Saturday, March 25, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Numbers Game

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 proceeds in flashbacks. We are at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short has left the French family in San Diego and is with Robert M. “Red” Manley, a traveling salesman who picked her up and is giving her a ride back to Los Angeles. Police have detained Red and are questioning him about the Black Dahlia.

Do you like statistics? No? Good. Let’s have some.

Just for fun (OK, my idea of fun may not be yours), I added up the different citations in Wolfe’s end notes to determine his primary source. Recall that the book is titled: “The Black Dahlia Files.” So they are going to be the main source, right?

Uh. No.

Up to Page 73, Wolfe’s leading source is:

William Randolph Fowler—interviews and “Reporters.” (22.5%)

Followed by John Gilmore’s Severed” (16%) and the Los Angeles Examiner (10.5%). Statistically, those three sources account for nearly half of Wolfe’s source material.

To be sure, the district attorney’s files are there, accounting for a whopping, mind-boggling, eye-popping….


Large ImageOr as noted critic Lorenzo Matawaran (OK, well the contributor of exactly one review to raved:

At last, a Black Dahlia book with plenty of photos, illustrations, and source notes. It even had an index! Wolfe's book is well researched, fascinating, and it has a great deal of new information. For those who are interested in the true story behind the Black Dahlia murder this is a must read.Lorenzo Matawaran

Hard to imagine that a rewrite of “Severed” and “Reporters” is new information but apparently it is to some people.

Wolfe’s total end notes as of Page 73 = 124

Citations of Will Fowler = 28

Citations of John Gilmore/“Severed” = 20

The Los Angeles Examiner=13

District attorney’s files = 10

Large ImagePage 73

Recall from last time that Wolfe has ruthlessly reduced the legions of forces in the Black Dahlia investigation to a paltry three police officers: Homicide Capt. Jack Donahoe and a mere two detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. This, of course, requires Hansen and Brown to be up in Santa Barbara and Lompoc investigating Elizabeth Short’s months at Camp Cooke at the same time they were in San Diego interviewing the French family AND giving Red Manley the third degree as well as two polygraph exams.

Donahoe, meanwhile, was doing nothing but lounging around the homicide office, sitting next to the phone in case Los Angeles Examiner City Editor Jim Richardson called with another tip, at least in Wolfe’s account of the case.

But it’s time to introduce another police officer into the mix. Our old pal Vincent Carter, author of “L.A.P.D.’s Rogue Cops Cover Ups and the Cookie Jar” from the noted publishing house Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co., 130 S. 19th St., Birmingham, Ala. 35233.

Large ImageHere are some other books in this publisher’s catalogue:
James R. Bennett, Old Tannehill: A History of the Pioneer Ironworks in Roupes Valley, (1829-1865), (Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co., 1986) ISBN 0-9617257-0-2
Eve Ida Barak Briles, Moods, Seasons, and Love. Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co., 1982.

Richard H. Gamble, A Competitive Spirit The Story of Central Bank of the South Birmingham, AL, Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co., 1987, Hardcover, Fine in Fine dust jacket 0961809108 Inscribed by author. Dust in brodart mylar protective cover! Fully Indexed. 8vo; 191 pages; Signed by Author (Banking, History, South, Author Signed)

Helen Irvine, June 2002, “The Legitimizing Power of Financial Statements in the Salvation Army in England, 1865-1892”, Accounting Historians Journal, Edition.1, Issue.1, Volume.29, Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co, Birmingham, pp.1-36.

Large ImageMary H. and Dallas M. Lancaster, The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel of Wilton Hill in Virginia. 1986

William Lindsay McDonald, History of the First United Methodist Church, Florence, Alabama, 1822-1984. Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Printing and Publishing Co., 1983.

Now here’s their website

Now I don’t find any books on their site, but they do have a long list of equipment. In other words, this looks like a job shop. You bring in your precious tome and voila, out comes the printed word. It would be rather a challenge to assume these fine Alabamans exercised any editorial control over this opus. And I doubt they had anything to do with the “update” on the Black Dahlia case that has been photocopied, stapled and just stuck into the front of the book. Not something you see in ReganBooks’ finest efforts.

Large ImageSo let’s keep checking:

Desert View Books
PO 1604
Lucerne Valley, CA 92356

Well let’s check their catalogue. Hm. I can’t seem to find anything from this publishing house aside from Carter’s book.

In other words, this is a self-published book. I write whatever I want, take it to the printer (in this case, the folks in Birmingham) and out comes “Rogue Cops.”

Just so you know who we’re talking about.

The good news is that Vince Carter is a real human being, unlike, Detective Herman Willis, one of the main sources in “Severed.” And in case there was any doubt, Wolfe includes a picture of himself with Carter.

Large ImageSo what does Wolfe say about Carter?

“Aggie recalled that she primed Manley with a few casual queries before he began to open up and tell the whole story, which was printed in the Herald Express that evening. But according to Administrative Vice officer Sgt. Vincent Carter
[note to ReganBooks: proper style would be “administrative vice Sgt. Vincent A. Carter,” although Cal Morgan or Anna Bliss are apparently not the kind of editors who lose sleep over such trifles] who was at Hollenbeck when Manley was interrogated, the story Manley told Underwood for public consumption wasn’t exactly the same story he had told detectives and Brown during the interrogation. Desperately trying to save his marriage, Manley publicly denied having an affair with the murder victim, while privately admitting that he had indeed been intimate with Elizabeth Short.”

