Saturday, February 25, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Loyalty

Just out of curiosity, I did a Google image search for “loyalty.” I got Johnny Cash flipping the bird (turned into a mock motivational poster); another poster for the Army on its values; a picture of a dog, a huge tattoo reading “Love” and “Loyalty” featuring rosary beads, a cross and other Christian symbols; James Montgomery Flagg’s famous World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam; a boomerang; and a couple of ships.

A search for “loyal” brought up a company’s logo; an image of the Boy Scouts; and the cover to Tupac Shakur’s “Loyal to the Game.”

Why am I trying to illustrate loyalty? Because I’m a very lucky man. Lucky because I get to attend the gatherings of two groups whom I respect very much: Retired Los Angeles police officers and retired Los Angeles Times reporters and editors. These are two groups of extremely fine men (and they are mostly men, given the professions and the era) and despite what you might expect, they are very much alike.

Both groups have drinks before lunch, which is a pleasant but not particularly distinguished meal, there’s a little business and a few announcements, a moment of silence for the recently departed and then a speaker. The retired officers say the Pledge of Allegiance, the retired reporters don’t. There’s a little more socializing and then they clear the room.

There’s many other things they share, but what struck me especially, as I attended the retired officers’ luncheon yesterday, was loyalty—loyalty to one another, loyalty to the department (or The Times) and most of all loyalty to the profession.

There are many reasons people become police officers (or reporters) and I don’t think anybody goes into either profession to get rich. Both professions, despite their many differences, require a dedication to integrity and indeed that’s exactly what I have found with both groups. Are there bull sessions? You bet. But what comes through again and again is professionalism and dedication.

I was reminded of that again yesterday when my host told me he was once assigned to ride with an officer who had been transferred over his role in “Bloody Christmas.” My friend told me he rode with this officer for two days, then went to the lieutenant and asked to be reassigned to another partner. He didn’t want to ride with the man because he was too prone to violence.

The reason I’m talking about all of this is because of the portrayals of several figures in the Black Dahlia case: former Chiefs Thad Brown and William H. Parker, and former Capt. Jack Donahoe, who was head of homicide during the Black Dahlia investigation. It is difficult to find three more respected men in the department and until Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” came along, you never heard a bad word about any of them.

There are certainly those who have a different view of Parker. One of the singular moments of my life was interviewing the late U.S. District Judge David Williams, the first African American federal judge west of the Mississippi, who called Parker “the king of bastards as far as the black community was concerned.”

But among police officers who knew him, Parker is always given the highest respect and admiration, as are Brown and Donahoe. And quite frankly, these retirees take the corruption and cover-up charges against Parker, Brown and Donahoe in “Black Dahlia Avenger” and the other Black Dahlia books as a deep, personal insult. They are nothing less than furious.

Page 33

“Although many former LAPD Homicide detectives, including Harry Hansen, long ago conceded that the murderer was deceased, up until the end of the twentieth century, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office continued to refuse the release of Elizabeth Short’s autopsy report, claiming that this public document was being retained because the case was unsolved. Yet, there is not another cold-case homicide on record in Los Angeles in which the autopsy report has not been made available to the public.”

OK, first of all does the LAPD concede that Elizabeth Short’s killer is dead? These detectives were sharp men and always left themselves a way out. They will always qualify it by saying “probably” dead. Considering the number of surviving World War II veterans, it would be illogical to assume conclusively and absolutely that the murderer is dead. He may well be. But we don’t know definitively.

I’m not sure Hansen specifically addresses the issue in the 1971 feature in The Times. Let’s check.

Ah, what’s this? Remember when we talked about: “The fact that the body had been bisected by someone with advanced surgical knowledge was never disclosed at the time and the withholding of this vital information led to a misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

And what does the 1971 Times profile of Harry Hansen say? “Most bizarre of all was that the corpse had been occupationally bisected and scrubbed clean, points which gave rise to later speculation that the killer had to have possessed more than a passing knowledge of surgery.”


And what do we find in Hansen profile? Exactly what I said.


“While he was on the case, Hansen refused to speculate either way, saying he preferred facts to suppositions. But, today, so many years after the fact, Hansen does permit himself the subjective luxury of his own opinion.

