Photo Of The Day

Elizabeth Short was known by various names: "Betty" (or "Bette"), "Beth" and, at least to some of her friends, "The Black Dahlia."

Elizabeth Short was known by various names: “Betty” (or “Bette”), “Beth” and, at least to some of her friends, “The Black Dahlia.”

She Was A Good Girl

She Was A Good Girl!

Phoebe Short

After identifying the remains of her daughter, Elizabeth (“Betty”) Short

Los Angeles, California

Jan. 15, 1947: The mutilated remains of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short are found in Los Angeles. Her murder remains unsolved.

There’s never been a shortage of suspects in the Black Dahlia murder — but police have never been able to pin the crime on any of them.

After the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short — cut in half at the waist and drained of blood — was found in a vacant Los Angeles lot on this day, Jan. 15, in 1947, dozens of people confessed to killing the woman who newspapers dubbed “the Black Dahlia.”

It became the most sensational murder story in a city rife with sensational murders, and fame-seekers all over town wanted to play a part. Over the years, the number of people claiming responsibility grew to hundreds, most of whom detectives ruled out almost immediately.

One promising admission came a few weeks after the murder, from an Army corporal who said he had been drinking with Short in San Francisco a few days before her body was discovered — then blacked out, with no memory of his activity until he came to again in a cab outside New York’s Penn Station. (Short, an aspiring movie star, had a fondness for servicemen, according to The Black Dahlia, the James Ellroy novel based on her murder.)

Asked if he thought he had committed the murder, the corporal said yes, and became a prime suspect until evidence emerged that he had actually been on his military base the day of Short’s death.

Then there was the woman who became convinced — in 1991, after therapy chipped away at 40-year-old repressed memories — that her late father was the murderer. Police dug up the yard of her childhood home, where she believed they’d find his weapons or the remains of other victims. They did find a rusty knife, farm tools, and costume jewelry — but no evidence to tie him to the Black Dahlia case or any other murders.

Witnesses last saw Elizabeth Short, a beautiful 22-year-old woman, leaving the Biltmore Hotel at around 10:00 p.m. on January 9, 1947. She was not seen again until a passerby found her mutilated body one week later.

Where was Elizabeth during that week? Why has her still-unsolved murder fascinated people for nearly seventy years? Why are sections of the investigative record, usually made public, still sealed after so many decades?

And how did she get these injuries which the coroner noted, in the death certificate, as the immediate cause of her demise:

Hemorrhage and shock due to concussions of the brain and lacerations of the face.

Raised in Medford, Massachusetts – a town near Boston and Tufts University – she had asthma and lung problems which especially bothered her during cold months. In 1940, she dropped out of Medford High School to spend winters in a warmer climate.

Her vicious murder has overshadowed who Elizabeth was as a daughter, a sister, a friend. How do the people who knew her in life describe her?

Bette a porcelain China doll with beautiful eyes — think of them as blue, but sometimes would change depending on colour she wore, and became greenish.  

Anna Dougherty, Medford Classmate

 Mrs. Short was very strict with her girls. They moved in to the triple-decker next to the Visiting Nurse’s Association about 1937, but Bette wasn’t with them when they moved in. She was at a summer camp for kids who had TB.  

Eleanor Kurz, Medford neighbour and friend

 (S)he was always friendly, never at a loss for words. And it wasn’t just that she was so pretty. There are lots of pretty girls. There was something different. She was someone you liked to watch, the kind of girl boys might sneak looks at but would get tongue-tied if she spoke to you. And that walk of hers. It wasn’t put on. She always walked that way, even in junior high. I always thought that if she had a glass of water on her head she wouldn’t spill a drop. 

 Bob Pacios, Medford neighbour and classmate

 Bette was good, sweet, funny, not stuck up, always stopped and chatted, made you feel at ease. And what a walk. The truck drivers and men would stare when she walked down the street. It was a wonder there weren’t more truck accidents when she walked down Salem Street . . . She just looked so graceful, but eye-catching, something to look at.

 Dorothy Hernon, Medford neighbour

 Dottie [Elizabeth’s sister], Bette and I were going to be movie stars. We were all entranced with movie stars, star struck. Spent hours talking about movie stars, about going to Hollywood. We performed using the Short’s front porch as a stage. Every Friday as soon as the song sheets came out, we’d pool our money, get the latest sheets, and spend hours singing. Bette imitated Deanna Durbin. Walked like her, talked like her, and in my eyes sang like her. 

Eleanor Kurz, Medford neighbour and friend

 Her hair was very dark, black. She liked to be admired . . . No one had bad thoughts about her. I just liked her . . . Once you saw Bette Short, you couldn’t forget her.”  

