The .25 Caliber Taxi-Dancer

BROWNHANSENFNL_RESIZEOn January 15, 1947 the body of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short was discovered in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  There were scant clues in the case and LAPD homicide detectives Finis Brown and Harry Hansen were hoping for a break.

Ten days later some of Short’s belongings were found in a trash dump at 1819 E. 25th Street. Among the items found were a black patent leather purse, one black shoe, and a brown leather address book which contained more than 75 names. The “little brown book” book had the name Mark M. Hansen (no relation to Harry) stamped on the cover.

Hansen, an attorney and night club owner, was a self-made man. He was a Danish immigrant, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1910 and who, by the 1930 census, was a theater proprietor. By the late 1940s he was part-owner of the Florentine Gardens, a popular Hollywood night spot, and had business interests in several movie theaters.  Detectives grilled Hansen about his relationship with Beth Short, particularly how she came to have the leather address book. Hansen’s explanation was that Beth Short must have taken it from his desk sometime during November 1946. Beth had access to his desk because she was one of several young women who had rented rooms in Hansen’s home at 6024 Carlos Avenue (located behind the Florentine Gardens).

00007090_florentine gardens exterior

Photo courtesy of LAPL

Among the women who had lived at the Carlos Avenue address was Ann Toth, a bit player in the movies. Toth was an acquaintance of Short’s and like everyone else who had known the dead girl she had been questioned by the police. There wasn’t much Toth could tell investigators about Beth who, like so many other young women in post-war L.A., had no fixed address.

Anna Toth

Photo of Ann Toth from http://www.theblackdahliainhollywood.com/

Detectives dug deep into Hansen’s story and determined that he was telling the truth about the last time he’s seen Beth. No one, particularly a successful businessman, was looking for the kind of publicity that attends a horrific murder like Beth’s. Hansen must have breathed a sigh of relief when he was cleared of any involvement in the crime.

For the next couple of years the club owner, described by the L.A. Times as a “man-about-town”, continued to run the Florentine Gardens and bed chorus girls. He was a married man but he and his wife, Ida, had been estranged for about two decades.

For most of 1948 and into 1949, Hansen had been routinely pestered for a job by a blonde dime-a-dance cutie from Oakland, Lola Titus. Lola’s real name was Beverly Alice Bennett, and she had been working as a stripper and taxi dancer in Oakland when she got the notion to hop on a bus for L.A. to hook-up with Mark Hansen. Lola’s sudden decision to leave Northern California was precipitated by an argument she’d had with her mother. Her mom strenuously objected to her daughter’s lifestyle. Lola would later tell investigators: “I made up my mind that he (Hansen) was either going to love me, marry me or take care of me or I was going to kill him.”

Lola had another reason for traveling to L.A.–she believed that Hansen was behind rumors that she had killed the Black Dahlia. The rumors were all in Lola’s head because her name had never been mentioned in connection with the case.

Lola boarded a bus from San Francisco to Hollywood on Thursday, July 14, 1949. She’d packed the essentials: nude photos of herself and the .25 automatic she’d purchased several months before in an Oakland pawnshop. On Friday morning she turned up on Hansen’s doorstep with the gun in her pocket and her nude photos tucked under her arm. She knocked on the door of the bungalow and while she waited she debated whether to shoot him as soon as he opened the door or to wait until she got inside. She opted to wait.

Once Hansen had invited her in,  Lola showed him the nude photos of herself. Hansen decided to compare the photos to the real girl, and he “auditioned” the blonde dancer in the back bedroom.  Following the audition Hansen went into the bathroom and began to shave with his electric razor. Lola figured it was as good a time as any to shoot him. She went into the front room where she’d left her coat, pulled the gun out of the pocket and went to the bathroom where she shot him once. The wound was a through and through. The bullet missed Hansen’s heart by 7/10 of an inch and lodged in the bathroom wall. Lola then pulled on her clothes and left.LOLA HEADLINE

Although he was severely wounded Hansen managed to get to the telephone. He phoned a business associate who called for a doctor. As he was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance Hansen said that before Lola pulled the trigger she had called him a “goddam cop lover”.

NEXT TIME: Lola calls the cops.

Justice Denied, Part 3

Jury selection in the trial of 41-year-old Santa Monica physician Dr. George Dazey for the 1935 slaying his actress-wife Doris began in early February 1940. Guilty or innocent, George Dazey did one thing right–he hired Jerry Geisler to defend him in court.

