The Lurid Case of The Black Dahlia: Unsolved 70 Years Later

IMG_3196-0.jpgAt 11:07 AM on January 15, 1947, housewife Betty Bersinger and her three-year-old daughter were walking from their home on Norton Avenue in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles to a nearby shoe repair shop. Development in Leimer Park had been halted at the onset of World War II and was still largely comprised of overgrown land. As the two walked down the west side of the 3800 block of South Norton Avenue that dreary morning, Betty spotted what she believed was a mannequin lying in a vacant lot, near the sidewalk; It’s top and bottom half were disconnected and sprawled about a foot apart. When Betty glanced back to get another look, she realized it was the mutilated corpse of a young woman who would become infamously known as “The Black Dahlia”. Seventy years later, the case of the Black Dahlia is one of the longest and most publicized, unsolved murders in U.S. history.IMG_3194.JPG
The Black Dahlia was identified by her fingerprints as twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short who had recently moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a movie star. She grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Her father, Cleo, had made his living building miniature golf courses, but when the stock market crashed in 1929, he lost everything. In 1930, when Elizabeth was only five years old, her father’s car was found parked on a bridge but he had vanished without a trace; His family came to believe he had committed suicide.Elizabeth’s mother, Phoebe Mae Sawyer, moved the family to a small apartment and took jobs in a bakery, bookstore, and as a public consultant to support them. Years later, Cleo sent the family a letter apologizing. He informed them he was working at the Marine Island Naval Shipyard on the SanFransisco Bay and living in Vallejo, California.

Elizabeth Short

At the age of sixteen, Phoebe sent Elizabeth, who suffered from asthma and chronic bronchitis to Miami for the summer; She spent the winter months in Florida for the next three years. Then at the age of nineteen, Elizabeth moved to Vallejo to live with her father. In 1943, the two moved to Los Angeles but soon had an argument which resulted in Elizabeth moving out and taking a job at the post exchange at Camp Cooke Airforce Base near Lompoc, California. She later quit this job and moved to Santa Barbara where on September 23, 1943, she was arrested for underage drinking and ordered to return to Medford by the juvenile authorities. Instead, Short moved back to Florida. There, she met decorated U.S. Army Air Force officer, Major Matthew Michael Gordon Jr. and the two soon fell in love. When Gordon was deployed to the China Burma India Theater of Operations, his plane crashed over India. Gordon survived and while recovering, wrote to Elizabeth, proposing marriage. She accepted, but on August 10, 1945, less than one week before the end of World War II, Gordon was involved in a second, fatal plane crash. Elizabeth Short was distraught over Matthew Gordon’s death and became unbalanced. From that point on, she insisted that she and Matthew had been married and claimed they had a child together that died at birth.
In July 1946, Elizabeth Short returned to Los Angeles, California. She began dating, and eventually fell in love with Army Air Force Lt. Joseph Gordon Ficking whom she had met in Long Beach. Many theorize she viewed Ficking as a possible “replacement” for Matthew Gordon. IMG_3180.JPGBy her teenage years, Elizabeth Short knew she wanted to pursue a career in film but was never successful in this endeavor. She worked as a waitress but was struggling to make ends meet and often unable to afford rent, even in discount, resident hotels. She lived at the Hawthorn Hotel on Orange Drive and the Chancellor Apartments at 1842 N. Cherokee but for extended periods of time, would stay at the homes of her acquaintances. One was Mark Hansen and his girlfriend, Ann Toth who lived at 6024 Carlos Avenue. Short stayed with the couple from May to October of 1946, sharing a room with Ann. Later, she stayed with Dorthy French; An employee of the Aztec Theater, which was open 24 hours a day. The two met when French discovered Short sleeping in her seat after a film had ended. Short confessed she was struggling to find employment in the film industry and had nowhere to stay.

