Reel Reviews

The Black Dahlia - The Death of Elizabeth Short

- Los Angeles' Most Gruesome Murder Ever

Elizabeth ("The Black Dahlia") Short's Murder Still Unsolved

Gruesome Discovery

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth ShortOn January 15, 1947 a woman walking on the sidewalk in the 3800 block of Norton St., in Liemert Park, Los Angeles caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a department store mannequin lying in the weeds; the top half separated from the lower half. As she approached the mannequin, the woman realized it was actually the unclothed body of a dead woman.

Officers Frank Perkins and Will Fitzgerald were the first upon the crime scene. What they saw both shocked and appalled them. The body had been severely mutilated and in fact, cut in half. The dead woman had been posed with her arms above her head and her face and breasts had been slashed. Rope burns marked her ankles and her legs were spread-eagle with the letters "BD" carved into one thigh.

The officers surmised that due to the lack of blood both on the body and around the scene, the woman was killed elsewhere and her body  dumped in the lot sometime during the night or early morning.

By the time the officers phoned for assistance, a gaggle of reporters and photographers had swarmed the scene, infuriating investigators Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. Hansen and Brown had been assigned to the case because of their veteran status within the homicide department.

Upon the release of the news of the murder to the press, confessions began to pour in to the police department, straining the resources of the LAPD homicide team. But none of the stories could ever be validated. The case later recognized more interest when James Ellroy wrote The Black Dahlia in 1987.

To date, according to the LAPD, the case goes unsolved. Though Janice Knowlton has authored a book naming her father as the killer, police have not reported Ms. Knowlton's statements or information as holding any water at all.

The case remains on the back burner of the LAPD cold case file until some new writer eventually stirs up renewed interest in a book or news report. The files are briefly opened once and again, but the lack of evidence, and openness regarding Beth's life, force the case back into the depths of some file cabinet within the Los Angeles Police Building.

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth ShortEizabeth Short
Born July 29, 1924, in Hyde Park, Mass., Beth Short was the daughter of Phoebe and Cleo Short. Although her legal name was Elizabeth Short, many called her Betty, and as she grew up, she preferred to be called Beth.

In 1929, Betty's father disappeared. Many believed he had committed suicide, since his empty car was found near a bridge. Many years later he sent a letter to his wife, apologizing for abandoning the family. Phoebe refused to allow him to return.

Elizabeth Short grew up to become a beautiful teenager - she looked older and more sophisticated than others her age. She frequented movies with her mother, sparking a dream to become a movie actress.

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth ShortAt age 19, Beth ventured to Vallejo, Calif., to live with her father. The stay did not last long, however. Her father asked her to leave because he said she was lazy and stayed out too late.

Near Santa Barbara was Beth's next stop. It was here where she was arrested for underage drinking. After her arrest and fingerprinting, police instructed the young woman to return home to Medford.

At one time she had gone home for a visit, but Beth was determined to be in movies, and returned to Hollywood. It has not been determined if her nickname, Black Dahlia, was given to her before her death or after. Some say that her pale white skin coupled with her penchant for black, lacy clothing lead to the moniker. Others believe the name was applied by journalists to sensationalize the crime.

It was mid-January, 1947, when Beth was last seen alive at the Biltmore Hotel. It was reported that she was to meet a gentleman. After leaving the hotel, she was never again seen alive.

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth ShortElizabeth Short's Last Days
As the police continued the investigation, reconstruction of her last days pointed to several possible suspects, but subsequent investigations never panned out. Beth was staying at the Biltmore Hotel before planning to move back to Massachusetts with her sister. She had returned to Los Angeles from San Diego, where she met with a man by the name of "Red" Manley. Manley claimed that he could help break the young girl into films, but he was mostly interested in getting into her pants. After their meeting, Manley drove her to the Biltmore and waited with her in the lobby. She was supposed to meet some friends, but they never showed up. Manley informed her that he had to leave, so Short bid him farewell and walked out of the hotel onto Olive Street.. The date was January 9, 1947. She was never seen alive again.

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth ShortHer whereabouts over the last five days before her body was discovered have never been determined. Her mother was called to identify the body which was later buried in Oakland, California at Mountain View Cemetery, originally in plot 6, grave 913. But cemetery personnel will divulge no information about the burial plot. Although it is reported that plot numbers have even been altered to keep the morbidly curious at bay, the following directions might get you close: Going down the main drag, just past the fountain, take the drive going left. Go up the hill to the right of a large dark crypt. Her grave should be there.

Shortly after Elizabeth Short's funeral, a mysterious package arrived at the LA police department. It contained Beth's belongings including her purse, ID, the address book of a local nightclub owner. Upon examination of the returned items, it was determined that no possible lead could come from the evidence. Everything had been washed in gasoline, removing all fingerprints.