Emma Pacios, Medford neighbour and friend

 Elizabeth wasn’t afraid to walk home alone:

I was a Lieutenant in the ’40s. Made Captain in 1955, became Medford Chief of Police 1961-1970. Remember seeing Bette in Medford Cafe, around 1945, 1946. Bette worked in Cambridge, would come in the Cafe late around 1:10 AM; leave around 1:30 AM. She’d always walk home alone . . . We’d kibbitz. She was stunning, like a model. I used to wonder why she picked me to talk to . . . Then I figured maybe I was protection against some of the guys that were ogling her.  

Lt. Charles Donovan, Medford Police Department

 According to people who knew her, Elizabeth Short wanted to be a model. Before long, she looked the part:

A few months before the war broke out I was visiting in Medford and saw Bette in the restaurant directly across from our house on Salem Street . . . what Bette said she really hoped to do was break into modeling. . . I was sure she could do it. I told her she looked like she just stepped out of a magazine

Eleanor Kurz, Medford neighbour and friend.

A 1925 panoramic view of Hollywood, looking north on Vine from Clinton Street, depicts the famous sign. At the time, it said "Hollywoodland."

A 1925 panoramic view of Hollywood, looking north on Vine from Clinton Street, depicts the famous sign. At the time, it said “Hollywoodland.”

When she moved to California, however, the goals and aspirations of this would-be model and movie starlet changed. Los Angeles, after the war, sometimes had a way of destroying – as well as fulfilling – childhood dreams.

In 1908, when the new “film industry” began to put roots into California soil, land was cheap and plentiful. Early Los Angeles, the “city of angels,” had changed and was no longer a small farming town.

By 1912, the first section of the “Port of Los Angeles” was ready – just in time for the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal. (Be sure to click on the “animation” to see how ships pass through the canal’s locks). LA became the closest port to the new canal.

As Los Angeles grew, and “Hollywood culture” took hold, the city needed more roads and workers. The “Great Depression” helped to fill that need as many jobless, displaced people moved to California.

In late 1946, Elizabeth Short moved to the Los Angeles area. In one of her last letters, she told her family she was about to realize a lifelong dream.

She was going to get a screen test.

After Elizabeth Short returned to California, in mid-1946, she continued to write home. Her upbeat letters, however, did not reveal what was really happening in her life.

Without meaningful employment, she had no dependable income. She found rooms with other girls like Ann Toth and Lynn Martin (whose real name was Lynn Myer). They apparently called her “Beth.”

Elizabeth Short photo, taken in October of 1946, part of the police investigation into her death. Online courtesy Steve Hodel (author of Black Dahlia Avenger).

Elizabeth Short photo, taken in October of 1946, part of the police investigation into her death. Online courtesy Steve Hodel (author of Black Dahlia Avenger).

Lynn told a reporter from the Herald Express how the girls met each other:

Hollywood is a lonely place when you come into it without home ties or friends and very little money. There are few places for a lonely girl to go except into a bar.

Girls … start rooming together like old friends. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know anything about each other. It’s somebody to talk to and share the rent with – like Beth and Marjorie and I. … You’re always lonely in Hollywood, even when you’re out with people. They don’t belong to you – those people. None of them really care what happens to you. … Lots of times the girls talk to each other about getting out of Hollywood and starting all over again. They’re going back home, or they’re going to get married to someone. Down in the heart of all of them is sort of a hazy dream about a husband and a house and a baby.

They talk about it, and they dream about it, but somehow they almost never do it. This life is like a drug. You can’t give it up. … And if they have family back home, they never want their families to know what kind of life they’re leading – so if they write home, they make up stuff.

Elizabeth Short’s body was found in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles. This image depicts some of the homes in that area of LA as they appeared circa 1940, about seven years before the murder. Image online via the LA Public Library.

Elizabeth Short’s body was found in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles. This image depicts some of the homes in that area of LA as they appeared circa 1940, about seven years before the murder. Image online via the LA Public Library.

Leaving Los Angeles on the 8th of December, Elizabeth took a bus to San Diego. Before she left, according to people who knew her – like Mark Hansen (whose home she had stayed in and who was, for a time, a suspect in her murder) – she was worried about something.

Hansen was questioned (on December 16, 1949) by investigator Frank Jemison:

Q: While she was living at the Chancellor Apartments, she came back to your house and got mail?

A: I didn’t see her but she was sitting there one night when I came home, with Ann about 5:30, 6:00 o’clock – sitting and crying and saying she had to get out of there. She was crying about being scared – one thing and another, I don’t know. 

