The Black Dahlia murder in 1947

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Black Dahlia murder – The Black Dahlia murder  It was in the year 1947 that the police came to know of another horrifying and brutal murder case in which only pieces of a woman’s body were found in a park named as the Leimert Park. Later onwards it was confirmed that it was the body of Elizabeth Short. The police was further confused by a number of false confessions from the side of a number of people. As the police had no evidence, so the case remains unsolved till today.

Who killed the Black Dahlia?

Possible suspect or motives in Black Dahlia murder
Mark Hansen
The psychotic unidentified Army person in FBI file
The doctor
Random nut
A rival female
Drug dealer
Movie producer
Chicago murder; lipstick murder connection
The medical student; supposed cousin
Mystery man in Shorts possessions
Red Manly
Could killer be left handed?

Here injuries are on the front of her face and right side of her head.
After some days..
January 23 person calls newspaper about not enough coverage. Package in mail next day..

Either way you cut it, either it was the killer, or someone that was so sure that it was Hansen. Since they didn’t take info to police
January 25; items found on garbage dump; short

posted stuff from freedom of information act on black dahlia on FBI site


What happened to Elizabeth Shor
1. Could have been a doctor; Seems highly likely…
a. Precision cuts
b. This seems solid possibility
2. Killer was deranged, angry

It was either a person that knew her somewhat, or someone that was picking up a prostitute, or someone that felt taken advantage of by her..
Something that pissed him off;
Someone that had access to a within probably 10 miles a place to do all this
Need to be someone that wanted attention or wanted to be known

The George Hill Hodel lived near where she stayed with the women, on Franklin street in Hollywood
Doctor involved in abortions
Had a sec


5121 Franklin Avenue
The Black Dahlia – The Unedited Weird Hollywood Story

wanted to post

Likely assumptions to make on the murder (point by point, which is why it led me to think with suspicion on this George Hodel)
1. The precision of the cuts suggests someone with intelligence, someone with a strong medical background and anatomy, surgical back ground
2. The person HAD TO have a place nearby wherever she was picked up; it had to be a very secure area, sound proof.
3. It had to be someone who was familiar with the area and comfortable to a small extent;; this person took a chance placing the body in the open, and since the murder obviously wasnt committed where it was found or near it; that person took a risk to place it there, where it could have been a really obscure area;
The person washed her.

Strongly it was the murderer was the one who sent the package with the notes.. I think that there is one thing that really stands out about this and that is the fact that the person who sent the package, used gasoline to remove fingerprints on the package, but included a notebook of another potential suspect, as if trying to frame this other person.

Black Dahlia murder mystery
Black Dahlia murder mystery


The Black Dahlia murder pictures

The Black Dahlia crime scene photos

Black Dahlia murder case

“The Black Dahlia” was a nickname given to Elizabeth Short[2][3][4] (July 29, 1924 – c. January 15, 1947), an American woman who was the victim of a gruesome and much-publicized murder. Short acquired the moniker posthumously by newspapers in the habit of nicknaming crimes they found particularly lurid. Short was found mutilated, her body sliced in half at the waist, on January 15, 1947, in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California. Short’s unsolved murder has been the source of widespread speculation, leading to many suspects, along with several books and film adaptations of the story. Short’s murder is one of the oldest unsolved murder cases in Los Angeles history.

Early life

Elizabeth Short was born in Boston; she grew up and lived in the suburb of Medford, Massachusetts. She was the third of five daughters of Cleo Short and Phoebe Mae Sawyer. Her father built miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash, in which he lost much of the family’s assets. In 1930, he parked his car on a bridge and vanished,[5] leading some to believe he had committed suicide. Short’s mother moved the family to a small apartment in Medford and found work as a bookkeeper. It was not until later that Short would discover her father was alive and living in California.

Arrest photo from 1943 for underage drinking

Troubled by asthma and bronchitis, Short was sent to live for the winter in Miami at the age of 16. She spent the next three years living there during the cold months and in Medford the remainder of the year. At age 19, Short travelled to Vallejo, California, to live with her father, who was working nearby at Mare Island Naval Shipyard on San Francisco Bay. They moved to Los Angeles in early 1943, but an altercation resulted in her leaving there and finding work in the post exchange at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base), near Lompoc, California. Short next moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested on September 23, 1943, for underage drinking. Following her arrest, she was sent back to Medford by the juvenile authorities in Santa Barbara. Short then returned to Florida to live, with occasional visits to Massachusetts.

Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr.

In Florida, Short met Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr., a decorated United States Army Air Force officer who was assigned to the 2nd Air Commando Group and in training for deployment to China Burma India Theater of Operations. Short told friends that Gordon wrote her a letter from India proposing marriage while he was recovering from injuries sustained from an airplane crash. She accepted his proposal, but Gordon died in a second airplane crash on August 10, 1945, before he could return to the United States.