Dorothy and Elvera French

French subsequently invited Elizabeth to stay with her at her and her mother, Elvera, at their home in the San Diego area. Short slept on the couch for one month, moving out only one day before her disappearance. Allegedly, she had been planning to move back to Boston for some time and told her friend, Mark Hansen, she elected to stay with French in San Diego as opposed to L.A. because some “screwball” had been bothering her.
On January 8th Red Manly, a friend of Short, picked Elizabeth up at her request from Dorthy French’s home in Pacific Beach and drove her back to Los Angeles. On the ride, he claimed to have noticed scratch marks on Short’s arms; When asked, she told him they were from an “intensely jealous Italian boyfriend with black hair” who lived in San Diego. That evening, the two had dinner and visited several L.A. hotspots before renting a hotel room, presumably at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, one of the last places Elizabeth Short was seen alive. Allegedly that evening, she slept in the bed and Red slept in a chair. At 6:30AM on the morning of the 9th, Red left for an appointment with his boss, returning to the hotel around noon to drive Elizabeth Short to the Biltmore Hotel in Hollywood where she said she would meet with her sister, Virginia. Elizabeth made several phone calls from a payphone in the lobby. Allegedly, on the night of her disappearance, she was wearing a coat which belonged to Ann Toth. Red Manley left her at the Biltmore Hotel at approximately 6:30 that evening. Witnesses claim they saw her leave shortly after Red, without meeting her sister. Short was seen walking out onto Olive Street- it would be the last time anyone indefinitely saw her alive. Investigators theorized she may have been headed for the Crown Grill at Eighth and Olive, a restaurant she was believed to frequent. Some of the bar patrons who had been at the Crown Grill that evening later told police they had seen Elizabeth Short come in but never saw her leave.
However, during Elizabeth Short’s “missing week”, many people claim to have seen her; None of them knew her and only said to have recognized her after the media spectacle surrounding her murder. Most of these sightings are considered to be a case of mistaken identity. One of the more substantiated claims came from a police woman who is certain she saw Short with a man and a woman during the “missing week”, but can not recall descriptions of the people she was with.
IMG_3181.JPGElizabeth Short was murdered at another location and placed in the vacant lot at approximately 2:00AM on January 15, 1946, having been deceased for a relatively short period. Due to the fact that rigor mortis had not yet set in at the time her body was discovered, investigators believe she must have been killed sometime after 1:00AM, giving the killer a very short amount of time to “prepare” the body. This suggests the killer must have lived in the area or had private access to a nearby property.
Short was tied up and tortured for several days before her murder, evident by
ligature marks found on her ankles, wrists, and neck.IMG_3195.JPG It is believed the mutilation to her right breast was done while Short was still alive. IMG_3226.JPGThere was bruising on the front and right side of her skull. Also on the right side of her head, minor bleeding was discovered in the space between her brain and the tissue which covers it, known as the “subarachnoid space”  indicating she received blows to the head. Her cause of death was found to be hemorrhaging from lacerations to the face and shock from blows on the head and face. Postmortem lividity was present on the front side of both halves of Short’s body, indicating her body was lying face-down for some time shortly after her death.
Elizabeth Short’s body was posthumously mutilated: IMG_3186.JPGHer mouth was slit on both sides, nearly to her ear, giving her a ‘Glasgow Smile’. Usually, facial lacerations such as this indicate that the killer has personal anger towards their victim. However, with the incredibly public location where her body was moved and the way in which it was staged, seemingly artistically, indicating the killer wanted her body to be seen. In this case, facial mutilation may have been done to satisfy the killer’s “aesthetic” and/or send some sort of a message as opposed to being done to release personal anger towards Elizabeth Short.
Additionally, a large chunk of flesh, weighing approximately one pound (0.45kg) was removed from her thigh and placed inside her vagina. Her pubic hair had been closely cut (not shaved) from her body and placed in her rectum. IMG_3193.JPGThe killer then slashed her pubic region, as well as a portion of her right thigh, in a criss-cross manner.
