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1947: Elizabeth Short, "The Black Dahlia"

Discussion in 'Historical Cold Cases - Pre 1950' started by Lily, Jul 22, 2015.

  1. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member


    "The Black Dahlia" was a nickname given to Elizabeth Short[2][3][4] (July 29, 1924 – c. January 15, 1947), an American woman who was the victim of a much-publicized murder in 1947. Short acquired the moniker posthumously from newspapers in the habit of nicknaming crimes they found particularly lurid. It may have been derived from a film noir murder mystery, the title of which alluded to a Dahlia of a different color, The Blue Dahlia, released several months before, in April, 1946. Short was found mutilated, her body sliced in half at the waist, on January 15, 1947, in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California. Short's unsolved murder has been the source of widespread speculation, leading to many suspects, along with several books and film adaptations of the story. Short's murder is one of the oldest unsolved murder cases in Los Angeles history.[1]


    There's SO much information about this crime, I thought this would do for a 'marker' to get us rolling.
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  2. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Just because there is a literal ton of information and opinion out there on this crime, I'm going to focus my input here on what's known about her murder itself.

    I ought to mention right away that there's a LOT of mythologising and sourceless claims and contradictions that are often put across as hard fact.

    1. Betty Short was not pregnant at the time of her death.

    2. She was not a prostitute. While it seems likely she enjoyed the company of men she treated as 'sugar daddies', the men who dated her all said, to put it very bluntly, that she was tease who led them on but didn't put out. Which is related to..

    3. Betty's alleged "vaginal deformity" may not exist. Now, her autopsy has never been released. One author claims to have a copy locked away in safe, never to be released in his lifetime, yadda yadda, but there's some doubt as to this claim - and ofc he's the guy who brought up the whole vaginal deformity thing in his book...

    On the other hand, people who worked with cops linked to the case at the time of her murder say not one cop ever mentioned this detail. None of Betty's dates did either. And there's (I must find the source for this) a comment from someone who examined her, to the effect that gynaecologically, she was perfectly normal.

    So who knows. I think it's probably not a particularly important detail, anyway, to her murder.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Betty (she liked to be called Betty, so I like to oblige her) was abducted or lured away, and held for several days before her death, during which she was bound and tortured.

    I have absolutely no doubt that her killer was a sexual sadist of the worst kind. Graphic details to follow:

    Her body had been washed, drained of blood and bisected rather neatly in the middle, and most likely driven from her place of death to the vacant lot she was found in, where the killer took the time to carefully position, pose and further interfere with her body in the early hours of the morning,

    The body had been positioned as if the killer wanted it discovered. The dead woman’s arms had been placed above her head at 45-degree angles and her lower half was lying about a foot away, with her straight legs spread wide open. Her wrists and ankles bore rope marks, suggesting she had been tied up prior to death and possibly tortured. Her mouth had been slashed three inches open on both sides, making it into a hideous clown-like grin. Her nipples had been cut off and her vagina stuffed with grass. Her intestines had been removed and were positioned neatly under her buttocks and her body washed clean of blood. The detectives concluded that due to the lack of blood on the body and the surrounding grass, the murder had taken place elsewhere. They knew from the dew still present under the body, that it had been placed in the lot after 2 am but before dawn and that she had been dead approximately ten hours.


    Along with the horrible injuries mentioned above, there was a chunk of flesh literally carved out of her thigh, and also several criss-crossed slashes, making grid patterns in her skin.

    Rigor mortis had set the lower half of her body at such an angle as to suggest she may have been sitting upright when rigor set in. This and the lack of blood in her body and at the dump site, as well as the fact that her body appeared to have washed, suggests her killer might have sat her in a tub to bleed out, long enough for rigor to set before he cut her up. Not a frenzied act, at all.

    Cause of death was said to be a mix of shock and asphyxiation -- she probably choked on her own blood, after her mouth and cheeks were slashed.

    Her killer took an incredible risk, in taking the time to pose and 'decorate' her body in such an open, public space, albeit likely at a very early hour. He tucked her organs under her buttocks "neatly" -- presentation was everything, there. Or why take such a terrible risk? He was all about the shock value -- and through that the secondary thrill he'd get at imagining -- or perhaps, who knows, even watching -- the reactions of those who found the body.

