Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bright Young Faces

“Who was the first man?” asked the teacher of an American boy.

“Washington,” was the reply. He was reminded of Adam and observed: “Yes, if you count foreigners.”

Henrietta B. Freeman paid a call on a schoolroom somewhere in Los Angeles in March 1907. She didn’t say where, nor did she give the teacher’s name, just that the teacher was a woman.

All Freeman says about the classroom is that there was a blackboard. For visual aids, the teacher had picture cards: a boy fishing, riding a bicycle and rolling a hoop; a girl washing her doll’s clothes in a tub, using a bar of soap.

There’s little more information about the students, except that there were 30 of them, ranging in age from 7 to 14. A few of them are identified: Onya, Ivan, Josefina and Leah. A Russian girl wears a handkerchief over her flaxen braids. The one thing in common is that none of them speaks English.

It was time for the music hour when Freeman arrived, so the teacher began singing a tune to her students: “Loo, loo, loo.”

“Instantly, every child in the room began to imitate the teacher, and within an astonishingly short time the hum of voices, at first discordant and out of time and tune, rose rhythmically and evenly and within three minutes every child had caught the air and was “loo-loo-looing” away with all his might,” Freeman says.

The teacher wrote the numbers 1 through 8 on the blackboard to represent the scale and in 10 minutes, Freeman says, the students knew that 8 meant the highest note and that 4 meant “fa.”

Next, the teacher began singing words to the song. Holding up a pencil, she sang: “Put away your pencil.” Then, as she demonstrated, she sang “Hands up. Hands down. I have two eyes. I have two ears. I have one chin.”

The language hour was next. The teacher put the picture cards on a rail below the blackboard and asked each student to pick his or her favorite and then talk about it. What was the boy or girl in the picture doing? What are the colors? “One little Spanish lass managed to lip out ‘girl has one soap,’ before the lesson was over,” Freeman says.

Freeman apparently made quite an impression on the youngsters during her visit. When they were told that she worked for The Times, one boy asked if she drew the pictures of Buster Brown.

It’s always interesting to see a woman’s byline in the newspapers of this era and especially so in Freeman’s case. She frequently wrote as Sydney Ford and it was under this pen name that she filed stories for The Times, which sent her on an 11-month trip around the world in 1910.

Forty years later, at the age of 90, she told The Times: “ ‘Miss Freeman,’ she declared with emphasis on the Miss. ‘And don’t you call me an old maid--I never made the mistake of getting married--I’m just a bachelor girl.’ ”

Her key to longevity, she said, was: “Don’t worry. Live cheerfully. Have your friends. Trust in God and say your prayers. And when it’s time--just go.”

Because of printing problems, many of Freeman’s stories about her around-the-world tour are illegible. Fortunately, they were gathered in a 1912 book “Journeying Around the World.”

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, Nothing but Compost

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 discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We are at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego in December 1946, about a month before her murder.

Page 62

Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday. In Wolfe’s portrayal (which is completely at odds with the facts), Elizabeth Short has given the Frenches a phony story about waiting for a friend to wire some money that “never seemed to arrive.” In fact, she got $100 almost the next day, courtesy of her former boyfriend, airline pilot Gordon Fickling.

Now here is a total smear by Wolfe:

“Elvera [French] worked as a civil employee at the San Diego Naval Hospital, and when she came home for lunch, she’d often find Elizabeth still sleeping on the sofa with her fancy clothes strewn about the living room and her exotic lingerie hanging over the furniture.”

I could spend all day on this paragraph. And maybe I will…..

California geography is certainly a challenging subject for some writers. According to Wolfe, Elvera French was working at the Navy hospital in Balboa Park (true) and living in Pacific Beach (also true). So let’s check google maps to see how far she would have to travel to come home for a bite of lunch. Ready?

Large ImageGosh 10 miles. Really now, does it make any sense to claim that somebody is going to drive 10 miles on their lunch hour instead of eating a meal, for example, in the hospital cafeteria or bringing something? C’mon!

My hunch is this is another “Elizabeth Short goes bad” story from John Gilmore’s “Severed,” because “Severed” really piles it on at this point. Then again, as we have seen, Wolfe has no qualms about fabricating stories at this point and not attributing them to anyone, so we may hit a blind alley.

Lead on, Watson!

My dear Holmes! No attribution!

Let’s not give up, shall we, Watson? Let’s turn to the Elizabeth Short photo held by Detective Harry Hansen adjoining Page 211 of “Mogul.”

What we know is that the photo Hansen is holding was taken at the end of Elizabeth Short’s life by a young man who picked up Elizabeth Short in late 1946 and took some photos of her at John Marshall High School. In fact, other photos from this session appear on Pages 516 and 519 of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” (is it my imagination, or is the “Avenger” paperback printed on high-acid paper that is already starting to turn yellow?). These are the last pictures taken of her while she was alive.

Now, tell me, does that look like an expensive outfit? I mean, really!

Large ImagePage 63

It looks like Wolfe is getting ready to kill off Elizabeth Short, and so we won’t feel too sorry for her, he has to make her a lazy, no-good tramp. Luckily for him, he gets yeoman assistance from “Severed.” The reality, of course, is that according to testimony by her roommate Ann Toth in the district attorney’s files (remember, this book is ostensibly based on the “secret district attorney’s files”) Elizabeth Short was very particular about her clothing, very neat and fastidious; didn’t borrow anyone’s clothing and certainly didn’t lend her things to anybody else. But if we go around saying things like that, the reader might actually—horrors!—feel some sympathy for her.