It has long been rumored that Elizabeth Short was forced to eat feces before her murder as fecal matter was discovered in her stomach; However, doctors and investigators have stated this was present due to natural digestion and was located in her stomach as a result of being posthumously bisected.
Her body was completely drained of blood and washed following the murder, stiff bristles from a scrubbing brush were discovered still stuck to her body. Her body was apparently transported in a sack which had once held concrete mix; The sack was discovered at the crime scene and still contained watery blood. Also at the crime scene, investigators noted a tire mark and the imprint of a high heel shoe near it.
IMG_3187.JPGHer body was carefully posed with her hands above her head and her elbows bent at a right angle, her legs spread. Her top and bottom halves were located approximately one foot apart from one another and her intestines were nearly tucked beneath her buttock.
The Black Dahlia had been given a hemicorporectomy, a medical procedure (performed only as a last resort) that slices the body in half at the lumbar spine, the only place in the human body can be severed without breaking any bones. This technique was taught in medical schools in the 1930s.
IMG_3200.JPGIn 1949, homicide detective Harry Hansen told the LA County Grand Jury he believed, due to the precision cuts found in the mutilation of Elizabeth Short, a “medical man” had committed the murder, explaining, “I’ve seen many horrible mutilation cases, many of them. And if you ladies and gentleman had ever seen a case like that, and would see the pictures of this Elizabeth Short case, you could detect the difference immediately. IMG_3201.JPG
Given the evidence, police strongly theorized the killer was a doctor who lived on Franklin Avenue.
Newspapers sensationalized the case and discouraged witnesses from speaking to police so they could get their “scoop”. In fact, immediately after Short’s body was discovered the Los Angeles Examiner called her mother, Phoebe, and told her her daughter had won a beauty contest. Only after they got all the information they could on Elizabeth Short, did they tell Phoebe her daughter had actually been murdered. Phoebe flew to Los Angeles to identify Elizabeth’s body after Cleo, who had not spoken to his daughter since her moving out, refused to do so. IMG_3203.JPGThe papers fictionalized Elizabeth Short as a prostitute who “prowled Hollywood Blvd.” and was “last seen in a tight skirt and sheer blouse.”. They cited the fact that she “dated around” as evidence she must be a sex worker, which has aided in perpetuating this rumor. While it was true she dated many men, it was quite common during that period of time for young, single women to accept, and even seek out, as many dates as possible. Obviously, etiquette at that time dictated that men pay for the date, which would almost certainly involve dinner. For a someone who lived on their own and struggled financially as Elizabeth did, dating functioned as a way to get a free meal. Papers also rumored, and fabricated wild theories based solely on the idea, that Short was pregnant. However, the autopsy shows she was not, nor had she ever been. In contradiction, other papers claimed she was unable to have sex, being afflicted with a congenital birth defect which caused infantile genitalia; The autopsy and crime scene photos prove this claim is also false. Details of the case were often exaggerated by the press and highly sensationalized; The Los Angeles Record’s front page contained articles related to the Black Daliah case for thirty-one consecutive days following the murder.
IMG_3223-1.pngThe nickname “The Black Dahlia” was first given to Elizabeth Short by Bevo Means, a reporter for The Los Angeles-Herald Express who interviewed some of Short’s friends in a drug store in Long Beach. People often believe these friends referred to her as the Black Dahlia, but the name originated in papers following her murder. Before Bevo Means introduced her moniker, which was inspired by The Blue Dahlia, a popular movie at that time, the killing was referred to in the papers as the ‘Werewolf Murder’.
IMG_3202.JPGOn January 23, 1947, a man called the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner and claimed he was the killer. He told the editor he believed the media attention would soon die down and that he would send mail some items belonging to Elizabeth Short. The next day, the editor received a package containing Short’s birth certificate and business cards, some photos belonging to her, and an address book with the name ‘Mark Hansen’, who would become one of the first suspects, embossed on the cover. While most of the handwriting in the book was identified as belonging to Short, there were three pages written in another, unknown person’s handwriting and several pages had been torn out. This person continued to write letters to the Los Angeles Examiner signed, ‘The Black Dahlia Avenger’.
