Dear Hattie, Conclusion

D.C. Kent survived his self-inflicted wounds. The bullet wound in his head was superficial and the gash in his throat healed. With no chance of succumbing to his injuries, D.C. decided to lay the groundwork for his defense.

Too bad D.C. wasn’t an actor or he would have known better than to break character in the middle of a performance. He pretended not to hear when someone to him. He rolled his eyes and did everything but drool. Whenever someone took him by surprise, he dropped the pretense. The deputies in the jail ward at the receiving hospital saw through the act, and so did the trusties.

A clue to D.C.’s state of mind was obvious in his choice of a lawyer. An insane man would not care if he had a lawyer or not. D.C. cared enough to engage the services of one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, Earl Rogers.

EARL ROGERS

Earl Rogers, admitted to the California bar in 1897, was an attorney of uncommon skill. He appeared for the defense in seventy-seven murder trials and lost only three.  During one of his most famous cases, “The Case of the Grinning Skull,”  Rogers introduced the victim’s skull into evidence to prove that what looked like a fracture caused by a violent blow from a blunt instrument, delivered by his client, was, in reality, the result of the autopsy surgeon’s carelessness with a scalpel. The jury acquitted Rogers’ client.  

If you think that “The Case of the Grinning Skull” sounds like the title of a Perry Mason novel, you’re not far off.  A decade after Rogers’ death in 1922, author Erle Stanley Gardner resurrected Rogers in the character of Perry Mason.  

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER

Rogers visited D.C. in jail. D.C. was despondent, whiny, and in a state bordering on nervous collapse. He dropped his insanity act and asked Rogers to tell him if he had any chance of an acquittal.  Rogers pulled no punches.  He told D.C. he would have to get a grip on himself or the chances of him walking out of the courtroom a free man were zero to nil.

D.C. then asked Rogers about the worst-case scenario.  What would happen if ta jury convicted him?  Again, Rogers leveled with his client.  He told D.C. he might get from one to ten years in the penitentiary.  D.C. collapsed. D.C.’s next question was about Rogers’ fee. Rogers had had enough of D.C.’s hand wringing and whining. He said,

“Even if it costs you everything you have; it would be cheaper than going to the penitentiary.” Rogers urged D.C. to be a man, not a coward. His plea fell on deaf ears.

While D.C. and Rogers talked, a patient was admitted to the hospital.  To treat the patient, someone opened the large medicine cabinet near D.C.’s bed.

D.C. made a move to get up from his cot, but Special Officer Quinn entered the room and D.C. sat back down. As Quinn turned to leave, D.C. got up to follow him. He said he had to use the restroom.

Before anyone could stop him, D.C. sprang to the open medicine case, threw back the doors and grabbed a bottle of carbolic acid. He poured most of the bottle’s contents down his throat. Some of the caustic liquid spilled down his shirt and burned him.

Deputies grabbed D.C. and carried him to the operating room. He frothed at the mouth and writhed in agony, but said nothing.   

A doctor was at D.C.’s side within 5 minutes.  The doctor administered the antidote, but it was too late. Ten minutes later, D.C. died.

Deputies searched the dead man’s cell and found a letter to Hattie.

The letter read:

“Dear, Dear Hattie:  I suppose that sounds queer to you.  This is the longest time in seven years that I have not heard from you.  Now I ask you if possible, to forgive me.  Next, if possible, to assist me in my greatest hour of trouble.”

Unbelievable. D.C. had the unmitigated gall to beg Hattie, the woman he attempted to murder, to assist in his defense.

True to his character, D.C. continued:

“I am suffering the tortures of hell.  I wish you could know one-half of the life of the last thirty days. Now, Hattie, I shall be plain with you and am going to ask you to return kindness for unkindness.”

The letter rambled along in a self-serving fashion to its conclusion, which was a pathetic plea:

“Oh, I beg you, save me, for it is all with you. Think of me in jail, all covered with filth and lice; only beans and bread and treated like a dog.  Save filthy me, I beg of you.  Please tell Mr. Rogers your feelings in the matter.”

