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.

winnie_ruth_trunks_00021264

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?

beth_flower

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?

The Black Dahlia Case Continues — Aggie Gets Benched

dahlia_herald_8_beth photoOn January 17, 1947 only two days after Jane Doe #1 had been found butchered in a vacant lot, she was identified as twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short of Medford, MA.

Short’s mother, Phoebe, had been cruelly tricked by the Herald-Express into believing that her much loved daughter had won a beauty contest, only to be told minutes later than Elizabeth had been murdered. Phoebe told reporters: “I’ll do everything possible to see that the fiend is caught. He can’t be human.” She immediately hopped on the next plane for
Los Angeles.

From left to right is Adrian West, Short's brother-in-law; Mrs. Phoebe Short, mother; and Mrs. Virginia West, Short's sister and Adrian's wife. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]

From left to right is Adrian West, Short’s brother-in-law; Mrs. Phoebe Short, mother; and Mrs. Virginia West, Short’s sister and Adrian’s wife. [Photo courtesy of LAPL.]

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, Beth’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. DeRiver 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”.

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”.

Dr. De River

Dr. De River

People who had only a fleeting acquaintance with Elizabeth Short were interviewed 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”. Many people who claimed to be close to her said that she aspired to Hollywood stardom. The interviews yielded nothing of value in the hunt for Beth’s killer.

While the experts opined, Aggie was busy canvassing Southern California for leads. Underwood had been with the Herald-Express for twelve years when the Black Dahlia case broke wide open. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she said that she came across Elizabeth’s nickname when she was checking in with Ray Giese, an 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.”

dahlia_herald_8_headlineA few days passed and the mystery man known only as Red, was located. He was Robert M. “Red” Manley, a twenty-five year old married salesman. Early on the morning of January 20, 1947, Aggie interviewed Manley. The first thing she said to him was: “You look as if you’ve been on a drunk.” Manley replied: “This is worse than any I’ve ever been on.”

Red Manley being frisked prior to being held for questioning in the Black Dahlia case. [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Red Manley being frisked prior to being held for questioning in the Black Dahlia case. [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Aggie proceeded to tell him that he was in one hell of a spot, and advised him to come clean. Harry S. Fremont, an LAPD homicide detective looked over at Manley and said: “She’s right, I’ve known this lady for a long time, on lots of big cases, and I can tell you she won’t do you wrong.”

Manley began to tell his story, and Aggie was smart enough not to interrupt him. He told of having picked Beth up on a street corner in San Diego early in December. And he also revealed that the night he’d spent with Beth in a roadside motel had been strictly platonic. He concluded with: “I’ll never pick up another dame as long as I live.”

The story ran in the Herald with the headline: ‘Red’ Tells Own Story of Romance With ‘Dahlia’, and Aggie got the byline.

dahlia_herald_14_aggie_bylineThe morning following her interview with Red Manley, Aggie was unceremoniously yanked off of the case. She said that she was in the midst of reporting on the Dahlia when: “…the city editor benched me and let me sit in the local room without a blessed thing to do.”

The no-assignment routine resumed the next day as well. Aggie said that she sat for about three hours then started on an embroidery project! Anyone who came into the city room that day and saw Aggie with her embroidery hoop just roared with laughter. She kept it up until quitting time.

Day three — Aggie was prepared to do more embroidery when she was told by the assistant city editor that an overnight decision had been made — Aggie was to go back to LAPD homicide and continue her work on the Black Dahlia case.

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Red Manley reunited with his wife. He had some explaining to do! [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Aggie barely had time to pull out her notebook  before she was pulled off the case again! This time it was for good. An announcement was made that Aggie’s new assignment would be the city desk. She was flabbergasted. She had just become the first woman in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily!

Why had Aggie been removed from the Black Dahlia case? 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, so someone with enough juice had her promoted to keep her out of the way. That doesn’t make sense to me, as city editor she’d have been directing the activities of all the reporters working the case, and she wasn’t the sort of person who could have been bought. Nevertheless, the timing of Aggie’s promotion remains an intriguing part of the Black Dahlia case.

NEXT TIME: The Black Dahlia case goes cold — or does it?

The Black Dahlia

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Herald-Express photo of the crime scene. A blanket has been added to cover the victim, and her facial wounds have been removed. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The first thing that cops had to do following the January 15, 1947 discovery of Jane Doe #1  was to ID her, if they could. They rolled her prints, but were worried  about getting them safely to the FBI in Washington, D.C. Severe winter storms were grounding planes — the delay in getting an ID could be as much as a week — which is a lifetime in a homicide investigation.

Elizabeth Short's fingerprints.

Elizabeth Short’s fingerprints. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The relationship between newspaper reporters and cops was different in 1947 than it is today. Reporters generally had desk space in the local cop shop, and they often cautiously shared information with each other — a perfect symbiosis.

Warden Woolard, Assistant Managing Editor of the Herald, had a brainstorm about Jane Doe’s fingerprints. The paper had recently purchased some fairly new technology, a Soundphoto machine, that Woolard thought might be used to transmit the victim’s prints to the FBI. Woolard spoke with LAPD Captain Jack Donahoe about the idea and both agreed that it was worth a shot.

The prints were transmitted to the FBI, but they couldn’t read them. A Herald photographer, Russ Lapp, suggested reversing the lab process and using the prints as negatives. He then blew them up to 8×10, which made them large enough to be read by the specialists at the FBI.

Once the FBI had readable prints they quickly identified the dead girl as twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short who had, as far as they knew, last resided in Santa Barbara and had worked in the PX at Camp Cooke.

The Herald-Express had a major scoop, and the cops had ID’d the victim. But because of their crucial role in getting an ID on Beth Short, the dynamic of the relationship between the paper and the LAPD shifted a bit. Hearst had deep pockets and a stable of reporters who went out and picked up leads and valuable evidence that they were willing to share with the law — for a price. The quid pro quo was simple, the Herald would continue to dig up clues and be granted exclusives, and LAPD would then have access to the information uncovered by the paper. Captain Donahoe wasn’t especially happy about the arrangement, but there wasn’t much he could do.

Phoebe Short

Phoebe Short

A Herald re-write man, Wayne Sutton, was assigned to locate Short’s mother, Phoebe Short in Medford, MA. Sutton found her and was then tasked with breaking the news of her daughter’s death to her.

Using the cruel ruse that Beth had won a beauty contest, Sutton was able obtain lots of information about the dead girl. Phoebe loved to talk about her beautiful daughter. To his credit Sutton was miserable deceiving Phoebe, and with one hand over the mouthpiece of the phone he called his boss a “lousy son-of-a-bitch”.  Sutton finally exhausted the beauty contest sham, and his boss instructed him to tell her the brutal truth.

Phoebe would not believe that her daughter was dead, murdered. It was inconceivable. Local Medford cops were contacted and they had to go over to Phoebe’s house and tell her the story in person before she would accept it.

The Herald became ground zero for rumors and anonymous tips; and some of the tips proved true. An anonymous caller told reporters that Beth had kept memory books that she’d stuffed with photos of herself and friends, and the books were in a trunk. The trunk had gone missing during shipment from Chicago to L.A. The Herald wanted that trunk desperately. They found it at the Greyhound Express station in downtown L.A., and from that moment on the story was illustrated with photos of Beth, her friends, and lovers.

dahlia_herald_4_friends

On Friday, January 17, 1947, a photograph of Elizabeth Short appeared on the front page of the Herald-Express, and the caption read “The Black Dahlia”. She would never be called anything else again.

NEXT TIME: Unraveling the mystery of The Black Dahlia.