    Later, police would receive a parcel containing some of Betty's personal papers, a news clipping about a former boyfriend that she carried everywhere, among other things. It was most likely from her killer. He was most likely extending his enjoyment of the crime by taunting police.

    Absolutely classic behaviours of a sexual psychopath. In this case, a fairly sophisticated one.

    And that said -- it's no wonder that so many people have wondered, and investigated, over the years the very strong possibility that this was not his first murder -- or his last.
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  3. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Some additional description, from a female reporter at the crime scene:

    “It [the body] had been cut in half through the abdomen, under the ribs. The two sections were ten or twelve inches apart. The arms, bent at right angles at the elbows, were raised about the shoulders. The legs were spread apart. There were bruises and cuts on the forehead and the face, which had been beaten severely. The hair was blood-matted. Front teeth were missing. Both cheeks were slashed from the corners of the lips almost to the ears. The liver hung out of the torso, and the entire lower section of the body had been hacked, gouged, and unprintably desecrated. It showed sadism at its most frenzied.”
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  4. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    I'm going to revise my bathtub theory, forgive the ramble as I think this through.

    Looking at the photos and descriptions of Elizabeth's body at the dump site, a few things occur to me:

    1. Yup, her pelvis is notably tilted upward, which I don't think it would be had her body been laid flat on the ground soon after death and prior to rigor mortis. It looks for sure as if she'd been dead for some time in a sitting-up position.

    2. BUT. She couldn't have been in a bathtub, unless it was a very large one, with some kind of headrest. It dawns on me that if she was rigor at the hips, she was so everywhere else as well- and so, would have been splayed, her arms up as they were at the dump site, prior to her being moved from wherever she killed.

    3. The ligature marks around her wrists and ankles show time spent bound. Perhaps she went into rigor, still bound is my new thought here... Maybe sitting, legs splayed, with her ankles bound to something, her back against a flat surface, her wrists bound above her head.

    IF she was in full rigor before being bisected and moved, it would have to be somewhere her body could have room to set in that splayed position, sitting up, arms above her head, legs wide -- not a bathtub.

    So thinking about this, I'm trying to imagine the crime scene. And where all her blood went to. Also, what kind of vehicle was used to transport her to the dump site (what would offer room for those splayed legs..)

    It also makes me revise the whole concept of her body being posed - in other words... perhaps it was not posed in situ at the dump site, that's just how her body was set when it went into rigor.
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  5. Takeitfromme

    Takeitfromme Professional Journalist/News Reporter

    Well, one thing that popped into my mind was how big and roomy cars and their trunks were back then..... setting the body, doing what he did and then transport it... probably fairly easy because of the size of cars back then. Plus limos, or hearses
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  6. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    In support of my new theory -- looking at the autopsy pics again, I notice that her head is also not flush to the table. As if she'd died (.....and gone into rigor) with her head slumped slightly forward and to the side. As it might, had she died and been for left for some time after death ... bound in an upright, sitting position.

    TIFM -- thanks for your thoughts on the cars from back then, much larger than most of today's cars. And good point, about other kinds of vehicles.
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  7. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Okay, sorry for all the posts, but I'm on kind of a roll here. Additional thoughts:

    IF I am correct about her position at time of death and some time after...

    -- Her killer would have needed a place where he had absolute privacy, for several days if we are to assume she was kept there after she went missing. Certainly, for the whole time he bound and tortured her, then washed her and cut her up.

    -- He also would have access to a vehicle large enough to transport her splayed lower half.

    Car & privacy -- a private home? A disused building, with water still connected? I tend to think private residence, perhaps a basement, but who knows, he could have had access to an old factory or something.

    If it was his home, I would expect there to be other, similar crimes in the years before and after Elizabeth's death. Perhaps not all were found, or left displayed.

    But then, he might be something like a taxi driver (or as TIFM said, a limo or hearse), with access to an abandoned building. So, not necessarily a local.

