The Black Dahlia Case Goes Cold — Or Does It?


Elizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Herald-Express for days. But even in a murder case as sensational as that of the Black Dahlia the more time that elapses following the discovery of a crime, the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiasm for reporting on it. As I mentioned on Thursday, the paper sought out psychiatrists  psychologists, and mystery writers who would attempt, each in his/her own way, to analyze the case — and fill column space in the paper. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald-Express were engaging in speculative profiles of both the victim and her killer.

One of the psychologists tapped by the Herald to contribute her analysis of the victim and slayer was Alice La Vere. The Herald introduced La Vere as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. Miss La Vere, said the Herald, would give to readers:
“an analysis of the motives which led to the torture murder of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short”.

La Vere’s analysis seems surprisingly contemporary.

beth_eddieHere is an excerpt from her profile of Short’s personality:

“Some gnawing feeling of inadequacy was eating at the mind of this girl. She needed constant proof to herself that she was important to someone and demonstrates this need by the number of suitors and admirers with which she surrounded herself.”

La Vere went on to describe the killer:

“It is very likely that this is the first time this boy has committed any crime. It is also likely that he may be a maladjusted veteran. The lack of social responsibility experienced by soldiers, their conversational obsession with sex, their nerves keyed to battle pitch — these factors are crime-breeding.” She further stated: “Repression of the sex impulse accompanied by environmental maladjustment is the slayer’s probable background.”

How does La Vere’s profile of Elizabeth Short and her killer compare to a an analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggested that Beth was “needy” and that her killer would have “spotted her a mile away”.  He said that the killer “would have been a lust killer and loved hurting people.”

On the salient points, I’d say that La Vere and Douglas were of like minds regarding Elizabeth Short and her killer — wouldn’t you?

craig_rice_TimeAt the time of Elizabeth Short’s murder, mystery writer Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig)  was one of the most popular crime writers in the country. In its January 28, 1946 issue, Time Magazine selected Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. Sadly, Rice has been forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).

Craig Rice was invited by the Herald-Express to give her take on the Black Dahlia case in late January 1947. Rice described Elizabeth Short in this way:

“A black dahlia is what expert gardeners call ‘an impossibility’ of nature. Perhaps that is why lovely, tragic Elizabeth Short was tortured, murdered and mutilated  Because such a crime could happen only in the half-world in which she lived. A world of–shadows.”

NEXT TIME: Could a woman have murdered the Black Dahlia?

19 thoughts on “The Black Dahlia Case Goes Cold — Or Does It?

    • Vickie — I absolutely agree with you. The perpetrator is likely long dead, however, if there is any justice, s/he is burning for eternity.
      It was was particularly loathsome crime. Thank you for your comment. I hope that you’re enjoying the blog. –Joan

  1. If the killer of Elizabeth Short was a first time killer he certainly had a good head for murder. He drained her blood at some other location, appears to have cleaned her insides out probably with a brush, severed her spine expertly and discarded her body in such a way as to make the greatest impact but leave the least evidence. Short was beaten to death and the mutilation was performed post mortem. I like Donald Wolfe’s theory that she was killed by Ben Siegel because she became inadvertently involved in the jewelry store robberies he was orchestrating to buoy up his Flamingo resort. She knew she was in some sort of jam. She left town for weeks crashing on the couch of strangers, in terror every time the doorbell rang. When she returned to LA she was murdered within hours. The murder of the Black Dahlia was a deliberate act and had a logical motive. It was not a sex crime. Elizabeth Short came into information it was not healthy for her to know. It’s a good bet everyone who knew what happened in this case is dead now.

    • Patrick – If the killer was a doctor, as some believe, that too would explain the unusual expertise demonstrated by Short’s killer.
      I agree with you that it wasn’t a sex crime per se — again, there are those who believe that any crime that involves the
      kind of mutilation inflicted on Elizabeth Short, and the fact that her body appears to have been posed, are signs of a sexually
      motivated homicide; even in cases where this is no evidence of and actual sexual assault. It is an incredibly interesting case
      no matter which theory you support; and I imagine people will be speculating about it for decades to come.
      I really appreciate your comments. Thank you! -Joan

  2. I have done some in-depth research on Elizabeth Short for my own personal reasons and I came up with an opinion that really resonates with me. The way she was killed is illuminati/freemason style. It would also explain why it was never solved. I believe that many illuminati/freemason murders….and there are many…. are either unsolved or blamed on another, usually a (younger) more vulnerable person, one who can’t defend themselves properly.

    This is my belief.