“It’s fairly realistic to figure the killer is no longer alive. By now, he would have done something, said something, that would have attracted attention. If he is still alive, he’s got it made unless he slips up and blows it. That’s a lot of years that’ve gone by; it would be hard now to go back and dig up new witnesses, new evidence.”

I have to go. In the meantime, let’s play a game: You tell me how many autopsies of unsolved, cold cases have been released in Los Angeles County; cold cases in which no suspect has ever been identified. Wolfe makes it sound routine, but offhand, I’d say the number is few to none.

Shout out to:

Dark Horse Comics (

University of Michigan Medical Center (

Nashua, N.H. (

Hurry back!

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, He Walked by Night

Much has been written about poor crowd control at the Black Dahlia crime scene. Here’s an example of LAPD crowd control from the 1948 film “He Walked by Night,” which was the genesis of “Dragnet,” first as a radio show and then as a TV program. The idea of “Dragnet” arose during filming of “He Walked by Night” as Homicide Sgt. Marty Wynn, the technical advisor on the film, talked with actor Jack Webb about all the mistakes Hollywood made in portraying police work.

A frame grab from the movie shows the ropes used to keep people away from the car where a police officer has been killed. Retired Capt. Ed Jokisch has told me many times that in the 1940s, when he worked homicide, the call car had ropes used for crowd control.

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Pinata

So what’s your point, Harnisch? Isn’t there a little schadenfreude here in dismantling Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles”? Didn’t you make your point at the preface?

Absolutely. So, as Sandy Koufax said: “The question is why.”

The answer is that time after time, people insist this book is thoroughly researched and well documented. And this nonsense spreads from one writer to another until it’s in wikipedia and in otherwise reputable books. One of my goals is to show what real research is like: Tedious, time-consuming, labor-intensive, picayune and thorough. And of course I never imagined when I set out that Wolfe’s book would present such a rich lode of fiction and fraud. As the old saying goes: “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.”

Another blog review of the Sherman Oaks "Black Dahlia" screening is posted and it's the worst one yet.

Ordinarily I wouldn't write a review or post any comments on a film that hasn't been released, indeed a film that might not yet be finished, but "The Black Dahlia" is so bloody awful that I feel an obligation to save everyone in the world from the torture of having to sit through it.

Before I say anything about the film, I should point out that what I saw was the first advance screening, and the film may go through some changes; that is, they may fix some things. But now let me say there is no way they can possibly fix this film without going back and writing a new script, and shooting at least an hour of new footage.

The film is a total mess, from beginning to end, and has almost nothing to do with the Black Dahlia.
Here’s a screen shot:

Page 33

It is impossible for me to translate the noise I just made into type. I scanned the page and it’s loaded with nonsense. Get ready for a long sit.

“The slashed mouth and the blows to the head were characteristic of a rage murder, while the meticulous mutilation and bisection of the corpse with a surgical instrument were indices of a more methodical pathology, suggesting that more than one person may have been involved in the murder and disposition of the body.”

To the end notes, Watson, old boy.

Aha. Wolfe needs an expert so he gets one of the best: John Douglas. But we’re already in shaky territory. Does Wolfe actually interview Douglas? Nope. Another book from the five-foot shelf of secondary sources.

Let me make it perfectly clear: True researchers never use secondary sources if they can avoid it. Repeat after me: Never.

To the bookshelf to dig out “The Cases That Haunt Us” by Douglas with Mark Olshaker. (Hm. I seem to have two copies of “For the Life of Me,” one autographed that I got someplace and another that was a present from Will Fowler for having him over for Thanksgiving one year—Will was a charming man. A real teller of tall tales, but a very charming man).




Oh come on, this can’t be right.

Wolfe cites Pages 324-333 in “The Cases That Haunt Us.” Now in my copy (which, granted, is a uncorrected advance proof) this portion of the book deals with:

Are you ready?

JonBenet Ramsey.

Now I’m going to count to 10 and come down off the ceiling.

OK. Let’s run that quote again:

“The slashed mouth and the blows to the head were characteristic of a rage murder.”

And what does John Douglas (whom I interviewed, by the way—more about that later) say?

Guess what:

“The homicide falls under the heading of lust murder.” (Douglas and Olshaker, “Cases That Haunt Us,” Page 240).

So not only does Wolfe send us to the wrong place (and fudge the details by citing an entire chapter as the source for one sentence). He completely misrepresents what’s said in his alleged source.