D.C. lied about  the conditions in his cell and his treatment.  Everyone who came in contact with him recalled D.C. as, “troublesome, peevish, and fretting constantly because he could not do as he pleased.”

On the date scheduled for D.C.’s arraignment, Justice Morgan dismissed the case because of the “death of the defendant by suicide.”

A former associate of D.C.’s paid to ship the body to Burlingame, Kansas.

In his will, D.C. deeded Hattie his interest in the furniture of the Columbia lodging house.  Small recompense for the agony she endured.

EPILOGUE

Hattie survived her wounds and married. George thrived. He served in World War I. Following the war, he became one of the first motion picture art directors.  In 1924, he married Thelma Schmidt, and Hattie was there.

GEORGE HARRISON WILEY

Late in the afternoon on June 29, 1935, George and veteran cameraman Charles Stumar left the Union Air Terminal in Burbank. They headed to a location near Triunfo where they planned to scout locations for an upcoming Universal Pictures film. 

Stumar brought the plane in for a landing on an improvised field owned by the studio. It was twilight; the field was rough and uneven. Martin Murphy, a production manager for Universal, witnessed the crash. He telephoned the studio to report the crash and to let them know that he believed both occupants of the aircraft to be dead.

Captain Morgan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s aero detail departed upon hearing the news. When he arrived he confirmed everyone’s worst fears.

George’s death devastated Hattie.

The 1940 census shows Hattie living in the Manor Hall Rest Home on 1245 South Manhattan Place in Los Angeles. She passed away on October 22, 1951.

Hattie and George are buried in adjoining plots at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

Dear Hattie — Part 1

February 15, 1901/ Columbia Boarding House/South Broadway, Los Angeles

Three-year-old George Wiley stood in his mother’s kitchen in the Columbia lodging house. He and his mother talked as she prepared his lunch.   

George heard someone and turned to see D.C. Kent, Hattie’s former fiancé and co-owner of the boarding house, enter the room. Hattie turned from the stove to face D.C. and they argued.  D.C. produced a revolver and fired.  He hit Hattie three times. George, who stood between the two, escaped injury as the bullets whizzed over his head.

Stunned and bleeding, Hattie screamed and lurched into the hallway dripping blood.  She collapsed on the floor and whispered, “My mother, my mother.”

George followed behind her. “Mommy, mommy, what is the matter?”, he cried. She couldn’t respond.

Residents heard the commotion and crowded into the corridor. One chambermaid snapped into action and phoned the police. Then everyone heard a sharp crack that seemed to come from the kitchen. Seconds later, D.C. reeled out, bleeding from his head. The blood ran down his face and soaked his shirt. He started toward his room at the top of the stairs.

Police arrived. The residents didn’t know what had happened. They only knew that Hattie was on the floor bleeding to death, and D.C. was in his room.

One officer ran to D. C’s room.  He found the man standing over a washbasin filled with blood, a straight razor in his hand. Before the officer could intervene, D.C. brought the blade to his own throat and slashed. He stumbled against a trunk. Blood was everywhere.

Before D.C. could slice his throat a second time, the officer punched him. The razor fell to the floor and the officer grabbed D.C.’s arm. When they entered the hallway, D.C. glanced over his shoulder at Hattie, who was still on the floor bleeding. George stood near her and wept, he begged his mother not to leave him.

An ambulance transported D.C. to a nearby receiving hospital where a doctor stitched him up. D.C. was quiet, then blurted out, “I’m sorry I didn’t succeed.” Then he retreated into a silent sulk.

A reporter came to interview D.C, but he would not, or could not, speak.

Hattie went to the California Hospital where a friend of hers, Dr. C.G. Stivers, examined her. The prognosis was grim. She suffered three serious gunshot wounds. Two of them entered her chest, and a third went through the fleshy part of her arm. The bullets that entered her chest deflected into her liver.

While they waited to see if Hattie would live or die, detectives began an investigation into D.C.’s life.

