Elizabeth Short, also known as “The Black Dahlia”, was found dead in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Leimert Park in 1947. Her murder would become one of the oldest cold cases in Los Angels. The horrific case would become notoriously difficult to solve.
On January 15, 1947, A mother was out for a walk with her daughter when she discovered a body in the LA neighborhood of Leimert Park. The victim, 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, was found split in two at the waist and had been drained of all blood. Some organs, such as the intestines, had been removed and were placed neatly underneath her.
Flesh had been cut away from her thighs and breasts. Her stomach was full of feces causing some to think Short was forced to eat them before her murder. The killer has sliced both sides of the victim’s mouth to her ears, creating what is known as a “Glasgow Smile.”
The body had already been washed clean, which led investigators to believe that she was killed elsewhere before being dumped in Leimert Park. Near the body were heel tracks and cement sacks with traces of blood were presumably used to transport the body.
Due to the state of the victim’s body, police had to enlist the help of the FBI to identify the victim. Through a search of the fingerprint database, the victim was quickly identified. Her fingerprints were on file after she had recently applied for a job as a commissary clerk at the U.S Army base, Camp Cooke. Along with the fingerprints a mugshot from an underage drinking charge provided the police with the needed evidence to identify the victim.
The mug shot was given to the press, who soon began reporting everything they could find on short. The Los Angels Examiner phoned Phoebe Short, the victim’s mother who still had not learned of her daughter’s death. The Examiner pretended Elizabeth Short had one a beauty contest, to get information. Once they gained all the details they could get, they told the mother her daughter had been murdered and dismembered in many terrible ways.
The media began to brand short as a sexual deviant. A police report stated “This victim knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and at least twenty-five men had been seen with her in the sixty days preceding her death… She was known as a teaser of men.”
Short received the nickname “The Black Dahlia” because of her tendency to wear black, sheer clothing. People began to spread a false rumor that short was a prostitute. While others made a baseless claim that she was a lesbian and therefore liked to tease men.
Six months before her death she had moved to Hollywood hoping to be a star. She worked as a waitress and got no acting jobs, it took her death to make her a well-known name.
On January 21, 1947, the Los Angeles Examiner received a phone call from someone who claimed to be the murderer and that they would send Short’s belongings as proof. On the 24th, the Examiner received a package containing Short’s birth certificate, photos, business cards, and an address book with the name Mark Hansen on the cover. Included in the package was a letter glued together together from newspaper and magazine letter clippings that read, “Los Angeles Examiner and other Los Angeles papers here is Dahlia’s belongings letter to follow.”
The items had been wiped down with gasoline leaving no fingerprints for the police to trace. A partial fingerprint was left on the envelope. However, it was damaged in transport and never analyzed.
The Examiner received another letter on January 26th. The handwritten letter read, “Here it is. Turning in Wed. January 29, 10 a.m. Had my fun at police. Black Dahlia Avenger.” The letter included a location the police waited at, but the author never showed.
The alleged killer sent the examiner a note made of letters from magazines to the Examiner afterward. The note read “Have changed my mind. You would not give me a square deal. Dahlia killing was justified.” The note was again wiped clean with gasoline, leaving no prints.
LAPD had 750 investigators on the case at one point. 150 potential suspects connected to the case were interviewed. There were up to 60 confessions but none were considered legitimate. There have since been over 500 confessions, but no one has been charged.
The case went cold as time went on. Many assume the murder had been a date gone wrong, or Short had run into someone on the street. 70 years later the case is still open.