Elizabeth Short returned to Los Angeles in July 1946 to visit Army Air Force Lieutenant Joseph Gordon Fickling, an old boyfriend she had met in Florida during the war. At the time Short returned to Los Angeles, Fickling was stationed at NARB, Long Beach. For the six months prior to her death, Short remained in southern California, mainly in the Los Angeles area.

Murder and aftermath[edit]


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The nude body of Short was found in two pieces on a vacant lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue midway between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street (at 34.0164°N 118.333°W) in Leimert Park, Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. It was discovered by local resident Betty Bersinger, who was walking with her three-year-old daughter around 10 a.m.;[1][6] Bersinger initially mistook the body for a discarded store mannequin.[1] Upon realizing it was a corpse, she rushed to a nearby house, where she phoned the police.[1]

Short’s severely mutilated body was severed at the waist and completely drained of blood.[7] Not only was the body bloodless, but her body had been obviously washed by the killer as well.[8] Her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears, creating an effect called the Glasgow smile. Short also had multiple cuts on her thigh and breasts, where entire portions of flesh had been removed.[1] Her lower half was positioned a foot away from her torso, and the intestines were tucked neatly under the buttocks.[8] The body had been “posed” with her hands over her head, her elbows bent at right angles, and her legs spread.[1][5] Near the body, detectives found a cement sack which contained droplets of watery blood, as well as a heel print on the ground amidst tire tracks.[1]

The autopsy stated that Short was 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, weighed 115 pounds (52 kg), and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth. There were ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck. Although the skull was not fractured, Short had bruising on the front and right side of her scalp with a small amount of bleeding in the subarachnoid space on the right side, consistent with blows to the head.[1] The cause of death was hemorrhage from the lacerations to the face and shock due to blows on the head and face.

Following Short’s identification, reporters from the Los Angeles Examiner contacted her mother, Phoebe Short, and told her that her daughter had won a beauty contest. After prying as much personal information as possible from Mrs. Short, only then did they inform her that that her daughter was actually dead. The newspaper then offered to pay her air fare and accommodation if she would travel to Los Angeles to help with the police investigation. It was however a ploy, the newspaper used the trip to keep her away from police and other reporters to protect their scoop.[9] William Randolph Hearst’s papers, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Examiner, later sensationalized the case: The black tailored suit Short was last seen wearing became “a tight skirt and a sheer blouse” and Elizabeth Short became the “Black Dahlia”, an “adventuress” who “prowled Hollywood Boulevard”. As time passed, the media coverage became more outrageous, with claims that her lifestyle had “made her victim material”.

On January 23, 1947, someone claiming to be the killer called the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, expressing concern that news of the murder was tailing off in the newspapers and offering to mail items belonging to Short to the editor. The following day, a packet arrived at the Los Angeles newspaper containing Short’s birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper, and an address book with the name Mark Hansen embossed on the cover. Hansen, an acquaintance at whose home she had stayed with friends, became a suspect. One or more persons would later write more letters to the newspaper, calling himself “the Black Dahlia Avenger”, after the name given to Short by the newspapers. On January 25, Short’s handbag and one shoe were reported seen on top of a garbage can in an alley a short distance from Norton Avenue, and then finally located at the dump.



The grave of Elizabeth Short

Due to the notoriety of the case, more than 50 men and women have confessed to the murder, and police are swamped with tips every time a newspaper mentions the case or a book or movie about it is released. Sergeant John P. St. John, a detective who worked the case until his retirement, stated, “It is amazing how many people offer up a relative as the killer.”

Short was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. After Short’s sisters had grown up and married, Short’s mother moved to Oakland to be near her daughter’s grave. Phoebe Short finally returned to the east coast in the 1970s and lived into her nineties.[5]

Rumors and popular misconceptions[edit]

According to newspaper reports shortly after the murder, Elizabeth Short received the nickname “Black Dahlia” at a Long Beach, California drugstore in mid 1946 as wordplay on the film The Blue Dahlia. Los Angeles County district attorney investigators’ reports state that the nickname was invented by newspaper reporters covering the murder. Los Angeles Herald-Express reporter Bevo Means, who interviewed Short’s acquaintances at the drug store, is credited with first using the “Black Dahlia” name.[10]

A number of people, none of whom knew Short, contacted police and the newspapers, claiming to have seen her during her so-called “missing week”—a period between the time of her January 9 disappearance and the time her body was found on January 15. Police and district attorney investigators ruled out each of these alleged sightings; in some cases, those interviewed were identifying other women they had mistaken.[11]