IMG_3207-0.pngThen, on January 25th, a handbag and one shoe was spotted on top of a garbage can in an alley near Norton Avenue, not far from the location where Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered. It was reported and later police were able to recover the items from the garbage dump. The items were identified as Elizabeth’s by Red Manley, a friend of hers as well as one of the suspects in her murder.
It is widely believed that whoever killed the Black Dahlia had more, unknown victims. Los Angeles did have a large number of sporadic, unsolved, brutal murders leading up to and shortly after the Black Dahlia’s death.
Some believe Elizabeth Short’s killer may have also been responsible for The Lipstick Murders in Chicago, including the January 7, 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan. The Lipstick Killer’s two previous victims, Josephine Ross and Frances Brown had both been stripped naked and washed of blood following their murder. The handwriting in the Black Dahlia Avenger’s letter to the Los Angeles Examiner used a similar combination of upper and lowercase letters and contained a misshapen “P” that matched a note left on a wall in the home of Frances Brown by her killer and a ransom note left in the Dengan murder. In a potential clue left by the murderer, Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered three blocks from Degnan Blvd. in Los Angeles; Short had gone missing just two days after Suzanne Dengan was murdered in Chicago.
William Heirens was arrested and served life in prison for the Lipstick Murders at age seventeen after breaking into a house near the Dengan home. Heirens later claimed police tortured him and forced him to sign a confession to the murder as a scapegoat. Heirens died in prison on March 5, 2012 at eighty-three years old.
Police also originally thought Elizabeth Short’s killer was most likely also the killer in the Cleveland Torso Murders, a series of murders and dismemberments that occurred in Cleveland, Ohio between 1934-1938; However, this theory has since been discounted.
Due to the extreme attention surrounding the crime, sixty people (mostly men) confessed to the murder of Elizabeth Short; Of them, only twenty-five were considered to be viable suspects, seven of which were physicians. Over the years, many people have turned in a relative, insisting they are a killer. Some have been cleared, and others have only recently begun to be considered as possible suspects. Police interviewed many of the people in Short’s life as possible suspects in her murder including boyfriend Joseph Ficking, a previous landlord and three men Elizabeth had slept with, one of whom was a police officer in Chicago. Several women were also considered as potential killers including acquaintances Ann Toth, Dorothy French and a woman referred to only as “Queer Woman Surgeon”; There were rumors Short may have been a lesbian or bisexual, but there is no evidence to support the claims which were potentially fabricated only to push specific theories.
Even several celebrities were suspected of involvement in the murder including Los Angeles Times Publisher Norman Chandler, mobster Bugsy Siegel, singer-songwriter Woodie Guthrie, surrealist artist Man Ray and acclaimed Hollywood writer/director/actor/producer Orson Welles. Allegedly, a set in Orson Welles’s film, The Lady from Shanghai included mannequins which had markings that were virtually identical to the lacerations found on the body of Elizabeth Short. Welles had created these props himself, shortly before Short’s murder. Later, the scenes were deleted from the film by producer Harry Cohn. Bizarrely, on the day the Black Dahlia Avenger sent the package containing several personal items belonging to Elizabeth Short to the Los Angeles Examiner, Welles applied for a passport. Shortly after, he went to Europe for ten months without finishing the editing for Macbeth, a film which he had directed and starred in. Despite repeated pleas from the distributing company, Republic Pictures, for him to return and complete the film, Welles refused. In one of the last letters Elizabeth Short wrote home, she claimed that a movie director was going to give her a screen test, but did not disclose their name.
Currently, prime suspects in the Black Dahlia case include Robert M. “Red” Manley, Mark Hansen, Walter Bayley, George Knowlton, Leslie Dillon, Dr. Patrick S. O’ Reilly, Fred Sexton and Dr. George Hill Hodel. 

