Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Did the Black Dahlia Murder Have a Marijuana Connection?

The gruesome 1947 murder and mutilation of 22-year-old aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short, who became known as the "Black Dahlia," remains unsolved until this day. 

A 2017 book, Black Dalia, Red Rose by British author Piu Eatwell makes the case for an LAPD coverup involving the smearing of their own chief police psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Paul De River because he prescribed marijuana to his wife for severe pain. 

Eatwell, who was able to get the FBI file in the case (but not the LAPD records, which are still under seal), presents evidence for bellhop and one-time mortician's assistant Leslie Dillon as Short's killer, acting at the behest of nightclub owner Mark Hansen because Short refused to date him exclusively, or work as a prostitute. Eatwell theorizes that the LAPD knowingly let Dillon off the hook because Sergeant Finis Brown, one of the case's two lead investigators, was in cahoots with Hansen during the days when LAPD's infamous "Gangster Squad" had ties to mob figures.  

In 1949, police came close to arresting Dillon after he sent a quasi confession under a pseudonym to Dr. De River, an expert on sexual crimes who wrote a book titled The Sexual Criminal: A Psychoanalytical Study. De River interrogated Dillon, getting him to implicate himself.  In testimony before a grant jury, the doctor was critical of LAPD and its investigation into the Black Dahlia case, making him an enemy of corrupt members of the police force. 

On March 2, 1950, just after Dr. De River spoke at a luncheon meeting for the Parkview Women's Club on the subject of "Juvenile Delinquency and the Home's Influence in Its Prevention," he was asked to stop by the city attorney's office where he was interrogated by officers of the State Division of Narcotic Enforcement about a series of prescriptions he had written between December 1949 and January 1950. The doctor explained to agents that he had written them as painkillers for his wife Gladys, who had been in severe pain after a botched spinal surgery to treat her ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease, for which, it turns out, cannabis may be helpful). 

Eatwell's book says the prescriptions De River wrote were for marijuana, citing author John Brian King's introduction to a re-issue of The Sexual Criminal. However, King has posted an account saying they were for dilaudid, or morphine, which actually makes more sense since cannabis was removed from pharmacies after the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, and up until then did not require a prescription but rather was sold as a patent medicine

When Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds were arrested for possession of marijuana in 1948, de River is said to have stated: "It is a well-known fact that Hollywood people are jaded. They have tried everything and the only way they can get any stimulation is to indulge in marijuana. It is the only way they have left to get any thrill out of romance." (The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1948, p 3, quoted here). It seems unlikely then that he would have enabled his wife to take cannabis, unless perhaps he saw a distinction between its medical and recreational use. 

Regardless, misdemeanor "dope" charges were soon filed against De River. It was reported that the city attorney's office was pushed by LAPD to prosecute the case after the DA's office refused to issue the complaint. At trial, four of the five charges were dropped, and Dr. De River was convicted on a minor charge of keeping inaccurate records, and given 30 days' probation. But the damage to his reputation was done; by August 1950 his position with the LAPD was over.  

One of De River's accusers who drove him out of his job was Ernest E. Debs, an LA city councilman who criticized the doctor's book as "luridly illustrated" and "filthy and shocking," calling it "an obvious attempt to pander to depraved tastes." Debs went on to a career as a state Assemblymember and a long tenure as LA County Supervisor (1958-1974).  

"During the counterculture era of the 1960s, centered on the county-administered Sunset Strip, Debs was an implacable foe of the youth movements of the time and had several rock-and-roll venues, such as Pandora's Box, and coffeehouses shut down. Debs ordered the Sheriff's office to crack down on the counterculture-oriented nightlife, which led to the 1966 Sunset Strip riot." Wikipedia. Stephen Stills wrote "For What It's Worth" about this period of time. 

Eatwell told Rolling Stone that her book’s theories have caused “quite a lot of controversy. There was a certain amount of resistance from some forces in the U.S., [and] … a certain amount of skepticism [because] I’m completely the opposite of someone like James Ellroy [who wrote the 1987 crime novel The Black Dahlia]. I’m not white, I’m not male, I’m not from Los Angeles, I’m not friends with the police.” 

Elroy's book LA Confidential contains a fictionalized account of Mitchum and Leeds's arrest, with a police corruption angle. LAPD's tactics remained controversial, with 1980s chief Darryl Gates, who co-founded SWAT teams and the D.A.R.E. program, testifying that "casual drug users should be taken out and shot." 

Thanks to author/activist Chris Conrad for the tip. 

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