The Black Dahlia: Aggie Gets Off The Bench

Prior to being benched by her city editor, Aggie had made some headway in her coverage of Elizabeth Short’s murder. She had interviewed Robert “Red” Manley, the first suspect in the case, and had concluded that he was innocent. Her interview had earned her a by-line. As far as I know she was the only Los Angeles reporter to get a by-line in the case.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_bylineSeveral people have taken credit for uncovering the Black Dahlia moniker; Aggie among them. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, a LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant. According to Aggie, Giese said: “This is something you might like, Agness. I’ve found out they called her the ‘Black Dahlia’ around that drug store where she hung out down in Long Beach.”

Like it? Aggie loved it. Los Angeles, in particular the Hearst newspapers, seemed to have a penchant for naming homicide cases after flowers. Over the years orchids, roses, and gardenias would feature in many grim headlines.

Aggie longed to be back in the field chasing leads and sniffing out suspects, but she was officially off the case for the second time.  About her newsroom embroidery project Aggie said: “Although i got damn tired of it, I kept my needle going until the quitting hour.  Early the next morning the assistant city editor announced that the city editor had made an overnight assignment for me to go back to homicide and continue on the ‘Black Dahlia’ case.”

Once again Aggie was pulled off the case, but this time she learned that her new assignment was the city desk.  She said she was: “Completely unwarned. I was the most surprised person in Los Angeles.” She had just become one of the first women in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily!

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Aggie at a crime scene (not the Dahlia) c. 1940s.

Why had Aggie been removed from the Black Dahlia case in the first place? People are drawn to conspiracies, no matter how unlikely, and there are those who believe that there was a cover-up and that Aggie was getting too close to a solution to Short’s murder.  Theorists have suggested that someone with enough juice had Aggie promoted to keep her out of the way. That doesn’t make sense to me, as city editor she directed the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t the sort of person who would take a pay-off. Nevertheless, the timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part Dahlia lore.

With Aggie back in the thick of things, the Herald continued to follow every lead. Sadly, the victim of a homicide is often re-victimized by the press. Murder victims lose their right to privacy; all of their secrets are revealed, and in an effort to fill column space while multiple leads were being tracked, the Herald looked to psychiatrists, Elizabeth’s acquaintances, and even mystery writers, to speculate on the case, which they did with creative abandon.

The psychiatrist whose expert opinion was sought by the Herald was Dr. Paul De River, LAPD’s very own shrink. He wrote a series of articles for the paper in which he attempted to analyze the mind of the killer. De River wrote that the killer was a sadist and suggested that: “during the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

Dr. De River

Dr. De River

In one of his most chilling statements, De River hinted at necrophilia—he said: “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth (who frequently called herself Betty, Bette or Beth) were interviewed by reporters and they weighed in on everything from her hopes and dreams to her love life. Beth was, by turns, described as “a man-crazy delinquent”, and a girl with “childlike charm and beauty”. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

The cops weren’t having any better luck.

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold.

7 thoughts on “The Black Dahlia: Aggie Gets Off The Bench

    • Hi, Richard –
      My personal opinion is that Dr. George Hodel was a vile human being, but not a killer. He was definitely a suspect in Elizabeth Short’s murder, but there appears to have been no evidence to support his guilt. Fact checking the books purporting to solve the slaying is exhausting. There are a few things that many of us who have studied the case have learned over time, and I can say that for me no book that has been written has ever successfully identified the murderer. Dr. Hodel’s son believes his father guilty of the Dahlia murder and several others. According to Steve his father was the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco, the Lipstick Killer in Chicago, and was responsible for the murder of James Ellroy’s mother in the San Gabriel Valley in 1958. James Ellroy is the author of The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential and numerous other novels. James investigated his mother’s murder with a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigator (the Sheriff’s were the investigating agency) several years ago and wrote about it in his book My Dark Places. Dr. Hodel was never a suspect and I know that James does not believe him to be guilty. “Daddy did it” is definitely a subcategory of books which claim to have solved the case. In my opinion none of them are credible. Thanks for your question — and thank you for reading the blog. Best — Joan