“Get Me Geisler” (pronounced Geese-lar) was a cry that went up routinely in Hollywood circles. Over the course of his half-century of practicing law Geisler defended Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum, Charlie Chaplin, Lili St. Cyr and many, many  others.

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Jerry Geisler w/Robert Mitchum

Geisler’s practice wasn’t limited to Hollywood luminaries; he also defended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel as well as the odious Dr. George Hodel (for incest). Hodel is well-known for having been a suspect in the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

During the voir dire Deputy District Attorney Hugh McIssac questioned potential jurors on their attitude toward circumstantial evidence and capital punishment. The case against George was entirely circumstantial–which isn’t to say weak; after all, most cases are won on circumstantial evidence. Jerry Geisler’s questions to the possible jurors were very different; he wanted to know:

“If it is brought out here that the deceased might have ended her own life, would you be willing to take that into consideration in the matter of reasonable doubt as applied to this defendant?”

The final jury was composed of three women and nine men. The proceedings hit a snag when on the day after empanelment one of the jurors became too ill to attend the trial. The alternate jurors had not yet been sworn in which led to a legal dispute over when a trial actually begins. Is it when the jury is sworn; when the first witness is called; or when the first witness opens testimony? Opposing counsel agreed to stipulate that the sick juror, Mr. Gieschen, should be discharged and that selection of a jury should continue on the basis of an incomplete panel.

Unconcerned by the minor legal hiccup, Dr. Dazey spent his time working on a crossword puzzle.dazey crossword

George Dazey’s trial opened with a very unusual situation.  George Merritt, a major witness in the case, admitted to being a personal friend of both the defendant and Deputy District Attorney McIssac.  When Merritt took the stand he testified that Dr. Dazey had called him to the death scene shortly after he claimed to have discovered his wife dead on the garage floor.  But his testimony didn’t go as the prosecution had believed it would–Merritt was suddenly unable to recall the doctor making damaging, self-incriminating, statements.

The Deputy D.A. was not pleased:

“Didn’t you tell me at a lunch we had together within recent months that Dr. Dazey kept repeating, ‘Why did I do it?  Why did I do it?’”

Merritt said he wasn’t certain.

Peeved with his recalcitrant witness McIssac continued:

“Didn’t you tell me that although Dr. Dazey appeared hysterical and incoherent that  you and your friends decided that he was putting on an act?”

Merritt said no.

McIssac told the court that he was taken by surprise. He had every reason to believe that Merritt would testify at the trial the same way in which he’d testified to the grand jury several weeks earlier. At the grand jury hearing he was asked if Dr. Dazey had blurted out, “Why did I do it?” and Merritt had responded: “It might have sound like that.”

Part of the problem faced by the prosecution was that Doris’ death had occurred four years earlier and witnesses are notoriously unreliable even moments after a crime has occurred.

Jerry Giesler made sure to mention that even the police officers who had originally been called out to the scene had to refer to reports they had made at the time of the incident.

After the first day or two of testimony I’d have called the contest between the prosecution and defense a draw. Geisler had made a point about the dim memories of the witnesses, but the prosecution scored a point in refuting the notion that Doris had been suicidal with the testimony of Joe E. Burns, a Frigidaire repairman.

Burns had been called to the Dazey’s home on the day prior to Doris’ death to repair their fridge. He had to return the next day to make further adjustments and he testified that on both occasions Doris seemed to be in a good frame of mind and perfectly lucid when they spoke. That testimony would make it more difficult for Geisler to sell the defense theory that Doris was unstable and suicidal.

Winifred Hart

Winifred Hart during the silent era.

The most flamboyant of the witnesses to testify was a former neighbor the Dazey’s, Mrs. Wiinifred Westover Hart, the ex-wife of silent film cowboy superstar, William S. Hart.

Winifred was an actress during the silent era, which is how she met her ex-husband. Her first screen appearance was a small role in D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film, Intolerance, but her movie career was over by 1930.

The ex-Mrs. Hart arrived at the murder trial wearing dark glasses and holding a magazine up to shield her face. Her first comment upon taking the witness stand was that she was nervous.

On the night of October 3, 1935 Mrs. Hart said she heard screams coming from the direction of the Dazey home. Deputy District Attorney McIssac asked her:

“Did you tell anyone about hearing these screams after you learned of Mrs. Dazey’s death the next day?”

Mrs. Hart said:

“Oh, I told everybody, I was so upset!”

McIssac asked her if she had received any threats and she answered that she had, but she didn’t recognize the voice over the telephone. There was no way to corroborate her testimony about the threatening calls and on top of that it was difficult for the jury to take her seriously because she was so theatrical. According to the L.A. Times the former silent film actress had a flair for the histrionic.