When he was younger, D.C. was a well-to-do businessman in Burlingame, Kansas. For whatever reason, he turned to alcohol. Once he started drinking, he couldn’t stop. D.C. summoned the strength to vanquish his demons. He pulled himself together and made a fortune in the dry goods business.

Success didn’t satisfy him. D.C. was restless and told his wife that he was unhappy in Kansas. He wanted to move away and start fresh.  He told her she should consider herself a widow, and he walked out.

D.C. moved to Oklahoma, and later to Los Angeles where he got into the real estate business and bought the Columbia boarding house with Hattie.

Local newspapers speculated about D.C.’s relationship with Hattie. That they were engaged, or had been, and were living under the same were roof suggested an intimacy that could compromise Hattie’s reputation.

Mr. Harrison took offense at the rumors and tried to set the newshounds straight.  He said,

“My daughter’s character is above reproach as anyone who knows her will agree.  Her name never has been associated with scandal by those her know her most intimately, and, though she and Kent lived in the same house for several months, never a whisper of improper relations has been heard among the occupants of the lodging-house.  They were engaged to be married, but the engagement was broken by Mrs. Wiley two or three months ago, and it was only a few days ago that she told me the reason.  She said she had learned that Kent was an immoral man, and she could not marry him.  She said he had grown repulsive to her, and that she did not love him.  Knowledge of this, coupled with an insane jealousy, undoubtedly prompted him to attempt her murder.”

Mr. Harrison then explained how his daughter knew Kent.

“Kent was a friend of Wiley, my daughter’s divorced husband, and at various times lived with her and her family, both in Oklahoma and at Tropico, in this State.  About two years ago Mrs. Wiley rented a ranch from Kent in Tropico, and he boarded with her husband, and the latter’s mother.  After Mrs. Wiley’s divorce she lived for a time in East Los Angeles.  Last April she came to our home at Tonawanda, New York, returning in September to Los Angeles, where she immediately joined Kent in the purchase of the lease and fittings of the Columbia lodging house.  My wife and I lived at the place with them, and we know their relations were proper.  Kent had agreed that Mrs. Wiley should conduct the lodging house while he would devote his attention to his real estate business.  He failed to carry out this agreement, however, and spent most of his time at the house. He was insanely jealous of Mrs. Wiley, and would become angry when any other man talked with her.”

As D.C.’s jealousy increased, they sent Hattie to Long Beach for a week. She returned home determined to end both her personal and business relationship with D.C.

Hattie was unaware that while she was in Long Beach. D.C. hired a private investigator to shadow her. The P.I. observed Hattie with a man named E. George. They seemed enamored of each other. On receiving that news, D.C. flew into a rage.

Within twenty-four hours of telling D.C. of her plan to pull the plug on their relationship, he shot her.  

Dr. C.G. Stivers performed a laparotomy on Hattie. A laparotomy is a surgical procedure in which the doctor makes an incision in the abdominal cavity. The doctors open Hattie up and traced the two bullets that D.C. fired into her chest to assess the damage. They determined that a lengthy operation would kill her, so they left the bullets where they were.

Despite the earlier dire prognosis, Hattie rallied. She regained her strength and doctors felt confident that, barring anything unforeseen, she would live.

While Hattie recovered, D.C. paced the floor of his room in the jail ward of the receiving hospital. HIs biggest fear now was that he would go to prison for the attempt on Hattie’s life.

He mulled over his options. There wasn’t much he could do – other than feign insanity.  

NEXT TIME: D.C. Kent lawyers up.

Serial Killers 101

Like most of us, recent events have turned the daily routines I count on upside down. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to how I can be productive while I’m at home.

At first the shock of the recent changes in the world knocked the wind out of me, but no longer. I realize I’ve been absent from this site for too long. It is time for me to get back to work.

Deranged L.A. Crimes doesn’t solve any of the world’s problems, but I hope that it will offer a diversion to those who are self-isolating or otherwise confined.