To Pages 96-97 of “Severed” (25% mistakes, 50% fiction), Wolfe’s alleged source of this material.

Aha! Now here is were we get some of the “Elizabeth Short goes bad” material. I thought it sounded awfully familiar.

“Severed,” Page 97

Large Image“Beth slept till half-past eleven almost every morning. The evening before, she’d told Elvera that she was probably starting a new job the next day with Western Airlines, and though she wasn’t sure of the duties, she would begin training soon. Elvera came home for lunch and she found Beth sound asleep on the couch, her clothing spread about the living room—hanging over chairs, on top of the radio, and laid out as though on display.”

Oh my gosh. I just saw the worst nonsense in “Severed.” But I can only debunk one book at a time and “Severed” would be a life’s work. But this stuff in “Severed” about the Aztec Theater manager inviting Elizabeth Short home for shish kabob is just hilarious. Where on earth does “Severed” get this stuff!

I don’t think even Wolfe fell for that one. Nope, Wolfe is completely silent on the subject of late-night shish kabobs with theater managers bent (presumably) on seduction. Late-night shish kabobs, the food of romance!

Get this book out of my face. Back to the pile, “Severed.”

Large ImageAnd speaking of “Dahlia Avenger,” let’s see what Hodel has to say about Elizabeth Short’s days in San Diego. Probably something about his evil genius father disguising himself as an itinerant Gypsy fortune teller and pot mender to commit more malfeasance with Man Ray, Diego Rivera and Grandma Moses or something.

Well, Hodel says nothing about exotic lingerie. And except for the idiotic notion that Elizabeth Short bounced between San Diego and Los Angeles like a Wham-O SuperBall to explain all the unverified sightings during the “lost week,” “Avenger” sticks to the newspaper reports. Hodel picks up the $100 money order from Fickling and wisely sidesteps the “lazy tramp” stuff from “Severed.”

You know, there are times when I wonder if my pile of Dahlia books is going to melt down into a very unpleasant heap. Maybe good for the roses.

I can see Wolfe plans further character assassination as he turns Elizabeth Short into a lazy no-good tramp destined for the murderer’s knife. But that’s it for today.

Large ImageShout out to:

Richard Griswold del Castillo, author of “The Los Angeles Barrio 1850-1890.” Published in 1979. This looks like great stuff.

Inktomi Corp. ( (

Los Angeles Mac/Firefox User ( 11 hours!

Los Angeles Win XP/Opera 8.52 User (

Hurry back!

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L.A. Historians Clearing House

Large ImageA researcher writes to say that he is looking for images to accompany a book on African American Los Angeles in the 1940s. I always recommend the following sites for online images of Los Angeles:

Large Image

Note: Even if you don’t find what you’re looking for (and you probably will) I guarantee you’ll have a fascinating chat with Delmar Watson. My experience has always been that news photographers go everywhere and know everybody.

If you have any other suggestions, post a comment (moderated, remember).

I’m always happy to help other researchers. Everyone has certainly been helpful to me.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Honored Guests

Large Image
I’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 telling the story in “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story in which Elizabeth Short is in San Diego about a month before her murder in January 1947.

I got a phone call last night from retired Police Capt. Ed Jokisch about the copy of “Mogul” I gave to him. He started out: “That no-good S.O.B. Vince Carter” and it went downhill from there. Ed, who is in his 90s, is a good friend and worked in homicide in 1947 after serving in the Navy during World War II. Ed was a close friend of Capt. Jack Donahoe, the head of homicide during the Black Dahlia investigation, and is staunchly loyal to him. As far as Ed is concerned, there were few finer people in the world than Donahoe, an opinion shared by everyone except a few scurrilous Black Dahlia books.

Another opinion

Large ImageDonald H. Wolfe’s new book The Black Dahlia Files (HarperCollins Canada, $36.95) is the latest of numerous works about a gruesome 1947 Los Angeles murder, never solved, in which a young woman was cut in half and dumped in a vacant lot. One earlier author suggested that his own father committed the crime; others were almost equally imaginative. Wolfe’s thesis is that the murderer was the mobster Bugsy Siegel. In making his argument, he also devotes several pages to a cold-case investigation done by [John] Douglas in 1999. Douglas theorised that the killer was someone who had a “rigid, patient, compulsive and deliberate” personality—and probably “stuttered…”. If he were alive, Siegel, who was indeed a psychopathic killer, would probably sue for libel.

Page 62

I’m taking a rain check on some aspects of the French family, who befriended Elizabeth Short for most of December 1946 before asking her to leave in January 1947.

Medium ImageWolfe makes an incredible statement:

“Mrs. French’s husband had been killed in the war and Elizabeth told her that she, too, was a war widow—that her ‘husband,’ Major Matt Gordon, had been killed in a plane crash in India while flying for the army’s air force.
[note to ReganBooks, the publishing house without proofreaders: branches of the service are capitalized].”

And there are some other little goodies here:

“…initially the Frenches believed that their houseguest often wore black because she was in mourning for her dead husband and baby. But her frequent late night dates and frivolous lifestyle seemed to belie that conclusion.”

The material about Elizabeth Short’s claim that she was a widow whose son had died is certainly true. That was one of the regular sob stories to get sympathy. But I don’t recall ever reading that French’s husband was killed in the war or that the Frenches believed Elizabeth Short work black because she was in mourning.

Large Image
I know, Holmes, the end notes!

Shall we guess, Watson? I suspect John Gilmore’s “Severed,” although I’m not positive. That doesn’t sound like Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows” or Will Fowler’s “Reporters.”