Arriving in San Diego, Short found other kind folks who gave her a place to stay: Dorothy French and her mother, Elvera. But after a month, or so, she left.

Robert (“Red”) Manley, whom Short had befriended in San Diego, gave her a ride back to Los Angeles. He was one of the last people to see her alive.

Arriving in Los Angeles, Elizabeth dropped off her luggage at the Greyhound bus station. Manley then drove her to the Biltmore Hotel. As he testified at the inquest, he never saw her again:

Q: Were you acquainted with the deceased in this case, Elizabeth Short?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: How long had you known her; approximately how long?

A: Approximately, a month.

Q: When did you see her, meet her the last time.

A: I saw Miss Short January 9th, which was the last time.

Q: Where was that?

A: I left Miss Short at the Biltmore Hotel at 6:30 P.M., January 9, 1947.

Q: Where had you picked her up from?

A: I had driven her to Los Angeles from San Diego.

Q: Had you met her in San Diego and brought her to Los Angeles?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Had she asked you to bring her to Los Angeles?

A: Yes.

Q: Did she say why she wanted to come to Los Angeles?

A: She said she didn’t like San Diego.

Q: Did she say what she was going to do when she got here or where she was going?

A: She said she was going to meet her sister in Los Angeles and was going to spend a couple of days up in Berkeley with her sister and then go to Boston which was her home.

Q: And you left her at the Biltmore Hotel?

A: That’s correct.

Q: Did she give you any address where she was expected to stay here?

A: No, sir.

Q: And that was the last time you saw her?

A: That was the last time.

Q: And that was January 9th?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: At what time?

A: 6:30.

Q: And you haven’t seen or heard from her since?

A: No, sir.

Q: Is there anything else you can tell the Jury for the benefit of the officers that might aid in determining the perpetrator of this crime?

A: No, sir.

Q: You have given them every assistance you can, have you?

A: Yes, sir.

 Leaving the Biltmore Hotel – once the home site (between 1880-1888) of Dr. Remi Nadeau, famous French-Canadian pioneer whose mule teams transported transported silver ore, mined from Cerro Gordo, across the desert to his seagoing freighters – Elizabeth disappeared into the night of January 9th.

According to published reports, she was not seen alive again.

Evidence concerning the murder of American aspiring actress and murder victim Elizabeth Short (1924 - 1947), known as the 'Black Dahlia,' is strown across a table at the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, Los Angeles, California, 1947. On the table is a black address book, a newspaper clipping about the death of Short's supposed fiance and American Amy Major Matthew M. Gordon Jr., Short's birth certificate, a business card, a threatening letter assembled from newspaper lettering, a baggage check from a Greyhound bus depot, a Western Union telegram, and several photographs of Short. (Photo by INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/Getty Images)

Evidence concerning the murder of American aspiring actress and murder victim Elizabeth Short (1924 – 1947), known as the ‘Black Dahlia,’ is strown across a table at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, Los Angeles, California, 1947. On the table is a black address book, a newspaper clipping about the death of Short’s supposed fiance and American Amy Major Matthew M. Gordon Jr., Short’s birth certificate, a business card, a threatening letter assembled from newspaper lettering, a baggage check from a Greyhound bus depot, a Western Union telegram, and several photographs of Short. (Photo by INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/Getty Images)

On the morning of January 15, 1947, Betty Bersinger was pushing her three-year-old daughter in a Taylor Tot stroller. Living on Norton Street, in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, mother and child were on their way to a shoe-repair shop.

Walking past several vacant lots in the vicinity of Norton and 39th Street, Betty saw something near the sidewalk. At first, she thought it was a discarded mannequin which appeared broken in half.

On closer inspection, however, Betty realized she had discovered the grisly remains of a human being so mutilated that the public was not allowed to see actual pictures for years and press photos had to be “doctored.”

After Mrs. Bersinger rang the police, from a nearby home, reporters quickly arrived at the scene. The shocking condition of the body would ensure sensationalist reporting.

Before police officers could even begin their investigation, members of the press had trampled on the site. At the time, Los Angeles had five daily newspapers – all competing with each other.

Because of profound facial injuries, the body would be difficult to identify. Perhaps a good set of fingerprints would help?

Meanwhile, as reflected in the FBI file on the case, a sketch artist from the Los Angeles Examiner did the best he could to render a likeness of the victim.

Harry Hansen and Finis Brown were the lead LAPD detectives on what became known as “the Dahlia case.” They would soon learn the name of the victim when the FBI matched fingerprints of the body with those of a teenaged girl once arrested, in Santa Barbara, for underage drinking.

