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!
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”.
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.
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.
A 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.”
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.