Now this is going to be bad business, folks, because Wolfe is not only smearing Red Manley, but the police and Aggie Underwood are being tarred with the same brush. On the basis of what is supposedly found in this self-published autobiography. Already my spider sense is tingling.

Large ImageThe end notes, Mr. Gallagher?

Absolutely, Mr. Shean.

Oh, this is much worse than I thought. After all my buildup, Wolfe doesn’t even attribute the above paragraph to Carter’s book. In fact he doesn’t attribute it at all—not even to an interview with Carter.

The fact-checker in me just licks my chops over this one.

Any bets on whether this is in “Rogue Cops” before I start looking? Because if it’s not here, Wolfe has really hit a new low in fabrication.

First, let’s check Carter’s index.

OK, Robert Manley, Pages 10, 175-177, 179, 181.

Page 10. Hm. Carter calls her Elizabeth Ann Short, even though she had no middle name. Obviously a real student of the case since it’s well known that she had no middle name.

Carter quickly establishes himself as a master of understated insight:

“It was obvious that the murder and mutilation of the body had not taken place at the site where the body had been found.”

Large ImageAha. This makes a bit more sense:

“I was on duty when Manley was brought in for booking. I had been on the force for five years and had later taken a job with the Reserve Unit in the Hollenbeck Division in order to have more time to study for an upcoming sergeant’s exam. I also wanted to get into the detective bureau. I was more than casually interested in the Black Dahlia case which I quickly recognized as the kind of crime of passion that is normally solved comparatively quickly.”

But what’s thissssssss? “Rogue Cops,” Page 11.

“…although I never worked directly on the Black Dahlia murder, I never lost interest in it.”

Large ImageUh-oh.

Now let’s press ahead here.

Donald H. Wolfe, you are busted again!

You knew this was going to happen, right?

“Rogue Cops,” Page 176.

“When Manley picked Elizabeth up at the French home in San Diego on January 8, he took her to dinner and then to a motel where he rented a room. When she would not consent to have sex with him, they left and drove to Los Angeles.”

This is where Perry Mason smiles and says: “No further questions.”

Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

United Way of Greater Los Angeles (

Timber Ridge Group (

Radboud University Nijmegen (

Burns Flat, Okla. (

Batelco Jeraisy Autonomous System (

University of Wisconsin at Madison ( Here's to all my Norske homies! Let the Rosemaling begin.

Hurry back!

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Fashion Week

Clarence Westfall, 22 years old, was taken into custody at San Pedro yesterday afternoon when a boat from San Diego docked. He was arrested for having masqueraded in female attire and was taken to the Central Police Station, where he told a story that nearly resulted in his being liberated. When the police received the report from the station at San Pedro, however, that Westfall, in posing as a woman, had endeavored to be assigned to a woman’s stateroom, he was locked up.

He said he was frequently obsessed with the desire to don women’s clothing, do fancy work and generally “act like a girl.” He had about convinced the detectives that he was a fit subject for alienists to examine when he was recognized as a former prisoner. He was locked up on a charge of vagrancy.

Dec. 4, 1911

A random discovery too good not to share.

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, Slinging Hash

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob (and were are those pesky thugs, anyway?), the Mogul (missing in action so far) and the Murder That Transfixed (fixed, yes, but transfixed, hardly) Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is discovered and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short is in San Diego in the last month of her life and has just met Robert M. “Red” Manley.

Page 70

Wolfe is discussing Manley’s arrest in Eagle Rock after his return from a sales trip to San Francisco. Remember that while Los Angeles police and reporters were madly searching for the mysterious red-haired man last seen with the Black Dahlia, he had left his car in the garage of a friend and driven up to San Francisco.

The usual source for this episode is Will Fowler, who claimed to have witnessed the arrest. I would imagine Wolfe lifts this more or less from “Reporters.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that although the book is called the “Black Dahlia Files” it consists mostly of an embellished rehash of “Reporters” and John Gilmore’s “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. With a bit of garnishing from Jim Richardson’s “For the Life of Me” and Mary Pacios’ “Childhood Shadows.”

Now Wolfe is going happily along insisting that Richardson, the Examiner’s city editor, called poor old hapless homicide Capt. Jack Donahoe to tell him about Red Manley. Wolfe presumably wants the reader to think Donahoe did nothing in the way of investigation but baby-sit the phone waiting for newsmen to call him with tips.

Large ImageAh, here’s a nice bit of fiction.

“It was hours before
[Manley’s companion] Palmer’s car finally showed up, and Robert ‘Red’ Manley stepped out. Dressed in a heavy, gray overcoat and broad-brimmed hat that partially concealed his red hair, he briefly stood near the curb talking to Palmer. As he turned toward his tan Studebaker parked in the driveway, the police detectives jumped out of their car with guns drawn and closed in on the fugitive suspect. Spotting the detectives, Manley quickly raised his arms high in the air and said, ‘I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it.’ ”

This reads like a lift from “Reporters.”

The end notes, Holmes?

Yes, Watson, lead on.

Hum! Wolfe is getting sloppy about his noting. He attributes the quote “I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it” to “Reporters,” but not the rest.

Watson, the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books!