To cite a source, make it difficult to verify and then completely contradict what’s said is nothing less than literary fraud that shows utter contempt not only for the readers but for the publisher. ReganBooks, you’ve been had. Did I mention this is a $30 book?

“Autopsy records are ordinarily part of the public record; however, Elizabeth Short’s autopsy report has never been made available to the public. The original explanation for the sealed report was Capt. Donahoe’s claim that it contained certain information that would be known only to the killer and that Homicide [note to ReganBooks’ proofreaders: why is this capitalized?] could use this secret information as a ‘control question’ when establishing the credibility of a prime suspect.”

Again, this is wrong. Autopsy reports are indeed public records when they involve what are deemed natural deaths (like John Belushi) or solved crimes. Autopsy reports on unsolved crimes are normally sealed unless the media go to court in an attempt to gain access. For example, the autopsy of Lana Clarkson, allegedly killed by Phil Spector, has not been released. (Citation: “The full autopsy report was not released at the request of prosecutors, a coroner's spokesman said.”)

The point is, Elizabeth Short’s autopsy was sealed as are all medical examinations in unsolved crimes.

That’s it for today. Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Bayreuth, Germany (

Hurry back!

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Funny Papers

Oh dear…. oh dearie, dearie, dear. Just out of curiosity, I decided to check the address Wolfe gave as his home when Bugsy Siegel was killed. This was 803 N. Roxbury Drive (“Mogul,” Page 26).

First the good news. Wolfe actually lived there. Now for the bad news: It turns out that Wolfe’s mother sold the house to Sol Hurok in—what’s this—1944? That’s three (count them 1… 2… 3…) years before Siegel was killed.

This is where Perry Mason would say: “No further questions.” The whole business with Bugsy Siegel and Wolfe’s family is an out and out lie.

Another blog review of the “Black Dahlia” screening is in and it’s even worse than the first.

“There is so much wrong with this film that I don't even know where to start!”

Where was I? Oh yes. I was about to have a rhetorical conversation with myself about some nits being too small to pick. Let’s backtrack for a moment (what do you mean, backtrack? We’re only on Page 32) to Page 4 in Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles,” which refers to the Examiner press line publishing the paper, including “Felix the Cat.” That didn’t sound familiar to me but I didn’t have the time to check. Then a couple days ago I went down to the Los Angeles Public Library and pulled the microfilm on another story from 1947 and took a moment to check the comics page.

Guess what.

No “Felix the Cat.”

I do have a copy of the Aug. 10, 1945, Examiner in my archives so I checked that too.

No “Felix the Cat.”

The comics lineup for the Los Angeles Examiner in 1947 was:

“Steve Canyon,” “Buz Sawyer,” “Rip Kirby,” “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” “Little Miss Muffet,” “Lone Ranger,” “Little Annie Rooney,” “Mandrake the Magician,” “Bringing Up Father,” “Blondie,” “Tillie the Toiler,” “The Nebbs,” “Secret Agent X-9” and “Tommy of the Big Top.”

And yes, I also checked the Sunday comics.

No “Felix the Cat.”

Does this matter in the least? By itself, not in the least. Piled on the heap of other mistakes, misrepresentations and fiction? It shows that even the smallest details in “Mogul” may not stand up to scrutiny. And compared to Wolfe not living near Siegel when he was killed it’s small potatoes indeed.

Now back to the autopsy of Elizabeth Short.

Page 32

“Dr. Newbarr was quoted by the press as saying that he believed the victim was ‘killed and mutilated while tied in a bath tub.’ ”

Well no, Newbarr didn’t say that. He did speculate that she was cut in half in a bathtub [note to ReganBooks proofreaders, bathtub is one word not two. Did I mention this is a $30 book when you include sales tax?], but he never said anything about her being killed in a bathtub, nor that she was tied up at the time.

Of course, we’re not going to get any help from the end notes. Wolfe doesn’t even bother to attribute this because he can’t, so he just says Newbarr was quoted in the press. And of course Newbarr was a smart medical examiner (despite what you may read in Janice Knowlton’s “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer” about him missing things) so he only offered the use of a bathtub as a possible scenario.

