Unsolved: The Black Dahlia (1947)

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Our Next case is one of the most gruesome cases I have covered yet, these pictures that are in this blog are going to show nudity and horrific images of the murder. This is the case called, The Black Dahlia Murder, before we start the blog on the murder, we are going to find out who the victim was and how she got her name, “The Black Dahlia.”

Elizabeth Short, had gotten the name “Black Dahlia” after she was found murdered in the Leimert Park Neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Her case became one of the most highly publicized cases in the Los Angeles Area in this time, it was highly publicized for the graphic nature of the crime, in the pictures that you will see it will show that her body had been mutilated and detached at her waist.

But who was Elizabeth Short? Elizabeth Short was a originally from Boston, but spent her childhood between Medford, Massachusetts and Florida, before she relocated to California where she lived with her father. Short was an aspiring young actress though she had no acting jobs during her time in Los Angeles.

Elizabeth Short was the 3rd of 5 children in her family, Elizabeth’s family had relocated many times when she was a child and finally in 1929 they settled in Medford, Massachusetts. Elizabeth’s father, Cleo, had built miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash where he lost most of his savings and the family became broke.

In 1930, Cleo’s car was found abandoned on a bridge and it was assumed that he had committed suicide by jumping into the Charles River. With Cleo, assuming to be dead, Phoebe May, Elizabeth’s mother, picked up her 5 daughters and moved into a very small apartment in Medford where she started working as a bookkeeper to support her family.

Elizabeth had lung surgery at the age of 15 due have troubling bronchitis and asthma attacks, doctors suggested that she would need to relocate to a mild climate during the winter months, so during the winter Elizabeth spent her winters in Miami, Florida with family friends, she did this for 3 years before she dropped out of school in 1942.

But in 1942 a shocking letter arrives in the mail for Phoebe May, it was an apology letter from her presumed dead husband, Cleo, he had lived that day and had started a new life in California. So Elizabeth, packed her things and she moved to California to stay with her dad.

After many arguments between Cleo and Elizabeth, she moved out in 1943. She began working at the base Exchange at Camp Cooke, which is now Vandenberg Air Force base, she was living with friends and for a short time a Army Air Force pilot who had abused her.

Elizabeth was arrested on September 23, 1942 for underage drinking, the juvenile police sent her back to Massachusetts, but instead she went to Florida, making visits to Massachusetts.

While Elizabeth lived in Florida, she met Major Mathew Michael Gordon Jr. an Army Air Force Officer. He was training for a deployment, World War II. Elizabeth had told her friends that Matthew had written to propose while he was recovering from his plan case in India. Elizabeth accepted the offer of marriage, but it would never come, Matthew had died in a second plane crash, less than a week before the Japanese would surrender which ended the war.

In July of 1946, Elizabeth moved to Los Angeles and that’s were she would spend her last 6 months of her life working as a waitress and rented a room behind the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. Elizabeth would be described as an aspiring actress.

On January 9, 1947, Elizabeth was returning from a trip to San Diego with her boyfriend when Robert Manely dropped Elizabeth off at the Biltmore Hotel where Elizabeth was meeting her sister who was in from Boston. Staff at the Biltmore Hotel sported Elizabeth using the lobby telephone and we have seen at a restaurant called, “Crown Gill Cocktail Lounge.

She got the nickname Black Dahlia after the owner of drugstore in Long Beach, California heard one of the male customers tell a reporter that was her name as she was always known to have the color black on. The nickname may have come from the film, The Blue Dahlia, a murder mystery film that was released in 1946.

Short’s unsolved murder is frequently known as one of the most famous unsolved murders in American history as well as the one of the oldest unsolved cases in Los Angeles County. It was one of the first major crimes post World War II to capture national attention.

But on January 15, 1947, Elizabeth’s body was found, severed into two pieces on an empty lot in Leimert Park. The neighborhood was undeveloped, but a few residents lived in the area. Betty Bersinger and 3 year old daughter discovered the body around 10 AM. Bersinger thought she had found a store mannequin that had been tossed out, but then she realized that she was dead body and she rushed to a nearby house and called police.

Elizabeth’s body had been severely mutilated and was completely severed at the waist, and all of her blood had been drained out. Medical Examiners determined that she had been dead 10 hours. Elizabeth’s face has been slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears, that effect was known as the “Glasgow Smile” She also had cuts on her thigh and breasts.

An autopsy of Elizabeth’s body was performed on January 16, 1947, the autopsy report stated that Short was 5 feet 5 inches all, weighed 115 pounds, and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth. There were ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck, and an “irregular laceration with superficial tissue loss” on her right breast. The coroner also noted superficial lacerations on the right forearm, left upper arm, and the lower left side of the chest.

The body had been cut completely in half by a technique taught in the 1930s called a hemicorporectomy. The lower half of her body had been removed by transecting the lumbar spine between the second and third lumbar vertebrae, thus severing the intestine at the duodenum, which is the first and shortest section of her small intestine, this would be the key organ in the digestive system. The coroner’s report noted “very little” bruising along the incision line, suggesting it had been performed after death. Another “gaping laceration” measuring 4.25 inches.

