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The Black Dahlia FilesThe Mob, the Mogul, and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles
By Don Wolfe
Regan BooksCopyright © 2006 Don Wolfe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneExtra! Extra!
I was raised on the wrong side of the tracks in Beverly Hills. The Pacific-Electric Railway bisected the city, and people like Gary Cooper, Betty Grable, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, and Marlene Dietrich lived north of the tracks. We lived on the south side on Camden Drive, where some of our neighbors were strictly name-below-the-title "B" movie folks. Joe E. Brown and Billy Gilbert lived down the street, Ann Revere across the way, and J. Carol Naish around the corner.
The south side had its compensations, however. I used to roller skate with Elizabeth Taylor before she became a child star. She and her brother, Howard, lived nearby on Charleville, and she was a member of what some of the neighborhood kids called "The Beverly Hills Skating Club." With the onset of adolescence, we changed the name to "The Beverly Hills Kissing Club;" but before Elizabeth Taylor could be initiated she was taken away from us by MGM.
Although I was from the lower depths of the south side, I attended El Rodeo Grammar School, which was to the north in the land of the majors. Some of my friends and schoolmates were children of the rich and famous. I first saw Gone with the Wind in DavidO. Selznick's living room on the occasion of Jeffery Selznick's twelfth birthday. Jeffery and I were friends at school and Tenderfoot Scouts in Troop 33. Our Boy Scout house was donated by Will Rogers and stood near the wilds of the L.A. Country Club. While learning to light campfires by rubbing sticks together on the manicured greens of the fourteenth tee, the Selznick's chauffeured limousine would be waiting outside the rustic scout house to drive Jeffery home to his Summit Drive mansion.
Whenever my older brother, Robert, and I drove with my mother and father through the north side streets of Beverly Hills, with all the imposing mansions, my father would inevitably say, "Behind those mansion doors, there's often a great deal of unhappiness." And my mother would inevitably respond, "Behind the doors of most dumps, there's also a lot of unhappiness, but a lot less room."
After my parents divorced in 1943, my mother married Jeffrey Bernerd, a movie producer, and we moved north, across the tracks to the land of the majors, where we lived behind one of those mansion doors where "there's often a great deal of unhappiness." But I had it good compared to many of my friends who suffered grievously from material riches and emotional want, and I soon learned that my dad was right; in some of those big homes, I observed a lot of unhappiness-broken hearts, drunks, neurotics, psychotics, suicides, and an occasional murder. Many of my pals at El Rodeo and Beverly Hills High School were driven directly from school to their analyst's office on Bedford Drive, and early on, I learned there was a dark side to money, power, and influence and that the truth and what was printed in the newspapers were not necessarily the same.
Beneath appearances and the public image, there was the whispered story, and beneath the whispered story, there was the cover story; and somewhere beneath the cover story lay the genuine rumor-while the body of truth often lay entombed within the corridors of intrigue. I was a sophomore at Beverly Hills High School when the Black Dahlia murder occurred, and all the cover stories and genuine rumors began, but I had reason to suspect that the truth lay sealed in the catacombs of money, power, and influence-in a carefully guarded crypt that has not been violated until this day.
A jovial, smiling figure of Charlie McCarthy wearing his monocle, boutonniere, and funny top hat sat on the rim above the speaker of my bedside radio. In the 1940s you could listen to Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Gang Busters, Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergin and Charlie McCarthy, and a host of highly entertaining radio shows, but by 10:00 P.M., the entertainment came to an end, and you knew it was time to go to sleep when the fruit frost warnings came on. If the temperature dropped below 35�F in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, the ranchers had to go out and light their smudge pots to ward off the frost that could damage the citrus crops.
On the night of Tuesday, January 14, 1947, the fruit frost warning had been posted and broadcasted on the ten o'clock news. At that hour few people were out on the streets. There were only those who worked late, those who were coming home from the movies or the wrestling matches at Legion Stadium, and the inveterate night people: the sleepless, the homeless, the inebriated. Downtown at the Hearst Examiner Building on Eleventh Street and Broadway, they were preparing the presses for the midnight run of the Examiner-casting the lead plate matrixes, mounting the giant paper rolls, filling the ink vats, and oiling the rollers.
In the small hours after midnight, Bobby Jones, a young man in his early teens, wheeled his bicycle through a vacant lot near Thirtyninth Street and Norton Avenue in Leimert Park. He had gotten up long before dawn to fold and prepare the newspapers for delivery on his route along Crenshaw Boulevard. In those days Leimert Park was a nice, middle class neighborhood on the fringe of the more fashionable Adams District west of downtown Los Angeles. But the construction of homes had been stopped by the war, and the area north of Thirty-ninth Street was still an extension of vacant lots with driveways leading to nothing but weeds and wild bushes.
Although it was quite dark when Bobby pushed his bicycle through the weeds, he noticed a black sedan with its lights off as it parked next to the sidewalk. The street lighting was dim, and he could not see the occupants of the car. Assuming they might be neckers, Bobby thought little of what he had observed as he continued on to his Crenshaw newspaper route.
Excerpted from The Black Dahlia Files by Don Wolfe Copyright © 2006 by Don Wolfe. Excerpted by permission.
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