Many true-crime books claim that Short lived in or visited Los Angeles at various times in the mid-1940s; these claims have never been substantiated and are refuted by the findings of law enforcement officers who investigated the case. A document in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files titled “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946” states that Short was in Florida and Massachusetts from September 1943 through the early months of 1946 and gives a detailed account of her living and working arrangements during this period. Although a popular portrayal amongst her acquaintances and many true-crime authors was of Short as a call girl, the Los Angeles district attorney’s grand jury proved there was no existing evidence that she was ever a prostitute, and the district attorney’s office attributes the claim to confusion with a prostitute of the same name. Another widely circulated rumor holds that Short was unable to have sexual intercourse because of a congenital defect that left her with “infantile genitalia”. Los Angeles County district attorney’s files state that the investigators had questioned three men with whom Short had engaged in sex,[12] including a Chicago police officer who was a suspect in the case.[13] The FBI files on the case also contain a statement from one of Short’s alleged lovers. Found in the Los Angeles district attorney’s files and in the Los Angeles Police Department’s summary of the case, Short’s autopsy describes her reproductive organs as anatomically normal, although the report notes evidence of what it called “female trouble”. The autopsy also states that Short was not and had never been pregnant, contrary to what had been claimed prior to and following her death.[12]


Main article: Black Dahlia suspects

The Black Dahlia murder investigation was conducted by the LAPD. The Department also enlisted the help of hundreds of officers borrowed from other law enforcement agencies. Owing to the nature of the crime, sensational and sometimes inaccurate press coverage focused intense public attention on the case.

About 60 people confessed to the murder, mostly men. Of those, 25 were considered viable suspects by the Los Angeles District Attorney. In the course of the investigation, some of the original 25 were eliminated, and several new suspects were proposed. Suspects remaining under discussion by various authors and experts include Walter Bayley,[14] Norman Chandler, Leslie Dillon, Joseph A. Dumais, Mark Hansen, George Hill Hodel, George Knowlton, Robert M. “Red” Manley, Patrick S. O’Reilly, Woody Guthrie, Orson Welles, and Jack Anderson Wilson.[15]

Theories and possibly related murders[edit]

Some crime authors have speculated on a link between the Short murder and the Cleveland Torso Murders, which took place in Cleveland between 1934 and 1938.[16] As with a large number of killings that took place before and after the Short murder, the original LAPD investigators looked into the Cleveland murders in 1947 and later discounted any relationship between the two cases. Nevertheless, new evidence implicating a former Cleveland torso murder suspect, Jack Anderson Wilson (a.k.a. Arnold Smith), with Short’s death was investigated by Detective John P. St. John in 1980. St. John claimed he was close to arresting Wilson for the death of Short, but Wilson died in a fire on February 4, 1982.[17]

Crime authors such as Steve Hodel (son of George Hill Hodel) and William Rasmussen have suggested a link between the Short murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago.[18] Captain Donahoe of the Los Angeles police also stated publicly that he believed the Black Dahlia and Lipstick murders were “likely connected”.[19] Among the evidence cited is the fact that Elizabeth Short’s body was found on Norton Avenue three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard, Degnan being the last name of the girl from Chicago, and there were striking similarities between the writing of the Degnan ransom note and that of “the Black Dahlia Avenger”. For example, both used a combination of capitals and small letters (the Degnan note read in part “BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY”), and both notes contain a similar misshapen letter P and have one word matching exactly.[20] Convicted serial killer William Heirens served life in prison for Degnan’s murder. Initially arrested at age 17 for breaking into a residence close to that of Suzanne Degnan, Heirens claimed he was tortured by police, forced to confess, and made a scapegoat in the Degnan murder.[21]

Media portrayals[edit]

A television dramatization, “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” (1975), featured Lucie Arnaz in the role of Elizabeth Short. The case has inspired numerous works of fiction, among them True Confessions, a 1981 film starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. It was adapted from a 1977 novel of the same name by John Gregory Dunne. James Ellroy’s 1987 novel The Black Dahlia is a fictionalized account that, like Dunne’s, uses the case as an occasion for “an exploration of the larger fields of politics, crime, corruption, and paranoia in post-war Los Angeles”, according to cultural critic David M. Fine.[22] Brian De Palma’s 2006 film The Black Dahlia, based on Ellroy’s novel, bears little relation to the facts of the case.[

via Black Dahlia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Black Dahlia 2006 movie

Two policemen see their personal and professional lives fall apart in the wake of the “Black Dahlia” murder investigation.

In 1946, the former boxers Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are policemen in Los Angeles. Lee has a good relationship with his chief and uses a box fight between them to promote the department and get a raise to the police force. They succeed and are promoted to homicide detectives, working together. Bucky becomes a close friend of Lee and his girlfriend Kay Lake, forming a triangle of love. When the corpse of the aspirant actress ‘Elizabeth Short (I)’ is found mutilated, Lee becomes obsessed to solve the case called by the press Black Dahlia. Meanwhile, Bucky’s investigation leads him to a Madeleine Linscott, the daughter of a powerful and wealthy constructor that resembles the Black Dahlia. In an environment of corruption and lies, Bucky discloses hidden truths.


