Posted on September 23, 2020
The Black Dahlia murder is one of the most famous Hollywood murder cases in history. To this day, it is one of the most talked-about and speculated cases in American mystery fiction. It’s legacy, almost 80 years after, it is still labeled as one of the cruelest and culturally lasting crimes in American history. Time magazine classified it as one of the most notorious unsolved cases in the world.
The Black Dahlia murder has spawned thousands of books, podcasts, documentaries, and films. Among them, director’s Brian De Palma’s movie: The Black Dahlia.
In addition to the murder, the case is so fascinating because, as James Ellroy once said, the case explores “the larger fields of politics, crime, corruption, and paranoia in post-war Los Angeles.”
Who Was the Black Dahlia?
The name Black Dahlia is a noir film inspired – movies incredibly popular in the time of the killing – a portmanteau of Elizabeth Short (July 29, 1924 – January 15, 1947). The lurid term may have originated from murder mystery, The Blue Dahlia, released in April 1946. She acquired that press approved name known posthumously.
Elizabeth was an aspiring actress who was found murdered in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, California. Her case became profoundly broadcasted by the radio and other mediums due to the explicit nature of the scandal. Her body had been mutilated and bisected at the waist.
Short’s unsolved murder and the circumstances enveloping it have had an enduring cultural romance, producing several theories on the culprit. More than 150 suspects were apprehended and question, amongst them many Hollywood celebrities… None of the investigations yielded any result.
The Life of the Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short was born on July 29, 1924, in the Hyde Park section of Boston, Massachusetts. She was the third of five offspring.
At around 1927, the Short family moved to Portland, Maine, before finally settling in Medford, Massachusetts.
Short’s father constructed miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash. After that crisis, the man lost everything and the family went broke.
In 1930, her father’s automobile was found deserted on the Charlestown Bridge; the man committed suicide by plunging into the Charles River.
Short’s mother relocated with her five daughters into a tiny apartment in Medford and started to work as a bookkeeper.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, was troubled with severe asthma attacks and bronchitis. At 15, she underwent lung-surgery. The doctors advised the family to relocate to warmer climates. The family moved to Florida.
In late 1942, the family got a huge shock… the dad was alive. The man never committed suicide. A letter by the fella’ revealed that he had started a new life in California.
In December, at age 18, Short dropped out of school and decided to move in with her father in Vallejo. It was a short-lived arrangement. By 1943 she had moved out and had started working near the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on San Francisco Bay.
Elizabeth had a wild streak and seemed to constantly get into trouble. She was arrested for underage drinking at a local bar; the authorities shipped her back home.
Back in Florida, Elizabeth met Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr., a decorated Army Air Force officer at the 2nd Air Commando Group. He was training for deployment to the China Burma India Theater of Operations of World War II. Both fell in love and were going to get married… Gordon didn’t make it back from the war, the man’s plane crashed on August 10, 1945, a week before the surrender of Japan ended the war.
Distraught, Elizabeth moved back to California. She spent the last six months of her life in southern California, often in the Los Angeles area. She had been worked as a waitress and rented a room behind the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard.
by this time, The Balck Dahlia was 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 115 pounds, and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth.
On January 9, 1947, Elizabeth came back to her flat Los Angeles after a brief trip to San Diego with Robert “Red” Manley, a 25-year-old married solicitor she had been dating.
Manley later stated that he left Short off at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where Short was to meet her sister. The staff recalled Short and, along with Manley’s description of events, their eyewitness accounts validated his statements and innocence.
Short was never again seen alive.
On the morning of January 15, 1947, The Black Dahlia’s naked body was discovered split into two pieces on a deserted lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue, midway between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street.
The gruesome scene was uncovered by resident Betty Bersinger at about 10 a.m. while walking with her three-year-old daughter. Bersinger originally assumed she had spotted an abandoned store mannequin.
The Black Dahlia’s rigorously mangled body was split at the waist and drained of blood, leaving her skin a pallid white. She had been dead for around ten hours.
The corpse had been vigorously cleaned and bleached by the killer. Short’s profile had been cut from the corners of her mouth to her ears; the effect is known as the “Glasgow smile”. The Black Dahlia also had numerous cuts on her thigh and breasts. Entire portions of her skin had been cut off.
The lower half of her body was placed a foot away from the upper, and her intestines tucked beneath her buttocks. The carcass “posed.”
Before the police managed to close the scene passersby and reported manages to take several photos of the crime and body. Los Angeles Herald-Express reporter Aggie Underwood photo’s garnered national attention.
Finally, as if everything else wasn’t ghastly enough, a cement sack overflowing watery blood was also found nearby.
An autopsy of Short’s body was performed on January 16, 1947, by Frederick Newbarr, the Los Angeles County coroner.
Details are as follows:
Short had ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck, and an “irregular laceration with superficial tissue loss” on her right breast.
The body had been sliced in two by a technique taught in the 1930s called a hemicorporectomy.
Newbarr’s report noted “very little” bruising along the incision line, suggesting it had been performed after death.
The cuts on each side of the face were measured at 3 inches on the right side of the face, and 2.5 inches on the left.
The skull was not fractured.
The COD cause of death was written up as hemorrhaging from the lacerations to her face and the shock from blows to the head and face.
Newbarr noted that Elizabeth had been raped.
The Media storm
Reporters from William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner contacted her mother, immediately after the Black Dahlia had been positively identified. They told her mother, in Boston, her daughter had won a beauty contest. After they had pried as much personal information as they could, the reporters revealed that Elizabeth had been murdered.
The Hearst offered to pay her airfare and lodging if she would travel to Los Angeles to help with the police investigation. Then, once she arrived did everything within his power to kept her away from police and other reporters to protect his scoop.
The media nicknamed Elizabeth the “Black Dahlia” and oftentimes and described her as an “adventuress” who “prowled Hollywood Boulevard”.
Additional unverified newspaper reports even went as far as to insinuate that Elizabeth was a call girl.
The Los Angeles Times on January 17, deemed the murder a “sex fiend slaying.”
A few crime authors, as well as Cleveland detective Peter Merylo, have linked Shorts murders to those perpetrated by the Cleveland Torso Murders, between 1934 and 1938.
In 1980, new evidence implicating a former Torso Murder suspect, Jack Anderson Wilson, was looked into by Detective St. John concerning Short’s murder. The detective claimed he was close to arresting Wilson for Short’s murder; Wilson died in a fire on February 4, 1982.
Eliot Ness biographer Oscar Fraley suggested Ness knew the identity of the killer responsible for both cases.
February 10, 1947, the killing of Jeanne French in Los Angeles was also linked up by the media and detectives as possibly being connected to Short’s killing. French’s body was discovered in west Los Angeles on Grand View Boulevard, nude and badly beaten. On her stomach, in lipstick, “F%6k You B.D.”, and the letters “TEX” below. Some speculated that the B.D stood for Black Dahlia.
Crime authors like Steve Hodel and William Rasmussen have suggested a connection between the Black Dahlia murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago, Illinois. Captain Donahoe believed that The Black Dahlia and the Chicago Lipstick Murders could have been performed by the same serial killer.
In 1991, Janice Knowlton, a woman who was ten at the time of Short’s murder, told the press that she witnessed her father, George Knowlton, beat Short to death with a clawhammer.
To this day, the murder case of the Black Dahlia remains open.
“No lead had any conclusions. Once we’d find something, it seemed to disappear in front of our eyes.”
—Sgt. Finis Brown, on the various dead ends in the case.