Just as life resumed after WWII, a horrific crime rocked the nation. The murder of Elizabeth Short was tragic. And most Black Dahlia researchers have focused on the insidious nature of this crime in trying to pinpoint the killer. But there's always more to the story than what we're being told. Lesser known details may be the key to a new perspective on this murder, a crime that has transfixed the nation for more than 70 years.
Let's poke around in the files of the Black Dahlia murder and see what we can find.
The Narrative in a Nutshell
On January 15, 1947, the dismembered body of Elizabeth Short, dubbed the "Black Dahlia," was discovered in a vacant lot in Los Angeles, California. The shocking scene captured the attention of both the public and law enforcement, dominating the headlines for months.
That morning, a horrified resident of the Leimert Park subdivision walking with her daughter stumbled upon Elizabeth's mutilated body. Investigators arrived at the scene and found her corpse severed at the waist, drained of blood, and her mouth cut ear to ear in a macabre grin. Her body, positioned with her arms above her head and legs splayed apart for all to see.
Investigators tell us that at first arrival they thought her body was a mannequin but realized quickly the brutal nature of the crime. The precision of the dismemberment led authorities to believe that the murderer had extensive surgical or anatomical knowledge.
No weapon nor traces of blood were found at the scene, suggesting that the crime did not occur at the location of the body's discovery. This led authorities to conclude that the killer had transported the body there, possibly in two trips due to the severity of the dissection. The scene of the murder was never found.
Despite extensive efforts to piece together the events that led to her death, the Black Dahlia murder remains unsolved. Over the decades, numerous theories and suspects have emerged, but all were eventually ruled out by police.
This case has been a subject in the true crime genre since shortly after it hit the headlines. I first heard about the case from a Cosmopolitan magazine article back in the 1980s.
There have been dozens of theories about the true identity of the killer, from Steve Hodel’s series Black Dahlia Avenger to L.M. Harnisch’s work pointing to Walter Bailey as the killer. Despite decades of research we are no closer to an answer today than police were in 1947.
You can get all the specifics of the official investigation, including the autopsy and suspect list here, a university written consolidation of the police investigation. I didn’t link to Hodel’s series above because it is so speculative, with very circumstantial evidence and claims that his father, Dr. George Hodel, is not only the killer of the Black Dahlia but is also the Zodiac Killer. He’s easily found if you want to Google him.
The origin of the name “Black Dahlia.”
Wiki says that it may have come from Hollywood film noir, The Blue Dahlia (1946), telling us she acquired the moniker after her murder through the press. The newspapers of the day tell us where the nickname came from…she was allegedly called “The Black Dahlia” before the murder took place. It seems that her hair was not naturally black and she wore primarily black clothing, earning her the nickname from admiring beaus.
Elizabeth Short was 22 years old when she was killed. She was born on July 29, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was 5’5” and weighed 115 lbs. Her body was discovered on 1/15.
She grew up in the town of Medford, MA for most of her childhood. She lived at 115 Salem Street. Medford is famous for being the site of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to Lexington…the British are coming.
Her father left the family when Elizabeth was young and moved to California. She joined her father in Vallejo, CA in 1942. They quickly had a falling out and she lived in various locations throughout Southern California before her death.
Her father, Cleo Short, told investigators he had parted ways with her and had no interest in the case. Her mother, Phoebe Short, flew in from Medford but instead of going to LA she heads to San Francisco to “confer with” her older daughter.
The details of her life once she leaves her father’s home and strikes out on her own in LA are thin at best. Authorities were able to trace her whereabouts for the most part, living here and there with other people, or what we would call couch surfing from friend to friend. The last week of her life is shrouded in mystery, with her whereabouts unconfirmed to this day. There were reports of her being seen in the week leading up to her murder but those reports were often conflicting and unconfirmed sightings.
Her body was discovered on S. Norton Ave, halfway between 39th and Coliseum. The GPS coordinates are 34.0164°N 118.333°W. At the time this was an undeveloped area, today the exact location is this home in LA.
The overhead layout of the area has been suggested by others to resemble a pair of human legs. The red arrow in the photo indicates the location the body was found.
The neighborhood has the same layout today as it did in 1947. The current W MLK Blvd or Santa Barbara in 1945 on the map below also transects this stick figure found in the roads, severing the top from the legs. This was considered by some to indicate the twisted nature of the killer who purposefully selected this location to dump her severed body.
This neighborhood was designed by the Olmsted duo, the same firm that designed many aspects of the World’s Fairs held in the US, NYC Central Park and were binge designing cities across America in the City Beautiful campaign. Their designs are curiously associated with many crimes and tragic events.