IMG_3217-0.jpgRed Manley
Initially, Red Manley was the top suspect as he was the last person seen with Elizabeth Short before her disappearance and identified the shoe and handbag belonging to her that police found at the garbage dump. He was a married salesman with a pregnant wife but had been pursuing Short while dealing with marital issues. Red had been discharged from the army due to mental illness. And in 1954, after suffering a nervous breakdown and beginning to hear voices, his wife had him committed. He died in on January 16, 1986 as the result of an accidental fall. After the murder, he took two polygraph tests and passed both.

IMG_3219-0.jpgMark Hansen
Mark Hansen was a nightclub and theater owner in Hollywood who was an acquaintance of Short met in Los Angeles. She lived with him and his girlfriend, Ann Toth between May and October of 1946.  Hansen became a prime suspect when an address book with his name embossed on the cover was sent to the Los Angeles Examiner the Black Dahlia Avenger with other items that had belonged to Shory. He claims he gave the notebook to Elizabeth, never using it for himself. Hansen admitted he had made several failed attempts to seduce Elizabeth. On January 8th, the day before Short’s disappearance, she called Hansen from Dorothy French’s home; This made Hansen one of the last people to speak to Elizabeth Short. During the investigation, he made contradictory statements about the nature of the phone call. Hansen was an acquaintance of three others suspected of the murder: Patrick S. O’Reilly, M. M.  Schwartz and Authur McGinnis Faught, all of whom were medical doctors. Mark Hansen did not have a history of crime or violence, and it remained as such until he died of natural causes in 1964.

Walter Bayley
At the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, Walter Bayley lived one block south of the vacant lot where her body was discovered. He worked as a surgeon in Los Angeles, specializing in mastectomies, hysterectomies, and fat removal.  His daughter was a friend of Elizabeth Short’s sister, Virginia, and her husband, Adrian, but there is no evidence to suggest Walter Bayley ever met them, let alone Elizabeth. When Walter’s son was eleven years old, he was hit and killed by a car on January 13th (Elizabeth Short’s body discovered on January 15th.). Understandably, the death of his son was an incredibly sensitive subject. Some theorize Walter Bayley may have killed Elizabeth in anger because she would often falsely claim to have had a son of her own who die in childbirth. Walter did not have a history of criminal activity but when he died in 1948, his autopsy showed he had been afflicted with a neurodegenerative condition which is known to sometimes cause violent behavior in otherwise passive people. His condition also caused weakness; One theory suggests he may have been too weak to move her body and bisected Elizabeth Short to make transportation of her remains possible. However, it is also assumed the neurodegenerative disease would have affected his precision and he would have been incapable of mutilating the body in such a clean manner. After his death, Walter’s mistress claimed she knew a “terrible secret” about him and alleged it was the reason she was made the main beneficiary in Walter’s will. While she never revealed what that secret was, many believe it was simply that he illegally performed abortions which at the time, was incredibly taboo.

George Knowlton
George Knowlton was not a suspect until his daughter, Janice, wrote a book in 1991 about her “unlocked repressed memories” of witnessing her father murder the Black Dahlia when she was ten-years-old. Janice’s sister, however, says the book is a work of fiction. At the time of the murder, the Knowltons lived in Los Angeles. Janice claimed her father had an affair with Elizabeth Short and she had been living in their garage where she had a miscarriage. Afterward, Janice claims her father killed Elizabeth in the garage of their home and bisected her in the sink while she watched. Allegedly, Janice was then forced to accompany her father to dispose of the body. She also accuses Elizabeth Short of being a sex worker who helped to kidnapped children for a child trafficking ring. In this book, Janice also claims that on Halloween in 1946, her father sold her as a child prostitute to a Satanic sex cult in Pasadena. Additionally, her father supposedly sold her to multiple celebrities including Walt Disney and Norman Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times who was briefly suspected in Elizabeth Short’s murder. In March 2004, Janice died of a prescription drug overdose, assumed to be suicide.

IMG_3225-0.jpgLeslie Dillon
Leslie Dillon, a 27-year-old aspiring writer and former mortician’s assistant became a suspect after writing to Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, a psychologist at the Los Angeles Police Department, in October of 1948. At that time, he resided in Florida but had been living in Los Angeles and working as a maintenance man at Columbia Studios, a place Elizabeth Short frequented, at the time of her murder. He explained to Dr. DeRiver that he had read about the Black Dahlia case in True Detective magazine and believed his friend, Jeff Connors, had committed the murder. Leslie shared his many theories with Dr. DeRiver, telling him he had an intense interest in sadism and sexual psychopathia and hoped to one day write a book on the subject. As the two corresponded through several letters, Dr. DeRiver began to suspect Jeff Connors was not a real person, but an aspect of Leslie Dillon’s personality which he had created in order to cope with murdering Elizabeth Short himself. DeRiver agreed to meet with Dillon in December of 1948 and discovered the former mortician’s assistant knew intimate details of the crime, known only by investigators. He spoke of draining corpses of blood by making an incision on the upper left thigh (Elizabeth Short had a chunk of flesh removed from her upper left thigh and her body was entirely drained of blood). DeRiver asked Dillon what he thought the killer would do with the flesh and pubic hair removed from Short’s body. Dillon replied if it were him, he would probably flush it down the toilet or somehow dispose of them; As the autopsy stated, they were inserted in her vagina and rectum. Police began to search for this “Jeff Connors” who Dillon said was living in San Fransisco, while no one by that name was found, police did discover Leslie Dillon’s real name was “Artie Lang”, which he still went by while living in LosAngeles. For a short time, he attempted to sue the Los Angeles Police Department for questioning him in the murder of Elizabeth Short, but dropped the suit after it alerted authorities to the fact that he was wanted for a robbery he committed at a hotel in Santa Monica while working there as a bellhop.

