Due to an audio glitch on February 9th, this webinar has been rescheduled to February 16, 2021 at 7 pm.
Please join me for one of the wackiest, and most deranged, love stories in L.A.’s history.
There is always some madness in love. — Friedrich Nietzsche
On the evening of August 22, 1922, at about 10:30 pm, Fred Oesterreich and his wife Walburga, nicknamed Dolly, returned to their home at 858 North La Fayette Place after visiting friends in the Wilshire district.
The couple engaged in a bitter argument as they crossed the threshold of their home; however, it was not unusual for the heavy-drinking apron manufacturer and his wife to shout at each other. After over 25 years of marriage each was armed with a vast stockpile of grievances to hurl with deadly accuracy at the other.
Their evenings customarily ended when the combatants retired to their separate quarters to lick their wounds; but this night ended like no other before it. Moments after arriving home, Dolly found herself locked in her upstairs bedroom closet screaming for help. Fred lay dead in a pool of his own blood on the floor downstairs near the front door.
Publicly, the police attributed Fred’s murder to burglars. Privately, they were skeptical of Dolly’s account. With detectives unable to substantiate their suspicions with hard evidence—Fred’s case went cold.
In 1930, Fred’s killer came forward and revealed a bizarre tale of sex, murder, and attics.
Join me on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 7 p.m. Pacific time for a webinar about the strangest love affair in L.A.’s history.
If you can’t watch the live presentation, it will be recorded and available on demand via BigMarker.
This month is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the murder of Elizabeth Short–the Black Dahlia.
I will write about the case in the blog again this year, as I have every year since 2013. In addition to writing about the case, I am offering a webinar (see below) on four unsolved homicides (including Elizabeth Short) of women in Los Angeles during the 1940s.
The unsolved murders are tragic; but at least family members and other loved ones had a body to mourn and to lay to rest.
Disappearances haunt the living. Did the person leave by choice, or were they taken against their will? As the years pass, the unanswered questions echo in lonely rooms. Broken hearts never quite mend.
In 1949, two very different women vanished in Los Angeles.
On August 19, 1949, forty-eight-year-old socialite, Mimi Boomhower, known as the ‘Merry Widow’, disappeared from her Bel-Air home. When police arrived for a welfare check, the lights were on and a salad was left out on the dining table. One of Mimi’s dresses was laid out on her bed. Her car was still in the garage and there was no sign of a robbery.
Jean Spangler, a twenty-six-year-old dancer, model, and actress, left her home at 5pm on October 7, 1949. She was supposed to meet her ex-husband to discuss child support payments and then she was expected to be at a night shoot for a film. Jean didn’t arrive at either of her appointments.
At 7pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, we’ll discuss the homicides, disappearances, and why Los Angeles was such a dangerous place for women in the 1940s.
Elizabeth Short’s murder dominated the front pages of the Evening Herald & Express for days following the discovery of her body.
Even in a murder case as well-publicized as the Black Dahlia, the more time that elapses following the crime the fewer clues there are on which to report. The fact that the case was going cold didn’t dampen the Herald’s enthusiastic coverage. 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 as they, and the cops, waited for a break. Decades before the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was founded the shrinks and writers whose work appeared in the Herald 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. La Vere was introduced as “…one of the nation’s most noted consulting psychologists”. According to the newspaper, Miss La Vere 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 is surprisingly contemporary.
Here 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 with the analysis by retired FBI profiler John Douglas? Douglas suggests 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.
At 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 largely forgotten by all except the most avid mystery geeks (like me).
In late January 1947, Craig Rice was invited by the Herald to give her take on the Black Dahlia case. She summed it up 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.”
The police couldn’t catch a break. Not only were they stumped in the Dahlia case, another woman was viciously murdered on February 11th. The victim was not cut in half, but evidence at the scene suggested a possible connection.
Jane Doe #1, was found in a weedy vacant lot in Leimert
Park on the morning of January 15, 1947. The Los Angeles Times, reluctant
to tarnish the city’s image, relegated the shocking sex murder to page two.
Just because they balked at splashing the disgusting
details of the murder across the front page, doesn’t mean that the Times didn’t
indulge in lurid hyperbole worthy of a Hearst newspaper – note the headline
Los Angeles police detectives intended to send the victim’s
fingerprints via airplane to the FBI in Washington, D.C. as they always did,
but a massive storm in the east made it impossible. What could they do?
The Examiner owned a Soundphoto machine, an early
fax, and while it had never been used to transmit fingerprints everyone agreed
it was worth a try. The fingerprints were successfully transmitted and subsequently
identified Jane Doe #1 as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. The Examiner
expected something in return for their largesse. Because of the crucial role
they played in getting the identification, the Examiner leveraged a deal with
the police—their continued cooperation with the police in exchange for exclusives. LAPD Captain Jack Donohoe wasn’t overjoyed. He
didn’t relish the paper’s constant meddling, but he knew reporters would pursue
the case with or without police approval.
The deal was the lesser evil.
During the initial phase of the investigation many of the stories
that Beth told her family and acquaintances surfaced in newspaper articles, and
although much of the information has subsequently been disproved the lies remain.
On January 17, 1947, under the headline: “Mrs. Phoebe Short
Can’t Believe Slain Girl Hers,” the most persistent of Beth’s lies was repeated
by her mother. Phoebe told reporters, “She was working in Hollywood doing bit
parts for the movies until two weeks ago.
She said she left Hollywood (for San Diego) because of the movie strike,
which made it difficult to get work as an extra.”
Beth was pretty enough to work as a film extra, but there
is no credible evidence that she ever did.
In another letter, Beth told Phoebe she was working in an
Army hospital in San Diego, or in some connection with the armed services. It
was a lie.
To learn more about Beth, and maybe uncover a suspect, detectives
questioned dozens of people. No one seemed to know her well.
By January 18, Phoebe Short and her daughters were on their way to Los Angeles from their hometown of Medford, Massachusetts and the police were no closer to a solution to the crime.