This is Betty Bersinger, she discovered the body while taking her 3 year old daughter for a walk.
We learn from the Daily News that Mrs. Bersinger ran to the first house she saw and called the police. She did not wait for officers to arrive and never gave her name when she made the call. Betty then waited 9 days and walked into the University Division police station, presenting herself as the caller.
The Crime Scene
The photo below is listed by the Los Angeles Public Library archive collection as the crime scene.
Other authors refer to this as an “altered” photo. It isn’t altered, it’s completely fabricated. The call made by Mrs. Bersinger contradicts this photo completely.
None of the photos of the crime scene match Betty’s description of the scene when she first made the call.
Identifying the Victim
There are glaring discrepancies in many of the photos that are said to be Elizabeth Short. This is supposed to be a booking photo from Santa Barbara in 1943 when she was arrested for minor in possession or underage drinking.
We are told that the FBI identified the body by the fingerprints from this booking. Why would the FBI have a 17 year old girl’s fingerprints on file in Washington? This was well before digital processing…prints had to be hand compared and they had no reference point to start with. And they made this identification within 24 hours.
There was nothing found with the body, how did they know to look at the fingerprints of a minor arrested 4 years prior with zero known connection to the body?
The Photos Raise More Suspicion
The autopsy photos circulating the internet (you can search for them if you want…I’m not showing them) show a woman with attached earlobes while the mugshot photo above shows unattached earlobes (yes, she’s wearing earrings but you can clearly see the gap between her neck and lobe.) Lobes don’t change from photo to photo…we all either have attached or unattached. The ears give it away every time.
More Ridiculous Photos
They try to sell obviously manufactured photos as being found in her trunk. The Major is an illustration and she is a paste up in photography lingo…do you really think that’s her hair? You can clearly see the line going across her forehead in this terrible example of an altered photo. Remember, the source of these photos in the papers are the police. They had custody of the trunk that allegedly belonged to her and released selected items to the press for publication. Why are the police releasing obviously fake photos?
The Photo Collection
Go have a look at the digital collection of the case over at the LA Public Library. Every photo looks like it’s for a still shot of a Perry Mason episode. Even Betty Bersinger, the woman who discovered her body and didn’t come forward for 9 days, has several posed photos in the collection.
This is what passes for case photos in 1947. But it shouldn’t to anyone with eyes in 2023. Why have no other researchers found this odd? There’s a certain element of propaganda and “based on a true story” flair in the OFFICIAL story, all of these photos were taken at the POLICE STATION.
This ridiculous narrative shows us once-suspect-but-now-cleared, Robert Manley, going through a stack of 50 purses to identify the one carried by Elizabeth on January 9th. He identified it by smell. They found it at the city dump. You can’t make this shit up.
The photo below was the cover photo for the Los Angeles Daily News January 15, 1947. It shows a group of men huddled on the sidewalk looking at what we have to assume is the body. This does not look like a body, does not match the other close ups of the crime scene (you can find them online if you want to compare) and this is not how a police investigation of a crime scene goes down.
What else do you see wrong with this photo? Besides the fact that there is only a single police car and uniformed officer, the shadows are all wrong for January. The Sun was only 34° above the horizon on the date and time they say this photo was taken of the crime scene, these shadows are way too short for winter.
The photo above shows the difference in mid-day sun between summer and winter. Examine that crime scene photo again and look at the brick or block in the foreground of the picture. What season do you think the photo was taken?
There have been many allegations made about the police investigation by other researchers, including accusations of a deliberate cover-up. Books have been written about the possibility of her murder being related to organized crime with the police protecting those responsible. This theory falls flat for me though, a mob killer wouldn’t have any motivation to cut her in half and drain the blood from her body. They would’ve just dumped her in the river with cement shoes.
The Sky Gives Us Clues
This is the Sun on the day in question, low in the southern sky at 34° altitude. Not high enough to cast the shadows we see in the photo from the Daily News.
You’ll notice that both the Moon and Venus are visible. Let’s turn off the atmosphere and take a look at who else is on the horizon.
Her body was discovered during a fiery line-up of the Sun, Mars & Mercury in Sagittarius. Venus is in the left leg of Ophiuchus (technically apart of Scorpio) with the Moon & Jupiter both in Libra. There is so much going on in the sky…the battle of the archer vs the scorpion, his arrow aimed to cut Scorpio in two.
The murder took place 6-10 hours before the discovery of the body…this would move the Moon back into Virgo, representing the virginal sacrifice in rituals of the darker arts. Venus in Scorpio is the focus of the archer’s arrow.
Remember the street layout of Leimert Park? Elizabeth’s body was dumped in the left leg. But investigators didn’t notice any of this and never explored this as a ritualistic crime. They focused solely on it being a sex crime, only exploring the medical angle of the mutilation of the girl from Medford.