  • Josh Hartnett Josh Hartnett …
  • Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert
  • Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson …
  • Kay Lake
  • Aaron Eckhart Aaron Eckhart …
  • Lee Blanchard
  • Hilary Swank Hilary Swank …
  • Madeleine Linscott
  • Mia Kirshner Mia Kirshner …
  • Elizabeth Short
  • Mike Starr Mike Starr …
  • Det. Russ Millard
  • Fiona Shaw Fiona Shaw …
  • Ramona Linscott
  • Patrick Fischler Patrick Fischler …
  • Deputy DA Ellis Loew
  • James Otis James Otis …
  • Dolph Bleichert
  • John Kavanagh John Kavanagh …
  • Emmett Linscott
  • Troy Evans Troy Evans …
  • Chief Ted Green
  • Anthony Russell Anthony Russell …
  • Morrie Friedman
  • Pepe Serna Pepe Serna …
  • Tomas Dos Santos

Being a James Ellroy-disciple the knowledge of an adaption of the terrific novel filled me with a combination of fear and expectation: Fear… can it ever be as great as the book? Expectation… Curtis Hanson did an excellent job with L.A. Confidential, so why not? – And now I’ve seen the result of DePalma’s work. First of all, don’t even compare it with the L.A. Confidential movie.

Black Dahlia is told in a radical different way, being much more synthetic, expressive and theatrical. This is not a very common way of telling stories in modern movies, however this method made me recall the typical ‘over-acting’ as seen in the 40’s noir movies (like Double Indemnity). Was this intentionally? – Probably, yes. It feel a bit weird to begin with, but at the end of the show I had to admit: It works. The movie clearly tries to describe all the details from the book, which sometimes makes it loose its own breath.

The original story had so many details, and took place over a very long period of time. This is one of the points where the movie sometimes stumble. It’s simply trying too hard. One thing that is hard to criticize is the stunning visuals. The movie is absolutely beautiful, making every scene a work of art. The other highly successful point I would have to mention is Hilary Swank. She IS a femme fatale, by definition. Fans of the classic film-noir genre will most likely be more than satisfied. Keep a look-out for this one, and be ready to be thrilled.

Black Dahlia Info

Elizabeth Short sometime in the mid 1940’s.

Elizabeth Short in 1945. Part of her nickname, ‘Black Dahlia’, came from the fact that she would wear dahlias in her hair.

Elizabeth Short had a number of publicity photos, showing a young woman with many different sides.

Perhaps the best of her publicity photos, Elizabeth Short would include one whenever she passed out her information sheet.

Beth was arrested and booked at one point. Even her mugshots showed a pretty face.

AP photo that Black Dahlia Avenger author Steve Hodel believes was Beth Short

AP photo that Black Dahlia Avenger author Steve Hodel believes was Beth Short

Phoebe Short (left) was Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth is wearing a dressy coat, perhaps to show her mother that she was becoming a star.

The discovery of Beth’s body off the side of the road near Rodeo Drive was sensational news. The media covered any changes in the case, and it was front page news from coast to coast.

One of the investigators, George Wheeler, inspects evidence concerning the Black Dahlia case. Here he is brushing a note, sent annonymously, for fingerprints.

One suspect, Robert ‘Red’ Manly, took a lie detector test, which the police claimed was inconclusive.  Doomed RomanceElizabeth Short mugshots
Elizabeth Short mugshots
Over the next couple of years, Short drifted back and forth across the country, taking trains from Medford to Chicago, to Florida, to California and back to Massachusetts again. Waitressing gigs paid her way wherever she went and fed her compulsion to experience new places and people. Her lust for life was overwhelming.She frequented night clubs where she swayed across the dance floor to swing jazz and bebop. She loved the music, the men, the atmosphere. She was never alone unless she wanted to be. But on the last day of December 1944, her playgirl lifestyle changed when she met a young man who stood out from the testosterone horde, a major with the Flying Tigers. She sent her mother a gushing letter, Pacios writes:”I met someone New Year’s Eve, a major, Matt Gordon. I’m so much in love, I’m sure it shows. He is so wonderful, not like other men. And he asked me to marry him.”After Short returned to Medford that summer, Pacios says she wore Matt’s pilots wings pinned to her blouses and started a hope chest, filling it with hand-embroidered linens he sent her from the Philippines.Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short
When a Western Union bicycle messenger pedaled toward the Short residence in the late August heat, it was a fate to cruel to contemplate. The Japanese had surrendered on August 14, and Short had finally stopped worrying that Matt would be killed in combat. Instead she fantasized about her upcoming nuptials, about the silk wedding gown, the floral arrangements, what canapés to serve at the reception, how to wear her hair.But the bicycle messenger did stop in front of the Short residence, delivering a terse missive from her fiancé’s mother: “Matt killed in plane crash on way home from India. My sympathy is with you. Pray it isn’t so.”Short spent the next days in a funk, reading and re-reading Matt’s letters. When the Yankee air turned frosty, she returned to Miami, a copy of his obituary tucked into her suitcase.

Manly identifies Short’s purse and belongings to police.