    -- She was tied in a position where her legs weren't bent - ie, not a chair, but sitting flat on something. A bed? A floor?
  8. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    The last known photographs of Elizabeth Short:


    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015
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  9. GarAndMo49

    GarAndMo49 Not A Sheeple

    What about a funeral home/hearse? I've known friends who "babysat" them here & took pics of each other in caskets, etc. (Gah). If it's not a busy one, owners/staff sometimes leave town for a week. He could have rigged it so he could get in without anyone knowing. A bit out there, but it just popped into my mind...
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  10. Takeitfromme

    Takeitfromme Professional Journalist/News Reporter

    owner of a funeral home comes to mind. wealthy loner type man comes to mind as well. (ie; big house, big cars, maybe a limo too but no staff to drive it, no one close around, no family, no wife and kids)....creepy... but plausible.... privacy and room
  11. Takeitfromme

    Takeitfromme Professional Journalist/News Reporter

    yup someone with access to a hearse... not sure if back in 1947 if people "bought hearses" per se, even used
    Akoya, GarAndMo49 and Rowdy Girl like this.
  12. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Or a station wagon. Maybe even the trunk or back seat of a large car as you suggested, TIFM.

    I wish they'd release her autopsy report, already.
  13. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

  14. Rowdy Girl

    Rowdy Girl Just call me Rowdy!

    That's not a bad theory GarAndMo49. My boyfriend grew up in Niagara Falls and lived down the street from a funeral home that he said had a basement that was about 4 floors deep under the main house. He said all kinds of strange things went on down there. You know how curious kids are. He thinks the mob disposed of their bodies there. There was a big mob presence in Niagara Falls then, even though it had a small population.
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  15. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Some details of the autopsy are available, though it's obvious the entire file is not:


    JANUARY 22, 1947
    At 10:30 A.M.

    FREDERICK D. NEWBARR, being first duly sworn, testified as follows:

    Q: BY THE CORONER; Please state your name.
    A: Frederick D. Newbarr.

    Q: What is your occupation?
    A: Physician and Surgeon.

    Q: And you are the autopsy surgeon for the coroner?
    A: Yes, sir, chief autopsy surgeon, Los Angeles County.

    Q: Did you perform an autopsy on the body of Elizabeth Short over whom we are holding the present inquest?
    A: Yes, sir.

    Q: When did you perform the autopsy?
    A: January 16, 1947 at 10:30 A.M.

    Q: From your examination of the body would you be able to form any opinion as to the date of the death as to whether it was on the 15th or prior to the 15th?
    A: It was my opinion that the appearance of the body was such that the death occurred not more than 24 hours previous to the 15th, probably less.

    Q: So that the death would have occurred either on the 14th or 15th?
    A: Yes, sir.

    Q: Will you please state to the Jury either briefly or in full as you like, the result of your autopsy findings, please?
    A: The immediate cause of the death was hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face. The body is that of a female about 15 to 20 years of age, measuring 5'5" in height and weighing 115 pounds. There are multiple lacerations in the midforehead, in the right forehead, and at the top of the head in the midline. There are multiple tiny abrasions, linear in shape on the right face and forehead. There are two small lacerations, 1/4" each in length, on each side of the nose near the bridge. There is a deep laceration in the face 3" long which extends laterally from the right corner of the mouth. The surrounding tissues are ecchymotic and bluish purple in color. There is a deep laceration 2&1/2" long extending laterally from the left corner of the mouth. The surrounding tissues are bluish purple in color. There are five linear lacerations in the right upper lip which extend into the soft tissues for a distance of 1/8". The teeth are in a state of advanced decay. The two upper central incisors are loose and one lower incisor is loose. The rest of the teeth show cavities. Upon reflecting the scalp, there is ecchymosis in the right and frontal areas of subarachnoid hemorrhage on the right side and small hemorrhagic areas in the corpus callosum. No fracture of the skull is visible. There is a depressed ridge on both sides and in the anterior portion of the neck. It is light brown in color. There is an abrasion irregular in outline in the skin of the neck in the anterior midline. There are two linear abrasions in the left anterior neck. It is light brown in color. There are two depressed ridges in the posterior neck, pale brown in color. The lower ridge has an abrasion in the skin at each extremity. The pharynx&larnyx are intact. There is no evidence of trauma to the hyoid bone, thyroid or cricoid cartilages or tracheal rings. There is a small area of ecchymosis in the soft tissues of the right neck at the level of the upper tracheal rings. There is no obstruction in the laryngotracheal passage. There is an irregular laceration with superficial loss in the skin of the right breast. The tissue loss is more or less square in outline and measures 3 & 1/4" transversely and 2 & 1/2" longitudinally; Extending toward the midline from this irregular laceration are several superficial lacerations in the skin. There is an elliptical opening in the skin located 3/4" to the left of the left nipple. The opening measures 2 & 3/4" in a transverse direction and 1 & 1/4" in a longitudinal direction in its midportion. The margins of these wounds show no appreciable discoloration.

