With the release of "Nightbringers," the new album by melodic death metallers The Black Dahlia Murder, there's no better time than now to share the story of the real life Black Dahlia and what is one of the most famous unsolved murders in all of American history, as well as one of the oldest unsolved cases in Los Angeles County. The young and beautiful Elizabeth Short was brutally killed at the age of only 22 years old, and her case has sparked a ton of conspiracy theories and has caught the attention of the worldwide true crime community.
Elizabeth Short was born on July 29, 1924, and she spent her early life living between Massachusetts and Florida before eventually settling down in California, where she was an aspiring actress (although she has no known acting credits). After living in California only six short months, her body was found on the morning of January 15, 1947. She was found naked, and in two pieces in a vacant lot in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. The body of Short was found by a local resident who was out walking with her child, around 10am. The local woman initially believed she stumbled upon a store mannequin, since the body was in two pieces. But after realizing it was a real body and not a store prop, she quickly rushed to a nearby house and called the police.
Short's body was excessively mutilated, being severed at the waist and drained entirely of blood. The loss of blood caused the skin of her body to be very white in appearance. It was believed that Short had already been dead for about ten hours prior to being discovered, so medical examiners believed that she passed away either late at night on January 14th, or in the very early hours of January 15th. The young woman was left with what many call a
"chelsea grin" or a "glasgow smile," which is when the corners of the mouth and sliced up to the ears. There were also many cuts on her thighs and breasts and there were even whole portions of flesh that was sliced directly out of the body. The lower half of the body was just a foot away from the upper half, and the upper half of the body was in a "posing" position. Short's hands were over her head, and her elbows bent at right angles, with her legs spread apart. The body had also been clearly washed by the killer. Near Short's body, investigators found a heel print in the midst of tire tracks in the ground, as well as a cement sack containing watery blood.
The day after the discovery of the body, an autopsy was performed on Elizabeth Short. Upon inspection, the coroner found ligature marks on Short's wrists, ankles, and neck, as well as lacerations on her arms and left side of her chest. Based on the lack of bruising found where the cut into the body was made (which separated it into two parts), the coroner determined that the cut had been made after Short was already deceased. There was no fractures to the skull, although there was bruising on the front and right side of her scalp, which is consistent with traumatic blows to the head. There were also signs of possible rape, although tests on samples for the presence of sperm came back negative.
On January 21, a phone call was made to James Richardson, the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, by a person claiming to be the killer of Elizabeth Short. The potential killer congratulated Richardson for being the ones to break the story of the killing, and he also stated that he would be turning himself in to police, but not before letting them pursue him just a bit longer. The anonymous voice also said to expect some of Elizabeth's items in the mail. Three days later, a package was identified by the US Postal Service as being suspicious, since there were letters that had been cut-and-pasted from newspapers and used to create words on the package. On the front of the package read: Here is Dahlia's belongings, letter to follow. Inside was Short's birth certificate, photographs, buisness cards, names on a piece of paper, and an address book with Mark Hansen's name embossed on the top of it. The package had all been cleaned with gasoline, just like the body, which led police to believe it was actually sent in by Short's killer. The police were able to lift a few fingerprints from the package - despite it being cleaned - but the fingerprints were damaged in transit and were unable to be processed. A handbag and black suede shoe were found later that day only two miles from where Short's body was found, also cleaned with gasoline.
Mark Hansen became an obvious suspect, since his name was tied directly to the address book found in the "care package" sent in by the potential killer. Elizabeth had stayed at Hansen's home, and he was apparently able to identify that the handbag and shoe belonged to Short. Elizabeth's friend came forward, stating that Hansen had made sexual advances to Short in the past, and that her rejection may be a potential cause for the murder. In the end, Hansen ended up being cleared of suspicion from the case. In the weeks that followed, over 150 men were brought in by the LAPD for questioning as potential suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short.
On January 26th, The Los Angeles Examiner received yet another letter from the apparent killer, simply stating "Here it is. Turning in Wed., Jan. 29, 10 am. Had my fun at police. Black Dahlia Avenger." The letter was handwritten, and also included the place where the killer was going to be to turn himself in. On the morning of the 29th, police were ready and waiting, but the killer never showed. Around 1pm, another letter was received by the newspaper outlet, saying "Have changed my mind. You would not give me a square deal. Dahlia killing was justified."
Needless to say, the media went nuts over this entire case. Between the graphic nature of the crime and the crazy anonymous letters from the apparent killer, the media couldn't get enough of the killing of the Black Dahlia. It was the media who gave her the nickname; after essentially exploiting Short's mother for personal details of her daughter's life, the media went on to sensationalize the case, even describing the black tailored suit Short was last seen wearing as "a tight skirt and sheer blouse." They said she prowled the streets of Hollywood as a sex fiend. Detectives would later go on to say that the media definitely played a negative role in the case, by putting a lot of false and misinformation out into the world, which only added to the chaos that surrounded the case.
By the spring of 1947, the case had gone cold, and there were only a few new leads. There were numerous confessions over the years that followed, but they all proved to be false confessions. Since the initial investigation, more than 500 confessions have come in, some by individuals who were not even born at the time of the murder. Only 25 of the initial 60 confessions seemed viable by police, and all 25 were eliminated. To this day, the case remains unsolved and it remains one of the oldest unsolved murders in American history. Her story has been retold through numerous books and films.
Here's to hoping that one day the true killer of the Elizabeth Short - the Black Dahlia - comes to light so the eternally young Short can finally find peace in her death.