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Elizabeth Short was twenty-two years old when she was found dead and nicknamed Black Dahlia. Here's everything we know about the tragedy.

The Black Dahlia murder: One of the saddest LA stories ever?

Elizabeth Short was twenty-two years old when she was found dead on the sidewalk in a Los Angeles neighborhood. Her body was found on January fifteenth in 1947. It wasn’t long before the media whipped the case because of the horrific crime scene, and nicknamed her the Black Dahlia.

When Elizabeth Short’s body was found it had been exsanguinated (drained of blood) before being cut in half at the waist. Short’s face had also been mutilated, cuts reaching from the corners of her mouth to her ears, as if forcing a smile onto her face. The body was so pale and the crime scene contained so little blood that the woman who discovered the body first thought she was looking at a mannequin.

Later, investigators noted the cut had been executed by someone likely familiar with surgical procedures, because no organs or bones had any signs of trauma, despite the brutal cuttings.

There was little to no blood found at the site where the body was found, which indicated to police this was a secondary location – Elizabeth Short had been killed elsewhere and then dumped in the neighborhood.

Nine days after Short’s body was discovered, a newspaper received a collage note with cutout letters from magazines. Along with the letter were Elizabeth’s birth certificate, social security card, and a few other personal belongings, including photos of her.

Reports differ on when the true last sighting of Elizabeth Short occurred. Some say her last known sighting was at the Biltmore Hotel, where she’d recently checked in with the aid of a man named Robert Manley, whom many believe Elizabeth was dating at the time.

Other reports say Short’s real last known sighting was at the Crown Grill Bar just a few blocks from the hotel. (The Crown Grill Bar is now called the Galaxy Club.) Reports say she went to the bar without Manley.

Suspect #1: Robert Manley

Robert Manley was the first and most obvious suspect of the murder, as he was the last person seen accompanying Elizabeth Short at the Biltmore.

A select number of people still wonder if he had something to do with Short’s death, since he was committed to an asylum in 1954, diagnosed with hearing voices in his head. However, police quickly dismissed him as a suspect since he had left town before the body was found, and later passed a polygraph test.

Suspect #2: Joseph Dumais

A soldier named Joesph Dumais came forward saying he had gotten extremely drunk with Elizabeth Short only days before her death. Dumais then fully confessed to the police that he had killed Short.

Police, however, discovered Dumais was on an army base during the suspected time of the murder. Therefore, the man had an alibi. (Believe it or not, Joesph Dumais was by no means the only person to falsely confess to the Black Dahlia murder.)

Suspect #3: George Hodel

The man most people believe killed Elizabeth Short is named George Hodel. Hodel’s son, Steve, even believes his father George was the killer. Steve was only five years old at the time of the murder, but does recall the lavish mansion he and his father lived in had a closed-off room in which Steve was never allowed to step foot.

George Hodel was also a doctor who had studied surgery in medical school and ran a clinic in California, so the surgical precision cuts found on the Black Dahlia’s body would have been easy for him to make. Murder isn’t the only crime George has been accused of: one of his daughters accused him of sexual assault as a teenager. Hodel wasn’t convicted of the crime.

Eventually the LA police felt they had enough evidence to place bugs in Hodel’s home, where he was recorded saying if he had committed the murder there was no way the police could prove it, now that his secretary was dead.

Oddly, despite the evidence piling up against Hodel, the police never arrested him. There are two different theories as to why: the first states that the case got dropped due to incompetence. The second theory has it Hodel paid off the cops, since the LAPD was known for being blatantly corrupt at the time.

When Steve Hodel grew up, he worked as a police officer from 1969 to 1986. Once Steve retired from the force, he admitted he believed his father, George Hodel, was the killer.

Steve, even after retiring from the police force, investigated the case on his own time. He even found pictures in a photo album his father owned, which he believed could have been taken of Elizabeth Short. Forensic investigators were unconvinced, confident the woman in the photo was not Short.

However, later when facial recognition software became more reliable and widely accessible, Steve fed the photos he found into a system to be compared with Short. The computer’s feedback indicated a 90% match.

Steve, undeterred, continued his investigation by going to the mansion he grew up in with a sniffer dog. The dog had been trained to find human remains and blood. Beside the house, the dog indicated it had found human remains. When Steve went to the police they analyzed the soil which came back positive for human blood.

The homeowners wouldn’t allow police to dig on the premises or for Steve to search further, and the police never tried to obtain a warrant.

George Hodel died in 1999, but his Steve Hodel still believes his father was the one responsible for the Black Dahlia murder. Most people outside of the case tend to agree with Steve, and nobody knows for sure why the police seemed reluctant to investigate him more. Thus, the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short technically remains open to this day.

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Comments
  • Hi Brynley Louise. Overall mostly correct info, but, do need to provide some factual corrections on this piece some are historical myths and some directly relate to the information you provided readers. So here goes:
    1) “The so called, “Missing Week” has always been a “myth” created by hack writers and “theorists.” LAPD put out a heavily circulated “Police Bulletin” requesting information on anyone have seen the victim during the week of Jan 9-15, 1947. Fourteen witnesses came forward giving statements of having seen her every day of that week. Seven of the fourteen knew her personally, and could not have been mistaken.
    2)My years of service were from 1963-1986. I never admitted “I believed my father was the killer. I and no one else ever knew he was even “a suspect.” All those records were hidden in a police vault until after my book, Black Dahlia Avenger came out in 2003. Only then did the DA and current LAPD discover he was “the prime suspect.” I was retired thirteen years and only at my father’s death in 1999 did I receive information that he was a suspect, along with the photo of the woman seen in the album. At that point, I began a three-year investigation and was confident my father had no connection to the crime and I would be able to prove and exonerate him of any suspicions.
    3) The statement, “nobody knows for sure why the police seemed reluctant to investigate him more.” Actually, we know the WHY that the LAPD and the DA’s Office stopped the investigation. It was revealed in the 2003 secret DA Electronic Tape transcripts. The reason was because Dr. Hodel, about to be arrested by the DA investigators, fled the country while they were staked out at his/our home in their sixth week of surveillance. He was “in the wind” and earlier on the stakeout they listened while a woman was savagely beaten and probably murdered in the basement of the home. The two officers took no action. Made no rescue. When the powers that be learned this and that Dr. Hodel was gone from the country, they decided to lock it all away in the vault, and come back to it after they “cleaned up Dodge, and got rid of the current 1940s corruption.” Of course, they never did return to it as Dr. Hodel remained out of the country and did not return until they were all retired or dead. He returned in 1990. Further, in the decades following the Black Dahlia murder, four of LAPDs top brass involved in the original investigation acknowledge separately that, “We solved the case and it was a Dr. living on Franklin Ave in Hollywood.” From the DA secret Hodel/Black Dahlia File we know that doctor was Dr. George Hodel. Regards, Detective III Steve Hodel 11394 LAPD Hollywood Homicide Division (ret.)

    April 24, 2020
  • What about Walter Bayley?
    Look into Larry Harnisch’s research that turned up this man and see if you don’t find him an ideal suspect.

    September 9, 2020

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