  1. I am convinced, no I know, that John Kohne Jr author of is right on the money for several reasons, but dummies will never understand genius level concepts. I couldn\’t of done what John did, but I can understand it when a man of his caliper points it all out so well.
    First, the killers psychological ploy of sending his own photograph into the Police along with Elizabeth\’s possessions not at the tip or skip. So he cheaply claim \”If I did it, would I send in my own image to incriminate myself? Yes you bloody would ! because Ed was no complete fool either, and I\’d lay London to a House brick Harry the Hat knew both these things this too. Homicide cops are brilliant at what they do trust me.
    Second, the banal level of meaning in the Ostensible drivel text employed to conceal the data implies either an idiot or a cryptographer and you better believe he was a cryptographer that reworked several data sets; and how its seems an almost ubiquitous character trait of many murderer message senders to love codes to show how clever they are, and three, Mr Kohne was a genius with NSA level qualifications in Mathematics and Cryptographic realisation and all revelations self confirming like a database cross reference that confirms other entries. The marks all over those epistles are only accidental to fools and laymen. The mathematic chances of his discoveries being chance are astronomical.
    The Black Dahlia Solution org was worked on for years by a superlative expert in the field and only 5% of the general population will ever get him because most are blind to what they cannot perceive or conceive even when its dropped right in their laps.
    I\’ve noticed dangerous things people were completely oblivious to on several occasions, warned them and they still ended up dead,(one jumped straight into a rip after being warned and drowned, one kept passing a shot with the muzzle pointed at someone and blew his guts out the next day and another was warned not rig his boat near power lines but then drove it on the trailer with mast up straight into em and their has been others too in my 60 years) and this case is an analogy of these scenarios. People always think they know better and are rational, when most often, nothing could be further from the truth. Most modern human beings are anything but rational, being emotionally controlled spiteful hedonistic egotists living in a dream world castle in the sky focused on their own self satisfaction and sense of grandeur, that does not exist, with only true genius\’ like Socrates realising how pitifully ignorant we really are.
    The concealed data that ol\’ Jack uncovered is self confirming in near every case by cross referral of data sets, and there was things he he could of added to further strengthen his case but left out because of integrity.
    Mr Kohne was right on the money without a shadow of a doubt, but still the 95% just won\’t get it. The abortionist Ed Burns did it, and suicided

  2. Hi there!

    I’ve been reading through your (fascinating) archives, and thought this might interest you. I’ve just finished reading the “Butcher” story from 2013; in it you mention Dr. J. Paul de River’s book SEXUAL CRIMES. I Googled it and found the website of a writer named John Brian King who interviewed Dr. de River (and wrote a Foreword for a new edition of his book).

    His page has a long article, which I haven’t finished, but if you scroll about 3/4 of the way down the page (past what I warn you are some disturbing, NSFW, seriously-do-not-look-if-you-are-squeamish photos), there’s a picture of murderer DeWitt Cook demonstrating how he bludgeoned his victim. He’s demonstrating on an “unnamed reporter,” outside, under the watchful eye of the law.

    I’m pretty sure the “unnamed reporter” is Aggie!

    Check it out:

    Again, it’s about 3/4 of the way down the page. I HIGHLY recommend that you simply jump to the bottom and scroll UP to look for it if you want to skip the crime scene photos, which are, btw, of The Butcher’s victims Lillian Johnson and Virgie Griffin. They are–I stress again–not for the faint of heart! None of the photos below the “Aggie” photo are of crime scenes, just creepy-looking killers. So if you want to avoid seeing those photos, use your scrollbar to jump to the bottom and scroll up.

    I don’t know if it can be *confirmed* that it’s Aggie, but it sure looks like her, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that it is. See for yourself; I could be wrong.

    Thanks for a fantastic blog! I’m a writer myself (fiction, NY-multipublished) and am enjoying the hell out of your archives. I will definitely be a regular reader from now on.

    • Hi! Well spotted, that is definitely Aggie standing in for the victim in the DeWitt Cook case. She was always willing to help the cops, for whom she had
      enormous respect. She can be found at various crime scenes throughout the 1930s until 1947 when she was promoted to city editor of the Herald. You can
      usually tell it’s Aggie by her unmanageable halo of hair. As far as I can tell she never successfully tamed it.

      My favorite Aggie stand-in moment occurred in the 1930s. Robert “Rattlesnake” James was accused of murdering his wife. His initial
      weapon of choice, rattlesnake venom delivered by two snakes aptly named Lightning and Lethal! He had the snakes in a box and plunged his wife’s foot into
      it. Aggie’s foot appears in the recreation! Rattlesnake James waited for his wife to die of the bites but after several hours he lost patience and with
      the aid of an accomplice drowned her in the bathtub then staged an accident at the backyard fish pond. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and was the
      last man hanged in CA.

      I have a copy of the DeRiver book. It’s pretty awful — not just the photos but everything about it. I’m sure he had a screw loose.

      Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.



      • Yay! I was right! Lol, I’m so proud of myself.

        That is a great story about Aggie’s foot as a stand-in. I love little anecdotes like those; they can tell us so much about people.

        I’ve been considering putting the de River book on my Xmas list (I write urban fantasy, which is kind of like supernatural crime/noir–at least mine is–so my research takes me to a lot of strange places), but if it’s that bad…a copy is close to $50, so it’s not like a $10 book that it’s okay if it turns out to be mostly a waste. I do suspect you’re right about a loose screw, just from the little research I’ve done. I’ll just put it on the back burner for now.

        Thanks for the reply, and thanks again for a great blog!

        • I love the anecdotes too. Everything I’ve heard about Aggie leads me to believe she was game for nearly
          anything in pursuit of a story. That said, she had personal integrity and a strong moral compass that kept
          her empathetic. It’s her empathy that distinguishes many of her interactions with some of the despicable
          characters she wrote about.

          Supernatural crime/noir sounds fascinating! Where can I find your books/stories?

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