The lacerations on each side of the face, which extended from the corners of the lips, were measured at 3 inches on the right side of the face, and 2.5 inches on the left. The skull was not fractured, but there was bruising noted on the front and right side of her scalp, with a small amount of bleeding on the right side, which would be consistent with multiple brutal blows to her head.

The cause of death was determined to be hemorrhaging from the lacerations to her face and the shock from blows to the head and face. The coroner also noted that Short’s anal canal was dilated at 1.75 inches, suggesting that she may have been raped. Samples were taken from her body testing for the presence of sperm, but the results came back negative.

This poor woman suffered so much during her murder, the killer wanted to make sure she was found as he or she only placed her just a few feet off the sidewalk, he or she wanted to make sure their work was found but was there more to the story? Was this to prove a point?

On January 21, 1947, a person claiming to be Short’s killer placed a phone call to the office of James Richardson, the editor of the Examiner, congratulating Richardson on the newspaper’s coverage of the case, and stated he planned on eventually turning himself in, but not before allowing police to pursue him further. Additionally, the caller told Richardson to “expect some souvenirs of Beth Short in the mail”.

On January 24, a suspicious manila envelope was discovered by a U.S. Postal Service worker: The envelope had been addressed to “The Los Angeles Examiner and other Los Angeles papers” with individual words that had been cut-and-pasted from newspaper clippings; additionally, a large message on the face of the envelope read: “Here is Dahlia’s belongings and a letter to follow”. The envelope contained 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. The packet had been carefully cleaned with gasoline, similarly to Short’s body, which led police to suspect the packet had been sent directly by her killer. Despite the efforts to clean the packet, several partial fingerprints were lifted from the envelope and sent to the FBI for testing; however, the prints were compromised in transit and thus could not be properly analyzed. The same day the packet was received by the Examiner, a handbag and a black suede shoe were reported to have been seen on top of a garbage can in an alley a short distance from Norton Avenue, 2 miles from where Short’s body had been discovered. The items were recovered by police, but they had also been wiped clean with gasoline, destroying any fingerprints.

On March 14, an apparent suicide note scrawled in pencil on a bit of paper was found tucked in a shoe in a pile of men’s clothing by the ocean’s edge at the foot of Breeze Ave. Venice. The note read: “To whom it may concern: I have waited for the police to capture me for the Black Dahlia killing, but have not. I am too much of a coward to turn myself in, so this is the best way out for me. I couldn’t help myself for that, or this. Sorry, Mary.” The pile of clothing was first seen by a beach caretaker, who reported the discovery to John Dillon, lifeguard captain. Dillon immediately notified Capt. L. E. Christensen of West Los Angeles Police Station. The clothes included a coat and trousers of blue herringbone tweed, a brown and white Y shirt, white jockey shorts, tan socks and tan moccasin leisure shoes, size about eight. The clothes gave no clue about the identity of their owner.

Police quickly deemed Mark Hansen, the owner of the address book found in the packet, a suspect. Hansen was a wealthy local nightclub and theater owner and an acquaintance at whose home Short had stayed with friends, and according to some sources, he also confirmed that the purse and shoe discovered in the alley were in fact Short’s. Ann Toth, Short’s friend and roommate told investigators that Short had recently rejected sexual advances from Hansen, and suggested it as potential cause for him to kill her; however, he was cleared of suspicion in the case. In addition to Hansen, the Los Angeles Police Department interviewed over 150 men in the ensuing weeks whom they believed to be potential suspects. Manley, who had been one of the last people to see Short alive, was also investigated, but was cleared of suspicion after passing numerous polygraph examinations. Police also interviewed several persons found listed in Hansen’s address book, including Martin Lewis, who had been an acquaintance of Short’s. Lewis was able to provide an alibi for the date of Short’s murder, as he was in Portland, Oregon, visiting his father-in-law, who was dying of kidney failure.

By the spring of 1947, Short’s murder had become a cold case with few new leads. Sergeant Finis Brown, one of the lead detectives on the case, blamed the press for compromising the investigation through reporters’ probing of details and unverified reporting. In September 1949, a grand jury convened to discuss inadequacies in the LAPD’s homicide unit based on their failure to solve numerous murders—especially those of women and children—in the past several years, Short’s being one of them. In the aftermath of the grand jury, further investigation was done on Short’s past, with detectives tracing her movements between Massachusetts, California, and Florida, and also interviewed people who knew her in Texas and New Orleans. However, the interviews yielded no useful information in the murder.

This poor woman and family still have no answers after 74 years. We still don’t know who the killer is. There will be no hope in figuring out who killed Elizabeth Short as most of the evidence then was covered in gasoline. The pictures in this blog, is one of the worst that I have seen. Whoever done this to her, wanted to make sure she suffered.

Sources:

Black Dahlia – Wikipedia

The Black Dahlia — FBI

The Black Dahlia Death and Autopsy Photos (reelreviews.com)