Large Image“Reporters,” Page 82

“Ferde Olmo and I sat in the back seat of a homicide stakeout car being used by Sgts. J.W. Wass and Sam Flowers. We were parked at the curb of Palmer’s Eagle Rock house, waiting for his car to drive up.

“Eventually, it arrived and when Manley stepped out, the detectives with guns drawn, darted toward him. Manley raised his arms and Olmo flashed pictures. Manley said, ‘I know why you’re here, but I didn’t do it.’ Dressed in a heavy gray overcoat and broad-brimmed hat, he was frightened out of his wits.”

Notice the economy that Will uses and how Wolfe loads his writing down with extraneous words:

Wolfe: Manley quickly raised his arms high in the air.

Fowler: Manley raised his arms.

One thing about Will—he knew how to write tightly; it’s that newspaper training.

Notice that Will doesn’t have anything about Manley’s tan Studebaker parked in the driveway. And why is that?

Large ImageAs anybody who has read The Times’ account knows (and isn’t it interesting Wolfe hardly refers to The Times), it was parked in the garage. In fact The Times ran pictures of the car—and by golly it was black, not tan.

More important, you’ll notice in the photos that it’s daylight outside, not evening, which is when Manley was arrested.


I’m going to skip ahead a bit and simply point out that Wolfe has reduced the LAPD’s homicide bureau to three men: Donahoe and Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. In reality, of course, everyone in the Homicide Bureau was working the case, along with men borrowed from other jurisdictions. But the barrage of unfamiliar names is far too complicated, so Wolfe just tosses them out and has Hansen and Brown do everything.

Meaning that they’d have to be giving Manley polygraph exams in Los Angeles while they were down in San Diego interviewing the Frenches and up in Lompoc and Santa Barbara digging into Elizabeth Short’s time there.

A rather neat trick, wouldn’t you say?

Large ImagePage 72

“According to practice, the official record of Manley’s full statement to the police was sealed within the LAPD Dahlia file, which remains locked in the Los Angeles Police Department warehouse; but in an unusual procedure, Capt. Donahoe allowed reporter Aggie Underwood to visit the suspect. As the Examiner’s blazing headlines about Red Manley’s capture landed on thousands of Los Angeles doorsteps on Monday morning, January 20, Aggie Underwood of the Herald Express was escorted by Harry Hansen to Manley’s cell for an exclusive interview with the exhausted suspect.”

There are so many mistakes in this paragraph that I could easily spend a day on it.

Here are a few goofs:

  • The Black Dahlia “file,” actually an entire file cabinet, is not in some LAPD warehouse, but locked up in Robbery-Homicide at Parker Center.

  • Donahoe and Hansen had nothing to do with Underwood interviewing Red Manley.

Large ImageLet’s check Wolfe’s source on this. Ah! Proof that Donald H. Wolfe is absolutely incapable of reading what is in front of him. As I said previously, I don’t know what editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss did with this book, but I can tell you all things they didn’t do, which is to check a single reference.

Wolfe cites Underwood’s autobiography (written with Foster Goss) “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.

OMG. Let me check this citation again. Yep, “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.

Well, it isn’t JonBenet Ramsey, but by golly it is close:

“Newspaperwoman,” Page 63:

“On December 5, 1932, an adventurer atmospherically named Captain Walter Wanderwell was shot and killed while in the cabin of his boat, the Carma, tied up at a Long Beach dock. It was a mystery slaying, spiced with attractive girls in the passenger-crew list of a party planning an exotic voyage. For “class” purpose, the vessel became a yacht; the case was dubbed the “yacht death,” the tag preceding by almost fifteen years the similarly identified Overell case at Santa Ana, California, in 1947.”

As Aggie Underwood writes on Page 63:

Large Image“What the hell is going on here?”

So, as a service to everybody who doesn’t have a copy of “Newspaperwoman” handy, here is the relevant citation on Pages 7-8.

“Look, fella,” I continued as [Red Manley] inhaled [a cigarette]. “You’re in one hell of a spot. You’re in a jam and it’s no secret. If you’re innocent as you say you are, tell the whole story; and if you haven’t anything to hide, people can’t help knowing you’re telling the truth. That way, you’ll get it over with all at once and it won’t be kicking around to cause you more trouble.”

“She’s right,” said Harry S. Fremont, homicide detective. “Tell her everything that happened. I’ve known this lady for a long time on lots of big cases, and I can tell you she won’t do you wrong.”

Harry Fremont?

“What the hell is going on here?” “Newspaperwoman,” Page 63.

Time for my walk.

Note to prospective commenters: Consider the phrase in Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” : “It’s possible to speculate with confidence.” (Page 368).

We don’t do that around here. The whole point of this blog is to NOT speculate. Remember the motto of my old pals, the Lookies: “We don’t guess, we look it up.”

Speaking of Hodel, how about his treatment of this episode? He takes it fairly straight from “Newspaperwoman.” In this case, that puts him ahead of Wolfe.

Large ImageShout out to:

Swiss Federal Government ( Windows 2003? What kind of OS is that?
State of Minnesota (
Macedonia ( (

Cummins Engines ( (Between Grimstad, Norway; Minnesota; and Stoughton, Wis., we got Norskes all over the place). Ever read “Wisconsin Death Trip”? It is too gruesome for words; sort of a “Dairy State Babylon.”

Hurry back!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Page From Dickens

For some time, the teachers at the Casco Street School had been concerned about the pupils from the nearby Christian Orphanage. But finally the problems became too great to ignore.