Bette ShortElizabeth Short embodied the feminine ideal of the 40s, with her meaty legs, full hips and a small, up-turned nose. She was drama personified. She dyed her mousy brown locks raven black, painted her lips blood red and pinned white flowers in her hair. With her alabaster skin and startling light blue eyes, she looked like porcelain doll.The provenance of her nickname is unclear. Some say her friends started calling her the “Black Dahlia” because of her fondness for the color black and in reference to a 1946 movie called “The Blue Dahlia.” Whatever its genesis, the press ran with it, and doing so, made Elizabeth Short a legend.

In the town where she grew up, however, she was known simply as “Bette,” according to her childhood friend and neighbor Mary Pacios.

Area of Los Angeles where Short’s body was found
Area of Los Angeles where Short’s body was found
Born on July 29, 1924, in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Short was one of five daughters born to Phoebe and Cleo. At some point during her childhood, the family moved half an hour north to Medford, a town famous for Paul Revere’s midnight ride in 1775 and as the place where the “Jingle Bells” was written.

Cleo Short launched a successful business building miniature golf courses, but the 1929 stock market crash left him bankrupt. Unable to provide for his large family, Cleo left his car on local bridge to make it look as if he’d jumped into the river in despair, Pacios writes in her book, “Childhood Shadows.” When he wrote his wife from California a few years later, saying he was saving up money to move the family there, his wife wanted nothing to do with him.

After Cleo’s abandonment, the Short family moved into a meager apartment building next to Pacios, and Phoebe found a job as a bookkeeper. Elizabeth became a big sister of sorts to Pacios, 10 years her junior, taking her out for ice cream or to the movies. The two girls watched all the Ginger Roger and Fred Astaire flicks that were popular at the time as well as the debut of “Gone with the Wind.” Perhaps it was in that small-town theatre where Short’s Hollywood dreaming began.

Short was born with respiratory problems that developed into asthma and bronchitis as she got older. When she was 16, her mother started sending her to spend winters with family friends in Miami, where she found work as a waitress.

At 19, Short took a train cross-country to move in with her father, who was living in Vallejo, a city just above San Francisco, and working at the Mare Island Naval Station. She hoped the move to California would enable her to break into movies, Pacio writes.

At one point during the investigation, an envelope was sent to the police department, and media called it the ‘Clue Letter’. Since this contained some personal effects of the Black Dahlia, the police were very interested in who sent it. The sender was never found.

The murder of socialite Georgette Bauerdorf seemed to fit the pattern of the Black Dahlia murder case.
“Camp Cutie”From the beginning, Short’s newfound relationship with her father was fraught with strife. She hadn’t seen him for years. He was haunted by the regret. They were strangers living the same house, with clashing ideas of how things should be. Cleo Short expected his teenage daughter to serve him as a maid of sorts, cooking and keeping house. But Short was a free spirit who wanted nothing to do with domesticity.A photo that claims to be of a younger Elizabeth Short
A photo that claims to be of a younger
Elizabeth Short
She found a job in the mail room at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base) in Lompoc, two and half hours north of Los Angeles.At Camp Cooke, Short was surrounded by entire regiments of lonely soldiers on the verge of being sent to war. She left a trail of erotic longing in her wake wherever she walked. The young men clamored for her attention, voted her “camp cutie,” and told her she was movie star quality.Her idyll came to an end a few months later, however, when she was arrested at a Santa Barbara bar for underage drinking, and shipped home to Medford.

Jack Wilson aka Arnold Smith was a possible suspect in both the Bauerdorf and Short murders, but it was never definitively proven that he commited the crimes.
The InvestigationElizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short
In the 1940s, the police and the press lived in a symbiotic relationship. Reporters used the cops for inside scoops and the cops used reporters to disseminate information to the public that they hoped would help solve crimes.In the Black Dahlia case, detectives gave the Los Angeles Examiner fingerprints lifted from the dead woman and reporters used their “Soundphoto” machine — a precursor to a modern fax machine — to send enlargements of the prints to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.FBI technicians compared the prints with 104 million fingerprints they had on file, and quickly made a match to one Elizabeth Short. Short’s fingerprints were taken for a mail room job she’d had at an army base in California — and for an arrest record for underage drinking in Santa Barbara.The FBI also sent the paper Short’s government application photo. When reporters saw how attractive the 22-year-old victim was, they knew they had a sensational tale on their hands.This was news noir at its best. To juice up the story, Examiner reporters resorted to an unethical ploy; they called her mother, Phoebe Short, and told her that her daughter had won a beauty contest. After prying as much personal information about Elizabeth from Mrs. Short as possible, they informed her that that her daughter was actually dead.Sex. Beauty. Violence. The story had it all, and soon made front page news across the nation. “Police seek mad pervert in girl’s death,” ran one headline in the Washington Post.

Steve Hodel and bookcover of the Black Dahlia Avenger. Hodel claimed his father was the killer responsible for the Murder of Beth Short


Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short


On the morning of January 15, 1947, a housewife named Betty Bersinger was walking down a residential street in central Los Angeles with her three-year-old daughter when something caught her eye. It was a cold, overcast morning, and she was on her way to pick up a pair of shoes from the cobbler.