When it was Jerry Geisler’s turn to question Mrs. Hart he opened with:

“Now don’t get nervous at me.”

Mrs. Hart went on to testify that in the late afternoon of October 3, 1935 she and her mother, Mrs. Sophie Westover, had been listening to the radio when they heard screaming and crying. Hart testified:

“It sounded like a boy being teased—boys used to play in a vacant lot next to us–and after a while I got up and shut the window and turned up the radio.”

Hart knew what time they heard the ruckus because she and her mom were listening to a scheduled program featuring Rudy Vallee.

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Another witness, Douglas O’Neal, 17, lived near the Dazey’s home and he testified that had seen Dr. Dazey’s car parked by the Dazey residence hours before the doctor said he’d arrived home to find his wife dead.

Jerry Geisler established that the boy couldn’t be certain it was Dr. Dazey’s car because he hadn’t seen the license plate numbers and the car was a popular make and model.

Mildred Guard, sister of the dead woman, testified that she’d visited her sister many times while she was married to Dr. Dazey. She recalled one occasion, a short time prior to the birth of the couple’s child, when there was some rather disturbing breakfast table conversation:

“George [Dr. Dazey] was talking and he said, ‘If the baby looks like_____’ and here he mentioned the name of a certain man–I’ll kill both Doris and the baby.”

Prosecutor McIassac asked Mildred how Doris had replied. Mildred said that her sister had admonished George, asking him not to talk like that.mildred guard.jpg

The mystery man was referred to in court only by his first name, which was Carl. During questioning by Jerry Gisler, Mildred testified that she knew that her sister had been going out with Carl up to the time she began dating Dr. Dazey. When asked if Doris had quit seeing Carl after starting a relationship with George, Mildred admitted that she had no idea.

Geisler said:

“Well, you know the baby didn’t look anything like Carl?”

To which Mildred replied that the baby didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Carl. Mildred’s testimony concluded with her description of an incident that had occurred on a night when she was staying at the Dazey home.  She said she heard Doris scream then call out her name:

“I went to her room and she was partly sitting up in bed and had a frightened look on her face.  The doctor was standing about three feet from the bed, fully dressed and apparently sober.  He looked very mean.  His hands were clenched, his face was purple and he was grating his teeth.  She had a look of terror on her face.”

Dr. Dazey allegedly told Mildred he was “only fooling” and asked her to leave the room.  Doris never explained the incident to Mildred.

As George Dazey’s trial entered its second week the prosecutors offered their version of Doris’ death–they contended that the doctor had incapacitated his wife in some way then carried her body into their garage and placed her head near the car’s exhaust pipe. In fact Doris’ face was so near to the exhaust pipes that she received burns which the prosecution declared would have been highly improbably if she had committed suicide as had been suggested by George’s defense team.

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Unidentified women queued up to watch the trial of Dr. George Dazey.

Everyone who came to the courtroom on February 13, 1940 was there to hear the testimony of Dr. Dazey’s former nurse, and occasional “social companion”, Miss Frances Hansbury.  Frances had testified at the grand jury hearing that George had confessed to her that he had murdered Doris.

If the jury believed Frances it could be all over for George Dazey–he might dance into eternity at the end of a hangman’s noose.

NEXT TIME:  The trial and verdict.

I Married the Black Dahlia

dumais_00010481You may remember Joseph Du Mais from an earlier post, he was one of the many false confessors to the January 15, 1947 slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. 

Du Mais had figured prominently in the mystery surrounding Short’s murder and his photo appeared on the front page of the Herald in early 1947.  The former Army combat veteran and M.P. had offered military investigators a rambling 50 page statement in which he declared that he had dated Beth on January 9 or 10 in 1947 and then blacked out for several days.   Du Mais said that it was during this black out that he believed he had murdered Elizabeth Short.  

There were serious problems with Joseph’s statement.  Soldiers who knew Du Mais reported seeing him at Fort Dix in New Jersey on January 10, 11, 12 and 17 of 1947 which, unless the military man could bi-locate, would have made it impossible for him either to have dated, or to have killed, the Black Dahlia.

Du Mais’ headline news days were over quickly, but he popped up again in September 1948 in a brief article buried in the back pages of the L.A Times when he was busted in Evanston, Illinois for car theft.  He told the cops that he was held for 83 days in Army detention at Ft. Dix in connection with the slaying of his wife, Elizabeth Short.  He said that he knew her as Eunice Fortune.  