Just as I thought. Wolfe doesn’t bother to attribute that to anybody—of course that’s because he can’t. Nobody’s ever said that Elvera French was a war widow or mentioned the notion that Elizabeth Short might have worn black because she was in mourning. This is very poor work, folks. As for wearing nothing but black, recall Red Manley’s description that she was in a frilly white blouse and beige topcoat the last time he saw her.

What more proof could you want than Wolfe’s own book? Look at the photo of Harry Hansen holding a picture of Elizabeth Short adjoining Page 211. Guess who isn’t wearing black. Go ahead—guess.

Let’s press on.

“Elizabeth told the Frenches she had been working in Hollywood as a movie extra and was expecting some money to be sent to her at the Western Union office.”

“The expected money-wire never seemed to arrive and instead of getting up in the morning to look for employment, Elizabeth would stay out late at night—sometimes until two or three in the morning—and then sleep until noon. Her late dates, she said were ‘with prospective employers.’ ”

Large ImageNow anybody who has read the original newspaper accounts (and I assume that includes Wolfe) knows this is wrong. The day after being befriended by the Frenches, one of them took Elizabeth Short to the Western Union office to get $100 sent by Gordon Fickling, her former boyfriend.

And all the stuff about her staying out late and sleeping until noon sounds like “Severed” (25% mistakes, 50% fiction), so let’s see where Wolfe got it.

Lead on, Watson.

My dear Holmes! There’s no attribution whatsoever!

And the line about her staying out until 3 a.m. with “prospective employers?” No attribution at all, Holmes!

Nasty business, Watson. An unsubstantiated smear by our friend Mr. Wolfe. Nasty business.

Large Image
Time to go.

Shout out to:

Kuala Lumpur (

My old pal in Kerkira, Greece (

George Washington University (

University of Quebec at Montreal (

Encinitas, Calif. ( 23 hours!

Large ImageO/S Breakdown

Some version of Windows: 92%
Mac OS X 5%
Linux 2% (my regular reader on Road Runner in San Diego)
Unknown 1%

Check out my post on the 1947 Project

And hurry back!

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Elijah Washington

Elijah Washington died because he didn’t like being called a six-letter word for black people.

And a San Bernardino jury decided that Tough Webster had done nothing wrong in killing him, even though Webster’s friends said the slaying was unjustified.

On Oct. 1, 1906, Lon “Tough” Webster, a recent arrival from Oklahoma, and Fred Drew of Ontario went out in a horse and buggy to hunt doves in the fields east of Pomona. It was a hot day and after a bit of hunting, the men decided to go drinking at the Sandos winery, an unlicensed saloon frequently closed by authorities.

Drew and Webster pitched horseshoes with the blacks and cholos gathered there, and whoever lost bought drinks for everyone.

The Times described Washington as “a splendid figure of a man, standing about six feet and weighing about 180 pounds. For one of his race he was unusually handsome.”

“Webster, [Drew] said, had resented the attitude of the Negro and said that he would take no insult from any Mexican or …” and here is where we find our six-letter word.

Washington began to take off his coat, a gesture that the men interpreted as if he wanted to fight, so Webster ran to the buggy and got the shotgun, which was lying on the floorboards, loaded and cocked.

“Why you wouldn’t kill a man, would you?” Washington asked, and Webster shot him in the neck with both barrels. Washington collapsed in Drew’s arms.

At the coroner’s inquest, Webster’s friends said the killing was completely unjustified. He was bound over for trial and when the judge refused to grant bail, several prominent local businessmen began to raise money for his bond, which was ultimately set at $5,000 ($102,617.85 USD 2005).

During the trial, the court was presented with an affidavit from Webster’s hometown in Oklahoma, saying that he had a good reputation and that “Tough” was merely a nickname from his schooldays.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty in 10 minutes, according to The Times for March 14, 1907.

About the six-letter word. You know what it is as well as I. It was frequently used in newspapers, appearing in at least 39 stories in The Times for 1907. But you won’t read it here, at least from me. If a man died because he didn’t want to be called a certain word, it seems criminal to describe him that way nearly a century later.

By the way, I was surprised to find usage of “cholo” this early. I assumed it was a bit more recent. Live and learn.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Our Far-Flung Correspondents

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 is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story where Elizabeth Short has gone to San Diego about a month before she was killed.

I was voicing skepticism yesterday about what movie was playing at the Aztec Theatre, an all-night movie house in San Diego, on the date in question. “Mogul” claims it was the “Al Jolson Story,” which is extremely unlikely.

A regular reader writes:

On 6th and 7th of December 1946, the Aztec played “The Blue Dahlia” and“Firebrands of Arizona.” During the day of the 8th, the Aztec played “Dead or Alive” and “Alibi. “For some reason, problems with the “Dead” film(?), the Aztec reverted to “The Blue Dahlia” and “Firebrands” on the night of the 8th. And on the 9th of December 1946, the Aztec played “Dead or Alive” and “Alibi.”

That sounds more likely. Of course, I still need to check for myself because that’s how I work, but those movies sound more reasonable. The Aztec was a second-run movie house that was converted from a former meat market. The “Al Jolson Story,” as Donald H. Wolfe and I know, comes from another story in the district attorney’s files. It was playing at the Pantages in Hollywood.

Large ImageDoes this seem trivial? Absolutely. By itself, it is meaningless, but taken in concert with all the other fabrication in the book, this small fact proves once again that Wolfe is absolutely untrustworthy in terms of details.