At first glance, Bersinger thought the white figure laying a few inches from the sidewalk was a broken store mannequin. But a closer look revealed the hideous truth: It was the body of a woman who’d been cut in half and was laying face-up in the dirt. The woman’s arms were raised over her head at 45-degree angles. Her lower half was positioned a foot over from her torso, the straight legs spread wide open. The body appeared to have been washed clean of blood, and the intestines were tucked neatly under the buttocks. Bersinger shielded her daughter’s eyes, then ran with her to a nearby home to call the police.

Black Dahlia’s (Elizabeth Short) body found in vacant lot
Black Dahlia’s (Elizabeth Short) body found in
vacant lot
Two detectives were assigned to the case, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. By the time the duo arrived at the crime scene — on Norton Avenue between 39th and Coliseum streets in Los Angeles — it was swarming with reporters and gawkers who were carelessly trampling the evidence. The detectives ordered the crowd to back off, then got down to business.

From the lack of blood on the body or in the grass, they determined the victim had been murdered elsewhere and dragged onto the lot, one piece at time. There was dew under the body, so they knew it had been placed there after 2 a.m., when the outside temperature dipped to 38 degrees.

LAPD Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown with Elizabeth Short’s body
LAPD Detectives Harry Hansen
and Finis Brown with Elizabeth
Short’s body
The victim’s face was horribly defiled: the murderer had used a knife to slash three-inch gashes into each corner of her mouth, giving her the death grin of a deranged clown. Rope marks on her wrists and ankles indicated she’d been restrained, and possibly tortured.

By measuring the two halves of the corpse, the detectives estimated the victim’s height to be five-foot, six-inches and her weight to be 115 pounds. Her mousy brown hair had been recently hennaed, and her fingernails were bitten to the quick.

After calling the Los Angeles County Coroner to retrieve the body, the detectives were left with a daunting assignment: finding out who the woman was.


In Miami, Short distracted her heartache with a parade of men. She enjoyed the company of men of every stripe — soldiers, entrepreneurs, older, younger — but the men she enjoyed best were the sort with plenty of spending money in their wallets.

Short knew the value of her beauty. As she sashayed down the sidewalk in peep-toed heels, she held her head high, primly aware of her effect on male passersby. They gawked, they whistled, they offered to buy dinner. Frequently, she accepted. They paid for her meals, bar tabs, rent, clothes. They gave her cash. What were a few greenbacks for the privilege of basking her dazzling aura? Some authors have suggested that Short took this behavior to an extreme and worked as a prostitute, but there is no evidence to back this up.

Letter that was entered into evidence
Letter that was entered into evidence
Whatever money she managed to accumulate on her own through waitressing she used to expand her wardrobe. She’d rather go hungry than wear outdated or worn clothing. When she stepped outside, she was always dressed to the nines, favoring tailored black suits, feminine ruffled blouses, high heels and long gloves. She embodied the cool sophistication of a 40’s working gal.

Short had a particular fetish for men in uniform. In July 1946, she returned to Southern California to be close to Joseph Gordon Fickling, an intensely handsome air force lieutenant with sensual dark eyes. They’d met in California two years earlier, shortly before he was shipped overseas. It was a rocky relationship from the start. In their private letters — which were confiscated by the police and excerpted in newspapers after Short’s murder — Fickling expressed impatience with Short’s flirtations, wondering if he ranked higher in her heart than any other man.

Apparently she wasn’t able — or didn’t try — to convince him that he did. He moved to North Carolina to work as a commercial airline pilot, but they stayed in touch. And he continued sending her money, including a $100 wire transfer the month before she died. The last letter Fickling received from Short was dated January 8, 1947, seven days before her murder. In it, she told him she was moving to Chicago, where she hoped to become a fashion model.

Last Days

Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short
In the last six months of her life, Short moved constantly between a dozen hotels, apartments, boarding houses and private homes in Southern California. She crashed for free where she could, paid as little as possible where she couldn’t. She was chronically short on cash.

From November 13 to December 15, Short lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood with eight other young women — cocktail waitresses, telephone operators, dime dancers — other out-of-towners who hoped to break into showbiz. The women paid $1 a day for a bunk bed and a couple feet of closet space. But Short couldn’t even afford this paltry sum, and snuck out a side door to avoid the manager when the rent was due.

Her roommates told the LA Times after her death that Short was out “with a different boyfriend every night” and didn’t have a job.

“She was always going out to prowl [Hollywood] boulevard,” Linda Rohr, 22, told the paper.

Short was elusive in life as she remains in death. She didn’t have close friends, male or female, but preferred the company of strangers and a constant change of entourage.

The last person to see her alive was a recent acquaintance, a 25-year-old married salesman named Robert Manley, nicknamed “Red” for his flaming auburn hair. According to press reports, Manley picked her up on a street corner in San Diego. He noticed her standing alone, a beautiful woman with no apparent destination, and pulled over to ask if she wanted a ride. Short played coy, turning her head and refusing to look at him. But Manley kept talking, reassuring her that he was harmless, that he just wanted to help her out, give her a lift home.