    Q: Doctor, I don't believe it will be necessary for you to read all this. It is rather long and I don't think we need to read all of it here. The essential findings with regard to cause of death have already been expressed; and that is the concussion of the brain and the lacerations of the face. The portion of your findings with regard to the chest, would you read that on the second page there, the organs of the chest, were they in a normal position?
    A: The left lung is pink in color and well aerated. The right lung is somewhat adherant due to fairly firm pleural adhesions. The lung is pink in color and well aerated. There is calcified thickening of the 9th rib on the right side in the scapular line. The heart shows no gross pathology.

    Q: Then the next paragraph with regard to the severing of the body?
    A: The trunk is completely severed by an incision which is almost straight through the abdomen severing the intestine at the duodenum and through the soft tissues of the abdomen passing through the intervertebral disk between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebra. There is very little ecchymosis along the tract of the incision. There is a gaping laceration 4 & 1/2" which extends longitudinally from the umbilicus to the suprapubic area. On both sides of this laceration there are multiple superficial lacerations. There are multiple criss cross lacerations in the suprapubic area which extend through the skin and soft tissues. No ecchymosis is seen.

    Q: Was there evidence of any sexual assault? You might read the last paragraph, and I believe that covers it, on the next page.
    A: The stomach was filled with greenish brown granular material, mostly feces and other particles which could not be identified. All smears for spermatazoa are negative.

    Q: Is there anything else which would contribute to the medical cause of death?
    A: No, sir, I don't think so.

    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.

    Last edited: Sep 15, 2015
  16. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Another detail I haven't picked up on before.. There are multiple ligature marks on her throat (I saw a picture of this, from a now defunct Hodel web page that is still available on Wayback) some of which are deep enough to leave a pronounced mark, but no injuries to her throat that were fatal.

    I suspect this is evidence that she was strangled and then allowed to revive, several times. It certainly isn't unusual behaviour for a sexual sadist. And this guy certainly was one of those, the worst of the worst.

    I would bet serious monies that this guy was well known to his local brothels and hookers, probably not in a positive way. This kind of behaviour doesn't just pop up overnight, and tends to be compulsive. There was probably a long list of complaints made against this man by the prostitutes he visited, if he visited any. And I am betting also that he did just that.

    S&M clubs were wayyyy underground in those days, but they did exist. If he wasn't in dire poverty (and I suspect he wasn't) there's a good chance he'd seek those out.

    There are not many avenues for an escalating sexual sadist to slake his desires, that won't result in an arrest. Those are some. Killing is (if you're as careful as this guy) another.
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  17. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    This is an excellent page, incredible research that shows just how many seedy types Elizabeth Short was surrounded by, and how many potential suspects there were.

    Like Mark Hansen, the older, very wealthy and very controlling man who took in lots of down-and-out girls, including Elizabeth. Ot was his address book, with certain pages torn out, which was sent to the police, probably by the killer.

    Or Marvin Margolis, a boyfriend with whom she lived for a time, described as amnesiac and unstable.

    And this guy, who ended up with the world record for times being married (29 times):

    Glynn Wolfe, the owner and operator of the Hotel Chancellor on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, was Elizabeth Short’s landlord when she lived in Apartment 501 in 1946.

    Wolfe, nicknamed "Scotty," was born in Indiana on July 25, 1908. He was first married in 1932 when he still lived in Indiana. He was married and divorced four times by 1936. A judge asked him not to make his home town into a Hollywood, so “I went to Hollywood,” Wolfe said.

