Did A Woman Kill The Black Dahlia?

Sketch of Jane Doe #1

 

Police interviewed dozens of men in the murder of Elizabeth Short. None of the suspects panned out. A seemingly endless stream of false confessors appeared at 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 [400 men with tiny violins] who have been following me constantly”. In the photo, he looks to have been on a lobotomizing bender.

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

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

Every sad drunk and deranged publicity seeker falsely confessed to the murder. Most of the confessors were men; but not all.

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

A gal named Minnie Sepulveda stepped up and said that she killed the Black Dahlia. She lied.

Mrs. Marie Grieme said she had heard a Chicago woman confess to the Black Dahlia’s murder. It was another dead end.

Even though none of the women who confessed were guilty, the cops would not i possibility that Short’s slayer was a woman. After all, L.A. had had its share of female killers.

The Herald ran side-by-side photos of three infamous female murderers busted in L.A. Louise Peete (one of only four women executed by the State of California) was a serial killer. Busted in the 1920s, she served eighteen years in prison. Following her release, she committed yet another murder for which she paid with her life.

Winnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. Police arrested her in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of Hedvig Samuelson and Anne Le Roi leaked bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.

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 until the handle broke and, possibly to keep Alberta from rising from the dead like Lazarus, she rolled a 50 lb. boulder onto her victim’s chest.

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

The notion that a woman could be Short’s killer is not far-fetched. The Herald featured a series of columns written by psychologist Alice La Vere. La Vere previously profiled Short’s killer as a young man without a criminal record, but she was open to the possibility 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 editors had asked her to write a convincing profile identifying the killer as a mutant alien from Mars, she may have done it. She told the Herald:

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

Even more interesting is 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.”

If you compare Alice La Vere’s profile of the potential killer to a profile created by John E. Douglas, retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) — La Vere’s seventy-five-year-old profile holds up well.

What I find interesting about La Vere’s profile is her contention that the woman would be older than Short. In recent years, an older woman became an integral part of a theory about the crime.

Retired Los Angeles Times copy editor, Larry Harnisch, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times for the fiftieth anniversary of Short’s death. During his research, he unearthed an important connection between the body dump site near 39th and Norton, and two medical doctors, Dr. Walter Alonzo Bayley and Dr. Alexandra Partyka.

Dr. Bayley owned a house about a block south of the place where Elizabeth Short’s body was dumped. Bayley did not live there at the time of the murder. He separated from his wife in October 1946 and filed for divorce in Nevada.

Dr. Partyka arrived in Seattle, Washington on August 22, 1940 and ended up in Los Angeles in 1943. In that year, she appears in the California, U.S. Occupational License Directory as a physician or nurse. On July 22, 1943, the Board of Medical Examiners Record of Applications lists her as a medical examiner.

How Partyka and Bayley met is not clear, but by Short’s 1947 murder, the couple lived and worked together in Bayley’s downtown office.

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

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

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

A woman could have murdered Elizabeth Short. Was it Alexandra Partyka?

Ellroypalooza

On June 22, 2021, Writer’s Bloc and Chevalier’s Books hosted a virtual event celebrating the publication of James Ellroy’s new novel, WIDESPREAD PANIC.

I was thrilled to participate on a panel with James Ellroy, John Anderson, Grant Nebel and Zoe Dean.

John Anderson and Grant Nebel are Ellroy scholars and enthusiasts who created the Ellroycast, and have written extensively about pop culture, film, and television. Zoe Dean is an award winning short story writer of crime fiction.

I’ve known James for years, and was one of several people who worked with him on the book, LAPD ’53.

If you missed Ellroypalooza, or would like to see it again, here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Ellroycast — Black Dahlia

I was interviewed by Grant Nebel and John Anderson for Ellroycast, their podcast which examines all things James Ellroy.

Grant and John are big fans of Ellroy’s work. His novels, screenplays, articles and LAPD ’53, the photo essay book I was fortunate to work on with James and his co-author Glynn Martin.

Grant, John, and I talked about Ellroy’s novel, The Black Dahlia, vis a vis the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short. There is an astonishing number of misconceptions about Beth Short. Over the decades the myth has not just obscured reality, it has devoured it.