The cops in Evanston didn’t buy Joseph’s story and it was a simple matter for them to contact LAPD and verify their hunch that Du Mais was spinning them a yarn.  Joseph’s confession to the gruesome murder had been disproved by LAPD and his claim that he had married Beth in 1937 was completely absurd.  In 1937 Beth Short was a twelve year old school girl.

LAPD detectives were exasperated by the lack of viable leads in the murder of Elizabeth Short; and they were especially frustrated by the parade of false confessors who sent them down blind alleys – wasting their time and resources.  

The Black Dahlia case continued to grow cold.

Confessions of a Benzadrine Eater

charles_lynchA couple of weeks following the one year anniversary of the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, LAPD detectives were still working hard to solve the case that would eventually become L.A.’s most infamous unsolved homicide.

Cops thought maybe they’d finally caught a break in the case when twenty-three year old Charles E. Lynch telephoned the homicide squad asking that they come and arrest him for Short’s slaying.

Lynch was arrested and brought to the Central Jail to be interrogated.  The young transient was questioned at length by Det. Lts. Harry Hansen and Finis A. Brown, the two detectives who had been assigned to the case since January 15, 1947 when Short’s body was found in a Leimert Park vacant lot.  Dr. J. Paul DeRiver, police psychiatrist, accompanied Hansen and Brown to the questioning of their new suspect.

It didn’t take long for the seasoned detectives and the shrink to conclude that Lynch was lying to them; and when he was challenged on the details of his confession Lynch promptly repudiated it.

Of course the detectives wanted to know what had motivated Lynch to confess to the gruesome murder in the first place, and that’s when he told them that the idea came to him after he read a newspaper “one year anniversary” account of the crime.benz_headline

The newspaper account of the Black Dahlia case may have given initially motivated Lynch to confess, but his real inspiration came from a Benzedrine inhaler.  He told Hansen, Brown and DeRiver that he bought an inhaler, tore off the wrapper, ate the contents and washed them down with a glass of water — it was then, Lynch said, that he decided to confess.

The search for the Black Dahlia killer continued.

 

The Butcher

 

Georgette Bauerdorf

Georgette Bauerdorf

There were numerous unsolved slayings of women in 1940s Los Angeles, and among the dead were: Ora Murray, Laura Trelstad, Jeanne French, Georgette Bauerdorf, and of course Elizabeth Short. The murders were enough to frighten and enrage the public, who then demanded that local politicians address their concerns. The 1949 L.A. County Grand Jury was tasked with investigating what many perceived to have been a failure on the part of law enforcement to crack the cases. The Grand Jury dropped the ball on investigating the cops handling of the murders to focus instead on corruption in police vice units, but I’m not sure that it matters.

I don’t believe the murder cases went unsolved due to sloppy police work. What I think is that with the flood of transients (i.e. military personnel, war workers, etc.) into the city after the U.S. entered WWII in December 1941, it became increasingly hard for detectives to solve a homicide case.  If the victim and killer were strangers to one another, which in the war and post-war environment was likely, it would add another layer of difficulty to solving a murder with few, if any, clues.dahlia_herald_3_the black dahlia

By poking around in old newspapers I’ve discovered that there was a large number of dishonorably or medically discharged veterans wandering the streets of L.A. during the 1940s. Some of them had suffered profound trauma during their service, what we’ve come to know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Others of them, like Otto Stephen Wilson, were screwed up for reasons that had nothing to do with a battlefield.  Wilson had served in the Navy for eleven years before being discharged in November 1941, one month before the U.S. went to war.

The reason for Wilson’s discharge from the Navy was the he suffered from sexual psychosis. If you’re wondering why it took them over a decade to diagnose him, it wasn’t until his wife complained to San Diego naval authorities about his “unnatural impulses” that the he came to the attention of his superiors and they gave him the boot. We’ll get to his impulses later.

Otto Stephen Wilson

Otto Stephen Wilson

Following his discharge from the Navy, Wilson had been living in and around L.A. working menial jobs as kitchen help in various cafes. He had a police record in the city beginning with his arrest on March 25, 1943 on suspicion of criminal attack when a young woman, Celeste Trueger, told cops he had grabbed her by the throat on a hotel stairway. His guilty plea on a battery charge earned him 90 days in jail, 30 of which were suspended.

On March 14, 1944, he was arrested on suspicion of burglary and handed over to county authorities to begin a nine month sentence. Wilson was released on good behavior about a month before he slaughtered two women in downtown hotels.

NEXT TIME: The story of Otto Stephen Wilson’s murder spree continues.