Page 61

By now, Elizabeth Short is befriended by Dorothy French, a cashier at the Aztec. Wolfe claims that Elizabeth asked about a temporary job.

Now here’s something interesting. A longish quote from Dorothy French:

“When she said ‘temporary,’ I thought it meant she wasn’t looking for a permanent job,” Dorothy recalled, “and that she didn’t intend on staying in San Diego. I suggested that she talk to the manager the next day. There was something so sorrowful about her—she seemed lost and a stranger to the area, and I felt I wanted to help her. I wasn’t sure how. She apparently had no place to stay. I suggested she come home with me and get a good night’s sleep, if that would help. She said she was thankful for my generosity.”

If this is from anywhere, it should be from John Gilmore’s “Severed,” because nobody else has ever claimed to have interviewed Dorothy French, except perhaps the 1947 newspapers and I don’t recall her ever saying anything like that in print.

Come along, Watson. Surely you know the way by now.

Yes, Holmes, the end notes say: “Severed,” Page 96.

Then let’s just check on “Severed,” shall we?

Large ImageGood grief, Wolfe can’t even lift a quote from “Severed” without changing it.

See for yourself:

“When she said ‘temporary,’ ” Dorothy says, “I thought it meant she wasn’t looking for a permanent job. I suggested she talk to the manager the next day. There was something so sorrowful about her—she seemed lost and a stranger to the area and I felt I wanted to help her. I wasn’t sure how. She apparently had no place to stay. I suggested she come home with me and get a night’s sleep on our couch, if that would help. She said she was thankful for my generosity. She used the word ‘generosity,’ and said things were difficult in Hollywood because of the strikes.”

But what about “Mogul’s” “She didn’t intend on staying in San Diego”? Concocted entirely by Donald H. Wolfe. Aided and abetted by agent Alan Nevins of The Firm and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. This is poor work, folks.

Large ImageBut let’s take a step back. Ever wonder why nobody quotes Dorothy French except for Gilmore? And why nobody else has been able to find her? Interestingly enough, there aren’t any notes in the Gilmore archives at UCLA from an interview with French. In fact, there aren’t notes of any interviews with anybody in the Gilmore archives, which I find incredibly suspicious, since I keep notes on all my interviews. The only exception is the transcript of a session with Jack Wilson that reveals he was being paid to say he killed Elizabeth Short. (There is an interesting collection of rejection letters on “Severed” that is almost worth the trip to Westwood).

In case you’re curious, the reason nobody’s gotten interviews with Dorothy French is that she died more than 20 years ago.

Let’s check in with Gilmore’s onetime Dahlia partner Mary Pacios. Any quotes from Dorothy French in “Childhood Shadows?”

Hm. Now isn’t this just the most interesting thing? Pacios (“Childhood Shadows,” Page 111) talks about doing interviews in 1988, long after Dorothy French was dead.

Nope, no Dorothy French quotes: (“Childhood Shadows,” Page 86)

“Elvera’s daughter Dorothy said she met Beth at the Aztec Theater in downtown San Diego. Dorothy, working as a cashier, felt sorry for the dark-haired young woman sitting forlornly in the theater. Times had been rough since the end of the war eighteen months before.”

Did Gilmore actually interview Dorothy French? I’d like to know. I’d especially like to see some notes and know what name she was using at the time.

Good grief. I was going to pass on the next paragraph, figuring it was a straight lift from “Severed.” But no. Wolfe has to embellish it.

“Severed,” Page 96:

Large Image“Elvera French was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. She apologized for the mess in the house—she had not expected company. Dorothy quickly told her that Beth was going to ‘camp out’ on the couch for the night since she’d missed a ride and was a little stranded.”

“It seemed as soon as Dorothy brought her a blanket and pillow, and Beth lay down, she was already fast asleep. In the kitchen, Elvera told her daughter that the girl looked ‘pale.’ Dorothy said Beth had been coughing and it sounded like some sort of congestion. Her mother suggested the girl should see a doctor.”

“Mogul,” Page 61

“…Dorothy’s mother, Elvera, was still awake, having a snack in the kitchen. Introducing the unexpected guest, Dorothy explained that Elizabeth had no place to stay. Elvera remembered that she was pale and didn’t look well. She brought Elizabeth a pillow and a blanket and suggested that she sleep on the sofa.”

OK, now what’s wrong with this picture, aside from the trivial questions of whether Dorothy or Elvera French got the blanket and pillow, and whether Elvera was drinking coffee or eating a Krispy Kreme New York cheesecake doughnut. I mean, the whole thing is made up so it hardly matters which vein of fiction you follow.

Does anybody remember what Elvera French did for a living? A job that enabled the French family to live in government housing in Bayview Terrace?

She was a nurse at the Navy hospital in San Diego and obviously well-equipped to diagnose whatever was allegedly ailing Elizabeth Short in “Severed.”


Large ImageTime for my walk.

Here’s a shout out to:

Germany (

France ( 22 hours? Tiens!

Hoffman Lewis (

Hurry back!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Panoramas of Los Angeles

My little ode to my favorite city, covering a roughly 20-year period centered on 1907 with the idea of giving a general introduction to Los Angeles from the 1890s to the eve of World War I. (The Times bombing and the air meet at Dominguez Hills were in 1910, for example). The Skunks of Los Feliz actually discovered this sometime back but I didn't want to tip my hand by saying anything. Fortunately, I received some very flattering comments. Although the music sounds very contemporary, I chose it because it was written in 1907.

Here's a high resolution version, but it only works with the newest versions of Windows (sorry folks with Win 98SE) and doesn't play well with Mac OS X.