Besides adding content to this site, I am creating a curriculum for courses on American crime that I plan to teach online. I will offer some free mini-courses, eventually offering more in-depth paid courses.

The below video is a teaser of things to come. It is new territory for me. I have lectured, taught in a pub, and been interviewed on TV and podcasts about crime. A segue to online teaching seems like a natural next step.

I appreciate your support. I remain in awe of your knowledge of true crime, and I look forward to your comments. I have learned a lot from you.

Please let me know what you think about my plan to offer courses in various true crime topics.

Check in with me any time on any subject. We need to connect with one another, now more than ever.

Film Noir Friday — Saturday Matinee: Shadow of a Doubt [1943]

shadow of a doubt

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is SHADOW OF A DOUBT, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten and Macdonald Carey — with a fine performance by Hume Cronyn.

The script was a collaboration between Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville (Hitchcock’s wife).  This was Hitchcock’s favorite of his films. 

Of course Hitch makes a cameo appearance in the film, and Wikipedia tells you when to look for him:

Alfred Hitchcock appears about 15 minutes into the film, on the train to Santa Rosa, playing bridge with a man and a woman (Dr. and Mrs. Harry). Charlie Oakley is traveling on the train under the assumed name of Otis. Mrs. Harry is eager to help Otis, who is feigning illness in order to avoid meeting fellow passengers, but Dr. Harry is not interested and keeps playing bridge. Dr Harry replies to Hitchcock that he doesn’t look well while Hitchcock is holding a full suit of spades, the best hand for bridge.

 

Before the feature, enjoy this short subject from the CRIME DOES NOT PAY series.

Crime Does Not Pay was an anthology radio crime drama series based on MGM’s short film series which began in 1935 with Crime Does Not Pay: Buried Loot. The shows were transcribed at MGM’s New York station, WMGM.

February 1947 — A Confession in the Dahlia Case & Another Murder

dumais_00010481

U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Dumais [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On February 8, 1947 the Herald announced that the Black Dahlia case was solved. They had found the killer!

dahlia_herald_24_dumaisThe Herald story began:

“Army Corporal Joseph Dumais, 29, of Fort Dix, N.J., is definitely the murderer of “The Black Dahlia”, army authorities at Fort Dix announced today.’

Dumais, a combat veteran, returned from leave wearing blood stained trousers with his pockets crammed full of clippings about Short’s murder. According to the Herald, Dumais made a 50 page confession in which he claimed to have had a mental blackout after dating Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles five days before her body was found.

The good looking corporal seemed like the real deal. He told the cops, “When I get drunk I get pretty rough with women.” Unfortunately, when police checked his story against known facts the solider’s confession didn’t hold up. Dumais was sent to a psychiatrist.

Two days after Dumais’ false confession the Herald put out an Extra with the headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again! Kills L.A. Woman, Writes B.D. on Body”.

dahlia_herald_27_werewolf strikesThe victim of the “Werewolf Killer” was forty-five year old Jeanne French. Her nude body was discovered at 8 a.m. on February 10, 1947 near Grand View Avenue and Indianapolis Street in West L.A.

jeanne_french_scene_00057603

Cops at the scene of Jeanne French’s murder. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jeanne Thomas French’s life was as fascinating as a Hollywood screenplay. She was an aviatrix, a pioneer airline hostess, a movie bit player and an Army Nurse. And at one time she was the wife of a Texas oilman. The way she died was monstrous.

jeanne and frank picA construction worker H.C. Shelby was walking to work around 8 o’clock that morning along Grand View Blvd. when he saw a small pile of woman’s clothing in weeds a few feet from the sidewalk. Curious, Shelby walked over and lifted up a fur trimmed coat and discovered French’s nude body.

French was savagely beaten–her  body covered with bruises. She suffered blows to her head, probably administered by a metal blunt instrument–maybe a socket wrench. As bad as they were, the blows to her head were not fatal. Jeanne died from hemorrhage and shock due to fractured ribs and multiple injuries caused by stomping–there were heel prints on her chest. It took a long time for French to die. The coroner said that she slowly bled to death.