    • Christine – Your theory is interesting to say the least. Of course the murder of Elizabeth Short wouldn’t be the first time that Freemasons have been accused of being involved in a criminal conspiracy (e.g. Jack The Ripper, J.F.K. assassination, etc.). I don’t personally subscribe to the Freemason/Illuminati theory; however, one of the fascinating things about the Black Dahlia case is that it lends itself to so many different interpretations. I sincerely appreciate your comment. Thank you.

  3. Today on the Huffington Post website is an article about how a dog could solve the Black Dahlia mystery. It’s an interesting read and it will be interesting to know the results of the soil sample tests are.

    • Michelle – I saw the article too. Although I’m 99.9% sure that Dr. George Hodel was not Short’s killer, I’m still very curious to see how the tests come out. I’m rooting for the dog!

  4. George Hodel seems to be the obvious suspect- a surgeon who could have expertly bisected the body, the posing of the body as in Man Ray’s Minotaur, the cement bags at the crime scene, on trial for the rape of his own daughter and then leaving town to live in Manilla where another heinous crime is committed the infamous “chop chop lady” not far from where he lived.

    • Joe – I’m an archivist for the L.A. Police Museum and in early 2012 we offered a limited engagement exhibit of the Black Dahlia case. We were fortunate to have been given permission by Chief Beck to access the files in Robbery Homicide. George Hodel was, as I’m sure you know, a suspect in the case; however, LAPD detectives didn’t believe him to be the culprit. That he was a sleaze bag is indisputable, whether or not he was Short’s killer remains to be seen. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading Deranged! Best – Joan

      • Steve Hodel details many reasons why the contemporary detectives would have been highly reticent in prosecuting Dr Hodel for this and any other crime he would have committed; namely, he ran the county’s VD Clinic and knew where many skeletons were buried. He made admissions as such, as well as being familiar with payoffs occurring in governmental agencies.

        Though you say you are 99.9% certain Dr Hodel was not Berth Shorts murderer, you do not give any evidence for it. Specifically, what exonerates him, in your eyes?

        • The problems with Steve Hodel’s thesis are too numerous to go into here, but the fact that even his premise was flawed (the photo that wasn’t Beth Short after all) is troublesome. There’s no evidence to suggest that George Hodel ever met Elizabeth Short, and none that he murdered her. Even the dog that supposedly alerted to blood or remains or whatever at house on Franklin (last year?) turned out to be a big zero — there has been no follow-up at all — and yet when that story broke it was being touted as “proof” that something had happened at the house. There is plenty of conjecture — but it doesn’t rise to the level of a solution. I was fortunate to assist with a limited run exhibit regarding the Black Dahlia case at the LA Police Museum in 2012. We combed through files unseen by anyone outside of the LAPD for decades and I can say with authority that there was nothing that gave me even a moment of doubt about the way in which the detectives assigned to the case conducted their investigation. I approached the files half believing that LAPD may have dropped the ball, and I and walked away knowing that they hadn’t. They looked under every rock and followed every lead, even the nut jobs who confessed had to be dealt with. It was the largest homicide investigation since the 1927 hunt for “The Fox”, the slayer of 12 year old Marian Parker.

          I would have said I am 100% certain that George Hodel was not Short’s murderer, but I believe that in an open homicide case one should not claim to be 100% sure of anything without proper evidence. I am sure of one thing though, George Hodel was a reprehensible human being and the fact that his own son suspects him of multiple murder is evidence of what a vile low life he was.

          I don’t think we’ll ever know the identity of Short’s killer and, even if we did, I’m absolutely certain that there would still be people who wouldn’t believe it.

          Thank you for your comment, and for reading the blog. Best — Joan

  5. Unfortunately, most of the “guru’s” on the Black Dahlia have presented false information. Steve Hodel unbelievably asserted with a straight face that those two pictures are of Betty Short. They clearly are not and he had to admit as much at least to one of the pictures when the woman was alive and came forward to say that she was a friend of George Hodel. Also, Bettty Short was not a hooker; nor did she have undeveloped genitalia. There is no evidence that George Hodel has ever met Betty Short; nor is there evidence that Jack Adnerson Wilson met Betty Short. The Ben Siegel theory is preposterous. The mob does not commit murder like that. If you look at the uncensored photos and details of what the perpetrator did to that poor girl. It could not have been a simple fact of silencing someone. John Gilmore has no evidence supporting that a link actually existed or that a petty criminal suddenly turned into this century’s most notorious killer. Larry Harmisch takes a few coincidences and takes wild leaps with them. There is also no evidence that Dr. Bailey ever met Betty Short. At this point, I don’t even think Steve Hodel believes in his heart that his daddy did it. If the way he pursues the Dahlia case is how he worked his evidence as a detective, then it’s really shoddy.

