On the Road with Earle Nelson

ROOMS TO LET by Rober Olmos & John Howard (self-published, 1977)

All serial murder fans are, or at least should be, aquainted with the story of "Gorilla Murderer" Earle Nelson, the bold pioneer who strangled some 22 women (mainly boardinghouse landladies) in 1926-27. A bible-spouting loony with a sex drive to match, his problems supposedly began in childhood when a streetcar accident bounced his head off the pavement like a basketball for some 50 feet. He managed to stay out of serious trouble (albeit not mental institutions or matrimony) until his spree started in San Francisco. He went up & down the Coast a few times, crossed the country with stops in Kansas City and Iowa, swinging through Philly & Buffalo and back through Chicago and Detroit before doing his last pair in Winnipeg. Those Canadians caught 'em & hanged 'em quicker than you can say "Charles Ng". Times have changed, eh?

I could probably go on with a full on review of this book, but it's not worth it. It's a novel based on the case, and not a good one at that. This is one self-publication you can't pin on the New York Literary Conspiracy. The writers have obviously done their homework--I think at least one is retired Portland PD--but who knows where homework stops and fantasy starts?

Besides, the cosmic experience I had buying this book is more interesting. I first saw it under glass at the Portland PD Museum. I knew I had to have it. But my connections assured me it was a rare, rare book.

Fast forward to my last Portland (Used Book City, USA) trip, a mad-cap day-dash from Seattle, four hours driving each way. Three hours', two reserved fora big paperback show. I leave the show, a few scores to the good, & hit Hawthorne, picking two stores at random. First one: ok, nothing major. As I walk into the door of the second, it hits me--the neat, well ordered, mildly aniquarian stock--this is the perfect store to find ROOMS FOR LET. And sure enough, there it was, neatly ensconced in the true crime section with a $3 price tag.

Ah. Karma.


DADDY WAS THE BLACK DAHLIA KILLER by Janice Knowlton and Michael Newton (Pocket Books 1995)

At long last: the identity of the Black Dahlia killer revealed, and by his own daughter! And how does she know Daddy did it? She saw him!

Of course, she had forgotten about Pa slicing a woman in half until recently when, through the magic of "recovered memories" it all started coming back: the Dahlia killing, endless incestuous rapes, other murders, satanic rituals--the whole nine yards.

There are plenty of things wrong with Newton's book. He accepts newspaper coverage that supports his theories and discards anything that contradicts as media distortions. Physical evidence (i.e., bodies!) somehow remains elusive. And his insinuations of a police cover-up are laughable. Would the LAPD not arrest the perp of one of the most highly publicized homicides in California history just because he may have been a two-bit pornographer connected to organized crime? And the emphasis is on the two-bit part.

But it really comes down to Knowlton's recovered memories. Newton seems to think memory operates like a VCR. "Recovered memories", well, that's when the VCR needs a little jostling to get going again. More conventional psychological theory begs to differ. And frankly, after the horrendous medical and psychological ordeal that Newton describes Knowlton going through before she started recovering memories (with the help of a "Christian" therapist of unstated pedigree), it's hard to take anything se says seriously.

Like the Executioner books that Newton spent so many years ghost writing, DWTBDK is an amusing book. It should be taken every bit as seriously.

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John Marr

PO Box 640111
San Francisco, CA 94164
United States