“One small boy, an especial pet and a delicate child, was found, one cold, rainy morning, filling his blouse with the filthy scraps of bread from the garbage pails in the rear of nearby residences. He was so hungry. ‘Aunt Ada’ had sent him to bed without any supper because he was naughty and she had slapped him in the morning because, like Oliver Twist, he had asked for more mush,” The Times said.

The Miss Ada in question was Ada Bisbee, a member of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union who ran the orphanage at 1724 Kent, part of the Florence Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers. (Recall that this was an era when abortions were illegal and Margaret Sanger was charged with obscenity for sending information on birth control through the mail).

Bisbee, who had taken over after a much-beloved Flora Sallee, denied that there was anything wrong after a confrontation with school Principal Gertrude Horgan.

Horgan found the plight of the orphanage youngsters so dire that she fed them all after discovering that their packed lunches consisted of two crackers and an apple. That would be all until dinner—if, indeed, Bisbee allowed them to have dinner, for they were often sent to bed hungry as punishment.

“The teachers held an indignation meeting. It was raining and all that could be procured in the shape of food were a number of loaves of bread and some molasses and such a feast was held in the school that day that the teachers will never forget. It was painful, they one and all assert, to see the wolfish hunger with which the children devoured the food.”

One of the older girls at the orphanage said she complained that fish being served to the children was spoiled, only to be rebuked. “Why did you say anything?” Bisbee reportedly said. “The children would not have noticed it.”

“Very soon the children were ill, presumably from spoiled fish,” The Times said.

School authorities contacted the superintendent for the home for unwed mothers, A.C. Jeffers, who dismissed claims of harsh treatment.

“When the affair was reported to A.C. Jeffers yesterday he declared that Miss Bisbee is a good disciplinarian but not nearly as severe as his own mother was, and to his mind she makes an excellent matron,” The Times said.

“Yesterday, a delicate, shrinking little fellow, who has to be encouraged to say a word of his own accord, came to school with a long cut on his neck. The watchful eye of the principal saw it. The child said a man at work there [at the orphanage] struck him with a rawhide whip because he refused to do something he was told.”

As a result of Horgan’s complaints, the children appear to be eating more, but she has incurred the wrath of Bisbee, who is said to be taking out her anger on the children.

Casco Street School was renamed Rosemont Avenue School in 1912. The campus is located at 421 N. Rosemont Ave. Gertrude Horgan died in 1919 after a short illness. No record can be found of Ada Bisbee or A.C. Jeffers.

Orphanages in Los Angeles, 1907: Los Angeles Orphan Asylum, Christian Orphanage, Boys’ and Girls’ Aid, South Pasadena Home, Catholic Orphanage, Boyle Heights Home, Victoria Home and Volunteers of America.

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, Trying to Make It Real Compared to What

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 proceeds in flashbacks. We are in the last few weeks of Elizabeth Short’s life, in which she met Robert M. “Red Manley,” a traveling salesman from Los Angeles who picked her up on a trip to San Diego.

Imagine my surprise—no, my shock—to read this in L.A. Weekly. Here’s a screen shot to show I’m not making this up.

A writer named Jeffrey Anderson is exploring the legacy of Owens Valley and interviewed a man named Don Odell, identified as: “a semi-retired lawyer and former member of the Inyo County grand jury.”

“Odell muses about his days arguing over a solution down in L.A. City Hall and a conversation he once overheard between Mayor Tom Bradley and an LAPD detective who investigated the Black Dahlia murder named Ralph Asdel. “I’m standing there one day and the mayor is talking to Asdel about Owens Valley and he says, ‘Ralph, someday we’re gonna have to fill that lake.’ ”

It’s a nice picture; Odell overhearing a conversation between Bradley and Asdel, a former LAPD detective who was loaned to the Black Dahlia investigation.

But you’re not going to like this.

Large ImageRalph was a friend of mine. I was a pallbearer at his funeral in 2003. He was working in Boyle Heights when he was loaned to the Dahlia investigation. He later worked as a detective in the San Fernando Valley, before going to motors.

And according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times:

“Asdel, who later became a motorcycle officer, injured his leg in an on-duty accident and was forced to go on medical retirement in 1965.”

Tom Bradley was indeed mayor of Los Angeles.

From 1973 to 1993.

Do you think something could something be wrong here? Note: Ralph’s obituary is online and easy to find.

Page 69

Large ImageWolfe is telling the Red Manley saga, using Will Fowler’s yarn virtually intact. In Will’s version, he goes to the Manleys’ home in Huntington Park, interviews Manley’s wife, Harriette, and tells her not to open to the door to nosy reporters.

The source for this ought to be either Will’s “Reporters,” or an interview with him. As I said before, one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is “Will Fowler recalls….” but let’s check.

Yep, “Reporters,” Page 81 and 82.

Should I take the time to see if this is screwed up? OK, I will.

Watson, to the haz-mat pile of Dahlia books!

Why am I not surprised?

Now with any other writer, I wouldn’t bother. This seems to be a straight lift job. But I swear, Wolfe can’t read what’s in front of him.

Here’s Will’s version:

“While I was there, the phone rang. It was Red and Harriet put her hand over the mouthpiece and asked: ‘Do you want to talk to him?’ ”

“ ‘You better not tell him I’ve been here,’ I said.”