Louise Springer Murder: Conclusion

springer_coronerThe biggest manhunt since the murder of Elizabeth Short continued as cops tried to find the killer of hairstylist Louise Springer.

LAPD conjectured that either Louise Springer had been immediately stunned with a blunt instrument as she sat in her car at a Crenshaw Blvd. parking lot, or she had known the person who murdered her. The two possible theories were supported by the fact that Louise had apparently offered no resistance, nor had she cried out — and, tellingly, her brand new manicure was still pristine.

There were bruises on Louise’s right temple and the top of her head which, in the opinion of Dr. Frederick D. Newbarr, the autopsy surgeon, were hard enough to render her unconscious.

Mrs. Jewell Lorange, left, and Miss Germaine Le Gault presented possible clue to slaying of Mrs. Louise Springer in reporting "three men in black car."

Mrs. Jewell Lorange, left, and Miss Germaine Le Gault presented possible clue to slaying of Mrs. Louise Springer in reporting “three men in black car.”

Of the scant leads uncovered by detectives, an interesting piece of information emerged. Miss Germaine Le Gault and Mrs. Jewell Lorange, who lived directly across from where the death car was found, said that they saw three men “in a big, black car” spend two evenings prior to the murder parked less than 50 feet away from where Springer’s strangled body was found. Unfortunately, the lead never panned out.

More than a week had passed when suddenly the Springer case began to heat up with the arrest of two suspects: Leon Russell, car washer at a service station near the parking lot, and Claud Cox, a jobless Navy vet who had been arrested on a morals complaint made by a young Hollywood woman named Marion Brown. Brown, 18, told cops that Claud Cox, whom she said she knew slightly, took her to his room at 1611 N. Orange Drive and tried to molest her. Cox told cops that he got “a little friendly” but he flatly denied trying to harm the girl.

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Marion Brown, 18, said Roscoe Cox, released in Springer murder, tried to attack her.

As cops tracked down leads, Louise Springer’s husband and her 21 month old son mourned the wife and mother as she was laid to rest in a San Jose cemetery.

At least the crime lab was finally able to state conclusively that Louise Springer had not been slugged before she was garroted in her husband’s car. What had initially appeared to be bruises on Mrs. Springer’s head were actually post-mortem tissue changes — the result of the dead woman’s body resting face down for three days in the backseat of the car before being discovered. The evidence suggested that Springer had been murdered in the car, at the parking lot, as she listened to the radio.

Another suspect was arrested and cleared by LAPD homicide detectives.  The man was thirty-eight year old Guy Smith who was busted by L.A. Sheriff’s department deputies on a tip from a relative. Nobody can do you dirt like family. In any case, Smith had an alibi for the time of Louise’s murder; however, the law was investigating him in connection with other unsolved crimes, notably morals offenses.

As the case grew colder the cops began to cast around for a new motive in Louise’s murder. Maybe kidnapping and sexual assault weren’t the real motives; maybe someone had a grudge against her, or they were jealous of the attractive brunette.

springer_coxOne of the early suspects in Springer’s murder, Claude Cox, was arrested in September 1949, but the arrest had nothing to do with Louise Springer’s death. According to Mrs. Geneva Cowen, 35, she was walking along Hollywood Blvd. when she heard someone come up behind her. She turned and the man, Claude Cox, rushed up and hit her, hard. Cox said: “I’m going to kill you.” Cowen took a chance and started to run. Cox grabbed for her, but only succeeded in pulling her coat off.

Eventually the leads dried up and the Louise Springer murder, aka, the Green Twig Murder case, went cold.

Laurence and Louise Springer had been in L.A. for only six months before she was murdered, so the widower returned to Northern California to try to put some of his pain behind him.

The single major success in the case came when Dr. Mildred Mathias, UCLA botanist, was finally able to identify the twig that had been so cruelly inserted into Louise Springer’s vagina as belonging to a bottle tree. Dr. Mathias said that the twig had apparently been stripped from a larger branch sometime in the year prior to the crime.

Louise Springer’s murder remains unsolved.

The Murder of Louise Springer: Part 1

louise_portraitJune 16, 1949, the decomposing body of thirty-five year old Louise Springer, a beauty shop operator, was found huddled in the rear seat of her husband’s convertible automobile parked at 125 W. 38th Street. Springer had been garroted.

A length of clothesline was knotted around Springer’s neck, with two knots under her
left ear. Her face was swollen and nearly black. Her brown skirt and yellow suede
jacket had been twisted around her body, with her skirt tangled around her hips.

springer_houseA stick 14 inches in length and 1/2 inch thick had been violently driven into her vagina .