Dr. Patrick S. O’Reilly
O’Reilly met Short through their mutual friend, Mark Hansen. O’Reilly and Hansen were close friends, having attended multiple “sex parties” in Malibu together. O’Reilly was sadistic and had a long history of violent, sexually motivated crimes. He had previously been convicted of committing sexual assault with a deadly weapon for what was described as, “taking his secretary to a motel and sadistically beating her almost to death for no other reason than to satisfy his sexual desires without intercourse.”. Patrick S. O’Reilly had his right pectoral removed; Elizabeth Short was similarly mutilated by her killer.

Fred Sexton
Fred Sexton, a good friend of George Hodel’s, was modernist painter and artist who created the ‘Maltese Falcon’ statue for the 1941 film by the same name. Today, it is the most valuable movie prop in the world, last selling for 4.1 million dollars. Allegedly, George Hodel hosted orgies in his home and Fred Sexton was often in attendance. Sexton is also suspected of the 1958 rape and murder of Geneva Ellroy. In 1968, after Sexton molested his eleven-year-old step-daughter he fled to Mexico where he lived out the remainder of his days. There, in 1971 when he was sixty-three-years-old, he married a teenager.


IMG_3216-0.jpgGeorge Hodel
George Hodel and his family lived in the Sowden House; A home designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Sowden House is located on Franklin Street (where investigators revealed they believed the killer lived) and is approximately seven miles (11km) from the empty lot where Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered. George Hodel worked as a physician and was known to perform abortions. In his free time, he edited a literary magazine, painted, played the piano and occasionally wrote poetry. He loved surrealist art and admired the writings of Marquis de Sade.
At the time of the murder, George was married to Dorothy Hodel. The two lived together with their two children, despite the fact that the couple was separated for all intents and purposes; Both engaged in multiple affairs. Dorothy had previously been married to John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon, and friend of George Hodel and Fred Sexton.
Dorothy Hodel stated, “All I know is that he is not the sort of man psychologically to be the kind to do it. He has a fine record as a doctor and is a dedicated man… it is incredible to me that he should be in any way connected to it.”. And his former wife, Hortensia Stark said, “I strongly deny any indication that Dr. Hodel was a sadomasochist.”.
However, Hodel’s daughter revealed to police, “Tamar Hodel, 15-year-old daughter, stated that her mother, Dorothy Hodel, has told her that her father had been out all night at a party on the night of the murder and said, “They’ll never be able to prove I did that murder.”.
One year prior, Hodel was accused of sexually assaulting his daughter Tamar, who was fourteen at the time. Allegedly, this occurred at one of the many orgies George Hodel hosted in his home. During the trial, four witnesses testified that they had been in the room and saw Hodel rape Tamar. However, one of the four witnesses, who had participated in the sexual assault, later recanted her testimony and Hodel was never charged.
From February 18-March 27, 1950, George Hodel was under police surveillance. Two microphones, which were monitored by eighteen or more detectives at a time, were placed in the Hodel residence. During a phone call between Hodel and an unknown person, Hodel was recorded saying, “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead.”.
In 1945, Hodel’s secretary, Ruth Spaulding died of a drug overdose while Hodel was present; Before he called the police, he burned some of her papers. Hodel was suspected of murder but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence. Later, documents were found that indicated Ruth Spaulding may have been about to go public with the fact that Hodel often misdiagnosed patients so he could bill them for prescriptions, tests, and treatments that were unnecessary.
One particularly disturbing recording captured in Hodel’s house (investigators believe in the basement) occurred on February 19, 1950 at 8:25PM:
“Woman screamed. Woman screamed again. (It should be noted, the woman not heard before the scream.).”.
Later that day, Hodel was speaking with a friend and said, “Realize there was nothing I could do, put a pillow over her head and cover her with a blanket. Get a taxi. Expired 12:59. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her.”.