Compare this with “Mogul”:

Large Image“When Harriet learned that her husband was being sought by the police, she became nervous but cooperative. She told Fowler that she had just heard from her husband, who had telephoned from San Francisco.”

OK, Will, let me get this straight: Every police officer and every reporter in California is looking for the mysterious red-haired man in the murder of Elizabeth Short. You’re at the man’s home, talking to his wife. He calls. She asks if you want to speak to him.

And you say:


If that were a true story and I were your editor, you would be out the door.

And here we see Wolfe’s skill in creating quotes for conveniently dead people:

“Reporters,” Page 82

“She didn’t seem to object when I asked for them all [family photographs] and instructed her—a bride of only 15 months—not to talk to anyone, especially if newspaper reporters started coming around the house.”

“Mogul,” Page 69

“Electing not to inform Mrs. Manley that her husband was the number one suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short, Fowler cautioned her not to talk to anyone about her husband—especially ‘any nosey reporters who may come knocking at your door.’ ”

Large ImageOf course, Will’s story (which I heard from him countless times) was that he bamboozled his way in the door by flashing his badge (reporters were indeed issued badges by Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz that were later confiscated by Sheriff Peter Pitchess) and claiming that Red had lots of unpaid parking tickets.

Was there any truth to it at all? I don’t know. Maybe. Will also claimed that he was on the stakeout when Red was arrested in Eagle Rock and present when police showed up at the Examiner with Elizabeth Short’s luggage. Since those events occurred at roughly the same time, he couldn’t have been in both places.

Time for my walk.

Shout out to:

Dark Horse Comics ( man you guys are really going nuts on this site!

Grimstad, Norway ( (say hi to my homies in Andoya!) of France (

Mysterious visitor (

Chicago Linux user (

Hurry back!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Family Ties

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files,” more properly titled “Stuff I Scraped Out of ‘Severed’ Thanks to John Gilmore, Who Calls My Book ‘a True Crime Classic’ and ‘Crap’ ” (If you figure that one out, you’re good).

Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We just finished the portion of the story in which Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego in the last month of her life.

I heard from one of Elizabeth Short’s sisters yesterday, as I do from time to time. Out of concern for her privacy, I won’t quote the e-mail, but she asked what I knew about the upcoming Brian De Palma movie. I told her I turned down a chance to attend the sneak preview, but that several people who saw the movie said it was horrid. Sample comment: “There is so much wrong with this film that I don’t even know where to start!”

Large ImageThe sister expressed dismay that so many people are so hungry to cash in on the family’s tragedy, and so totally hardened to the grief they continue to feel nearly 60 years after the murder. As I have said again and again, for the Short family, the murder is not some macabre curio of old Los Angeles; for them it’s as if it just occurred. The continuing flood of sleazy, crackpot books only reopens old wounds. And don’t even get me going about the websites plastered with body shots that have made their way onto record jackets. And the free FBI files going for $25 a pop on Ebay. You know who you are.

To the haz-mat pile! The good news is that we’re on

Large ImagePage 68

Total pages (not counting “end notes” and the index) 357. Hey, we’re nearly 20% of the way through the book.

OK. This chapter is titled “Red,” so I’m going to guess (remember I haven’t read ahead) that it is lifted more or less intact from Aggie Underwood’s jailhouse interview with Robert M. “Red” Manley, the only bylined story of any original account of the Black Dahlia case. With some garnishes from “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

Hm. Wolfe is starting with Jim Richardson suspecting that Red and Elizabeth Short might have left San Diego for Los Angeles late in the day. He continues to call photographer George O’Day a reporter, but at least he is consistent in his mistake. Recall that Elizabeth Short’s father went from strict churchgoer to Jack Daniels’ best amigo in a few pages, something that caused no intellectual whiplash to Wolfe’s agent, Alan Nevins, nor to his two editors, Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss.

Any bets as to whether Wolfe bothers to attribute this? It should be in Richardson’s “For the Life of Me” if it’s anywhere.

Large ImageLead on, Watson!

Well, Holmes, it’s supposed to be from “For the Life of Me,” Page 301.

Quick, Watson, the haz-mat pile!

Ah. This is more like it:

“For the Life of Me,” Page 301

“She left the French place about six o’clock on the evening of January 8 with a man known as Red,” Tommy [Devlin] reported. “This Red sent her a telegram January 7 from Huntington Park saying he would pick her up the next day. She told Mrs. French and Dorothy he was taking her to Los Angeles A couple of weeks before she left, Elizabeth told Dorothy one morning that she had a friend named Red who was at a motel near San Diego. When Red picked her up January 8 he had his car and carried her bags out to it. Mrs. French and Dorothy met him and I’ve got a good description of him. He’s our baby. Send somebody out to check that telegram. He may have given an address when he sent it. I’ll start prowling the motels around here for the license number of his car.”

So it wasn’t Richardson’s idea, it was Devlin’s. And notice, please, no mention of photographer George O’Day. That comes from Will Fowler’s “Reporters.”