Robert Manley, submits to a lie detector test
Robert Manley, submits to a lie detector test
At the time Short was staying with a family who took pity on her after finding her at the 24-hour movie theater where she’d gone to spend the night. But they soon tired of her. She lazed around their small house during the day and spent her evenings out partying. In early January 1947, they asked her to leave. Manley came to pick her up.

The pair stayed in a local motel but Short slept in her clothes and the pair didn’t have sex, he later told a reporter. The next day, January 9, he drove her to Los Angeles and helped her check her luggage at the bus station. She told him she was going to Berkeley to stay with her sister, whom she was meeting at the Biltmore hotel downtown. Manley accompanied her into the hotel lobby, but took leave of her at 6:30 p.m. to return to his family in San Diego.

The Biltmore was exactly the sort of place Short loved to hang out in. It was as glamorous as she aspired to be, filled with wealthy travelers and luxuriously appointed. Built in the early 20s, it was the largest hotel west of Chicago, with 1,000 rooms.

Its lobby was its centerpiece, featuring hand-painted cathedral ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and marble floors. This elegant setting could offer no greater contrast to the dirt lot where her desecrated body was dumped one week later.


The Investigation

In the wake of her murder, 40 police officers scoured the neighborhood, going house to house looking for clues and evidence. The checked gutters and laundromats for blood-stained clothing, interviewed residents, poked through dumpsters. They gained no solid leads.

Investigators tracked down Cleo Short, who was living a mere three miles from the dirt lot. He told them he hadn’t heard from his daughter in three years. He was apparently still angry that she refused to keep house for him when she came to California, but spent her time “running around” instead. He refused the coroner’s request to identify the body.

The coroner’s office determined that Short had been killed by massive internal hemorrhaging caused by blows to the head. No traces of sperm were found anywhere on her body, the coroner’s report revealed. It also disclosed a less-than-becoming detail about Short: her teeth were in a “severe” state of decay and plugged with wax.

Investigator George Wheeler examines the evidence.
Investigator George Wheeler examines the evidence.
They questioned more than 20 of Short’s former “boyfriends,” but gained no solid leads. After the story hit the newspapers, more than 30 “confessing Sams” stepped forward, ranging from certified nutjobs to attention-starved losers looking for a moment in the spotlight. The police wasted precious manpower proving they were innocent while searching for the real killer, Det. Hansen complained to the press. His office had to sort through letters from “pranksters” and “wiseacres” writing from as far away as El Paso and the Bronx. He came to theorize that whoever killed Elizabeth Short wasn’t someone she knew, but a “pick up.”

The police interviewed thousands of people who had even the slightest knowledge of Short or her acquaintances and quickly stuffed a steel filing cabinet with notes and affidavits.

At one point, LAPD investigators were so certain that the clean bisection of Short’s body was the handiwork of an expert that they persuaded the University of Southern California — located in the same neighborhood where the corpse was found — to turn over a list of medical students, according the FBI, which has declassified 203 pages of documents related to its own investigation of the murder.

The bureau was inundated with hand-written letters to J. Edgar Hoover from individuals claiming to know who the murderer was or blaming the crime on someone they held a grudge against.

“This suspect swindle[d] $75 out of me, which he promised would put me in motion picture and make me famous,” one woman wrote the bureau on May 23, 1947.

Missing Week

What happened from the time Short was seen leaving the Biltmore to the time her mutilated body was dumped in the dirt lot remains a mystery. One thing is certain: sometime during those seven days, she had a fatal date with her killer, who taunted and tortured her before snuffing out her young life in a horrific fashion.

Manley IDs Short’s purse
Manley IDs Short’s purse
On January 25, Short’s black patent leather purse and one of her black open-toed pumps was found in a dumpster at 1819th E. 25th street, several miles from the crime scene. Robert Manley identified the items as hers. He recognized the shoes because he paid to get them re-soled in San Diego, and said the handbag smelled of the heavy perfume that Short wore and that had permeated his car as they drove from San Diego to Los Angeles.

The five daily papers in Los Angeles gobbled up these details in a ferocious competition to outscoop each other. Someone — possibly the killer — mailed a package to the Examiner nine days after Short’s death. It reeked of the gasoline the sender used to erase his or her fingerprints from the envelope. Inside were Short’s belongings, including photographs, her birth certificate, social security card, and Matt Gordon’s obituary. It also contained an address book containing the names of 75 men. The police quickly tracked them down and they told investigators a surprisingly similar story: they’d met Short on the street or in a club, bought her drinks or dinner, but never saw her again after she made it clear she was uninterested in a physical relationship.


