter 2:

In the preface and first 20 pages, Donald H. Wolfe’s “Mogul” has made sweeping statements of staggering fiction (“there was no nightlife in the 1940s”), gotten access to original documents but rejected them in favor of a sleazy, sensational paperback written in 1994 (“Severed” instead of the original LAPD summary of the case) and shown a complete disinterest in minor details of spelling names (Betsy Bersinger instead of “Betty Bersinger”).

He has also relied on two mutually exclusive accounts (Will Fowler in “Reporters” and John Gilmore in “Severed” even though Will voices utter disdain for Gilmore). Further, he cites other books as sources but completely contradicts them (Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows” on Betty Bersinger not recalling anything about the body, while “Mogul” goes into great detail on what Bersinger supposedly remembered).

In short, “Mogul” is a $30 book with lousy proofreading and even worse fact-checking that wouldn’t pass muster as a high school research paper.

I’m blogging “Mogul” in real time and not reading ahead, though I did skip to the footnotes and bibliography as any historian would. I don’t know any more about this book aside from the “high concept” (Elizabeth Short gets wrapped up with call girl Brenda Allen, is carrying the love child of Times executive Norman Chandler and refuses to get an abortion, so she’s killed by Bugsy Siegel). But the prospects that “Mogul” is going to suddenly turn into a model of scholarship are not good.

I warned you this would be tedious for readers. It’s even more tedious for me. I don’t need to read another word to know I’m going to find many more gaffes ahead. The only reason I’m doing it is because people keep telling me what a wonderful book this is.

Still, I must say I find the interest in this blog so far quite gratifying. Here’s a shout out to:

Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge, University of Missouri at Rolla, Rutgers University and Tufts University in Elizabeth Short’s hometown of Medford, Mass.

Buena Vista Datacasting (, ( and (

The U.S. Senate sergeant at arms (

Someone in Falls Church, Va., the home of a law enforcement expert whom I respect tremendously.

Somebody in Salt Lake City, home of an enthusiastic but fairly reclusive collector of Elizabeth Short material. Twenty-three visits totaling 5 hours and 17 minutes, thank you,!

And who knew the Dahlia would be so popular in Sweden. Four visits for a total of 16 hours? Thank you,!

And Pendleton, S.C. Now that’s a surprise. Hurry on back!

Let’s move ahead.

Oh dear.

“The Los Angeles Times put the murder story on the front page of the morning edition of January 16; the headline was less lurid, yet the article vividly described the mutilated victim.”

For the record, as the conservative family paper of Los Angeles, The Times was the only newspaper to keep the Black Dahlia story off the front page except for one day when it covered the false confession of Joseph Dumais. My story on the 50th anniversary was only the second time in half a century that the Black Dahlia made Page 1 of the Los Angeles Times.

This book is brimming with instances in which Wolfe seems absolutely incapable of reading what’s directly in front of him.

I’m going to go check my roses.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, I'm My Own Grandpaw

Page 16

In the Black Dahlia books, all roads lead to William Randolph Fowler and it would be interesting to see how a sociologist would make a graph of the incestuous literary kinship system.

Will talks to Mary Pacios, who collaborates with John Gilmore on “Severed.”

Will talks to Donald H. Wolfe (“Mogul,” footnotes Pages 361-362).

But there’s more.

Will talks to Robert “I was married to Marilyn Monroe for three days until the studios scotched the deal” Slatzer. “Reporters,” Pages 286-288.

In fact, Will told me repeatedly that he was the ghostwriter on Slatzer’s bogus 1974 book “The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe.”

“Until recently I considered Slatzer to be a harmless faker—that is, when he lately deceived an entire network with a made-for-TV movie with a title something like, “Marilyn and Me.” (“Reporters,” Page 288).

But wait. There’s more.

Wolfe also talks to Slatzer. In fact Wolfe, the author of “The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe” and “The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe,” mentions Slatzer in his acknowledgements as a friend and contributor. (“Mogul,” Page 322).


Wolfe talks to John Gilmore, who provides a jacket blurb: "A haunting account, destined to become a true crime classic. A must read!"

But wait. There’s still more.