Yikes! The following paragraph is totally wrong and completely made up:

“What was clear to Dr. Newbarr and those who had studied the condition of the corpse on Norton Avenue was that the deep cuts were not brought about by the same instrument that was used to severe
[severe? How about sever? Did I mention this is a $30 book?] the corpse. The slashed mouth and cheek areas exhibited the ragged cuts of a knife, while the mutilation and bisection of the body was accomplished methodically with a surgical instrument by someone who was proficient in surgical procedure—two different cutting instruments, two MO’s. One instrument was employed before death and the other was employed after death. The fact that the body had been bisected by someone with advanced surgical knowledge was never disclosed at the time and the withholding of this vital information led to the misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

Aha. Now here is where Wolfe is apparently planting what he’s going to use as a smoking gun later on. This is only a guess on my part, but since it’s totally false and completely fabricated, I strongly suspect we’re going to hear about this again.

Let’s break this down:

“What was clear to Dr. Newbarr and those who had studied the condition of the corpse on Norton Avenue was that the deep cuts were not brought about by the same instrument that was used to severe [sever!] the corpse.”

  • Danger sign No. 1: This isn’t attributed to anyone. Wolfe never talked to Newbarr, who died in 1976, so it’s a complete mystery as to where he supposedly got it.

  • Danger sign No. 2: Nobody who was at the crime scene ever said this on the record; not Will Fowler, not Detective Harry Hansen, not Detective Finis Brown (the two lead investigators), not reporter Aggie Underwood and not anybody else I can think of.

  • Danger sign No. 3: Nothing like this is in the excerpts of the autopsy report published in the transcript of the inquest.

For Wolfe to just drop this in as though it was well-known fact is nothing more than sheer fiction.

“The slashed mouth and cheek areas exhibited the ragged cuts of a knife, while the mutilation and bisection of the body was accomplished methodically with a surgical instrument by someone who was proficient in surgical procedure—two different cutting instrument, two MO’s.”

The surgical proficiency of whoever killed Elizabeth Short has been well-established. The FBI files excerpt published by Wolfe on Page 341, citing FBI document No. 62-82627-24, correctly states: “The body was cut into around the waist with a very sharp instrument and the cut was very cleanly done—none of the internal organs being touched except [censored]. There is some speculation that the murderer has had some training in the dissection of bodies.”

But there is absolutely nothing about the lacerations to the face being ragged, or anything about them at all.

“The fact that the body had been bisected by someone with advanced surgical knowledge was never disclosed at the time, and the withholding of this vital information led to the misconception of the crime by both the press and the public that has been perpetuated for decades.”

Now wait. Let’s backtrack and pull out Jack Webb’s treatment in “The Badge,” which dates from 1958. I have been told by people (usually dealers who were trying to sell a copy for lots of money before it was reissued—I’m thinking of a particular shop in Pasadena) that this account is the best thing ever written on the Black Dahlia case. Actually, it’s full of mistakes and overlaid with a snide, superior, moralistic commentary on how it’s Elizabeth Short’s fault that her murder was never solved.

But even Webb (“The Badge,” Page 31) alludes to the killer’s proficiency: “Afterwards he (or she) drained the system of blood, scrubbed the body clean and even shampooed the hair [that’s one of Webb’s many mistakes, folks]. Then it was neatly cut in two and deposited at 39th and Norton.”

The perpetuated misconception about the crudeness of the bisection arises in (as we might expect) John Gilmore’s “Severed.” Gilmore, curiously and despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary, continues to insist that the body was sawed or hacked. Have I mentioned that “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction?

Tomorrow, Page 33.

Shout out to:

Naperville, Ill. ( My hometown!

A certain Air Force base in Virginia

RMW Architecture and Interiors (

Hurry on back!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Cloudy Crystal Ball

I have a poor track record with movie screenings, being one of the few people to walk out halfway through a sneak preview of “Boogie Nights,” which I thought was terrible. Of course the kid who conned me into seeing it told me it was “a Burt Reynolds movie” (a few years ago, any passing warm body on Colorado Boulevard in Old Pasadena was at risk of getting dragged into a theater for a screening). The polka music inserted as a placeholder for the soundtrack didn’t help. Imagine my surprise when everybody I knew absolutely adored it.