Image of the Los Angeles Times sketch artist's rendition of the victim. This sketch was made before police had identified the crime-scene victim as Elizabeth Short.

Image of the Los Angeles Times sketch artist’s rendition of the victim. This sketch was made before police had identified the crime-scene victim as Elizabeth Short.

Will Fowler a Los Angeles Examiner  and his photographer, Felix Paegel, arrived at the scene before the police. They were only a half-mile away from Norton Street when they’d heard the radio call.

Will’s lively Examiner articles (many of which are in the FBI file), and Paegel’s pictures (taken before, and after, the police arrived), gave the Examiner a running start with the story. Fowler’s later book, which featured Elizabeth’s murder, provides more details and graphic pictures.

In 1947, investigating police officers and press reporters worked together in a way that seems foreign now.

Will, and his Examiner colleagues, did the best they could to keep ahead of the law and their opposition. In exchange for helping the FBI to identify the body found on Norton Street, police gave the Examiner the scoop on the victim’s name.

The following are excerpts from the Examiner’s January 17, 1947 story (contained in the FBI’s file):

Identification of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short as the Los Angeles victim of one of the most brutal murders in crime annals was a cross-country feat of enterprise and scientific coordination today.

Participating were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Washington Bureau of the Hearst newspapers, International News Photos, and Detective Sergeants Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown of Los Angeles.

Successful, almost instantaneous transmission by wire across the continent of the delicate whorls, loops and “tents” of the dead girl’s fingerprints is believed to have expanded the boundaries of crime detection.

 Once reporters knew her name, they were able to investigate the details of Elizabeth’s life.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issues a Special Bulletin on January 21, 1947. It asks for information regarding the whereabouts of Elizabeth Short between the 9th and 15th of January of that year. By piecing together whatever information they could glean, the police are hoping to find answers to many questions. More than sixty years later, however, the case remains open. Image online via the FBI files on Elizabeth's murder.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issues a Special Bulletin on January 21, 1947. It asks for information regarding the whereabouts of Elizabeth Short between the 9th and 15th of January of that year. By piecing together whatever information they could glean, the police are hoping to find answers to many questions. More than sixty years later, however, the case remains open. Image online via the FBI files on Elizabeth’s murder.

Jack Smith, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, called a Long Beach drugstore after he learned it might have been a place Elizabeth visited. The pharmacist told him:

She used to hang around with the kids at the soda fountain. They used to call her the Black Dahlia – on account of the way she wore her hair.

 (Jack Smith’s January 23, 1975 column, LA Times)

 Now the victim, and the case, had a name. And with a name in hand, the police could look for a suspect.

At the inquest, Detective Lieutenant Jesse Haskins described the condition of the body when he first arrived on the scene:

The body was lying with the head towards the north, the feet towards the south, the left leg was five inches west of the sidewalk. . .The body was lying face up and the severed part was jogged over about 10 inches, the upper half of the body from the lower half. . .there was a tire track right up against the curbing and there was what appeared to be a possible bloody heel mark in this tire mark; and on the curbing which is very low there was one spot of blood; and there was an empty paper cement sack lying in the driveway and it also had a spot of blood on it. . .It had been brought there from some other location. . .The body was clean and appeared to have been washed.

The coroner, Dr. Frederick D. Newbarr, told the inquest jury that Elizabeth died on the 14th or 15th of January. He explained the cause of death:

Q: Your finding is that the real cause of death was hemorrhage and shock due to blows to the head?

A: Blows on the head and face.

The police were convinced that someone with medical training was involved, either before or after the murder. According to an FBI letter, dated February 25, 1947:

The manner in which ELIZABETH SHORT’s body was dissected has indicated the possibility that the murderer was a person somewhat experienced in medical work. The Los Angeles Police Department has undertaken to develop suspects among the medical and dental schools in the area, as well as among other students who have anything to do with human anatomy.

Complying with the police request, USC sent names of students, as evidenced by the FBI’s letter of March 6th:

Reference is made to your letter of February 25, 1947, submitting a list bearing the names of students enrolled in the Medical School of the University of Southern California and requesting that these names be searched through the criminal indices of the Identification Division …

The first suspect, arrested for the murder of Elizabeth Short, wasn’t a medical student. He was Robert “Red” Manley.  But his alibi, for the 14th and 15th of January, and his lie detector tests – there were two – caused the police to let him go.

Waiting to testify at the inquest, Manley – together with his wife and father – were in the same room as Elizabeth’s mother (Phoebe), sister (Ginnie) and Ginnie’s husband, Adrian West (a Berkeley professor).