    The police very well may have interviewed the perpetrator, but almost every book out there has manufactured fiction to sell books. It’s sad that “My daddy did it” is the recipe many are following–not just with the Dahlia but with the Zodiac. Rather than try to dig for the actual truth, they seem to go for the most outlandish–Bugsy Siegel, the rich son of a newspaperman, Orson Wells! or their daddies. Most likely the crime was committed by a sexual sadist and it was not his first crime.

    • Erica – I have reached the same conclusion as you have, that Elizabeth Short was likely murdered by a sexual sadist. The “daddy did it”
      trend continues with a guy who claims his biological father was the Zodiac Killer. It never ends. Best — Joan

      • I was a little surprised and disappointed to find that much of the literature out there about the Black Dahlia was false. I had always assumed that books and publications are fact checked. But, some of these characters and scenarios are made from whole cloth! It’s a shame. There’s a real hunger by readers to find out the real truth about the case. I appreciate the fact that you put in so much hard work writing a blog about this subject because it might be America’s most fascinating case.

        What do you think of the Cleveland Torso connection theory or the theory that the same sadist also victimized Georgette Bauerdorf?

        • Erica – it seems that fewer and fewer authors are willing to go to the trouble to access source documents when they are writing about “true” crime. If there isn’t a personal agenda then it may be greed and/or notoriety that motivates some to churn out book after book. I covered some historical cases for L.A. Magazine’s pop-up crime blog last August and I was fact checked like you wouldn’t believe. I was receiving email and calls from the interns assigned to me several times every day. I was grateful for my extensive notes, and I never begrudged the questions. I’m currently writing a book on some forgotten L.A. cases and I am putting a great deal of time into the research. In fact I’m taking a trip to the CA State Archive later this month to review some documents. I can’t say that I won’t make any errors, but I will make every effort to avoid them.

          I’ve been a volunteer archivist for the L.A. Police Museum for nearly five years and a couple of years ago I was honored to be an assistant curator for the limited run exhibit on the Black Dahlia case. We had permission from the Chief of Police to view Robbery/Homicide Division files on the case–very unusual for an open homicide. I was impressed by the scope of the investigation and the diligence of the detectives in pursuing every lead, no matter how crack-pot. I believe that they weren’t able to solve it because it was a stranger homicide with no prior connection between the perpetrator and the victim.

          The Cleveland murders are interesting and there are certainly some viable theories. Dr. Sweeney, who was interviewed by Eliot Ness (and was also polygraphed and failed) seems a compelling suspect. He taunted Ness for years. Another possibility is that the murders were unrelated and were committed by multiple killers. I’m not inclined to believe that there is any link between the Dahlia case and the Cleveland murders; however, I’ve learned never to say never.

          As far as Bauerdorf goes, I believe that she brought the wrong guy home; as simple as that. I’m not even sure that the perp had intended to kill her. It seems to me to be a case of a sexual encounter gone sideways. Very tragic.

          • Thanks. It’s obvious that you take fact checking very seriously.

            Steve Hodel had me hooked until I looked at his other titles where he linked his dad to the Zodiac killings, the Suzanne Degman murder and the lipstick murders. Really? His dad must have been some super-villain serial killer that makes Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy look like amateurs. I really do not know what his motivation is to continue doing this because every six months, he seems to be get the media onto new evidence like dog sniffing the house or handwriting testing. I actually appreciate it when authors pose a theory, but they should tell you where it’s fact and where it’s a theory. John Douglas and a few other authors are careful to point out which are known facts and which are educated guesses based on their experience—the gut, the feeling that detectives think but don’t necessarily put down in their notes.

            What do you think of the similarities in the mutilations and the cleaning in Torso versus the Dahlia….and the fact that the Torso murder wrote a letter from Los Angeles? I did think that perhaps, Ness might not have caught the killer or that there were multiple killers like you mentioned. Just out of curiosity, have you ever written in detail about the Torso/Dahlia theory or the Bauerdrof theory?

            So, in you heart, do you think the Baeauerdrof case is related to the Black Dahlia? It’s eery how many connections there are between the two. It seems like with the person unscrewing the light bulb that perhaps he was lying in wait and that before that night, she was already in fear for her life.

  6. Were the prints found on Bauerdorf’s bathtub, inside her car, and on the lightbulb ever compared to Jack Anderson Wilson’s prints?

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