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Face Is Familiar

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 is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story where Elizabeth Short has left Los Angeles for San Diego in December 1946, about a month before she was murdered.

Page 60

Wolfe is talking about Elizabeth Short’s stay at the Chancellor on North Cherokee. Everything seems to be lifted more or less from newspaper accounts.

Holmes, I don’t even need to ask. The end notes.

Well, Watson, Wolfe says he consulted the Oakland Tribune, Jan. 21, 1947, a bit unusual. Most people don’t bother with the Oakland papers as they’re hard to get. Let’s check his work. He says that’s where he got this quote:

“She had lots of telephone calls, mostly from a man named Maurice, and she was out almost every night. The morning she left, she was very anxious about something. Beth said to me: ‘I’ve got to hurry! I’ve got to get out of here.’ ”

Let’s pull our copies of the Oakland papers, Watson. Jan. 21, 1947, Oakland Tribune.

My dear Holmes! The quote isn’t there!

Hum. A United Press story datelined Los Angeles. Foul work, Watson. Foul work indeed.

Large ImageLet’s press on. Wolfe talks about a trip to San Diego by Examiner reporter Tommy Devlin and then drags in George O’Day, a name I don’t recognize. I have a terrible feeling I’m about to encounter the three most terrifying words in the English language: “Will Fowler recalls.”

Nope, not attributed to anybody. Who on earth is George O’Day? Let’s check Will Fowler’s “Reporters.” Ha! Page 81 of “Reporters” but not attributed in “Mogul.”

Holmes, why are you never wrong?

Who is this mysterious George O’Day fellow?

“Reporters,” Page 14.

“George O’Day, an ex-professional boxer with a large front gold tooth, grabbed his four-by-five Speed Graphic camera and a bag of negative plates and flash bulbs. We two-stepped it down a couple flights of cast-iron stairways at the rear of the building and out to O’Day’s car in the parking lot.” Well, not a reporter, anyway, but a lensman.

But I don’t seem to recall any Examiner pictures from San Diego. Let’s see. Well, the Examiner ran a photo of Dorothy French but didn’t provide any sort of credit—very unhelpful of them. The Herald ran the same picture a bit later. Normally the Examiner credited photos with a line like “Examiner photo.” But that’s the only picture the Examiner ran from San Diego. Inconclusive.

Page 61

Wolfe picks up the mistake from John Gilmore’s “Severed” about the Aztec Theatre, where Elizabeth Short was befriended by cashier Dorothy French as she was spending the night. “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) fabricates an entire scene out of this moment:

Large Image“After leaving the cafe [I’ll spare you that story], Beth walked up Fifth Street to the Aztec Theater where a double feature was playing. The sign outside said “OPEN ALL NIGHT.” She bought a ticket and soon after settling into one of the plush seats, fell asleep while the movie was playing.

“Twenty-one-year-old Dorothy French worked as a cashier and usher at the Aztec. When the houselights came on she saw the girl sleeping near the front row, the only person left in the theater except for Dorothy and the janitor.

“Dorothy woke the girl and told her the theater was closed. Beth seemed confused and mentioned the sign that said the movie house was open all night. ‘I have to apologize for that,’ Dorothy said. ‘The sign is not supposed to be out there. The policy has been changed because we’re under new management.’ ”

In fact, according to the San Diego newspapers, the Aztec was still an all-night movie theater, one of several in the city. So much for “Severed.”

Wolfe further states that “The Jolson Story” was playing at the Aztec, but note that his source is “Severed,” which doesn’t mention the name of the film and in fact says a double feature was playing. This is bad work, folks. I was fairly certain I had the movie listings for the Aztec from 1946, but I can’t locate them quickly.

Large ImageTime for my walk.

Shout out to:

Dark Horse Comics ( one of my regular visitors.

Sheffield, England (

Lanham, Md. (

Boston (

Rutgers University (

Hurry on back!

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1907 Entry 1

As I began to write my grand opening about Los Angeles in 1907, I felt a ghostly hand pluck ever so gently at my sleeve.

“Promise me, dear boy, you’ll remember to say that women couldn’t vote in 1907.”

“Yes, of course.”

Now where was I? Ah yes. The street names are deceptively familiar: Broadway, Spring Street and Main. But stand up on Bunker Hill and look at the city below and you might pick out the Bradbury Building and the Alexandria Hotel. Maybe the Pan American building at Broadway and 3rd Street, kitty-corner from the Bradbury and currently undergoing loft conversion, and the Rosslyn Hotel on Main.

Nothing remains of the old City Hall on Broadway but the parking lot between the Los Angeles Times garage and Victor Clothing, otherwise known as the Hosfield Building, erected as an annex for city offices in 1914 and opened in 1915 as City Hall South.

There are no freeways in this alien city. No television, no radio (or “wireless” as it was previously known) and no movie theaters. There aren’t even any comic strips in The Times, let alone crossword puzzles. Luckily, the operatic repertoire hasn’t changed greatly; Angelenos in 1907 could hear “Carmen” and “La Traviata.”
The ghostly hand intruded again, a bit more forcefully.

“Dear boy, remember about women not being able to vote?”

“I’ll get to that.”

There are a few automobiles (or “machines” as they were called) sold by dealers who set up shop on South Main around 12th Street. Reo, Rambler, Jackson, Pope-Toledo, Stevens-Duryea and Overland. Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Packard are the only familiar names. But machines seem only a bit more common than Segways are today. There are no more than 30 cars listed for sale in The Times classified ads for March 14, 1907, far outnumbered by horses; buggies and wagons, streetcars and bicycles appear to be the main modes of transportation.

