The Life and Death of the Black Dahlia
There is a horror that comes with famous murderers, but there is different kind of horror that comes with famous victims. When the child of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped, the nation held its breath. Similarly, when the body of Elizabeth Short was discovered, Los Angeles seemd to freeze. Short was called the Black Dahlia, a mysterious woman with an unhappy past. Her murder was a celebrity cause that ripped open the dark side of Hollywood in many ways.
Short was born in 1924 in Massachussetts. Her childhood was mostly idyllic until her father lost his money in the stock market crash of 1929. After that, her father disappeaered. He was never seen again, and most assumed that he had committed suicide.
Short was fostered out to various relatives, dividing her time between Masschussetts and Florida. When she hit the age of 19, however, she headed to California. She was staying with relatives until a fight caused her to move out Santa Barbara. There she was in regular trouble with the law for underage drinking and disorderly conduct.
Short could only find irregular work, and the light of her life was a US Army Air Force officer named Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr. They intended to marry, but then Gordon died in an aviation accident. Devastated. Short spent the next six months in Los Angeles, never knowing that she was drifting closer to her end.
In the middle of January in 1947, Short’s body was located in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. A woman and her three year old daughter saw what they first thought were the pieces of a mannequin in the ditch. After a moment, the horrified woman realized that what she saw had been a real human body. She pulled her daughter away and ran to telephone the police.
Of course by then it was too late for Short. She had been sawed in half at the waist, but the ground was completely clear of blood. This told the detectives that someone had killed her at some other location, drained her blood, and moved her. Whole pieces of her body had been cut away. Her intestines were meticulously stacked under her buttocks. Her legs were spread, and her hands were posed behind her head. More than one authority of the day uneasily noted how provocative the pose was meant to be.
The autopsy revealed that she had been tied before she died, though no ropes were ever found. She had been badly beaten before she died.
In an act of mediated cruelty, reporters located Short’s mother, who was working on the east coast. They told her her daughter had won a beauty contest, and did not reveal Short’s death until they had learned what they needed to know from her.
The press gave Short the name “the Black Dahlia,” a play on a famous movie of the time called The Blue Dahlia. They painted a picture of her as a fallen woman, a vampire who had prowled the dark streets of Los Angeles until she drew a predator from the depths.
The case received an enormous amount of attention. Just a few weeks later, the killer called the editor of one of the newspapers. The mysterious caller offered to send in pieces of Short, verifying what he had done. Indeed, the next day, the paper received Short’s address book, photographs, and birth certificate, things that had been missing from her home and her person.
Over the years, more than fifty people have confessed to the killing of Elizabeth Short. Some others have volunteered famous celebrities of the day and even close relatives. James Ellroy, a famous crime writer, believes that his own mother was killed by the same man who killed Elizabeth Short.
Today, the crime goes unsolved, and if Elizabeth Short ever knew her killer, she has taken that knowledge with her to the grave.