Oh this is interesting (well, OK, to a total research drudge):

Large Image“But at the Mecca Motel, known to be a ‘hot pillow joint’ located less than twelve miles north of Pacific Beach, the clerk recalled a couple that matched the description; however, they had not registered in January. The clerk recalled them registering back in mid-December. ‘Yes, the man was tall, freckle-faced, had red hair, and was in his mid-twenties,’ the clerk recalled, ‘and he was with a striking young woman with jet-black hair.’ ”

Now if you haven’t spent years researching Dahlia stuff you wouldn’t notice what’s going on here. Wolfe is claiming that Red and Elizabeth Short checked into a motel during his previous visit to San Diego—something that is totally unsupported in the original documents. And this nonsense about the Mecca Motel being a “hot pillow joint”—where on earth did Wolfe get that?

Let’s just see if he hangs this on anybody.

Aha. Maybe from “Reporters.” I swear, one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is “Will Fowler recalls…” I considered him a good friend and he lied his head off to me.

Large Image“Reporters,” Page 81

“In the meantime, the crew of George O’Day and reporter Tom Devlin continued checking hotels and motels, looking for anything that would lead them to the identification of ‘Red.’ And coming up with a winner, Devlin located a motel where a red-haired man had registered the previous December. Unbelievably, he hadn’t signed in with the usual Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He had actually entered Elizabeth Short’s real name at the motel a dozen miles north of San Diego. He also signed his name: Robert Manley from Huntington Park.”

Note, please. Nothing about freckles, nothing about O’Day being a reporter and most of all, nothing about the Mecca Motel being a “hot pillow joint.” That’s strictly Wolfe’s handiwork. Now Red did check into a motel along the highway south of Pacific Beach, but by all accounts Elizabeth Short did not accompany him. In fact, he picked her up on a corner across from the Western Air Lines office, gave her a ride to the Frenches, went to the motel to clean up and came back and picked her up. They went out and he dropped her off at the Frenches.


So where does this quote come from?

“ ‘Yes, the man was tall, freckle-faced, had red hair, and was in his mid-twenties,’ the clerk recalled, ‘and he was with a striking young woman with jet-black hair.’ ”

Beats me. From the fertile mind of Donald H. Wolfe, apparently.

Large ImageI’m increasingly puzzled about the title of Wolfe’s book because the district attorney’s files (remember, this is called the “Black Dahlia Files”) are virtually absent. Wolfe’s main sources seem to be “Severed” and “Reporters.”

And even then, Wolfe is very selective. Here’s another section from the same page of “For the Life of Me” that Wolfe is using. But he leaves this out:

“She had been a pitiful wanderer, ricocheting from one cheap job to another and from one cheap man to another in a sad search for a good husband and a home and happiness. Not bad. Not good. Just lost and trying to find a way out. Every big city has hundreds just like her.”

But of course that’s completely counterproductive in the “Elizabeth Short turns bad girl” motif, so it’s ignored.

Time for my walk.

Ps. I also heard from Mary Pacios yesterday. She says the Wolfe book makes her so angry she can’t read it. Mary calls it “dishonest” and it is surely that.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Americans at the turn of the century lacked many things, but they had some amazing live entertainment. Here's a snip of a performance courtesy of Edison Studios, 1904. These guys rock. I have watched them dozens of times now and I still find them amazing.


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Blogging the Wolfe Book, An Army of One

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul (and where is that darn Mogul, anyway?) 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’re at the point in the story when Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego about a month before her death.

Page 65

Wolfe is inexplicably in the middle of an account in which he claims Elizabeth Short impulsively decided to leave San Diego. In fact, the French family asked her to leave after she had been with them a month. In the book’s “Elizabeth Short goes bad girl” section, she is enthusiastically portrayed as a lazy tramp, completely at odds with the facts but lustily depicted in John Gilmore’s “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

Oh my. Wolfe says Elizabeth Short contacted Red Manley, who replied with the telegram saying he was going to be in San Diego and wanted to see her. I don’t think even “Severed” says this. Let’s see.

Nope. I mean Wolfe isn’t shy about attributing something from “Severed” to the Los Angeles Examiner, but he doesn’t bother attributing this to anybody. It certainly isn’t in the district attorney’s material (recall, if you will, that the title of this book is “The Black Dahlia Files.”). Stay tuned, maybe we’ll find out.

Large ImageWhat happens next:

“When the Examiner reporters
[recall that Wolfe is erroneously referring to photographer George O’Day as a reporter—of course we only have Will Fowler’s “recollections” that O’Day was even there] phoned in their story, [Jim] Richardson knew he had his scoop—Red may have been the last person to see Elizabeth Short alive. Knowing he had secured his exclusive, Richardson took two of the little, white nerve pills he was in the habit of taking when the scoop-cooker was coming to a boil, and then picked up the phone to clue in Capt. [Jack] Donahoe about Red and Elizabeth Short’s stay in San Diego. Donahoe agreed that ‘Red’ was the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murder, and Richardson set the Examiner headline for Saturday, January 18.”

Large Image
Hm. I don’t think this is what Richardson said--exactly.

The end notes, Holmes?

Precisely, Watson.

Hum. “For the Life of Me,” Page 302.

I do hope this isn’t about JonBenet Ramsey.

To the haz-mat pile.

(This is torture: listening to Schoenberg and reading nonsense about the Black Dahlia case).

Well this makes much more sense:

“For the Life of Me,” Page 302.

Large ImageRichardson is talking about the identification of the mysterious “Red” (the Frenches didn’t know his name, but told police that Elizabeth Short left with him). In San Diego, Examiner reporter Tommy Devlin was checking motels to see if Elizabeth Short and Red Manley checked in someplace.