So I said “no” when someone asked me last week if I wanted to get into the sneak screening of the Brian De Palma movie “Black Dahlia” on Tuesday night in Sherman Oaks. Some people burn ardently for a movie deal, but I’m not one of them. I’m still thinking of David Thomson’s line in his New York Times review of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger”: “Kevin Spacey should buy the film rights to this book quickly.” I don’t think there’s any way Hollywood could do a film about the Black Dahlia without turning it into a gruesome slasher flick. And I’m certainly not interested in that.

The verdict from someone who did attend last night’s screening: This movie, while FAR from finished, is a disaster of tremendous proportions. Given the quirks of blogs, there’s no telling how long this will stay up, so here’s a screen shot.

On the other hand, after reading a New York Times article about violinist Christian Tetzlaff yesterday, I dug out a recording of his fabulous December 2002 debut with the New York Philharmonic. Not to brag, but I do have my moments.

Page 31

Time for the autopsy in the coroner’s offices in the basement of the Hall of Justice. “Mogul” calls the area “rat-infested.” Sigh. To the end notes once again, Watson. Hm. The sources are Will Fowler’s “Reporters” and coroner’s inquest documents. Will had vivid stories about the coroner’s office, but none of them involved rats. Even John Gilmore's account in "Severed" attributed to the nonexistent Detective Herman Willis doesn't mention rats. I don’t buy it.

And now the autopsy, performed by Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Victor Cefalu. Ah this interesting. One of the telltale markers in bad Dahlia research is the misspelling of Cefalu as “CeFalu” in “Severed.” (Like the Crime Library. Though to be fair, they have asked me to contribute something and I’ve been too busy so far). Wolfe sidestepped that one at least.

Uh-oh. We have just gone from warp speed to impulse power. This could take a while.

“Dr. Newbarr concluded that the immediate cause of death was hemorrhage and shock due to the deep knife lacerations of the face and repeated blows by a heavy metal object to the face and right forehead.”

As Peter Abelard used to say: “Sic et Non,” though not about “true” crime books.

To quote the inquest transcript in Wolfe’s own book, Page 336: “The immediate cause of death was hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face.”

I can’t think of a single original source on the Dahlia case that mentions a heavy metal object. And there’s nothing about deep knife lacerations, just lacerations.

Page 32

“There were deep ridges on her ankles, thighs, wrists and neck indicating she had been tied with rope or wire,” Dr. Newbarr stated to an INS reporter. “The victim’s mouth had been slit at each side to the ear while she was still alive. The excruciating pain of this would bring on shock… The blows to the face and head and the brain concussion came from blows from an iron instrument with a blunt edge.”

Now this is bad work, nothing more than an out and out lie. Newbarr never said anything like this to anybody as far as I know. But let’s check to be sure.

Here’s a little background that should help narrow the source: INS (International News Service) was owned by Hearst, so that would indicate a story that appeared in another Hearst paper (for example, the San Francisco Examiner) when it picked up a Los Angeles Examiner story.

Back to the increasingly well-thumbed end notes. Supposedly this is from the Examiner, Jan. 17, 1947. Now there’s absolutely no reason for the Examiner to run an INS story about something that happened locally, so this is extremely suspicious.

And in tracing Wolfe’s citation, we find a dead end. The photocopies of the Jan. 17, 1947, Examiner reposing happily in one of my file cabinets show the only direct quote from Newbarr is: “hemorrhage and shock due to lacerations of the face and concussion of the brain.”

Now there’s a reason Newbarr not only didn’t say this but wouldn’t have said it. Note that Elizabeth Short had been struck in the head. The doctors I’ve consulted tell me that when her face was cut she was almost certainly unconscious from being hit in the head. Alive, yes. Conscious, no.

A day on 2½ paragraphs. Not as bad as a day on one sentence, which I think is a record. But there’s no way to be quick and thorough. And I’m all for being thorough.

Feedback, by the way, seems to be 100% in favor of continuing on Donald H. Wolfe's "Black Dahlia Files," so I shall.

Here’s a shout out to:

Croatia (, who knew?

The Hague (

Houghton Mifflin ( 1 hour, 5 minutes.