Laurence Springer had reported his wife missing about sixty hours before her body was discovered. Louise, a hairstylist, had been working until shortly before 9:00 p.m. on the night she disappeared. Laurence had arrived to pick her up from work and take her to their beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills.

He’d parked in a lot on Crenshaw across the street from the shopping center in which Louise worked. The couple walked to their 1948 convertible and Louise, who had spent hours on her feet, pulled off her shoes and put on a pair of slippers that she kept in the car. They were just about to head for home when Louise exclaimed: “Oh, I’ve forgotten my glasses.” Laurence told her to relax and listen to her favorite radio show while he went to retrieve her specs.

Laurence got Louise’s glasses, then stopped to buy a magazine and chat with a friend. He wasn’t gone for more than 10 or 15 minutes, but when he returned both Louise and the car were gone.springer_car

Laurence knew that something was wrong, she wouldn’t have driven off and left him. He looked around for a few minutes but he couldn’t find his wife. He called the cops at about 10:00 pm and a few moments later a prowl car met him at the parking lot. The officers looked around but they didn’t find anything either. Laurence accompanied the police to the University Division Station where he filed a missing persons report. He then went home to be with his 21 month old son.

The Springer’s housekeeper and nanny, forty-nine year old divorcee Elizabeth Thompson, nearly collapsed when she received the news of her employer’s disappearance. Thompson told police that the Springers were happily married and that as far as she knew they had no enemies. She said that the couple had sold the beauty shops they owned in Northern California, then moved south to L.A. They hadn’t been in town for very long before Louise was slain. spring_child

Thompson injected a note of mystery into the investigation when she said that she had received an obscene phone call from an unknown woman about three months prior to Louise’s disappearance. The caller asked several times for Thompson to identify herself, which she refused to do — then the caller made a lewd proposal and Thompson hung up on her. Cops didn’t believe that the phone call had anything to do with Louise’s disappearance, but during the initial stages of the investigation they couldn’t rule anything out.

springer_headlineOne of the most disturbing aspects of the case was that the parking lot from which Louise Springer had been abducted was only about a block away from the lot where the body of Elizabeth Short had been discovered in January 1947!

Women were terrified by the thought that the Black Dahlia’s killer was once again hunting the streets of L.A. for victims. An enormous manhunt, the largest since Short’s murder, was soon underway.

Witnesses in the neighborhood where Louise’s body had been found came forward to say that they had seen a man in the murder car and watched him as he seemed to adjust something on the backseat – which is where Louise’s body had been found covered with a tarp. A man was seen exiting the car, and some people thought that he may have been wearing a military uniform.

springer_cluesPolice forensics investigators were having a difficult time trying to determine if Louise had been slugged before she was strangled, or if she’d been sexually assaulted. A relatively new test called the acid phosphatase test was used to try to determine if semen was present, but the test was inconclusive due to decomposition.

The main piece of physical evidence, the twig that was violently inserted into Louise’s vagina, was becoming a huge problem for investigators — it couldn’t be identified. Bonnie Templeton, curator of the botany department at the County Museum, had been called in to lend her expetise in identifying the twig. She said that it could have come from “four of five” species of trees or shrub.

It was beginning to look as if the LAPD was going to have another unsolved homicide of a woman on the books.

NEXT TIME: The investigation into the murder of Louis Springer continues.

The Black Dahlia: Another Confession, and Another Murder

dumais_00010481

U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Dumais [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On February 8, 1947 the Herald-Express announced that the Black Dahlia case had been solved. They had found the killer!

dahlia_herald_24_dumais

The Herald-Express story began:

“Army Corporal Joseph Dumais, 29, of Fort Dix, N.J., is definitely the murdered of “The Black Dahlia”, army authorities at Fort Dix announced today.’

Dumais, a combat veteran, had returned from leave wearing blood stained trousers with his pockets crammed full of clippings about Short’s murder. According to the Herald, Dumais made a 50 page confession in which he claimed to have had a mental blackout after dating Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles five days before her body was found.

The good looking corporal seemed like the real deal. He told the cops that “When I get drunk I get pretty rough with women.” Unfortunately, when police checked his story against known facts the solider’s confession didn’t hold up. Dumais was sent to a psychiatrist.