    In 1948, Wolfe married Peggy Lou, but divorced her in Mexico in 1952. In 1954, he said, “I’ve had a bad experience since she left. I’ll give her half of the Chancellor Hotel if she comes back.”

    Beth’s friend, Anne Toth, called Wolfe “one of the worst type.” She described him as a sexual pervert, maniac, everything. I hate him,” she said, “He even threatened to kill me once.” Anne said Wolfe “was putting four girls into a room, where there should have been two, for $5.00.”

    In 1960, he had four ex-wives living at the Chancellor. The same year he was jailed after one of twelve of his ex-wives accused him of beating her.

    Wolfe, who preferred young women, once said that “You have to spank them once in a while, but after they’re tamed they make wonderful wives. He said his twelve wives were all teenagers “because they’re happy that they don’t have to work, and they don’t make demands.

  18. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Well, pooh -- this pretty much puts paid to my rigor mortis theory. However, it doesn't explain the very strange upward tilt of her pelvis at the dump site, still evident in the mortuary pictures.

    Also, it's odd that the police felt the need to state there were no tattoos or cig burns on her - why mention these at all, so specifically?

    Hodel thinks the police put out a deal of misinformation (he claims - with back up from a hired forensic pathologist - cigarette burns did indeed exist on her back, and shows a pic to prove it -- the photo isn't clear though you can see the marks he is talking about), in a bid to 'keep things back', as police are known to do in murder cases, especially high profile ones which tend to bring all the nutters out of the woodwork. Fair enough - but I don't think they'd need to misdirect the FBI.

    Other reports fail to mention the chunk of her thigh found in her vagina, or pubic hair in her rectum. They may have been deemed far too shocking for public knowledge, or perhaps these were things held back by police from the media.


    On October 28, 1949, Lieutenant Frank B. Jemison, of the Bureau of Investigation filed a description of the body in his report to H. L. Stanley, Chief of the Bureau of Investigation.

    The body had been cleanly severed at the mid line and the lower half was laying about one foot to the south of the upper half both parts laying absolutely flat with the protruding entrails of the lower one half laying under the buttocks. There was a marked post mortem lividity on the top side of both parts indicating that the victim had lain on her front side or face for some period of time immediately following her death.

    The body had been washed; there were bristles of a stiff brush still adhering to the body; there were several lacerations on the forehead which appeared to have been inflicted by a blunt instrument; lacerated left breast and lacerated right breast, the top of which appeared to have been removed. The area covered by the pubic hair was slashed in criss-cross fashion and the scarcity of hair gave rise to the opinion that the hair had been cut off rather close to the skin. (Not shaved.) There was a tic-tac-toe slashing on the right hip; the mouth was badly slashed approximately three inches from the corners and the upper lip was deeply lacerated on the right hand side. There were possible strangulation marks on the neck and definite rope or tie marks on both lower legs and arms.

    From the lack of blood stains around or under the body it is a definite conclusion that she was killed elsewhere. Photographs were taken of the body and measurements as well as photographs of a tire track at the curb line at a point opposite of where the body was found. Upon removing all of the body by Cornoner’s deputies it was found that the grass underneath the body was still wet with dew, indicating the body had been placed there after the dew fell in the early morning hours, at approximately 2:00 a.m., January 15, 1947.

    Rigor mortis had not begun to set in, indicating that the murder would probably have been committed after 1:00 a.m., January 15, 1947, as the Coroner believes rigor mortis would set in within ten hours time.
    He stated the cause of death as shock and loss of blood from hemorrhage. He reported that echimosis [ecchymosis] appeared on the lacerations, on the head, face and right breast while slight echimosis appeared on the left breast and on the right breast and on the cut severing the body at mid line. There was no echimosis on all other lacerations indicating they were inflicted post mortem.

    The flesh cut from her left thigh weighing approximately a pound was found in her vagina and the pubic hair was found in the rectum. (See photographs.)

    There were no cigarette burns and no tattoo marks on the body.
  19. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

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  20. Takeitfromme

    Takeitfromme Professional Journalist/News Reporter

    so this guy could have been in MA and CA? omg
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