Retired police homicide detective Steve Hodel displays two photographs of Elizabeth Short, known in 1947 as the Black Dahlia and the victim of a bizarre and brutal murder the same year RIC FRANCIS / AP file

Retired police homicide detective Steve Hodel displays two photographs of Elizabeth Short, known in 1947 as the Black Dahlia and the victim of a bizarre and brutal murder the same year RIC FRANCIS / AP file

Mark Hansen, who owned the Florentine Gardens and in whose home Elizabeth had stayed, became a suspect when someone – presumably the murderer – sent a package of Short’s personal effects to the Examiner. Among other items, including Short’s birth certificate, was an address book. It had Mark Hansen’s name on the cover.

Even Elizabeth’s father, Cleo Short, was evaluated as a potential suspect. In 1943, he had sent money to his daughter so she could be with him in Vallejo, California.

Their reunion was short-lived and, soon thereafter, Elizabeth found a job at the Camp Cooke PX. (A significant portion of that base was transferred from the Army to the Air Force, in late 1956, to be used as a missile launch and training facility and is now called Vandenberg Air Force Base.) While at Camp Cooke, Elizabeth’s good looks earned her the nickname “Camp Cutie.”

By June, the police had processed – and eliminated – a list of 75 suspects. People sent “tips” to the police – most were completely off the mark. Folks also sent messages to the news media and to the district attorney. The case remained unsolved.

By December, of the following year, investigators had considered a total of 192 suspects. In 1949, with the case still open, the Grand Jury (which included Gladys Littell – seated second right – founder of the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts), was convened to investigate both the murder and the possibility of police corruption and/or coverup.

Although jurors did not indict anyone for Elizabeth’s murder, their 1949 Grand Jury Report found:

Deplorable conditions indicating corrupt practices and misconduct by some members of the law enforcement agencies in the county… alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders… jurisdictional disputes and jealousies among law enforcement agencies.

Since Elizabeth Short’s death, more than fifty people have “confessed” to the crime. One is left to wonder at their motives. Whenever “The Black Dahlia Murder” is in the headlines, police receive “new tips.”

Some of the more notorious “confessions” are worth mentioning:

Daniel Voorhies [Voorhees], an Army veteran, “confessed,” allegedly saying: “I can’t stand it any longer – I killed Beth Short.” He passed a lie detector test.

Minnie Sepulveda also said she was guilty of the crime.

Max Handler (also known as Mack Chandler) – with Homicide Detective Ed Barrett – was the 25th man to confess to the murder. When he took a lie detector test, however, the truth came out. Apparently, he “wanted to get away from a gang of men who have been following me constantly.”

Carol Marshall said she could identify the killer. Nothing reliable ever came from her “evidence.”

Writers have named “likely killers” – including Bugsy Siegel – in a variety of books. Relatives have even “given-up” the names of family members to the police.

The murder of Elizabeth Short, however, remains a “cold case.”

Because there is little forensic evidence available, and decades have passed since the gruesome events took place, it is doubtful the murder will ever be solved.

Perhaps, if all the records were made public, that situation would change. But until that day happens, the murder of “The Black Dahlia” is, in a way, the Los Angeles equivalent of “Jack the Ripper.” There, too, police believed that someone with medical knowledge was involved.

A change in the law was directly related to the unsolved crime. The month after Elizabeth Short died, California became the first state in America to require registration of convicted sex offenders.

Most recently, retired detective Steve Hodel landed on a suspect he believes is unquestionably the killer: his own father, the late doctor George Hodel. Soil samples taken from the doctor’s Hollywood estate in 2012 tested positive for the chemical markers for human decomposition, meaning other bodies may have been buried there.

The younger Hodel’s suspicions were raised when he found pictures of a woman he believed was the Black Dahlia among his father’s possessions; furthermore, he says the surgical accuracy with which she was cut in half and disemboweled suggests a killer with medical training — like George Hodel, who died in 1999.

While the LAPD had long considered Hodel a suspect, they’re not ready to call him the killer. According to a CBS News report that aired in 2004, George Hodel was just one among their 22 viable suspects in the Black Dahlia murder — seven of whom were doctors.

FBI — The Black Dahlia Murder

Who killed the Black Dahlia? – Ask History

Ex-Cop Cites New Evidence His Dad Was Black Dahlia Killer

Black Dahlia Confidential – CBS News

Black Dahlia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • Crowgirl

    Steve Hodel is being given way too much credit I think. I’ve read his book and his whole hypothesis for it being his father is predicated on the woman in those 2 photos actually being Elizabeth Short. After that he’s really got nothing – and I don’t even think the women in the 2 photos are even the same woman, let alone Elizabeth Short. They don’t even really look like her to my eye.

52%