“This is where a city editor sweats it out. This is where he needs those little white pills. This is where he needs everything he’s got and everything his reporters have, too. It’s not fun while it’s happening. It’s only fun to think of it afterward, if things go right.

“All through the night and into the next day I waited for word from Tommy and when he called I could have kissed him.

“ ‘I’ve got it,’ he said. ‘I found the motel where he stayed the first time he was down here and where he stayed with the Dahlia the night they left the Frenches.’ ”

Now let’s pull the Examiner for Jan. 18, 1947.


Large Image“When told she had to leave the French home, she must have communicated with the ex-lieutenant, described as a tall, red-haired, freckle-faced man of 25.”

Here’s where Wolfe gets the freckles, then, and the conjecture that she contacted Red Manley. But note that she didn’t impulsively leave, either. She was told to hit the road.

But the main point, at least to me, is Wolfe’s contention that Donahoe had no clue about where Elizabeth Short was or anything about Red Manley until he got a call from Richardson.


In fact, the French family contacted San Diego police after seeing Elizabeth Short’s picture in the newspapers. They were questioned by San Diego homicide detectives (after all, she was last seen alive in San Diego) as well as Los Angeles homicide detectives. Reporters got the information because Elizabeth Short’s mother, Phoebe, gave out the Frenches’ address when she talked to Wain Sutton.

This is why the Black Dahlia story gets so complicated: There are an incredible number of unfamiliar names and various agencies, and several competing newspapers. The narrative becomes tangled very quickly unless the people get boiled down to a symbolic one or two—at least in fiction. In the TV movie “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” for example, the vast throng of reporters gets reduced to oneBevo Means played by the very saintly Tom Bosley.

Large ImageIn the same way, Wolfe reduces the number of investigators to two: Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. Wolfe has Hansen checking Red’s telegram and Brown down in San Diego. Oh but wait, then Hansen is down in San Diego interviewing the Frenches.

In fact, an entirely different crew of other investigators handled the San Diego investigation. And a still different crew of investigators checked Hollywood. Wolfe has nothing of the massive forces involved in the real investigation. It works for fiction, but for history—it’s absurd.

Wolfe ends the chapter with a quote from the Frenches’ neighbor and an all-points bulletin for Red in a funky typewriter font.

In reality, folks,


End of the chapter. Time for my walk.

Large ImageShout out to:

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OS Breakdown:

Windows XP 84%

Windows 2000 7%

Mac OS X 5%

Linux 3%

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Hurry back!

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Monday, March 20, 2006

St James Raises a Church

The Methodist Episcopal congregation, formed from a merger of the Centennial and Central churches, planned a wonderful new building at 22nd Street and Union. Although the congregation studied the idea of a new location, the members finally decided there was no better place than the one they had.

The church was designed by A. Dudley using an old English half-timbered style with a Gothic tower. The vaulted ceiling was highlighted with gold and the pews were arranged in concentric circles around a corner pulpit.

The Times noted:

“The congregation of St. James gives promise of becoming one of the strongest in the outlying parts of the city. Its pastor [the Rev. Robert S. Fisher] is a young man who has made his way rapidly toward the front and only last fall declined to accede to the wishes of the bishop that he accept a leading church in San Francisco.”

St. James was dedicated on Feb. 11, 1917, under the Rev. Bede A. Johnson, with a final design by architect Arthur G. Lindley.

While some historic Los Angeles buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes and others by developers, St. James fell to an unhappier fate.

By the 1970s, the church was the home of Metropolitan Community Church, which ministered to homosexuals. On Jan. 27, 1973, the church was gutted by a fire in an apparent hate crime.

1973: The Rev. Troy Perry and Jerry Small outside the burned remains of St. James Methodist Episcopal Church, burned in an apparent hate crime targeting gays.

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, Wax On, Wax Off

Large ImageI’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files (which have been mostly ignored so far): The Mob (a bit of that), the Mogul (no sign yet and we’re 63 pages into the book) and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.”

Wolfe is using the “Laura” format, in which the butchered, anonymous body is discovered and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story in which Elizabeth Short has been befriended by the French family in San Diego about a month before her murder in 1947.

The two-minute executive summary:

In the last week, we have seen a continuing disinterest in facts, heavy reliance on John Gilmore’s “Severed” (to the extent that it’s rather amazing that Gilmore can dismiss “Mogul” as “crap” since it relies so heavily on his book) and bold fabrication. We have also found that Wolfe is not the least bashful about making statements that are easily disproved. Glynn Wolfe is casually described as procurer of girls for Syndicate brothels in a complete fabrication of what allegedly exists in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files. Nor is Wolfe shy about making up quotes and attributing them to fairly inaccessible sources, down to making up what movies were playing in San Diego theaters.

Let’s press on.

Large ImagePage 63

Wolfe is in the middle of an enthusiastic smear in the “Elizabeth Short turns bad girl” section of the story, apparently assuming that we won’t feel sorry when she’s killed if he makes her into a lazy tramp.

We’re told that the Frenches noticed that Elizabeth Short used melted candle wax to fix the cavities in her teeth (in reality, the source of the story is her roommates at the Chancellor), but it gives Wolfe a nice opportunity to refer to a “job interview,” which seems to be turning into some sort of hint at prostitution(although we’re not there yet.