Two days after Dumais’ false confession the Herald put out an Extra with the headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again! Kills L.A. Woman, Writes B.D. on Body”.

dahlia_herald_27_werewolf strikes

The victim of the “Werewolf Killer” was forty-five year old Jeanne French. Her nude body had been discovered at about 8 a.m. on February 10, 1947 near Grand View Avenue and Indianapolis Street in West L.A.

jeanne_french_scene_00057603

Cops at the scene of Jeanne French’s murder. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jeanne Thomas French had lived an incredibly fascinating life. She had been an aviatrix, a pioneer airline hostess, a movie bit player and an Army Nurse. And at one time she had been the wife of a Texas oilman. The way she died was monstrous.

jeanne and frank picA construction worker H.C. Shelby was walking to work around 8 o’clock that morning along Grand View Blvd. when he saw a small pile of woman’s clothing in weeds a few feet from the sidewalk. Curious, Shelby walked over and lifted up a fur trimmed coat and discovered French’s nude body.

French had been savagely beaten, and her body was covered with bruises. She had suffered some blows to her head, probably administered by a metal blunt instrument — maybe a socket wrench. As bad as they were, the blows to her head had not been fatal. Jeanne died from hemorrhage and shock due to fractured ribs and multiple injuries caused by stomping — she had heel prints on her chest. It took a long time for French to die. The coroner said that she slowly bled to death.

Mercifully, Jeanne was unconscious after the first blows to her head so she never saw her killer take the deep red lipstick from her purse, and she didn’t feel the pressure of his improvised pen as he wrote on her torso: “Fuck You, B.D.” (later determined to be P.D.) and “Tex”.

French had last been seen in the Pan American Bar at 11155 West Washington Place. She was seated at the first stool nearest the entrance and the bartender later told cops that a smallish man with a dark complexion was seated next to her. The bartender assumed they were a couple because he saw them leave together at closing time.

Jeanne’s estranged husband, Frank, was booked on suspicion of murder. The night before she died Jeanne had gone to the apartment where Frank was living and they’d quarreled. Frank said that his wife had started the fight, then hit him with her purse and left. He said that was the last time he saw her. He told the cops she’d been drinking.

David Wrather, Jeanne’s twenty-five year old son from a previous marriage was also brought in for questioning. As he was leaving the police station he saw his step-father for the first time since he’d learned of his mother’s death. David confronted Frank and said: “Well, I’ve told them the truth. If you’re guilty, there’s a God in heaven who will take care of you.” Frank didn’t hesitate, he looked at David and said: “I swear to God I didn’t kill her.”jeanne french_husband lie detector

Frank was cleared when his landlady testified that he’d been in his apartment at the time of the murder, and when his shoe prints didn’t match those found at the scene of the crime.

Cops followed the few leads they had. French’s cut-down 1929 Ford roadster was found in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant, The Piccadilly  at Washington Pl. and Sepulveda Blvd. Witnesses said that the car had been there since 3:15 the morning of the murder, and a night watchman said it was left there by a man. The police were never able to find out where Jeanne had been between 3:15 a.m. and the time of her death which was estimated at 6 a.m.

Scores of sex degenerates were rousted, but each was eliminated as a suspect. Officers also checked out local Chinese restaurants after the autopsy revealed that French had eaten Chinese food shortly before her death.

French’s slaying, known as the “Red Lipstick Murder” case, went cold.

Three years later, following a Grand Jury investigation into the numerous unsolved murders of women in L.A., investigators from the D.A.’s office were assigned to look into the case.

Frank Jemison and Walter Moragan worked the French case for almost eight months, but they were never able to close it. They came up with one hot suspect, a painter who had painted the French’s house about four months prior to her death. He even dated her several times. The suspicious thing about the painter was that the day after Jeanne’s murder he had burned several pairs of his shoes. Also he wore almost the same size shoes as the ones that had left marks on French’s body.

Jemison and Morgan thoroughly investigated the painter, but he was eventually cleared.

There were so many unsolved murders of women in the 1940s that in 1949 a Grand Jury investigation was launched into the failure of the police to resolve the cases.

There haven’t been any leads in Jeanne French’s case in decades; however, there is currently a female LAPD detective assigned to Elizabeth Short’s murder case. Surprisingly, she still gets several calls a month. To this day there are people who want to confess to the Black Dahlia murder. So far she’s been able to eliminate each one of the possible suspects with a simple question: “What is the date of your birth?”

NEXT TIME: This post concludes my coverage of the Black Dahlia case for this year, but next time we’ll look at the victims of some of the unsolved homicides of women in Los Angeles that led to a Grand Jury investigation in 1949.

 

 

Did a Woman Kill the Black Dahlia?

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Sketch of Jane Doe #1 prior to her ID as Elizabeth Short.