As a historian, I have an obligation to uncover and tell the truth. It isn’t easy with a case as infamous as the Black Dahlia.

Each time I read an article that begins with Beth arriving in Hollywood to pursue dreams of stardom I want to hurl the offending document across the room, or set fire to it.

Did Beth write to her mother and tell her she was seeking an acting career? Sure. Was it the truth? Emphatically no! There is no evidence that she went on a single cattle call, appeared as an extra, or did anything other than have the occasional Hollywood address.

Why, then, do the myths persist? Maybe because to some people they seem sexier than the truth. As far as I’m concerned Beth’s real life is more fascinating than the myth.

Her death reveals the dark side of the Greatest Generation. Beth’s story is not the trope for a wanna be Hollywood glamour girl. If you’re seeking a Hollywood tragedy metaphor, then read about Peg Entwistle who jumped 50 feet to her death from the “H” in the Hollywood sign on September 16, 1932.

Beth, and many other young, single women, coped with the chaos of Post-War Los Angeles by drifting from man-to-man, room-to-room and bar-to-bar. Los Angeles was a place where a fixed address was a luxury few could afford (even if they could locate a vacant apartment), and violent crimes committed by troubled vets frequently made headlines.

I’m glad that Ellroycast is visiting his world. His novels capture the zeitgeist of Post-War Los Angeles: the darkness and danger, the violence and the victims.

“I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them”
― James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia

Thanks again to Grant and John for inviting me to Ellroycast.

The Wilshire Prowler, Conclusion

bashor-doomed_picDonald Bashor, 27, confessed to dozens of local burglaries and to the bludgeon slayings of Karil Graham and Laura Lindsay. Under intense police questioning Donald didn’t admit to any further offenses, and as far as investigators could tell he’d revealed the extent of his crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Finnerty issued a subpoena for Officer Donald C. Wesley, who had shot and wounded Bashor during his attempt to evade capture. Among the others called to appear before the grand jury were Detective Lieutenant Jack McCreadie, and autopsy surgeons Dr. Frederick Newbarr and Dr. Gerald K. Ridge.

Bashor was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of burglary. The burglary charges stemmed from the looting of the apartment at 215 South Carondelet Street shared by Dorothy Cowan, Marcella Drews and Eunis Wingel. Lester E. Olson of 325 South Occidental Boulevard, was also burglarized by Bashor. Both crimes were committed about thirty minutes prior to the murder of Karil Graham.

The twenty-seven year-old killer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his trial was set for August 14, 1956 in Judge Allen T. Lynch’s court. Because of the insanity plea Bashor would undergo examination by alienists for the State and the defense before the trial.

There are often delays in murder trials and Bashor’s was no exception, it didn’t get underway until October 4, 1956.  The four alienists who examined Bashor deterined that he was sane when he committed the murders.

With the ultimate penalty on the table it was going to be a tough trial. But before the jury could be sworn in the defendant interrupted the proceedings to enter a guilty plea. Terrence Cooney, Bashor’s attorney, was as dumbfounded by his client’s move as was everyone else in the courtroom. Cooney didn’t want any part of placing a banana peel between his client and the gas chamber so he refused to go forward. Bashor fired him.

With Cooney still standing next to Bashor, Superior Judge Allen T. Lynch explained to the defendant that the law prohibits acceptance of a guilty plea in a capital case without benefit of counsel. Cooney must have decided to bend to his client’s will because Judge Lynch accepted the guilty plea. Along with the plea, Judge Lynch also accepted responsibility for determining Bashor’s sentence.

On October 16, 1956, Judge Lynch was ready to pronounce sentence. The courtroom was quiet as the judge began to speak. “This is the most difficult duty I have ever had to perform. For the last four days I have been able to think of nothing else. These were cruel, brutal killings. I find no mitigating circumstances.”

According to newspaper reports Judge Lynch appeared to have difficulty speaking. He paused for several long beats and then continued. “On counts one and three (the two murders) the court sentences you to suffer the death penalty. May God have mercy on your soul!”bashor-doomed

It took about a year for the California State Supreme Court to review the automatic appeal and affirm the death sentence in Bashor’s case.

