The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Short a.k.a Black Dahlia
The Black Dahlia Murder is one of the most talked-about unsolved murder mysteries in American history. What happened to Elizabeth Short on the dreaded morning of January 15th, 1947? What was the mystery behind her murder that shocked the nation? In this article, we will shed some light on the life and death of Elizabeth Short and how she became the unfortunate victim of the Black Dahlia Murder Case.
1. The Day of the Crime
1.1 The Discovery of the Body
On the fateful morning of January 15th, 1947, in Los Angeles, California, a woman was walking with her child in the neighborhood of Leimert Park when she made a shocking discovery. As she passed by a nearby vacant plot, she found the cleanly severed, naked body of an unknown woman. This woman was later identified as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.
1.2 The Inception of “Black Dahlia”
The name “Black Dahlia” was coined by the press after knowing about Short’s liking for black clothing and due to the release of a movie called Blue Dahlia around that time. The body was positioned in such a way that it initially appeared to be a mannequin. Strangely, there were no traces of blood at the scene, indicating the victim had likely been murdered elsewhere.
1.3 The Manhunt
This was the beginning of an extensive murder investigation that led to one of the biggest manhunts in history. Due to the gruesome nature of the crime, it garnered significant media and public attention worldwide. The murder was brutal, but the lack of any concrete evidence or suspects sent the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into a frenzy.
2. Who was Elizabeth Short
2.1 Early Life
Born on 29th July 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts, Short was the third of five sisters to parents Cleo Alvin Short Jr. and Phoebe May Sawyer. After her father’s presumed death in 1929, Elizabeth, at the age of 15, underwent lung surgery due to bronchitis and severe asthma, and moved to Miami, Florida during her college years, though she dropped out before she could finish.
2.2 Notable Life Events
In 1942, Short relocated to California after discovering that her father was indeed alive. She started living with him, but they had disagreements which led her to move out shortly after. She then took a clerical job at the Base Exchange at Camp Cooke near Lompoc, Santa Barbara.
However, she was soon arrested for underage drinking and lost her job as a result. Following that, she entered into an abusive relationship with an Army Airforce officer. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles through one of her army contacts and was last seen working as a waitress. and had aspirations of launching her career in Hollywood as an actress before her death.
3. The Deadly Murder and Subsequent Investigation
Six days prior to her death, Elizabeth had taken a trip to San Diego with a married salesman by the name of Robert “Red” Manley, whom she was supposedly dating. As per FBI records and Manley’s testimony, he had dropped her off in front of the Biltmore Hotel.
This was the last sighting of Short before her body was discovered. The LAPD and FBI played a crucial role in the preliminary investigation, as they were able to quickly identify the body as Short’s within an hour using her fingerprints. This was possible because her prints were already in the police database from a prior offense.
3.1 The Murder
Her murder was so horrific for its time that it created a serious uproar among the general public. As per the autopsy report her body was cleanly cut in half from her torso with all the blood drained out and her body was washed clean, there were severe lacerations on her breasts, right forearm, ligature marks on her wrists, ankles, and neck.
Her face was lacerated from her lips to her ears, giving her the infamous “Glasgow Smile“. There were signs of blunt force trauma on her head, although no fractures were detected. Bruising was also observed in her anal canal, indicating potential signs of sexual assault, but no traces of semen were found during testing. The reported cause of death was internal hemorrhaging.
3.2 The Investigation
From the appearance of the crime scene, the police suspected that the perpetrator possessed significant medical knowledge, particularly in anatomy. As a result, approximately 300 students from USC Medical School in Los Angeles were investigated by the police.
As additional details about Short’s life were uncovered, she became an even greater enigma. The police treated everyone as potential suspects, but three individuals emerged as the primary suspects in the Black Dahlia Murder investigation.
- Mark Hansen – An influential nightclub owner who was interested in Short romantically
- Leslie Dillon – An unknown caller having vital information regarding the Black Dahlia murder case who had sent letters to the press informing about the killer
- George Hodel – An American Physicist whose daughter was friends with Short.
- As the investigation progressed, more suspects emerged but all without any solid evidence, and none of them were ever charged with murder.
4. The Role of Media in the investigation
4.1 Media Coverage of the Black Dahlia Murder Case
The Black Dahlia Murder case, because of its horrendous nature, became an immediate sensation among the media and press. On January 21, 1947, a person called the editor-in-chief of The Examiner newspaper claiming to be the killer of Short. Hence began the exclusive coverage by various newspapers of the case for a scoop.
4.2 Sensationalizing Elizabeth’s Character
The press portrayed Elizabeth as a daring and extravagant woman with numerous romantic interests, further sensationalizing the case and turning it into a tale of revenge. With multiple individuals confessing to the Black Dahlia’s murder, the reports became chaotic, and the media’s involvement frequently hindered the investigation.
However, after some time of turning it into a spectacle, the case reached a stalemate and was ultimately declared unsolvable by the investigative team due to insufficient evidence.
The Legend Continues
Countless speculations and conspiracy theories continue to emerge even 70 years after the occurrence of the Black Dahlia Murder. Numerous books and movies have been created based on this true event.
From the law enforcement officials who worked on that case to the general public, everybody seemed to have some theory about who killed Elizabeth Short. But we may never know why she was killed and who was her killer. As time continues to pass, one cannot help but question if this was truly a perfect murder.
History is filled with many such dreaded murder mysteries that are not only spine-chilling but also portray the complexities and cruelties of the human mind.