- A gruesome scene greeted investigators: a woman had been completely severed in two, bisected at the waist and her body had been entirely drained of blood.
- Despite the intense media attention of the case leading to more than sixty people to confess to the murder, it remains unsolved to this day, in what is one of the most enduring and legendary cases in the annals of crime history.
On Wednesday the 15th of January 1947, Betty Bersinger decided to take her three year old daughter for a morning stroll through the pretty Leimert Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles to enjoy the warm California sun. As they passed a vacant lot at 10:00 am, Betty spied what appeared to be a discarded store mannequin that some careless litterbug had dumped. She inspected it more closely. To her horror, Betty discovered that this was no mannequin. It was the brutalised and severely mutilated naked corpse of a young woman. She raced to the nearest house and raised the alarm, using the homeowner’s telephone to call the Los Angeles Police Department.
The body turned out to be that of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, a 22-year-old aspiring film starlet and model who had gone missing from the downtown LA Biltmore Hotel the previous week.
A gruesome scene greeted investigators. Short had been completely severed in two, bisected at the waist. Her body had been entirely drained of blood. Her face had been viciously slashed from both corners of her mouth up to her ears into a grotesque parody of a smile. Her thighs and breasts had been attacked and cut up, portions of flesh sliced off. Her intestines had been tucked underneath her buttocks. The killer had posed the body so that the hands were above the head, arms bent back at right angles and the legs spread wide apart.
Very few clues had been left: a bloody sack, a partial boot imprint and a tire track. The killer had carefully cleaned the body to destroy evidence. At autopsy, Short was shown to have been held captive and sadistically tortured for the period before her death. All manner of dark atrocities were committed on her by an obviously twisted and depraved mind. There were ligature marks on her wrists, ankles and neck. Her face and head were bruised from numerous blows. She had been raped and sodomised both before and after death. Her vagina suffered numerous massive lacerations. The section of flesh on her thigh where she had a rose tattoo was sliced off and crudely stuffed inside her own vagina along with grass, dirt and other matter. Her stomach contained faeces, dirt and other foreign matter. The precise cause of death was put down to haemorrhaging from the facial lacerations and trauma from the blows to the head.
The case instantly captured the attention of the media due to the sensational, lurid details of the murder. The LAPD launched a far reaching and arduous investigation. Details of Short’s life began to emerge. It painted a picture of a very tragic figure. Short came from a poor Medford, Massachusetts family, the third of five daughters. Her father skipped out on the family one day without a word when Elizabeth was six years old. Elizabeth grew into a fair faced young woman, never far from the attention of men. She was not unknown to the law. She had a history of running away from home and had been picked up and booked for underage drinking. At one point it seemed that she may settle down, becoming engaged to a decorated US Air Force Major, but he died in a plane crash less than a week before the end of World War II.
It was at this point that the naïve Black Dahlia packed her bags for LA, heading to the big smoke, her head filled with romantic movie star dreams like countless girls before and after her. It was not to be. Short waited tables to make ends meet while waiting for her big break. She was a good time girl with fancy tastes that could not be met living on tips and a waitress’s wage. She became somewhat of a kept woman and probable call girl, carrying on several affairs at once with men who provided her with meals, clothes and money in exchange for her body until she ran afoul of the wrong person and met her grisly end. Short became the epitome of the young woman who comes to Hollywood chasing her dreams, only to be exploited, chewed up and spat out by the system.
Despite the intense media attention of the case leading to more than sixty people to confess to the murder, it remains unsolved to this day, in what is one of the most enduring and legendary cases in the annals of crime history.
More than 50 men and women confessed to the murder of Elizabeth Short. Most of the new information and confessions emerged when a new book or movie about the case was published. There is even a dedicated page on Wikipedia for Black Dahlia suspects.
Los Angeles Police Detective John P. St. John worked with the case until his retirement and expressed his amazement about the fact that people offer people close to them as a suspect, “It is amazing how many people offer up a relative as the killer”.
Hodel is an interesting figure because while he did not confess the killing to police, he did say incriminating words about his possible involvement. DA/LAPD recorded him saying, “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They can’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.”
He became under the police attention when his daughter accused him of molesting her and was put under secret surveillance. Hodel was also suspected of being the Lipstick Killer and the Zodiac Killer but was never charged with a murder.• • •