The Black Dahlia Case


Emma Norenberg (9th), Reporter

The murder of Elizabeth Short, also known as the “Black Dahlia”, is one of the coldest cases in Los Angeles. Not only is it a horrific case, but it is still unsolved to this day. The young woman turned out to be a 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful. For her rumored fondness for sheer black clothes and for the Blue Dahlia movie out at that time, she was later nicknamed the “Black Dahlia” by the press.

Elizabeth Short spent the last 6 months of her life in Southern California, mostly in the Los Angeles area. Shortly before her death, she had been working as a waitress and rented a room behind the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. The moments leading up to Elizabeth being found were said to happen around 10 AM. On January 15, 1947, a local housewife was walking down Norton Avenue in Los Angeles when she noticed something in an empty lot on the street. She described it as a “disturbing sight” when she first saw the corpse. She was walking with her baby and she reported it to look very white, to the point where her first thought was that it had to be a mannequin. When she realized that it was actually a severed corpse, she quickly contacted the authorities. 

Elizabeth Short’s body was split in half at the waist, and pieces of her flesh had been cut away from her body. And while she was severely mutilated, there was no blood anywhere, suggesting that the body had been thoroughly cleaned before being positioned at that spot on Norton Avenue. The LAPD identified it as Elizabeth using her fingerprints. An autopsy was performed on her on January 16, 1947. They found marks on her body that suggested that she had been tortured before being killed. The autopsy also showed that her actual cause of death was Cerebral Hemorrhage and shock. Cerebral Hemorrhage is known for bleeding to the brain. This can happen from an accident, brain tumor, stroke, or high blood pressure caused by congenital or other health conditions. Brain bleed can reduce oxygen delivery to the brain, creating extra pressure in the brain and killing brain cells. 

Meanwhile, her mother, Phoebe Short, didn’t find out her daughter was dead until the Los Angeles Times called her and told her that her daughter had won a beauty contest. They told her all the details then had to reveal the horrible truth that her daughter has been murdered and was dismembered in unthinkable ways. 

But something interesting about the Black Dahlia was that she knew at least 50 men and 25 of those men were said to see her 60 days prior to her murder. People were saying that she was a prostitute but some other people also said that she just liked to tease men because she was a lesbian. 

Due to how famous this case was, it was surprising that they never found the killer; however, members of the media did receive some clues. On January 21, 1947, a week after the body was found, the Examiner got a phone call from someone claiming to be the murderer, saying he will be sending some of Elizabeth’s belongings as proof of his claim. Shortly after on the 24th, the Examiner received a package with Short’s name on it. In the box it contained her birth certificate, photos, business cards, and an address book with the name Mark Hansen on the cover. Also included was a letter pasted 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.” It would be obvious to check the belongings for fingerprints in hopes to find the killer, but everything was wiped down with gasoline to where there were no prints found except half of a fingerprint, but it was too hard to analyze because it was destroyed during transportation. 

There was another letter sent in on January 26, 1947 and it read, “Here it is. Turning in Wed. January 29, 10 a.m. Had my fun at the police. Black Dahlia Avenger.” On the letter was a location and time. Police and investigators showed up at the said place and time and the author never showed up. Yet again, another letter was sent. This one was made from letters cut out of magazines and it read, “Have changed my mind. You would not give me a square deal. Dahlia killing was justified.” And still, all of these letters were wiped down with gasoline so no fingerprints were available. 

At one point the LAPD had 750 investigators hired to help with the case; they interviewed 150 suspects. They heard more than 60 confessions but none of them were justifiable. Since then, there have been more than 500 confessions but none of them have led to them being charged with anything. 

I decided to interview a friend of mine from Pitman High School, Adelyn Persons. I asked her, “Have you ever heard of the Black Dahlia case involving Elizabeth Short?”

She responded with, “Yes actually, I have heard about that. My cousin and I loved to look into cold cases and we came along this one and read up on it. I thought it was super interesting and it really kept me attentive throughout the whole story.”

The last question I asked her was, “Where do you think the murderer of Elizabeth Short is now?”

Adelyn then responded to my question with, “I believe that the killer has already passed away. To be honest, I think that it was so long ago that there is no way they can still be alive. They would have to be 100 something and I do not think that it is possible.”

As time went on, the case turned cold. People have said that maybe Short just ran into a late night murderer or it was a date gone wrong. After 70 years, the Black Dahlia case has stayed open but there have been some theories.

One theory that went around was that a local cop, Steve Hodel, thought his father was responsible for the murder of Elizabeth Short. Shortly after his father’s death in 1999, he was going through his father’s belongings and he found two photos that resembled Elizabeth Short very well. He used the skills he had by being a retired LAPD detective to investigate his deceased father. Hodel went so deep into this that he emailed the FBI to obtain the files of the Black Dahlia murder. Hodel had a handwriting expert come and compare the hand-written letters from the killer and the handwriting of his father. The expert said that there is a strong possibility that the killer could be his father but they are not conclusive. 

Short’s body was also cut with such precise cutting that really only doctors or surgeons would know, and Hodel said that his dad went to medical school and knew how to do those things. Additionally, Hodel searched his father’s archives at UCLA, finding a folder full of receipts for contracting work on his childhood home. In that folder, there was a receipt dated a few days before the murder for a large bag of concrete, the same size, and brand as a concrete bag found near Elizabeth Short’s body. 

But by the time that Hodel brought the case back up, most of the officers that were originally on the case had died. In the end, they found so much evidence that his father could have been charged but he died in 1999. Personally, I wish that he would have been charged because this is such a horrible crime and the fact that he just got to die without being charged is disgusting and disheartening.