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Max Handler with Det. Ed Barrett (in hat and glasses). [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Dozens of men had been interviewed as possible suspects in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the interviews had panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at various police stations around town; guys like Max Handler, a film bit player, who was the 25th man to claim he had murdered the Black Dahlia. During a lie detector test he admitted that his confession was false and that he “wanted to get away from a gang of men who have been following me constantly”. In the photo he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender.

Daniel S. Voorhies, a 33 year old army vet, also confessed to killing Short. He said that he’d had an affair with her in L.A. — the problem with his story was that at the time he claimed that he and Short were having a torrid affair, Beth was a very young teenager living on the east coast.

The local landscape was littered with crumpled up false confessions given by every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker — and most of the confessors were men; but not all of them.

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

False confessor, Minnie Sepulveda. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she had killed the Black Dahlia. She hadn’t.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said that she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia’ murder. Her story didn’t lead anywhere.

Even though none of the women who had confessed had been guilty, the cops were beginning to think that it wasn’t out of the question that Short’s slayer had been a woman. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.

The Herald-Express ran side-by-side photos of three infamous homicidal women who had been busted in L.A., Louise Peete (one of only four women ever to have been executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. She’d been busted for murder in the 1920s, did eighteen years, and following her release from prison committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.

dahlia_herald_16_women_killersWinnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi began to get a little ripe and leak bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

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Winnie Ruth Judd’s trunks. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

In 1922, Clara Phillips (aka “Tiger Girl”) murdered Alberta Meadows, the woman she suspected was a rival for her husband’s affections. She struck Meadows repeatedly with a hammer and, for the coup de gras, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder on top of the corpse.

Body of Alberta Meadows -- victim of Clara Phillips' wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

Body of Alberta Meadows — victim of Clara Phillips’ wrath. [Photo courtesy of UCLA]

So, the notion that a woman could be Short’s killer wasn’t far-fetched at all. The Herald-Express had featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere had previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was very open to the idea of a female killer. She abruptly shifted gears from identifying a young man as the slayer to “…a sinister Lucrezia Borgia — a butcher woman whose crime dwarfs any in the modern crime annals – are shadowed over the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.”

Obviously La Vere was an expert for hire, and if the Herald-Express editors had asked her to write a convincing profile of the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she’d likely have done it. Still, she made some compelling comments in her column for the newspaper.

“Murders leave behind them a trail of fingerprints, bits of skin and hair. The slayer of “The Black Dahlia” left the most tell-tale clue of all–the murder pattern of a degenerate, vicious feminine mind.”

Even more interesting was La Vere’s exhortation to the cops to look for an older woman. She said:

“Police investigators should look for a woman older than ‘The Black Dahlia’. This woman who either inspired the crime or actually committed the ghastly, unspeakable, outrage, need not be a woman of great strength. Extreme emotion or high mental tension in men and women give great, superhuman strength.”

Yesterday I compared some of Alice La Vere’s profile of the possible killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) — La Vere’s sixty-six year old profile held up rather well.

What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile of a female perpetrator is that she said that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years an older woman did become an integral part of a theory about the crime.

It is a theory put forward by L.A. Times copy editor and researcher, Larry Harnisch. Harnisch wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. Subsequently, Harnisch has done a lot more digging into the case and he has unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors. One of the doctors, Walter Alonzo Bayley, had lived in a house just one block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body had been discovered. At the time of the murder he was estranged from his wife who still occupied the home. Bayley had left his wife for his mistress, Alexandra Partyka, also a medical doctor. Partyka had emigrated to the U.S. and wasn’t licensed to practice medicine, but she did assist Bayley in his practice.

bayley_partyka2Following Bayley’s death in January 1948, Partyka and Dr. Bayley’s wife, Ruth, fought over control of his estate. Mrs. Bayley claimed that Partyka had been blackmailing the late doctor with secrets about his medical practice that could have ruined him.

There is also a link between Bayley’s family and Short’s. In 1945 one of Dr. Bayley’s adopted daughters, Barbara Lindgren, was a witness to the marriage of Beth’s sister, Virginia Short, to Adrain West at a church in Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles.

Harnisch discussed Dr. Bayley in James Ellroy’s 2001 “Feast of Death”. [Note: Be forewarned that there are photos of Elizabeth Short in the morgue.]

It is clear that a woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short; but could the woman have been Dr. Bayley’s mistress, Alexandra Partyka?  The chances are that we’ll never know.

NEXT TIME: Another confession, and another murder.

The Black Dahlia Case Goes Cold — Or Does It?

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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?