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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

Curly Howard: Favorite Stooge or sadistic Black Dahlia Ripper?

The Internet’s abuzz with speculation in advance of the expected L.A. judicial ruling on April first on releasing the sanitarium records of former beloved “Stooge” Curly Howard. The records are expected to confirm that the former stooge admitted, during numerous group therapy sessions, that he killed model Elizabeth Short in January of 1947, the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder which fascinated the nation and remained unsolved for more than half a century.

It’s common knowledge that Lothario and ladies’ man Curly had a breakdown or seizure of some sort in early ’47 that forced his retirement from the popular “Three Stooges” comedy troupe, and which led to his replacement by his brother “Shemp” Howard. Curly would never act again and spent the remainder of his life in and out of various mental institutions and sanitariums.

While it’s widely believed and reported the cause was a stroke or brain injury of some sort, the true reasons for his retirement may never be known. Persons who spoke with him in the years until his death in 1952 saw little signs of brain damage other than a jerking gait when walking and a slow speech pattern, which are more common symptoms of heavy doses of anti-psychotic medications.

The only description of the last person to have been seen with Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia” herself, is of a heavy-set man with curly hair, seen only from the rear as he drove away with her in a newer model sedan. Curly Howard, as we know, was originally nicknamed “curly” due to his gorgeous curly locks, which he shaved almost daily for his Stooge screen roles. Between films he regularly wore a large, curly wig.

The Hollywood Reporter in April of 1949 reported that fellow patients of Curly’s at the Hollywood Sanitarium stated he’d confessed freely to not only the Black Dahlia murder, but to two other unsolved streetwalker/prostitute homicides as well. Under threat of a massive lawsuit by Columbia Pictures, the Stooges’ film studio, the paper printed a retraction the very next issue, apologizing for relying on mental patients for their information. Dr. Munchausen, a psychiatrist at the sanitarium, who wrote his memoirs in 1962, recalled in a footnote that an unnamed patient had confessed to a number of gruesome murders in the late 40s but that patient confidentiality precluded his commenting further.

In 2008 Cliff Irving, a former orderly at the Hollywood Sanitarium, wrote an article for the Enquirer reiterating the claim that Curly had confessed to the crime during numerous group therapy sessions. Once again, Columbia Pictures threatened a massive lawsuit but this time Irving and the Enquirer fought back, demanding the mental hospital release its files on the case.

The legal case has remained in limbo since then, with Judge Roger Patterson expected to rule on April first of this year. The 1948 L.A. Grand Jury in the Dahlia case heard evidence of a “wealthy Hollywood man” who was a prime suspect. The DA investigators said they’d found witnesses who’d seen bloody clothing of the type and size worn by Elizabeth Short, as well as bloody bed sheets, inside the suspect’s home. (A synopsis of the grand jury testimony concerning the wealthy Hollywood male suspect can be found in Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel).

As the LA Grand Jury was hearing evidence in the Dahlia case and the “wealthy Hollywood man” connection, Curly had his mysterious “breakdown,” lawyered-up and retired from acting, replaced by Shemp as a Stooge and, until his death in 1952, was in and out of sanitariums and private hospitals, being kept closely guarded on his brief excursions outside to visit family or friends.

For those interested in learning more about the Black Dahlia murder case I’d recommend the Bet Short website  though be warned: the crime scene and autopsy photos are extremely graphic.

“Mix with your wise counsels some brief folly, to forget one’s wisdom is sweet!” (Horace)

Ed note: This column is a happy "April Fool's Day!" for River Journal readers.

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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