Mercifully, Jeanne was unconscious after the first blows to her head so she never saw her killer take the deep red lipstick from her purse, and she didn’t feel the pressure of his improvised pen as he wrote on her torso: “Fuck You, B.D.” (later thought to be be “P.D.”) and “Tex”.

French was last seen in the Pan American Bar at 11155 West Washington Place. She was seated at the first stool nearest the entrance and the bartender later told cops that a smallish man with a dark complexion was seated next to her. The bartender assumed they were a couple because he saw them leave together at closing time.

Jeanne’s estranged husband, Frank, was booked on suspicion of murder. The night before she died Jeanne visited Frank at his apartment and they’d quarreled. Frank said Jeanne had started the fight, then hit him with her purse and left. He said that was the last time he saw her. He told the cops she’d been drinking.

David Wrather, Jeanne’s twenty-five year old son from a previous marriage was also brought in for questioning. As he was leaving the police station he saw his step-father for the first time since he’d learned of his mother’s death. David confronted Frank and said: “Well, I’ve told them the truth. If you’re guilty, there’s a God in heaven who will take care of you.” Frank didn’t hesitate, he looked at David and said: “I swear to God I didn’t kill her.”jeanne french_husband lie detectorFrank was cleared when his landlady testified he was in his apartment at the time of the murder, and when his shoe prints didn’t match those found at the scene of the crime.

Cops followed the few leads they had. French’s cut-down 1929 Ford roadster was found in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant, The Piccadilly at Washington Pl. and Sepulveda Blvd. Witnesses said that the car had been there since 3:15 the morning of the murder, and a night watchman said it was left there by a man. The police were never able to find out where Jeanne had been between 3:15 a.m. and the time of her death which was estimated at 6 a.m.

Scores of sex degenerates were rousted, but each was eliminated as a suspect. Officers also checked out local Chinese restaurants after the autopsy revealed that French had eaten Chinese food shortly before her death.

French’s slaying, known as the “Red Lipstick Murder” case, went cold.

Three years later, following a Grand Jury investigation into the numerous unsolved murders of women in L.A., investigators from the D.A.’s office were assigned to look into the case.

Frank Jemison and Walter Morgan worked the French case for almost eight months, but they were never able to close it. They came up with one hot suspect, a painter who worked for the French’s four months prior to the murder. He admitted to dating Jeanne several times. The cops discovered the painter burned several pairs of his shoes–he wore the same size as the ones that left marks on Jeanne’s body. Despite his odd behavior, the painter was cleared.

There were so many unsolved murders of women in the 1940s that in 1949 a Grand Jury investigation was launched into the failure of the police to solve the cases.

There haven’t been any leads in Jeanne French’s case in decades; however, there is always a detective assigned to Elizabeth Short’s murder case.  A couple of years ago it was a female detective and, surprisingly, she received several calls a month. To this day there are people who want to confess to Elizabeth Short’s murder. The detective was able to eliminate each one of the possible suspects with a simple question: “What year were you born?

The Black Dahlia Case Goes Cold

Elizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Evening Herald & Express for days following the discovery of her body.

Even in a murder case as well-publicized as the Black Dahlia, the more time that elapses following the crime the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiastic coverage. The paper sought out psychiatrists psychologists, and mystery writers who would attempt, each in his/her own way, to analyze the case and fill column space in the paper as they, and the cops, waited for a break. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald were engaging in speculative profiles of both the victim and her killer.

One of the psychologists tapped by the Herald to contribute her analysis of the victim and slayer was Alice La Vere. La Vere was introduced as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. According to the newspaper, Miss La Vere would give to readers: “an analysis of the motives which led to the torture murder of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short”. La Vere’s analysis is surprisingly contemporary.

Here is an excerpt from her profile of Short’s personality:

“Some gnawing feeling of inadequacy was eating at the mind of this girl. She needed constant proof to herself that she was important to someone and demonstrates this need by the number of suitors and admirers with which she surrounded herself.”

