Will the ‘Black Dahlia’ Murder Ever Be Solved? The FBI Doesn’t Think So


The Black Dahlia murder is arguably one of the most horrific and sensational crimes of the mid-20th century. In July 1947, the dismembered body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was discovered, sparking a decades-long investigation that had since gone cold. Since the case has taken off, online sleuths have been asking only one question: will it ever be solved?

Elizabeth Short's Hollywood aspirations

Elizabeth Short spent her formative years growing up in New England as the third of five children. When she was young, her father lost most of his savings in the stock market crash of 1929, prompting him to abandon the family – in fact, it was believed that Cleo Alvin Short, Jr. had left her home in anticipation of the contingency. Had taken life. Disappeared and his car was found near a bridge.

In late 1942, Short's mother, Phoebe Mae Sawyer, received an apology letter from her supposedly dead husband, telling her that he was in fact alive and living in California. This prompted his daughter, who was 18 at the time, to relocate to live with him in Vallejo. However, their time together was short-lived, as they argued frequently, and Short moved out the following January.

While in California, Short got a job in base exchange at Camp Cooke – now Vandenberg Space Force Base – where she met and fell in love with a US Army Air Force sergeant, who was reportedly abusive. She eventually left him and moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested for underage drinking. This prompted officials to send him back to his home in Massachusetts.

Not wishing to return home, Short moved to Florida, where she met a respected USAAF officer who asked her to marry him. Sadly, their union was not to happen, as he died while serving overseas in World War II. Grieving and with dreams of becoming an actress, the 22-year-old moved back to California – this time, Los Angeles – where she found work as a waitress.

A terrible discovery...

On January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short was dropped off at the Biltmore Hotel after a short trip to San Diego with a 25-year-old married salesman she was dating. According to the person, she was meeting her sister, who had come from Boston.

Little is known about what happened between the time Short's body was found and the morning of January 15. It was reported that Biltmore staff had seen him using the lobby telephone, and other witnesses said they had seen him at the Crown Grill cocktail lounge on South Olive Street, located about 600 meters from the hotel.

On January 15, 1947, Short's body was discovered by a young mother who was out for a walk with her two-year-old daughter on South Norton Avenue, between 39th and Coliseum Streets. At first, the woman thought the remains were a mannequin – but it was soon discovered that was not the case.

When officials reached the scene, they encountered a horrifying scene. Short's body was cut in two at the waist, his body was drained of blood, leaving the remains a pale white color. There were signs of mutilation, pieces of her thighs and breasts had been cut off and her intestines had been removed, some of which were found neatly placed under her buttocks. The 22-year-old girl was beaten, and her mouth was slashed into a "Glasgow smile" – think of the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).

The autopsy revealed that Short had been murdered elsewhere and that his body had been dumped where it was found, possibly sometime between the evening of January 14 and the morning of it being found. The body was doused with gasoline to remove evidence, and the cause of death was determined to be cerebral hemorrhage, the result of trauma to his skull.

Given her prior employment in the Army and her arrest in 1943, the FBI was able to identify Elizabeth Short's remains based on her fingerprints. The investigation began immediately, followed by a media circus. While the local area was no stranger to horrific crimes against women, there was something different about this case. It attracted so much attention that the public dubbed it the "Black Dahlia" murder after the 1946 film The Blue Dahlia, starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Wanting to find out more information about the victim, Los Angeles Examiner reporters went as low as they could by calling Short's mother and claiming that the murdered woman had won a beauty pageant. When they got what they wanted they revealed that the 22-year-old had been murdered.

The case attracted both local and national attention, and as the media learned more about Short's life, the more critical they became of the deceased, labeling him a "sexual deviant". A report from the Los Angeles Police Department stated that those investigating the murder were not helpful:

“This victim knew at least fifty men at the time of her death and was seen with at least twenty-five men in the sixty days prior to her death… She was known to be a male tease. "

The media circus would ultimately become the source of blame for how the investigation was conducted – or was not conducted. The investigators reported to their superiors that journalists withheld evidence when called to them, as opposed to the police station, and accused them of answering calls at the station, thereby preventing detectives from collecting important tips.

Message from the killer?

Just days after Elizabeth Short's body was found, on January 21, 1947, the Los Angeles Examiner received a call from a man who claimed to be the killer. The unidentified man reportedly said he would surrender himself, but only after officers searched him a little further. He later changed his mind and refused to reveal his identity.

Three days later, the examiner received an envelope containing newspaper clippings, Short's birth certificate, photographs, business cards, names written on pieces of paper, and a message written along with the address book of a man named Mark Hansen. That same day, a black suede shoe and handbag – both confirmed to belong to the victim – were found on the lid of a dustbin just off South Norton Street. Everything was destroyed by gasoline.

Given the presence of his address book, Hansen was viewed as a possible suspect in the case, but he was ultimately cleared of any involvement. However, the objects led to a wide-scale search of the area around the scene where Short's body was found, with City Councilman Lloyd G. David offering a $10,000 reward for information.

On March 14, 1947, just two months after the grim discovery, a pile of men's clothing and an alleged suicide note were found on a Venice beach. No one was found with the goods. The note read:

“To whom it may concern: I waited for the police to catch me for the murder of the Black Dahlia, but they didn't. I'm too much of a coward to change myself, so this is the best way for me. I couldn't help myself for this or that. Sorry, Mary."

'Black Dahlia' murder investigation goes cold

By the spring of 1947, the investigation into the Black Dahlia murder had gone cold. In the time since Elizabeth Short's body was found, more than 50 suspects – men and women – have been questioned, including students at the University of California's medical school.

There were reportedly 150 suspects in the case, but no arrests were made. Additionally, more than 500 people have confessed to the crime, despite the fact that some of them were not even born at the time of the murder.

According to the FBI, given the amount of time that has passed and the lack of solid evidence, not to mention unreliable witnesses, it is likely that the case will never be solved. Given how long it took to find a solution, this murder remains the oldest cold case in Los Angeles.

Theories Abound About Who Murdered Elizabeth Short

There are a lot of theories to talk about about the Black Dahlia massacre, so we'll focus on the three that have gotten the most attention. The first alleges that physician George Hodel murdered Elizabeth Short. A suspect in the original investigation, Hodel is believed to have previously murdered his receptionist and sexually assaulted his daughter – crimes that only add fuel to the fire regarding his alleged guilt.

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