In the unpublished version of “Severed,” in the Gilmore archives at UCLA, there’s a ridiculous section claiming that Elizabeth Short had a lesbian affair with (surprise) Marilyn Monroe, as told by, yes, Robert "I was married to Marilyn Monroe for three days until the studios scotched the deal" Slatzer.

I would be hard-pressed to pick a group of writers less likely to tell the truth than this crowd.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that when I met Wolfe at the district attorney’s office as he was going through the Black Dahlia files, he was incredibly disparaging about—William Randolph Fowler. In fact he told me a very interesting story about a restraining order involving Will. So imagine my surprise to find Will so heavily credited in “Mogul.”

Page 17

Back in those days, few people had television. The one Los Angeles television station, KTLA, was only on the air for three hours in the evening, and the news still belonged to the paper and ink and the radio waves.

For the record, there were two TV stations in Los Angeles in 1947: KTLA and Don Lee’s W6XAO. But at the time TV sets were incredibly rare and broadcasts consisted of test patterns and “Queen for a Day.” Of course television didn’t really get underway until March with the heavily promoted “T-Day.” See the 1947 Project for much, much more on television in early Los Angeles.

The good news is we’re finished with Chapter 1. The bad news is my head is spinning for trying to unravel the tangled web of Dahlia writers. I have to go for a walk.

Bonus picture: Will Fowler and Ray Pinker on the sidewalk at the crime scene. Note that Pinker’s hands are in his pockets, exactly what you’d expect from the head of the crime lab. The only person close to the body is Gilbert Laursen, the LAPD photographer. No cigarette butts and no blackened flashbulbs, just as I said yesterday. I don't like posting the crime scene pictures. I'm showing this intentionally murky image simply to prove that the investigators didn't mishandle the crime scene, as is so frequently claimed.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Thrill Is Gone

Page 14

“Hansen studied the body and the ‘sacred setting’ for some time before he stood up and said to Finis, ‘We won’t know what we’re really dealing with here until we get a post mortem.’ He requested that the body be covered until Ray Pinker of the crime lab arrived.”

I could quit here and be a happy man. Wolfe has been given access to the district attorney’s files. He even reprints the first two pages of the LAPD summary on Pages 325-326 of “Mogul.” But clearly Wolfe hasn’t read his own book. If he had, he would know that Pinker beat Hansen and Brown to the crime scene.

No, instead we get “Severed,” Page 10, with its assertion that the body was covered with newspapers until Pinker arrived. (And as a bonus, “Severed” claims Elizabeth Short was cut in half with “something like a bread knife.” I invite anybody who cares to attempt this to carve a turkey with such an implement next Thanksgiving. Let me know how you do).

Time for more Boy on the Bicycle stories (by now he was trolling Norton Avenue from 4 a.m. to when Will got there at 9 a.m. Apparently the Schwinn was getting a five-hour workout that morning).

“Investigators found a man’s wristwatch in the weeds near the body. It was determined that the watch had only recently been lost as it did not appear to be weathered.”

Until Steve Hodel dredged up this wristwatch in “Dahlia Avenger,” it was a footnote to a footnote. Of course Hodel uses it as yet another piece of incriminating evidence to implicate Dr. George “Evil Genius” Hodel in the killing and goes so far as to produce pictures of his father wearing a watch.

Another bit of three-card monte. Wolfe makes it appear that the watch was found by detectives in proximity to Elizabeth Short at the time the body was discovered.






First, according to the Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Times, the watch wasn’t found until about four days later.

Second, it wasn’t discovered by investigators, but by Daniel Wright Jr., 16, of 3535 S. 5th Ave.

Third, the watch was found 200 yards south of the crime scene.

“Mogul,” however, reports sternly: “The person, or one of the persons, who disposed of the body, may have discovered that his watch was missing and suspected it had been lost at the site. Perhaps concerned that a fingerprint could be found on the face or back of the steel casing, the owner might have returned in the black sedan in an attempt to retrieve it. Thought it was stated by the press that ‘Police chemists were checking ownership of the military watch,’ no follow-up stories appeared regarding results of the examination for prints.”

Time for my walk.

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