GDS Publishing (

Pixar (

Hurry back!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

some code

Once Upon a time there were three bears. A papa bear, a mama bear and a baby bear. They all lived together in a big house in the forest. One day

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, The FBI Story

There is an individual on ebay who sells copies of Elizabeth Short’s FBI file for $22 and some bidders drive the price even higher. The fact that the files are available online for free has curbed the demand somewhat. But I don’t know which is worse: a seller offering something that anybody can get for free (oh yes, you do get a “bound” version, if you consider a cheap plastic spiral a “binding”) or the people who buy it for $44.89, like sydney20030_3 .

Update: The price on ebay has gone up to $23, plus $5 shipping. Still free on the FBI's website.

Page 28

In his treatment of the Black Dahlia case, Donald H. Wolfe is going to deal with the relationship between the police and the newspapers in the 1940s, which was definitely cozier than it is now.

“While today there is only one daily metropolitan newspaper in Los Angeles, back in 1947 there were five and all were zealous competitors—especially on a major murder case that had captured the public’s attention.”

I’m at a bit of a loss as to which papers Wolfe is talking about. I can think of four majors in 1947: The Times and the Examiner in the morning, the Herald-Express in the afternoon and the Daily News (no relation to the Daily News of Los Angeles). There were suburban papers in Pasadena, Hollywood, Long Beach and elsewhere, but I wouldn’t call any of them major. And of course while The Times is the major paper today, there is still the Daily News of Los Angeles, which covers the San Fernando Valley, and the Orange County Register (nee the Santa Ana Register).

And the next milepost in the Black Dahlia story, wiring the fingerprints to Washington. Again, Wolfe’s got it wrong:

“According to reporter Will Fowler, when the Examiner learned that the crime lab had sent the fingerprint card of Jane Doe #1 to Washington, editor Jim Richardson had managing editor Warden Wollard call Capt. Donahoe and request that the LAPD supply the Examiner with a copy of the prints.”

Oh boy. This is a trifecta of errors.

First of all, in newspaper hierarchy, the managing editor outranks the city editor, Jim Richardson. Second, Wollard didn’t ask Donahoe for a copy of the prints. And third, when you fingerprint a corpse, you obviously can’t use a fingerprint card. Instead individual squares are applied to each finger.

Watson! The end notes!

Just as I thought. Wolfe attributes this to Will, in a 2003 interview (by then Will was pretty far gone, I imagine) and Will’s autobiography “Reporters.” The question is why Wolfe doesn’t use Richardson’s autobiography, “For the Life of Me.” This is especially mysterious since Wolfe cites the book in his bibliography. Of course we have already found instances of Wolfe citing a book in the bibliography or end notes and ignoring it so this isn’t a first, alas. But it is significant.

Let’s see what Richardson has to say (“For the Life of Me,” Page 298):

“I thought I had done everything that could possibly be done. I couldn’t think of an angle we hadn’t covered. But I missed on one. I missed one that Warden Wollard, then assistant managing editor (note: not the managing editor—big difference) and now editor of the Examiner, spotted that gave us the first big jump on the story, the jump that made it our story from then on.”


“After I had left for the night, Warden was still around when a couple of homicide squad detectives came to the Examiner and asked if they could have our artist’s drawing of the girl for use in the police bulletin.”

Wollard overheard the conversation and suggested sending the prints to Washington by Soundphoto. He didn’t call the police; the police came to the Examiner.

Page 29

More nuts and bolts of sending Elizabeth Short’s fingerprints to the FBI. It’s wrong but not worth pointing out. Just take my word for it, the book is wrong.

Ah, but what's the source of Elizabeth Short's fingerprints? Hm. We're not told and material like this should be attributed. Just as I thought, the Examiner only ran a close-up of one print, not all 10. A puzzlement.
Humph. Not in Steve Hodel's "Black Dahlia Avenger" but there's a ratty copy in John Gilmore's "Severed," although the source isn't listed. This is shoddy work, folks.

Page 30

“Elizabeth Short had been arrested on September 23, 1943, with a group of soldiers and other girls who were drinking and causing a disturbance near Camp Cooke, an army base north of Santa Barbara, California.”

Uh. No. She was arrested in Santa Barbara, and unless you consider 53 miles “close,” it wasn’t near Camp Cooke. There was no report of a disturbance, nor was she with a big mob of rowdy people. More correctly, she was on a double date and was a minor in possession of alcohol or a minor in a liquor establishment. There’s no excuse for getting these small details wrong since Wolfe clearly had access to the original Examiner (copies of which are included in his book). More important, this constitutes Elizabeth Short’s entire criminal record.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, it looks like Wolfe is going right to the autopsy. That should be interesting.