Key Still Missing
The Los Angeles Mirror, more than 2 years after the murder, was still searching for the missing time of Elizabeth’s last week.
Investigators never answered any of the questions posed by the press. The location of the crime was never found, nor any clothing that could be positively identified as belonging to her…certainly nothing with any blood evidence attached. The homes of all major suspects were thoroughly searched, as were the homes of the neighborhood in which her body was discovered.
It’s the Little Things
The things I notice may seem odd to others and even myself at times. This is one of those times. I trust my gut and it’s telling me the following details are important. I’ll let you decide if these are coincidences or not.
The narrative tells us that Cleo Short left the family in 1930 and moved to California. We’re also told that Elizabeth lived with him in Vallejo for part of 1942-3 before moving out. Then we’re told she was arrested in 1943 for MIP. Look again at what the juvenile court did in 1943:
The juvenile officials certainly seem to be under the impression that Cleo and Phoebe are still married in 1943 with both of them living in Medford.
This is a photo of Phoebe Short, Elizabeth’s mother, at the airport flying in from Medford. She is wearing a black felted hat with flowers on the right side, flowers that look a lot like fully opened dahlias do. She’s also wearing a blackhole sun front and center as her brooch. Look at the 8s on each shoulder of her coat.
Next we find Phoebe at the police station where she is photographed in this strange pose. The blackhole sun brooch is gone, with the collar of the her coat folded inward and still wearing the black flower hat. Ma’am, we know your daughter was just killed in the most horrific crime we’ve ever had here in the city, but would you mind posing with this microphone?
Look closely at Phoebe’s left hand. She’s still wearing her wedding ring. This photo is captioned: Adrian West, Short's brother-in-law; Mrs. Phoebe Short, mother; and Mrs. Virginia West, Short's sister and Adrian's wife. Mrs. Short had five daughters, where are the other 3?
Just a little bit of digging revealed that Elizabeth Short didn’t come from an ordinary family. There are ties to military intelligence, secret societies and they trace their lineage all the way back to the Mayflower.
Elizabeth’s sister, Dorothea, is an interesting story all on her own. She was a WAVES Naval Intelligence code breaker during WWII. Her Find A Grave page says she’s buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery, but she’s not. She is also missing from the Social Security Death Index and her Find a Grave page wasn’t even created until two months ago….with a false burial link and no photos of the grave.
Then I remembered the documents that were in the gasoline soaked envelope given to police on day 9.
This is the birth certificate from the envelope, you can find it in the LAPL collection.
This is an Abstract of Record, NOT A BIRTH CERTIFICATE. It was issued on August 19, 1946….just a few months before her death. Whomever acquired this did so in person at the office of the City Registrar in Massachusetts. And the police didn’t find this odd? And notice the top left, its abstract number 11509.
What possible motive would someone have for obtaining this prior to her death? Who went into the Boston city registrar’s office to obtain this? Phoebe (and possibly Cleo if the juvenile authorities were right) is the only one living in Medford at the time this abstract was issued. Elizabeth is in California and by Phoebe’s own testimony the last time she had been home to visit was April of 1946.
[There is a copy of a more recent birth certificate on the internet, but it’s dated 1992, nearly 50 years after the murder. ]
Her Death Certificate
Her Social Security number is listed as “unknown.” Wait a minute….her Social Security card was also in the gas soaked envelope so why would it be unknown to the authorities or her mother who is listed as the informant? Phoebe is still living at 115 Salem St.
A quick check of the Social Security Death Index reveals no record of a social security number ever being issued to Elizabeth Short. Even the FBI wasn’t given access to her records. They will say this is because the war was over and the SSA was less cooperative with the FBI, but they don’t seem to have an issue obtaining this information from SSA in other cases before or after the Black Dahlia.
This is the same song and dance of other tragic events, including 9/11, the OKC bombing and Waco.
Elizabeth Short is buried in section 66 of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA. She may be the only one who really knows the truth of what happened to her that fateful night in LA over 70 years ago. There are still more questions than there have ever been answers.
I don’t think this was a sex crime. My gut says there is something really off about this entire case and everyone has focused in the wrong direction because that was the intent….to mislead, scatter the evidence in as many different directions as possible and hide the truth under mountains of dramatic speculation.
Who really killed the Black Dahlia? Was there a cover-up by police? Why are the photos so staged? Could this be a ritual sacrifice? Or is it another in a growing line-up of fake events? I can’t wait to read your comments.
Whatever the truth is, may she rest in peace. We’ll talk again soon.
Indie @ Night