Jack Anderson Wilson
Jack Anderson Wilson
The LAPD has refrained from speculating on the identity of killer. The truth is that Elizabeth Short’s killer is most likely dead — if not of disease, of old age — and will never be brought to justice. This fact hasn’t stopped a large group of amateur sleuths from picking up the torch in an attempt to solve the case. Their conclusions range from fanciful to downright risible:

Mary Pacios pins the blame, incredibly, on movie director Orson Welles, who once did a magic act where he “sawed” a woman in half.
In another book, Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer, a public relations specialist named Janice Knowlton blames her father for the murder. She writes that therapy helped her recover childhood memories of her father forcing her to watch him torture, murder and hack up Short. Knowlton goes on to accuse her father of nine such killings, including that of a son he engendered with her. Her book was a flop, but Knowlton harassed anyone writing about the case who did not support her claims until she committed suicide in 2004 with a drug overdose.
Here are some of the suspects who’ve topped the list as the could-haves the last 60 years:

Robert Manley: Manley was the last known person to see Short alive. He was initially booked as a suspect, but released after he passed a polygraph test. Beset by a long history of mental health problems, in 1954, his wife committed him to a psychiatric hospital after he told her he was hearing voices. That same year, doctors gave him a shot of sodium pentothal — aka the “truth serum” — in another attempt to glean information about the Black Dahlia murder from him. He was absolved a second time. He died in 1986, 39 years to the day after he left Short at the Biltmore. The coroner attributed his death to an accidental fall.
Mark Hansen: Hansen’s name was embossed on the address book that was mailed to the Examiner; it’s unclear how the item fell into Short’s hands. The 55-year-old Denmark native was the manager of the Florentine Gardens, a sleazy Hollywood nightclub featuring burlesque acts. Many of the young women working for Hansen lived at his home, which was located behind the club. Short was his guest for several months in 1946, and the aging lothario is rumored to have tried to bed her — unsuccessfully.
George Hodel: In 2003, a retired LAPD detective named Steve Hodel published another daddy-did-it tract, but this one became a national bestseller. According to the Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder Hodel Jr. depicts his dad as a tyrant and misogynistic pervert who held orgies at the family home and was put on trial for raping own his 14-year-old daughter (he was acquitted). After his father died in 1999, Steve Hodel acquired his father’s private photo album, which contained two snapshots of a dark-haired woman. Hodel claims the woman was Short, but Short’s family has refuted his claims.
Jack Anderson Wilson: In Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder, actor-cum-crime writer John Gilmore fingers an alcoholic drifter named Jack Anderson Wilson. When Gilmore interviewed him in the early 80s, Wilson purportedly divulged details about the murder that only the killer would have known, including knowledge of a supposed vaginal defect which would have prevented Short from having sexual intercourse. A few days before his pending arrest, Wilson died in a hotel fire. The book’s validity has been questioned by other Dahlia devotees who have failed to track down many of Gilmore’s primary sources — leading them to question the sources’ very existence.
Walter Alonzo Bayley: In 1997, a Los Angeles Times writer named Larry Harnisch suggested yet another suspect: Dr. Walter Alonzo Bayley, a surgeon whose house was located one block south of the lot where Short’s body was found. Bayley’s daughter was a friend of Short’s sister Virginia. Harnisch theorizes that Bayley suffered from a degenerative brain disease that made him kill Short. While the police believe Short’s killer was affiliated with a cutting profession — a surgeon or butcher, say — Bayley was 67 at the time of the murder and had no known record of violence or crime. Neither is it known whether he ever met Short.
Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson
None of these suspects have been endorsed by the LAPD. And because most of the key physical evidence has disappeared from the Black Dahlia file — including 13 scornful letters the killer sent the police and the media — it’s unlikely the case will ever be solved. Det. Brian Carr, who inherited it in 1996, has publicly stated as much. In 2006, six decades after her death, Elizabeth Short finally made it onto the big screen in a Universal Pictures release based on the 1987 James Ellroy novel The Black Dahlia.

Directed by Hollywood heavyweight Brian De Palma and budgeted at about $45 million, the cast includes Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank and, as the enigmatic title lady, Mia Kirshner.


Short was buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery in a quiet ceremony attended by six family members. A handful of cops was also there, on the odd chance that the killer would appear to say one last scornful goodbye to his victim.


Short's headstone
Short’s headstone


On a recent trip to the cemetery, Short’s gravesite would have been impossible to locate without the help of detailed instructions downloaded from the Internet. Mountain View Cemetery is large and rambling and offers sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.

After half an hour searching a steep hillside, her plot was found. The modest pink marble headstone marking it was overgrown with crabgrass, and the words engraved on it were simple: “Daughter, Elizabeth Short, July 29, 1924 — January 15, 1947.”

Because in the end, she is more than the enigmatic Black Dahlia, more than the unflattering reputation that has dogged her for six decades, more than another tragic Hollywood story. She was someone’s sister, and someone’s daughter.

Elizabeth Short, rest in peace.

  1. Dave James

    For someone who reputedly had horrible teeth, her photos don’t reflect that..

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