Sample ad:

with touring car body, canopy top and run-
about body. This car has just been thoroughly
overhauled and is in first-class condition.
The BIGGEST bargain offered in
Los Angeles
$1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005)
Western Motor Car Company
415 S. Hill

Patent medicine, séances, licensed saloons and something called a blind pig. The pages of The Times are brimming with vintage malfeasance.  

“Ow! You don’t need to pinch me.”

“Dear boy, women’s suffrage?”

“Very well.”

Women in Los Angeles couldn’t vote until 1911, when a new law allowed them to cast ballots in the local elections. The 19th amendment, granting women’s suffrage, was ratified by California on Nov. 1, 1919, and proclaimed by the secretary of State on Aug. 26, 1920.  (Not passed by Mississippi until March 22, 1984? Are you serious?)

“I’ll even mention suffragette Rachel Foster Avery’s visit in August 1907. How’s that?”

“Thank you.”

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L.A. Historians' Clearing House

Large ImageA researcher writes asking for help with information on an enclave of radicals living in an Echo Park neighborhood nicknamed “Red Hill” and sometimes known as “Red Gulch.”

A Proquest search of The Times finds a passing reference in the 1980s, but no details. Some Times stories from 1944 refer to the Echo Park Communist Club.

Anyone with information is asked to post a comment (they are moderated, remember, and posts that are off-point, extraneous or profane are rejected).

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Whole Nine Yards

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 is told through flashbacks.

At this point in the story, Wolfe is exploring Elizabeth Short’s time in Hollywood in late 1946, about a month before the murder.

Page 59

After deftly handling the nebulous role of Sgt. Chuck, whom investigators and reporters could never locate—or even determine that he existed, Wolfe moves on to the apartment house on Cherokee where Elizabeth stayed briefly in late 1946.

Wolfe begins the next phase of the story: “Will Fowler recalled,” three words that make me shudder. I liked Will; he was charming, funny, outrageous and bright, and I considered him a friend. But he was also an incredible teller of tall tales. Wolfe refers to Will’s “Reporters,” Page 81, which says that an anonymous tip sent newsmen poking around Hollywood trying to sniff out anything about Elizabeth Short.

In fact, in the days after Elizabeth Short’s murder, an almost countless variety of sightings were reported; as if she had been a regular at every bar in Los Angeles. Of course, not a single person ever conclusively identified her as far as police were concerned—and even the more conscientious newspapers hedged their accounts:

The Daily News of Jan. 21, 1947, said of the reporters’ club crawling: “Other results of the nightlong canvass indicated that the Black Dahlia had lent her beauty to innumerable swank and tawdry night spots in the months before her death—that is if the eyes and memories of bartenders and waiters are sound.”

Note also the date: Nearly a week after the murder. It’s interesting to see how storytelling collapses time, erasing the intervals between events until they appear to be related.

Large ImageOf course, Wolfe is going to treat this all as solidly established truth because that’s where this story is heading. Let’s see where he attributes this. Hm. Still using “Reporters.” But what’s this? Will drags in his old drinking buddy Paul Burke, a bartender and sometime actor who appeared in the TV show “Twelve O’Clock High.” (Sorry, amazon only has the movie, not the TV series). One time, many years ago, Will and Burke called me up absolutely snockered and talked to me about the Black Dahlia case. They were flying high and having a good old time.

Now I’ve talked to Burke, who according to “Reporters” says: “Years later, when I was with 20th Century-Fox, actor Paul Burke told me he’d known the Dahlia when he was a Hollywood bartender. He had corroborated the fact that lesbians had been interested in Elizabeth but she hadn’t responded to them.”

So does Burke appear in “Mogul”? Let’s just see for the fun of it. Nope, he doesn’t. I wonder why not. Maybe we’ll find out.

And now we enter very deep and troubling waters.

“Reporters found Elizabeth Short’s name still on the mailbox of Apartment 501. There were five other girls sharing the apartment, which was on the top floor overlooking the street below. The building was managed by Glenn Wolfe, a suspected narcotics dealer who recruited girls for the Syndicate brothels.”

Let’s dissect this little item (truncated, because it runs over to the next page).

Minor quibble, as the photograph shows, the name on the mailbox is “Betty Short.” One of the first decisions anybody has to make in writing about Elizabeth Short is what to call her: Elizabeth, Beth, Bette or Betty.
Also, estimates of the number of young women in the apartment vary, some sources say four, others say eight. Wolfe is the first as far as I know to say five.

But what we really need to look at is Glenn Wolfe. He’s called “a suspected narcotics dealer,” although we’re not told who suspected him.

Not the blasted end notes again, Holmes!

Forward, my dear Dr. Watson.

Large ImagePage 366

“Glenn Wolfe was also listed as a suspect within the Black Dahlia Case files, which profiled his narcotics and procuring activities. The files indicate that the Chancellor [was] owned and managed by the Syndicate.”

I suppose what Wolfe means by this is that if you dig through the two boxes of jumbled paper at the district attorney’s office you will eventually find Glenn Wolfe’s name. OK, well you’ll find that his name was really Glynn Wolfe.

Now usually in such a case, you might expect a line like “Glenn/Glynn Wolfe, no relation to the author,” so I’m not sure if this is an oversight or if Donald H. Wolfe is going to claim him as some sort of distant relative with mob ties. Recall that Donald H. Wolfe has been very circumspect about certain members of his family, namely his father, Sailing Wolfe, and great-uncle, Bernard Baruch.