La Vere went on to describe the killer:

“It is very likely that this is the first time this boy has committed any crime. It is also likely that he may be a maladjusted veteran. The lack of social responsibility experienced by soldiers, their conversational obsession with sex, their nerves keyed to battle pitch — these factors are crime-breeding.” She further stated: “Repression of the sex impulse accompanied by environmental maladjustment is the slayer’s probable background.”

How does La Vere’s profile of Elizabeth Short and her killer compare with the analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggests that Beth was “needy” and that her killer would have “spotted her a mile away”. He said that the killer “would have been a lust killer and loved hurting people.”

craig_rice_Time

On the salient points, I’d say that La Vere and Douglas were of like minds regarding Elizabeth Short and her killer.

At the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, mystery writer Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig) was one of the most popular crime writers in the country. In its January 28, 1946 issue,TIME magazine selected Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. Sadly, Rice has been largely forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).

In late January 1947, Craig Rice was invited by the Herald to give her take on the Black Dahlia case. She summed it up this way:

“A black dahlia is what expert gardeners call ‘an impossibility’ of nature. Perhaps that is why lovely, tragic Elizabeth Short was tortured, murdered and mutilated Because such a crime could happen only in the half-world in which she lived. A world of–shadows.”

The police couldn’t catch a break. Not only were they stumped in the Dahlia case, another woman was viciously murdered on February 11th. The victim was not cut in half, but evidence at the scene suggested a possible connection.

NEXT TIME: The Lipstick Murder

Film Noir Friday: The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS [1946] starring Barbara Stanwyck, Lizabeth Scott, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas. Rest in Peace Mr. Douglas.

TCM says:

Years after a murder drove them apart, an heiress tries to win back her lost love

Black Dahlia: The Investigation Continues

LAPD detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown headed the investigation into Elizabeth Short’s murder. The case was a challenge from the moment they arrived on Norton Street. The lack of physical evidence at the body dump site posed a problem.

A skillfully retouched photo of Elizabeth Short at the body dump site.

Police officers knocked on doors and interviewed hundreds of citizens to find the place where Beth was murdered, but they were unsuccessful.

Beth’s mother, Phoebe, was cruelly tricked by the Herald-Express into believing that her much loved daughter was a beauty contest winner, only to be told minutes later that she was a murder victim.

Phoebe Short at her daughter’s inquest.

Murder victims lose their right to privacy; all of their secrets are revealed. To fill column space while multiple leads were being tracked, the Herald looked to psychiatrists, Beth’s acquaintances, and even mystery writers, to speculate on the case, which they did with creative abandon.

The psychiatrist whose expert opinion was sought by the Herald was Dr. Paul De River, LAPD’s shrink. He wrote a series of articles for the paper in which he attempted to analyze the mind of the killer. De River wrote that the killer was a sadist and suggested that: “during the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

Dr. J. Paul De River.

In one of his most chilling statements, De River hinted at necrophilia — he said: “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth Short were interviewed and they weighed in on everything from her hopes and dreams to her love life. Beth was, by turns, described as “a man-crazy delinquent”, and a girl with “childlike charm and beauty”. Many people who claimed to be close to her said that she aspired to Hollywood stardom. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

Beth at Camp Cooke (now Vandenburg AFB)

While the experts opined, Aggie was busy canvassing Southern California for leads. Underwood had been with the Herald-Express for twelve years when the Black Dahlia case broke wide open. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, an LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant. According to Aggie, Giese said: “This is something you might like, Agness. I’ve found out they called her the ‘Black Dahlia’ around that drug store where she hung out down in Long Beach.”

Aggie interviews a woman (not Black Dahlia related).

A few days passed and the mystery man known only as Red, was located. He was Robert M. “Red” Manley, a twenty-five-year-old married salesman. Early on the morning of January 20, 1947, Aggie interviewed Manley. The first thing she said to him was: “You look as if you’ve been on a drunk.” Manley replied: “This is worse than any I’ve ever been on.”

