The Mystery of the Black Dahlia

Of the many unsolved crimes in history, one of the most gruesomely fascinating is the murder of Elizabeth Short Known as Beth, she was an aspiring actress who was often lonely and struggled for work and money

On the 15th january 1947, she was found dead on a vacant lot in Leimart Park in Los Angeles Her naked body had been cut into two pieces and horribly mutilated In a dark joke, the press nicknamed her after a film noir released the year before Beth Short went down in history as the Black Dahlia Elizabeth Short came from a troubled family

Her father disappeared when she was six, an apparent suicide One day she learned he was really alive and living in California When she was nineteen, she went to live with him Her personal life was marred by a difficult relationship with her father and several failed relationships with soldiers She moved to Los Angeles in July 1946

After six troubled months, she was murdered, aged 22 Short’s body was found on the west side of South Norton Avenue She had been bisected and completely drained of blood In fact, Short’s skin was so pale that the woman who found her thought the body was a mannequin There were cuts on her thighs and breasts, where portions of the flesh had been removed

Another gash had been made above her vagina Her face had been sliced from the corners of her mouth to her ears, giving her a Glasgow Smile Her body had been carefully washed and arranged Her legs were spread and her arms were bent back Her intestines were neatly tucked underneath her buttocks

There were marks on her ankles, wrists and neck were she had been bound with rope She had several bruises on her head It was these blows and bleeding from her facial injuries that killed her Nearby, police found a cement sack with watery blood inside Close to the body, on the curb’s edge, there were tyre tracks

Among them was a solitary heel print made in blood They were only able to identify her by her fingerprints – by chance, she was arrested for underaged drinking in 1943 and was on file The massive investigation was led by the LAPD but involved the FBI and several other agencies too Beth was last seen getting out of a car at the Biltmore Hotel on the 9th January, five days before she was killed She was wearing a black suit and suede high heels, and carrying a black plastic handbag

The handbag and one of her shoes were found several miles from the crime scene They were identified by the last man known to see Beth alive, Robert Manley Manley was the LAPD’s first suspect, but he was cleared after passing two polygraph tests and providing a sworn alibi Later in his life, he was committed to a mental asylum The murder was a media sensation

Celebrities like Orson Welles and Arthur Lake were accused So were military men whose only crime was dating or meeting Beth when she visited the army base Newspapers frankly lied about Beth, claiming she was a prostitute, even ignoring the autopsy report and saying she was pregnant when she died The Los Angeles Examiner even lured Beth’s mother to LA

and hid her from police for a time, so they could grill her for an exclusive scoop on the Black Dahlia Media attention encouraged around sixty people to confess to the murder The false confessions not only distracted police – they may have provoked the killer to respond The Los Angeles Examiner received a package with a message made from cut-and-pasted newspaper lettering It said “Here is Dahlia’s Belongings… Letter To Follow

” Later, they received letters signed by ‘the Black Dahlia Avenger’, supposedly the killer The initial package contained Beth’s social security card, her birth certificate, photographs of her with various military men, business cards and claims checks for suitcases she left at a bus depot Everything had been washed with gasoline, leaving no fingerprints Amongst her belongings was also a notebook containing her handwriting, and embossed with the name Mark Hansen Hansen owned a Hollywood nightclub

He knew Beth Short and she lived with him for a time, which is how she came to have his notebook It is known that Beth refused his advances and that he was one of the last people to speak to her Yet he had no history of violence and was never charged by police Through Hansen, Beth knew one of the other chief suspects: Doctor Patrick O’Reilly Police believed the killer was most likely a medical man, given the injuries to her body and the way she was so thoroughly cleaned

O’Reilly was not only a medical doctor, but was known to have violent sexual tendencies He had also surgically removed his right pectoral, just as the killer removed Beth’s right breast However, he was never charged Perhaps the most famous suspect is another doctor: George Hill Hodel In 1949 his 14-year-old daughter accused him of molesting her

Witness testified against him but he was acquitted Nevertheless, police put him under surveillance and installed microphones in his house Transcripts of the recordings reveal him boasting that if he killed the Black Dahlia, the police couldn’t prove it A witness claimed they saw Hodel with Beth at the Biltmore Hotel; his son, Steve, says she was one of his patients In fact, Steve Hodel – a former LAPD homicide detective – believes his father was the Black Dahlia killer

But no-one else who knew Hodel said he was connected to Short, there is no hard evidence to connect him to the murder, and Steve improbably claims George was responsible for other famous murders too, like the Zodiac killings However, the killer may not have been a doctor The killer cut the body in half possibly because they weren’t strong enough to move it Therefore they could have been a woman or an elderly person – possibly even someone who lived in the neighbourhood In a peculiar twist, Short’s body was found three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard

Degnan was the surname of a six-year-old girl who was killed and dismembered in Chicago almost exactly a year earlier The killer sent a ransom note, which has significant similarities to the note from the Black Dahlia Avenger William Heirans confessed and was convicted for Degnan’s murder and several others, dubbed the Lipstick Killings He was arrested before the Dahlia murder, but he later insisted that the police tortured his confession from him If true, then the real Lipstick Killer was still at large when Beth Short met her end

Seventy years have passed since the Black Dahlia murder Like Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia killer has become a dark legend Novels, films and video games have been inspired by the tragedy of Elizabeth Short Her murder remains unsolved Her killer is probably long since dead

And as more time passes, we get further away from the truth

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