Man. California geography is so confusing to some people. Not only does Wolfe talk about Elvera French supposedly coming home for lunch from her job at the Navy hospital (10 miles each way to Pacific Beach(before freeways), now we’re told Elizabeth Short was talking about getting a job at the Naval Air Station, which is on Coronado Island. A mere 14 miles.

Attribution? You must be kidding.

Large Image
Page 64

Now this is interesting. Wolfe has taken an incident that supposedly occurred with a man whose name is given variously as Sam Nevarra or Sam Navara, a jealous boyfriend who supposedly scratched her arms in a quarrel.

Instead of Nevarra/Navara, Wolfe attributes this to the unidentified manager of the Aztec Theater.

To the end notes, Watson!

“Severed,” Page 98, Holmes.

The haz-mat pile of Dahlia books, Watson.

Hum! Here we are. It’s part of the story about late-night shish kabobs being the food of romance. Too bad “Severed” isn’t indexed because it would be fun to look for good old Sam Nevarra/Navara. But I don’t see him in “Severed’s” pages about San Diego. I wonder why Gilmore left him out. Ah well.

This is looking mostly like a lift from “Severed.” I know I mentioned it before, but I wonder how Gilmore can call this book “crap” when so much of it is taken from “Severed.” Maybe that’s the part of the book he was talking about in the jacket blurb that called it “destined to become a true-crime classic. A must read!”

Oh this is funny, Wolfe is calling Examiner photographer George O’Day a reporter. Oops. Supposedly attributed to Jim Richardson’s “For the Life of Me,” Page 300.

Let’s see.

Oh guess who isn’t mentioned on Page 300 of “For the Life of Me.”

Go ahead.

Large Image
Now here’s Wolfe:

“When Examiner reporters
[Tommy] Devlin and O’Day questioned Elvera and Dorothy French about the identity of Red [Manley], they recalled that one day in mid-December, Elizabeth had brought to their home and ‘old acquaintance’ she had bumped into near the Western Airlines [note to ReganBooks proofreaders: Western Air Lines] office in downtown San Diego. Elizabeth said he was an ex-Marine Corps flyer and referred to him as Red. She had told them that Red was now flying for Western Airlines and was helping her get a job there as a stenographer. According to Elvera. Elizabeth dated Red every night from December 16 to 21 and then he suddenly left town. Elvera remembered that Elizabeth went out with other men almost every night until Red returned in the first week of January to drive Elizabeth back to Los Angeles. Elvera and Dorothy both described him as a tall-red-haired, freckle-faced man in his mid-twenties. They recalled that his first name may have been Bob, but they didn’t know his full name.”

And Richardson? Now I just double-checked the end notes and Wolfe says he got all of that from Page 300 of “For the Life of Me.”

Large ImageReady?

“I called Tommy Devlin to the desk. He’d been standing by for just such a break [as when the Examiner talked to Elizabeth Short’s mother, Phoebe]. Tommy is my top reporter on crime. He’s better than any detective I know. It wasn’t two minutes before he was on his way to San Diego. He actually ran out of the local room.”

And that, folks, is it. Nothing about freckle-faced Red Manley.

Uh…. How about “Severed?”

Good grief: Gilmore refers to “Gordan Fickling” (Page 100). Did I mention that “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction? Nope, I don’t see freckle-faced Red Manley there. How very odd it all is.

Back to Wolfe. Oh man.

“Dorothy revealed that when Elizabeth suddenly decided to leave San Diego, she seemed disturbed and agitated, and Dorothy attributed it to an incident that had occurred on January 6.”

Now look, it’s been well-established in the original newspaper accounts that the Frenches asked Elizabeth Short to leave after a month. It wasn’t an impulsive act by Elizabeth Short. She was asked to leave.

What do you want to bet there’s no source for this before I look?

Holmes! Why are you never wrong?

Page 65

Let’s see here…. Some people come by the Frenches’ house looking for Elizabeth Short, check. Los Angeles Examiner, Jan. 20, 1947.

Large ImageAny bets? Now at least some of this is bogus.

OK. Los Angeles Examiner, Jan. 20, 1947. Arrest of Red Manley in Eagle Rock. Well at least we know Wolfe had access to the story about who allegedly scratched Elizabeth Short’s arms. Nothing about the Aztec Theater manager. I swear the man can’t read what’s in front of him. “An Italian with black hair.” Bet you didn’t know late-night shish kabobs were an Italian dish.

The story mentions Elvera French, all right. But there’s nothing like this:

“Some people came to our door and knocked. There was a man and a woman, and another man was waiting in a car parked on the street in front of the house. Beth became very frightened(she seemed to get panicky and didn’t want to see the people or answer the door.” They finally went back to the car and drove away. Even our neighbors thought all of this was very suspicious….”

Did you notice the use of “Beth?” Now whom do we know who refers to Elizabeth Short as Beth?

Did someone say “Severed?”

Oh let’s just check the haz-mat pile.

Holmes! It’s here!

Large Image“Severed,” Page 110

“Dorothy recalls, ‘a couple of days later some people came to our door and knocked. There was a man and a woman, and another man was waiting in a car parked on the street in front of the house. Beth became very frightened(she seemed to get panicky, and didn’t want to see the people or answer the door. They finally went back to the car and drove away. Even our neighbors thought all of this was very suspicious.”

Book him Dano.

Time for my walk.

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