For the benefit of those who don’t have the Examiner files on Glynn Wolfe, let me pull my material and see what we’ve got:

Yow! The Examiner and The Times had great fun with our friend. He had at least 17 different wives (no, that’s not a typographical error) and married a couple of them several times according to a March 18, 1969, story in The Times.

But the newspapers are curiously silent on his alleged drug dealing and procuring for the Syndicate.

As we found yesterday in exploring the story of Sgt. Chuck, we know that Frank Jemison summarized a list of about 22 suspects. And yes, Glenn/Glynn Wolfe is one of them.

What does the D.A. actually say? I’m referring specifically to Jemison’s Feb. 20, 1951, memo. Page 6.

Large Image“Glenn Wolfe is the owner of the Chancellor Apartments, 1842 Cherokee, Hollywood. It was the last place where victim resided in Los Angeles before she met Carl Balsiger and then left for San Diego. He was residing at 1617 North Las Palmas in an apartment house owned by Kate Harris at the time of the murder. He admitted knowing victim. She lived in a six bed apartment at the Chancellor Hotel and left there on December 6, 1946, as she did not like the place. Wolf is known as a sexual maniac by other women. Ray Pinker, LAPD Crime Laboratory chemist, checked the rooms in which he resided for blood and got no positive reaction. This was done upon request of the undersigned. Marvin Hart, now living at Lido Apartments, Hollywood, lived at the Chancellor Apartments at the time of the murder. He has not been questioned. Alyce Lebedeff, private investigator, 1967 Carmen Strett, HI llside 6279 states that a Miss Schell, who runs a hot dog stand on Santa Monica boardwalk, slept in the upper bunk of the bed occupied by victim on December 1, 1946, at the Chancellor Apartments. Further that Polly Blits, Hollywood real estate broker is a known queen queer and knows plenty. There is reliable information that some of the five girls in the room at the Chancellor living with victim were queers. Victim stated on several occasions, however, that she had no use whatsoever for queers.”

Large ImageHm. Note that I have preserved the wording exactly as it appears in the memo, down to the frequent use of “queer.” Nothing about Glynn Wolfe being a drug dealer. Nothing about Glynn Wolfe being a procurer for Syndicate brothels. Nothing about the Chancellor being owned by the mob. This is all fabricated by Donald H. Wofe, aided and abetted—according to his acknowledgements—by his agent, Alan Nevins of the Firm; and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. And ReganBooks, known as the publishing house without proofreaders.

Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Allstream Corp. (

City of Los Angeles ( (

Kindred Healthcare (

O/S breakdown

Some flavor of Windows: 81%

Mac OS X 18%

Unknown: 1%

Hurry back!

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Who Was That Masked Man?

Large ImageI am 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 telling the story in “Laura” format with the discovery of the anonymous, butchered body and the narrative proceeding in flashbacks. At this point, Elizabeth Short is in her late teens and living at Camp Cooke, Calif., after an argument with her father.

The two-minute executive summary: We have caught Wolfe in a nasty bit of literary fraud. In order for his story to work, he has to ignore a crucial document in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files (remember, the title of this book is “The Black Dahlia Files”).
June 1, 1946” and “After June 1, 1946,” demolish

He writes that “little is known about Elizabeth Short’s time in Miami,” despite having access to documents that spell out her actions precisely. He does this because the documents “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to
the remainder of his book. On the other hand, he wants to use some of the juicy material inthem, so he attributes the information to other d
ocuments. The bottom line: Wolfe’s maneuver in quoting from the documents while failing to disclose their existence proves conclusively that this book is deliberately concocted with ruthless disregard of the facts.

Wolfe also, for reasons that completely escape me, identifies Mary Pacios as “Mary Hernon.” I would never presume to speak for Mary (whom I consider a friend) but if I were her I would be furious.

I also explored the roles of Wolfe’s conspirators in this book: Agent Alan Nevins, researchers Alan and Cathy Buster, and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. I have no idea what Morgan and Bliss did on the project, but I can tell you precisely what they didn’t do. The interest in checking the facts in this book appears to be absolutely zero.

Voting in my informal poll on whether to continue this blog is 11 in favor and no opposition. The blog continues. The poll is no longer “sticky.”

As for commenting. Note that it is moderated, in other words, nothing gets posted without my permission. I’m inclined to be fairly strict in rejecting posts that are off-topic and for reasons of propriety—no profanity, please. I have to think of my younger readers, like the folks at Montclair (N.J.) High School (

I mention this after I rejected a post yesterday because of profanity and because its contents couldn’t be verified—and that’s the way we do things around here.

Small ImageStill, the post raised an interesting point. The thrust went along the lines of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” and contrasted my quibbles with Wolfe’s book and the absence of my book (still in progress) with “Mogul’s” track record on various bestseller lists.

I have to admit I’m guilty as charged. My book is still in the works and Wolfe’s book was selling well, at least briefly (current Amazon ranking: 36,283, which puts it ahead of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger at 92,884 and behind John Gilmore’s “Severed” at 19,483).

Of course, this assumes that book sales are one’s only criterion. There is something to be said for being able to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror.

Behold "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," ranked by Amazon at 19,940, ahead of "Mogul" and nearly even with "Severed." Shout out to crime buddy Kim Cooper.

As for the bestseller lists, friends tell me that Book Soup is trying to figure out how to unload a bunch of autographed copies of a certain Black Dahlia opus. It seems they’re not selling.