On October 10, 1957, the night before his scheduled execution, Donald Bashor refused a last meal and then he slept from 1:05 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. When he awoke he had toast and coffee. He read a handful of letters he had recently received and then turned to the Bible.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor's story was the basis of a "Playhouse 90" episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor's slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb's "The Badge," a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times Senior Deputy George Coenen, left, and Sgt. Howard Earle, right, escort convicted killer Donald Keith Bashor on his trip to San Quentin, Oct. 25, 1956. Bashor’s story was the basis of a “Playhouse 90” episode by Jules Maitland. Bashor’s slaying of Graham also plays a prominent role in Jack Webb’s “The Badge,” a not terribly accurate book reissued in 2005.

Unlike many killers, Donald Bashor seemed genuinely remorseful for the murders. His last words were: “I’m glad my crimes are coming to an end. I am sorry I cannot undo the horrible things I did.”

Gas began to fill San Quentin’s death chamber at 10:03 a.m. and at 10:12 a.m. Donald Keith Bashor was pronounced dead.

EPILOGUE

There was something about Donald Keith Bashor that set him apart from many other killers. It may have been his movie star good looks, or it may have been the fact that he  sought atonement for his crimes in the gas chamber. Whatever it was, Bashor’s story became an episode of the prime time TV series PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958.  Bashor was portrayed by Tab Hunter and the episode was narrated by former Los Angeles Mirror columnist Paul Coates. The highly rated episode was directed by Arthur Penn who would later direct such great films as The Miracle Worker and Bonnie & Clyde.

The episode was not without behind-the-scenes drama. One of the sponsors for the  episode, entitled “Portrait Of A Murderer”, was the Southern California Gas Company. They wanted to eliminate Bashor’s trip to the gas chamber from the script. Producer Martin Manulis flatly refused and the episode aired as written.

Donald Bashor’s story also claimed the attention of ten-year-old James Ellroy.  In 1958, his father gave him a copy of THE BADGE written by TV cop Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on DRAGNET. Bashor’s case is the first one covered in the book. In large part it was THE BADGE that inspired Ellroy to become a novelist. It definitely sparked his interest in Los Angeles crime.  Now it’s time for a shameless plug — I was fortunate to work with James Ellroy, Glynn Martin, Megan Martin, Nathan Marsak, and Mike Fratatoni on the book LAPD ’53. The book project was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

EXTRA CREDIT

First, let me direct you to a clip from James Ellroy’s CITY OF DEMONS (2011) in which he glibly recounts the Bashor case.

Next, a far more serious scene from the PLAYHOUSE 90 production of PORTRAIT OF A MURDERER

Film Noir Friday: Bringing Darkness to Light [2006]

bringing darkness to light

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is BRINGING DARKNESS TO LIGHT–a documentary on film noir. James Ellroy, Eddie Muller, and other noir aficionados are interviewed–and there are some fantastic film clips.  Enjoy the film!

IMDB film summary:

Film Noir burrows into the mind; it’s disorienting, intriguing and enthralling. Noir brings us into a gritty underworld of lush morbidity, providing intimate peeks at its tough, scheming dames, mischievous misfits and flawed men – all caught in the wicked web of a twisted fate.

Film Noir Friday on Saturday: Dragnet [1966]

Harry-Morgan-jack-webbWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is DRAGNET 1966, starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.

I’ve show this feature before but I thought that since I’m attending the JACK WEBB AWARDS event tonight it would be appropriate to show it again. I’m looking forward to the evening. It will, once again, be hosted by James Ellroy.

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended to be the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as originally planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969.

The Internet Movie Database says:

Sgt. Joe Friday is called back from vacation to work with his partner, Off. Bill Gannon, on a missing persons case. Two amateur female models and a young war widow have vanished, having been last seen with one J. Johnson. In the course of tracking down Johnson and the young ladies, the detectives wind up with two different descriptions of the suspect, one of which closely resembles a dead body found in a vacant lot. But the dead man, later identified as Charles LeBorg of France, proves not to be J. Johnson, when a third young model disappears.

The story is based on the Harvey Glatman case which I covered in a series of posts.