Here’s a shout out to the World Book (

Rutgers (, 4 hours and 57 minutes? I’m flattered.

Hurry back!

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Houyhnhnms

Our story so far, the two-minute executive summary:

Donald H. Wolfe’s book “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles” has introduced the character of “Uncle Vern,” not a blood relative but the boyfriend of the author’s grandmother.

Uncle Vern is presented as:

  • a disgraced former prosecutor, which he wasn’t (disgraced, yes; prosecutor, no)

  • a mob lawyer (lawyer, yes; mob mouthpiece, not a chance)

  • a house-sitter for Bugsy Siegel in 1946, which is impossible because Siegel didn’t live at the house in question until 1947. Uncle Vern is the source of a story about the murder of Thelma Todd by Bugsy Siegel, buttressed by the book “Hot Toddy” that is entirely suspect.

“Mogul” continues a studied disinterest in the truth, confusion about the jurisdiction of various local government agencies and a nasty phobia about original documents. On the good side, Uncle Vern was an actual person, attorney Vernon R. Hamilton, unlike many of the people in “Severed.”

And in what raises the bar several notches in terms of bizarre endorsements/non-endorsements, “Severed” author John Gilmore is listed in Wolfe’s acknowledgements and even contributed the book jacket blurb: “A haunting account, destined to become a true-crime classic. A must read!” then repudiated this book and told L.A. Weekly he couldn’t appear to support this book in any way.

That’s bizarre—even in the genre of “true” crime.

Above, Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” Although several segments of the book are quite well known, such as Gulliver’s encounter with the Lilliputians, the final portion of the work, a somewhat utopian society of horses called the Houyhnhnms is largely ignored. They are perfect for our purposes, however, since their vocabulary doesn’t have a word for lying and Gulliver must explain it as “the thing that is not.” Alas, we have found in “Mogul” many instances of “the thing that is not” and I suspect there are more occurrences ahead.

And no sign of how the death of Thelma Todd is in any way related to the Black Dahlia.

Page 26

“On the night Bugsy Siegel was shot to death while sitting on the sofa in his living room reading the Los Angeles Times of June 20, 1947, Vern and one of his pals lugged a large padlocked steamer trunk over to our house and stashed it in the garage. It contained something that belonged to Bugsy and remained in the garage for a number of months.”

Quick, Watson, the end notes. Ah, this is interesting (at least to a total research drudge, I suppose). Page 25 is attributed to the FBI’s files on Siegel, released through the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, there are 2,421 pages in Siegel’s files and we’re not given the document number. An oversight, I’m sure. Luckily they are online (although heavily censored) right here.

Hm. Another volume from Wolfe’s five-foot shelf of secondary sources, “We Only Kill Each Other” by Dean Jennings. I checked to see if Florabel Muir’s “Headline Happy” is in the bibliography (it is) but there’s no use of her description of the crime scene, an unforgettable account (unless you are the author of “Mogul,” apparently) about Siegel’s eyelid being plastered on the wall and blood puddled on The Times dripping down on her satin evening slippers.

Curiously, Wolfe’s bibliography is missing “Beverly Hills Is My Beat,” by Beverly Hills Police Chief Clinton H. Anderson. Although Anderson was out of town on the night Siegel was shot, he fills in details about security in the city, including the fact that police cruised past Siegel’s house every 30 minutes. Given the basic procedures for crowd control and crime scene protection in place in the 1940s and depicted in Anderson’s book, the notion that Uncle Vern and an unidentified friend could spirit away something as large as a steamer trunk is virtually impossible. In light of the many “things that are not” concerning Uncle Vern, I wouldn’t believe this story unless I saw a picture of him and the trunk.

“Uncle Vern also knew a lot about the Black Dahlia case.”

This is a neat little way to tie the murder of Elizabeth Short into what so far has been a long and not terribly accurate digression into vintage malfeasance. Of course, given all the “things that are not” it’s hard to imagine Uncle Vern, the old souse, knowing much about anything.

Page 27

Once again, Wolfe shows an increasingly annoying ignorance of the difference between city and county jurisdictions, saying that Ray Pinker, head of the LAPD crime lab, inked Elizabeth Short’s fingers and obtained prints. This would actually be the job of the coroner, a Los Angeles County agency. Not the city of Los Angeles.

