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Murder of Elizabeth Short

"The Black Dahlia" was a nickname given to Elizabeth Short[1][2][3] (July 29, 1924 - January 15, 1947). She was an American woman and the victim of a gruesome and much-publicized murder. Short acquired the moniker posthumously by newspapers in the habit of nicknaming crimes they found particularly colorful. Short was found mutilated, her body sliced in half at the waist, on January 15, 1947, in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California. Short's unsolved murder has been the source of widespread speculation, leading to many suspects, along with several books and film adaptations of the story.

Murder and aftermath

The body of Elizabeth Short was found in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. Her remains had been left on a vacant lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue midway between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street. (at 34°0′59.19″N 118°19′58.51″W / 34.0164417°N 118.3329194°W / 34.0164417; -118.3329194) The body was discovered by local resident Betty Bersinger, who was walking with her three-year-old daughter.[5] Short's severely mutilated body had been found nude and severed at the waist, completely drained of blood.[6] Her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears, called the Glasgow smile. The body had been washed and cleaned and she had been "posed" with her hands over her head and elbows bent at right angles.[4]

The autopsy stated Short was 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, weighed 115 pounds (52 kg), and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth. There were marks on her ankles and wrists made by rope, consistent with being tied either spreadeagled or hanged upside down. Although the skull was not fractured, Short had bruising on the front and right side of her scalp with a small amount of bleeding in the subarachnoid space on the right side, consistent with blows to the head. The cause of death was blood loss from the lacerations to the face combined with shock due to a concussion of the brain.

William Randolph Hearst's papers, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Examiner, sensationalized the case; the black tailored suit Short was last seen wearing became "a tight skirt and a sheer blouse" and Elizabeth Short became the "Black Dahlia," an "adventuress" who "prowled Hollywood Boulevard". As time passed, the media coverage became more outrageous with claims her lifestyle "made her victim material," when those who knew her all reported that Short did not smoke, drink or swear.[citation needed]

On January 23, 1947, the killer rang the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, expressing concern that news of the murder was tailing off in the newspapers and offering to mail items belonging to Short to the editor. The following day a packet arrived at the Los Angeles newspaper containing Short's birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper and an address book with the name Mark Hansen embossed on the cover. Hansen, the last person known to have seen Short alive (on January 9), became the prime suspect. The killer would later write more letters to the newspaper, calling himself "the Black Dahlia Avenger," after the name given to Short by the newspapers. On January 25, Short's handbag and one shoe were found in a garbage bin a short distance from Norton Avenue. Due to the notoriety of the case, more than 50 men and women have confessed to the murder and police are swamped with tips every time a newspaper mentions the case or a book or movie about it is released. Sergeant John P. St. John, a detective who worked the case until his retirement, stated: "It is amazing how many people offer up a relative as the killer."

Gerry Ramlow, a Los Angeles Daily News reporter later stated, "If the murder was never solved it was because of the reporters ... They were all over, trampling evidence, withholding information." It took several days for the police to take full control of the investigation during which time reporters roamed freely throughout the department's offices, sat at officers' desks, and answered their phones. Many tips from the public were not passed on to police as the reporters who received them rushed out to get "scoops".

Short was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. After Short's sisters had grown up and married, Short's mother moved to Oakland to be near her daughter's grave. Phoebe Short finally returned to the East Coast in the 1970s and lived into her 90s.


Main article: Black Dahlia suspects

The Black Dahlia murder investigation was conducted by the LAPD. The case also enlisted the help of hundreds of officers borrowed from other law enforcement agencies. Owing to the nature of the crime, sensational and sometimes inaccurate press coverage focused intense public attention on the case.

Theories and possible related murders

Some crime authors have speculated on a link between the Short murder and the Cleveland Torso Murders, which took place in Cleveland between 1934 and 1938.[11] As with a large number of killings that took place before and after the Short murder, the original LAPD investigators looked into the Cleveland murders in 1947 and later discounted any relationship between the two cases. However new evidence implicating a former Cleveland torso murder suspect, Jack Anderson Wilson, with Short's death was investigated by Detective John P. St. John in 1980. St. John claimed he was close to arresting Wilson for the death of Short when Wilson unexpectedly died in a fire on February 4, 1982.[12]

Crime authors such as Steve Hodel and William Rasmussen have suggested a link between the Short murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago.[13] Captain Donahoe of the Los Angeles police also stated publicly that he believed the Black Dahlia and Lipstick murders were "likely connected."[14] Among the evidence cited is the fact that Elizabeth Short's body was found on Norton Avenue three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard, Degnan being the last name of the girl from Chicago and there were striking similarities between the writing of the Degnan ransom note and that of "the Black Dahlia Avenger." For example, both used a combination of capitals and small letters, the Degnan note read in part "BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY" with both notes containing a similar mis-shapen letter P and have one word matching exactly.[15] Currently, convicted serial killer William Heirens is serving time for Degnan's murder. Initially arrested at age 17 for breaking into a residence close to that of Suzanne Degnan, Heirens claims he was tortured by police, forced to confess, and made a scapegoat in the Degnan murder.
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