Page 58

Large ImageTime for Sgt. Chuck, a purported member of the 6th Armored Division, whom Elizabeth Short supposedly met in Los Angeles in January 1943—two months before the 6th even got to Camp Cooke. (Note to Wolfe’s editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss: This what we call fact-checking and you may find that it comes in handy. With the advent of the Internet, this takes all of two minutes).

Wolfe says:

“Investigators learned that Elizabeth had been living at Camp Cooke with ‘Chuck,’ the sergeant she had met in Los Angeles, and Chuck had threatened and beaten her. Elizabeth had filed a complaint with his commanding officer and she tried to attach Chuck’s paycheck and obtain damages. But damages were denied, and the sergeant was shipped overseas. Elizabeth then moved from the army
[note to ReganBooks, this should be capitalized as it referred to a branch of the armed forces] to Vera Green’s apartment on Montecito Street in Santa Barbara….”

No, Holmes, not the end notes again!

Watson, get a grip man.

Ha. “Information regarding ‘Chuck’ was found within the Black Dahlia Case files of the Los Angeles District Attorney.” Of course that’s Los Angeles County, but Wolfe finds local jurisdictions terribly confusing.

What’s interesting here (“interesting” being a relative term; interesting to a research drudge) is that this refers to two boxes of jumbled papers. Of course Wolfe knows precisely where he got it, and so do I. Let’s get it.

As I’m digging out the document, ponder this: Where don’t we find Sgt. Chuck? And how come he has no last name? Is that a bit odd?

Well it is. First of all, does our pal Chuck appear in the undated LAPD summary of the case in the district attorney’s files? Nope. Wouldn’t Chuck appear in the summary if he were deemed an important part of the case? Yes. Hmmmm.

So where do we find Sgt. Chuck? Aha. He appears in a memo dated Feb. 20, 1951, by Frank Jemison of the district attorney’s office among a list of 22 suspects, including “A Chicago police officer,” “Sergeant ‘Chuck’ name unknown, Dr. George Hodel, Dr. Paul DeGaston, Dr. A.E. Brix, Dr. M.M. Schwartz, Dr. Arthur McGinnis Faught, Dr. Patrick S. O’Reilly and someone quaintly referred to as “Queer Woman Surgeon.”

Medium ImageNow what does Jemison have to say about old Chuck?

“Sergeant ‘Chuck’ (last name unknown) was seen with victim on numerous occasions at Camp Cooke in the spring of 1943. She testified that he had assaulted her at the court-martial proceedings there and he was ordered overseas as a result of it. She then attempted to obtain his personal property which it was necessary for him to leave behind. It is agreed by investigators that this could be a revenge murder committed by such a person as Sergeant ‘Chuck.’ Thus far numerous associates of victim at Camp Cooke have been interviewed and a search has been made for the records of this court-martial proceedings which would reveal the full name, background and information on this suspect. Thus far they have not been found. The investigation of this suspect is pending. See Los Angeles Police Department reports.”

In other words, there were lots of rumors about Sgt. Chuck and in fact the reporters looking into the Black Dahlia case turned up similar accounts, which are what appear in “Severed,” Page 28:

“Because the housing shortage was bad on base, Beth hadn’t been assigned quarters and was sleeping wherever she could find the space. One sergeant tried to stake a claim on her by appearing generous, sympathetic. He said he felt sorry for her since she couldn’t quarters and offered her the spare cot in his house trailer temporarily, if she wanted it. She eagerly moved in, but she thought he understood the situation: It wasn’t romance she was after—just a roof over her head while she tried to save enough money to get to Hollywood.

“The manager was disappointed the day Beth notified him that she wasn’t well and couldn’t show up for her shift. Whether the sergeant thought she’d been overly encouraging or not would never be clear. She rebuffed his advances—he called her a ‘tease’ and struck her, giving her a black eye.

“She complained to the commanding officer and quickly was moved into quarters with Mary Stradder, a WAC sergeant.”

Well “Severed” presents its own bundle of problems and I don’t want to explore them today, but we don’t have all the details that appear in “Mogul.” Let’s check in with Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows.” Hm. She should cover it on Page 20, but is silent on the subject.

How about Steve Hodel, “Black Dahlia Avenger?” Hm. Also silent.

Isn’t it peculiar that nobody has been able to identify Sgt. Chuck? Not the Los Angeles Police Department, with all its resources and the military’s cooperation? Not the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office? Not the Los Angeles newspapers? (Although reporters did find rather vivid accounts of a particularly violent, brutal MP who was sent overseas—again, never identified).

For the record, I’ve never found anything definite about the man either. To the point that I wonder if he even existed.

Contrast the nebulous stories about Sgt. Chuck with the verified account of Elizabeth Short’s boss at PX-1, Inez Keeling, in the Jan. 17, 1947, Los Angeles Examiner: “She never visited over the counter with any of the boys and always refused to date them. She was one of the few girls in my employ who didn’t smoke or occasionally take a drink. She lived in camp and never went out nights.”

Nothing about Elizabeth Short living off the base, nothing about her living in a house trailer and nothing about any sergeant.

At a minimum, any credible account of the Black Dahlia should hedge the story of our old pal Sgt. Chuck by stating that he could never be identified nor any of the stories verified.

Time for my walk.
Shout out to:
Medium Image
Montevideo, Uruguay (

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, France (

Kerkira, Greece (

Toronto, Ontario (

AOL user in Reston, VA (

O/S breakdown

Some flavor of Windows: 95%

Mac OS X 3%

Linux 2%

Hurry back!

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