Photos found by Steve Hodel, which he believed to be of Elizabeth Short

Much of the evidence tying George Hodel to the crime became public after his son, Steve, found two photographs belonging to his father. He believed he recognized the woman in the photos as Elizabeth Short. He sent the photos to facial recognition experts; One photo is that of another identified woman and results of the other photo came up inconclusive. Another photo discovered in Elizabeth Short’s possessions was taken of herself and a man who may be Geroge Hodel. Some who came forward claiming to have seen Short during her “missing week” believe they saw George Hodel with her. Steve Hodel believes it is possible that Elizabeth Short was a patient of his father. While the photographs Steve found which he believed to be Elizabeth Short don’t look much like the ill-fated actress, his search has turned up an endless supply of evidence against his father. Steve, a retired police officer, has been able to use his former profession to his advantage in gaining information from the seventy-year-old murder mystery.
Steve discovered a folder full of receipts from work being done on his childhood home at the time of the murder. A few days before Short’s body was discovered, his father had purchased ten, 5lb bags of concrete; The same type of bag discovered at the crime scene that was used to transport the body.
After analyzing samples, handwriting experts have said that it is very likely George Hodel wrote the Black Dahlia Avenger letters; However, tests have been unable to conclusively confirm this. Steve was able to gain access to his childhood home in an attempt to gather evidence. Police dog smelled traces of decomposing human flesh in several areas of the Sowden House including the basement. Soil samples were taken in the backyard of and the alleyway behind the Sowden House. Both tested positive for remains from a human who had died 20-100 years ago. However, it has been found that traces of human remains can migrate considerable distances over time due to precipitation. Steve Hodel believes the remains may have belonged to Jean Spanger, a 26-year-old who disappeared in 1949 from after last being seen in Griffith Park, not far from George Hodel’s home. Her purse was discovered and a note inside implied she planned to have an abortion; At the time, George Hodel was one of the few doctors in Los Angeles who performed abortions. It was also found out that Hodel and Sowden shared a mutual friend.

Man Ray’s Minotaur

Steve believes his father may be responsible for multiple murders in Los Angeles, Chicago and Manila, including the Lipstick Murders. Many believe the Black Dahlia’s killer was a fan of surrealist artist, Man Ray, as her pose greatly resembled two of the artist’s works: Les Amourex and Minotaur (which George Hodel owned a copy of). George Hodel was a personal friend of Man Ray and greatly admired his work.

Man Ray’s Les Amourex

Man Ray was rather close with the entire Hodel family and had even taken family photographs of them. Steve said of his father, “He wanted to be like Man Ray… He wanted to be an artist, and i think this [the Black Dahlia] was his masterpiece.”.
While there is certainly an unlimited supply of evidence suggesting Geroge Hodel was the Black Dahlia’s killer and an incredibly disturbed man in general, some of Steve Hodel’s proposed theories are becoming a little wild. Recently, he has claimed his father was also The Zodiac Killer during the 1960s. But whether Steve is an attention-seeker hoping solely to make money off fictionalized books or not, the amount of evidence he has been able to dig up is astounding. 

Elizabeth Short’s grave in Mountain View Cemetery in Bakersfield, California

Most of the witnesses and original cops who worked on the case have died and over the years, most of the physical evidence has been lost. The odds that the murder will ever be solved significantly dwindle with each passing year. Elizabeth Short may have never achieved her dream of becoming a famous movie star, but her life and death has become the subject of several movies, and the case of the Black Dahlia has been enveloped into the history and culture of film noir. Elizabeth Short was a woman who seemed to run into trouble wherever she went and attracted some nefarious characters into her life. Tragically, this became a significant factor in her murder never being solved; There were simply too many viable suspects to choose from.


Modern-day photograph of the location where Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered.

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like  The Most Beautiful Suicide, The Horrific History of the Cecil Hotel and The Genesee Hotel Suicide 



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