The Black Dahlia


On January 15, 1947, aspiring 22-year-old actress Elizabeth Short was found murdered in Los Angeles.  The gruesome murder received a significant amount of media attention and was dubbed “The Black Dahlia Murder” by local papers.  The case became the subject of books and films and remains the subject of speculation to this day.  

Elizabeth Smart was a high school drop-out who moved to Los Angeles from her hometown of Boston.  She came from a broken home and had recently been involved in an abusive relationship.  She went out to LA to pursue an acting career but settled on waiting tables while waiting on her big break on the silver screen.

On January 9th, 1947, Short went out on a date with a married soldier.  Her paramour dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel after their tryst.   She was later seen at the Crown Grill Cocktail Lounge at 754 South Olive Street.  She was never seen alive again.  

On January 15th her body was found in a vacant lot in the Leimert Park neighborhood of LA.  Murders happen, and the murder of a young girl usually generate media attention, but this was different.  Short’s body was mutilated in a manner that made the most hardened homicide detective shudder.  

Her body had been carefully posed by the murderer.  Her arms were deliberately placed over her head and her legs were spread apart.  But her body and been completely cut in half at the waist.  Cuts covered her body, including her face.  Deep incisions connected her ears and the corners of her mouth, creating the gruesome “Glascow smile”.  She also appeared to have been sexually assaulted.  Investigators determined that the cuts and blows to her face had been her cause of death, the complete bisection had occurred later.  The body had been washed with gasoline and there was no forensic evidence to be gleaned from the corpse.  The medical examiner also determined that the murder had occurred only about 10 hours before the body was found.  Where she had been since January 9th was a mystery.

The media was on scene within minutes.  Tabloid newspapers splashed headlines all over the United States, calling Short “The Black Dahlia”.  Specific details were printed, and leaks developed from all areas of the investigation.  LAPD Detectives were now behind the eight ball.  Critical info was now public knowledge.  Investigative leads were in the news before they could be followed up.  Letters to local newspapers were sent from supposed perps proclaiming their guilt.  False tips came in from all over the country.  There was even a staged suicide that professed guilt over the homicide had led to this untimely end.  Several false confessors were later charged with obstruction of justice. 

In the end the case was not solved.  Short’s dynamic social life had detectives running all over LA.  But in the days before video, Short’s last days could not be well tracked.  Judging from the ritualistic mutilation, it seems very unlikely that Short was well known to her attacker.  It seemed like the work of a serial killer.  Unfortunately, no serious suspects emerged.  There weren’t any similar murders in the area.  The Black Dahlia Murder remains one of LA’s most notorious unsolved homicides.  

Christopher Flanagan


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