Aggie told him that he was in one hell of a spot and advised him to come clean. Harry S. Fremont, an LAPD homicide detective looked over at Manley and said: “She’s right, 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.”

Manley told his story, and Aggie was smart enough not to interrupt him. He told of having picked Beth up on a street corner in San Diego early in December. And he also revealed that the night he’d spent with Beth in a roadside motel had been strictly platonic. He concluded with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

Look closely — under “Night In a Motel” is Aggie’s byline. (Photo courtesy of LAPL)

The story ran in the Herald with the headline: ‘Red’ Tells Own Story of Romance With ‘Dahlia’, and Aggie got the byline. She was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a byline in the case.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_byline
Robert “Red” Manley

The morning following her interview with Red Manley, Aggie was unceremoniously yanked off of the case. She said: “…the city editor benched me and let me sit in the local room without a blessed thing to do.”

The no-assignment routine resumed the next day. Aggie said that she sat for about three hours then started on an embroidery project! Anyone who came into the city room that day and saw Aggie with her embroidery hoop just roared with laughter. She kept at it until quitting time.

Day three — Aggie prepared to do more embroidery when she was told by the assistant city editor that because of an overnight decision she was to go back to LAPD homicide and continue her work.

Aggie barely had time to pull out her notebook before she was pulled off the case again! This time it was for good. An announcement was made that Aggie’s new assignment would be the city desk. She was flabbergasted. She had just become one of the first women in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily.

Why was Aggie removed from the Black Dahlia case? There are those who believe that there was a cover-up and that Aggie was getting too close to a solution to Short’s murder, so someone with enough juice had her promoted to keep her out of the way. That makes little sense to me, as city editor she’d have been directing the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t a person who could be bought. The timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part of the Black Dahlia case.

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold — or does it?

Black Dahlia: The Investigation Begins

Jane Doe #1, was found in a weedy vacant lot in Leimert Park on the morning of January 15, 1947. The Los Angeles Times, reluctant to tarnish the city’s image, relegated the shocking sex murder to page two.

Just because they balked at splashing the disgusting details of the murder across the front page, doesn’t mean that the Times didn’t indulge in lurid hyperbole worthy of a Hearst newspaper – note the headline below.

Los Angeles police detectives intended to send the victim’s fingerprints via airplane to the FBI in Washington, D.C. as they always did, but a massive storm in the east made it impossible. What could they do?

THE BLIZZARD OF 1947

The Examiner owned a Soundphoto machine, an early fax, and while it had never been used to transmit fingerprints everyone agreed it was worth a try. The fingerprints were successfully transmitted and subsequently identified Jane Doe #1 as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. The Examiner expected something in return for their largesse. Because of the crucial role they played in getting the identification, the Examiner leveraged a deal with the police—their continued cooperation with the police in exchange for exclusives.  LAPD Captain Jack Donohoe wasn’t overjoyed. He didn’t relish the paper’s constant meddling, but he knew reporters would pursue the case with or without police approval.  The deal was the lesser evil.

During the initial phase of the investigation many of the stories that Beth told her family and acquaintances surfaced in newspaper articles, and although much of the information has subsequently been disproved the lies remain.

On January 17, 1947, under the headline: “Mrs. Phoebe Short Can’t Believe Slain Girl Hers,” the most persistent of Beth’s lies was repeated by her mother. Phoebe told reporters, “She was working in Hollywood doing bit parts for the movies until two weeks ago.  She said she left Hollywood (for San Diego) because of the movie strike, which made it difficult to get work as an extra.”

Beth was pretty enough to work as a film extra, but there is no credible evidence that she ever did.

In another letter, Beth told Phoebe she was working in an Army hospital in San Diego, or in some connection with the armed services. It was a lie.

To learn more about Beth, and maybe uncover a suspect, detectives questioned dozens of people. No one seemed to know her well.

By January 18, Phoebe Short and her daughters were on their way to Los Angeles from their hometown of Medford, Massachusetts and the police were no closer to a solution to the crime.

NEXT TIME: The search for a killer continues