Click here to view Graphic Photos of The Black Dahlia

Warning! these photos are very graphic. Don't look if you are easily grossed out.


 

The Black Dahlia - Elizabeth Short

More Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) Stuff:

Black Dahlia murder site
This house is located on the approximate location where police discovered Beth's body.



Black Dahlia murder site
The House Today



Update: Morbidly Hollywood friend Richard Anaya adds: "Hello, my name is Richard Anaya, I ran into your Black Dahlia article on Morbidly Hollywood and when I saw the pic of the house that sits approximately where her body was found, I was kind of blown away cause that place is 9 miles from where I live, so I decided to drive down there with a friend of mine and we found the exact house you have on your site, but it's not on the 3800 block of Norton street.... By the way, its not street anymore, its avenue... the house sits on the 3900 block still on that same street, the house address is 3925 Norton Ave. in Liemert Park, Los Angeles. So while I was there, I took a few pics for a panorama I made of that neighborhood and wanted to share a nice color pic I took of the house just in case you guys want to update the pic so other viewers can see the property where Elizabeth`s body was found back in January 15, 1947. Till then... god bless you and yours.


Update:Morbidly Hollywood friend Dan adds the following: Hi, I was just looking at your site and I noticed that there is photo of a house that was built on the site where The Black Dahlia's body was found in 1947. The address of the home is 3925 Norton Ave in South (central) Los Angeles. I am sure that you must have countless e-mails from absolute freaks pointing out inaccuracies. But this freak is a Realtor in Los Angeles and I can tell you that the Spanish style house in the photo was built in 1938. That would be 9 years before her body was found in "the empty, weedy lot"

Thanks for your site. It is wonderful. I use it as a resource for local trivia to entertain my potential home buyers while driving them around from listing to listing.

Wishing you the best, and thanks for your site.

Editor: There seems to be some discrepancy regarding which house is near where the body was actually found. Several sources cite that the body was found near the house at 3925 Norton Avenue (pictured above), but Morbidly Hollywood friend Kilo H. sent us the following photos of the house at 3825 Norton Avenue. This house seems more likely to be nearest the crime scene as the house above was built BEFORE the murder (we know the body was discovered near a vacant lot) and the fire hydrant matches up perfectly with the original police crime scene photos.

Black Dahlia murder site
 
Black Dahlia murder site
Kilo H. writes: "I tried to replicate the angle and location (for my own curiosity) of the photo on page 13 of "The Black Dahlia Files". This also gives a good comparison of the fire hydrants." Editor: Notice the famous Hollywood sign on the hillside in the background (small horizontal white line), the scene of yet another notorious L.A. death. Great photos Kilo, thanks!


Morbidly Hollywood Friend Barbara tells us that the second house pictured above is definitely the correct house, not the one with the green and white umbrella. "My uncle Pat lived in that house for years! He kept a photo of Ms. Short in the living room. He knew her as she used to come into one of the clubs on Sunset." Barbara also adds, "My Grandparents & Uncle Pat parked cars at Ciro's, the Mocambo & other night clubs On Sunset strip. My family remembered her very well. My father, until his death, was always wanting the Black Dahlia case to be solved. The latest book I have read is the best so far The Black Dahlia Files. In a way, I was named for Betty as my middle name is Elizabeth and my father never called me anything but Betty. Also I remember my father telling me that my grandfather himself may have been killed by the mob for what he may have known about the Black Dahlia. His official cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage but he and my grandmother were trying to write a book about it. My father said when he found his dad his face was mashed in and bloody. He died and my grandmother never finished the book. Moved to Palm Springs for almost a year after his death. I can remember my grandmother saying that the murders in the 40's were connected. I remember the photo and the house Uncle pat said he bought the lot and built the house there."

The Pig n Whistle

Elizabeth Short (aka The Black Dahlia) spent a lot of time at the Pig 'n Whistle Bar in Hollywood.


Black Dahlia External Links:

The Black Dahlia Solution - The solution? You be the judge:

The Official Movie Site

CourtTV's Crime Library archives

Black Dahlia - Elizabeth Short Murder FBI Files

Ghosts of the Prairie - Elizabeth Short

Elizabeth Short liked to hang out at the Pig n' Whistle restaurant on Hollywood Blvd.

She would also be seen at The Formosa Cafe from time to time.

For a short while she lived at the Alto Nido Apartments where Sunset Blvd. was also filmed. The building is located at 1851 N. Ivar Street (between Yucca Street and Franklin Avenue) in Hollywood, just one block northwest of Hollywood & Vine, and just north of the landmark Knickerbocker Hotel.


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