“When Donahoe learned that Examiner staff artist Howard Burke had been allowed into the morgue to make a sketch of the murder victim for identification purposes, Donahoe became angry and questioned the merits of the procedure.”

This is such junk. Attributed to a 2002 interview with Will Fowler, who by that time was barely lucid—at least whenever I talked to him. Will never told me anything like this and I spent lots of time with him. Let’s see if his book “Reporters” says anything about this.

Good for you, Will. Reporters, Page 77: “With no pictures other than the body of the unidentified girl to publish, artist Howard Burke created a likeness of the dead girls’ face from Paegel’s photos.”

That’s enough for today. I have to get going.

ps. OK regular readers (you know who you are)…. Should I keep going or have I made my point? Let me know. I may even enable commenting if you promise to behave yourselves.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Uncle Vern

Page 24-25

I was breezing along (“breezing” being a relative term in reading a book at the molecular level) when I came across this little bon mot tucked into a sentence:

“Angry about the threats she was receiving if she didn’t cooperate with Bugsy Siegel and his pals, on December 11, Thelma made the mistake of going to District Attorney Buron Fitts’s office and lodging a complaint against the mobster who had muscled in on her café. She had no knowledge, of course, that the District Attorney of Los Angeles was on the mob payroll and that word would soon get back to the very people who had threatened her.”

Oh? And who might be the source for this little nugget of information? Quick, Watson, to the end notes.

Humph: “Hot Toddy,” Pages 171-172, 184. Now it doesn’t take much skill to find quibbles with Andy Edmonds’ book, even without buying it, nor to discover other accounts that Todd went to the police rather than the district attorney (recall that Wolfe has the annoying little problem of mixing up city and county government).

I’m going to take a rain check for now, but it’s terribly irresponsible to make such accusations without attribution, even if it’s to a potboiler on Hollywood scandals.

Time to trot out Uncle Vern again, the disgraced prosecutor who never was.

Aha! And it is Uncle Vern who tells young Donald his tales about Thelma Todd. Oh I see, Bugsy Siegel killed Thelma Todd, did he? Uncle Vern was working in the D.A.’s office, eh? I didn’t realize the district attorney was operating out of 405 Subway Terminal Building (MU-3790) in the 1930s. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 1934).

Hm. Hamilton represented Esther M. Jones in her divorce suit against her husband? (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10, 1935). I guess we can conclusively write off any notion that Uncle Vern was ever a prosecutor.

But what’s this? On Aug. 5, 1942, Uncle Vern (attorney Vernon R. Hamilton) was bombed with tear gas by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department because he had barricaded himself in his home and wouldn’t come out? He was put in jail? And where was this house? 407 N. Normandie? That would be nearly seven miles from South Camden Drive. Oh my! Looks like Judge Edward R. Brand found Uncle Vern in contempt for appearing in the court while he was drunk. And sent Uncle Vern to … jail?

And Uncle Vern was supposedly an attorney for the mob? Getting into the newspapers for showing up tanked in court, being gassed by the police and thrown into the graybar hotel by the judge? For the record, Jerry Giesler was Siegel’s defense attorney in the 1942 trial on charges of killing Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg and I doubt very much if Giesler would let Uncle Vern as much as carry his briefcase.

Hm. Now Wolfe gives his address as 803 N. Roxbury, a bit of a drive for Uncle Vern if he’s in his cups.

“…Bugsy Siegel and his girlfriend Virginia “Sugar” Hill, lived just behind us at 810 Linden Drive.”

The wonders of Google Earth. Notice the generous definition of "just behind."

Now Wolfe builds to Uncle Vern the disgraced prosecutor who never was, the mob mouthpiece who never was, having a key to the home on North Linden Drive and taking care of it in 1946 while Siegel and Hill were off in Las Vegas building the Flamingo.

Except for one problem. Siegel didn’t move into the home on Linden until January 1947. How do we know? Because the FBI had him under surveillance.

Her new home? Jan. 10, 1947? And just whom was Uncle Vern house-sitting for in 1946?


ps. I'm quite serious about blogging this in real time. Well-intentioned people have tried to clue me in about what's coming up next. I appreciate your concern, but please don't spoil the fun, thanks.

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