Black Dahlia Murder Case : Female Body Found in Two Pieces

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Black Dahlia Murder Case
Elizabeth (Black Dahlia) Body


Elizabeth Short has been portrayed many ways in the six decades since her body was dumped in two pieces on an empty lot in Los Angeles: Manipulative playgirl. Aspiring starlet, Troubled soul. Above all, time has immortalized Elizabeth Short as the pin-up girl of Los Angeles Noir. The Black Dahlia. Fascination with her life, and especially her death — her gruesome, violent, unsolved murder — continues to this day.

The story of the unemployed 22-year-old waitress has inspired dozens of books, Web sites, a video game and even an Australian swing band. The quest to pinpoint her killer has become a hobby for generations of armchair detectives. The Los Angeles Police Department has all but given up hope of ever closing the Dahlia case; the department has more urgent crimes to investigate, and the killer has likely been dead for years. Yet, it is precisely the unsolved status of Elizabeth Short’s murder that gives it such an enduring allure.

Crime Investigation Department

The nude body of Short was found in two pieces on a vacant lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue midway between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street in Leimert Park, Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. It was discovered by local resident Betty Bersinger, who was walking with her three-year-old daughter around 10 a.m. Bersinger initially mistook the body for a discarded store mannequin. Upon realizing it was a corpse, she rushed to a nearby house where she phoned the police. Short’s severely mutilated body was severed at the waist and completely drained of blood, her body had been obviously washed by the killer. Her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears. Short also had multiple cuts on her thigh and breasts, where entire portions of flesh had been removed. Her lower half was positioned a foot away from her torso, and the intestines were tucked neatly under the buttocks.The body had been “posed” with her hands over her head, her elbows bent at right angles, and her legs spread. Near the body, detectives found a cement sack which contained droplets of watery blood, as well as a heel print on the ground amidst tire tracks.

The autopsy stated that Short was 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, weighed 115 pounds (52 kg), and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth. There were ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck. Although the skull was not fractured, Short had bruising on the front and right side of her scalp with a small amount of bleeding in the sub arachnoid space on the right side, consistent with blows to the head. The cause of death was hemorrhage from the lacerations to the face and shock due to blows on the head and face.

Following Short’s identification, reporters from the Los Angeles Examiner contacted her mother, Phoebe Short, and told her that her daughter had won a beauty contest. After prying as much personal information as possible from Mrs. Short, only then did they inform her that that her daughter was actually dead. The newspaper then offered to pay her air fare and accommodation if she would travel to Los Angeles to help with the police investigation. It was however a ploy, the newspaper used the trip to keep her away from police and other reporters to protect their scoop. William Randolph Hearst’s papers, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Examiner, later sensationalized the case: The black tailored suit Short was last seen wearing became “a tight skirt and a sheer blouse” and Elizabeth Short became the “Black Dahlia”, an “adventuress” who “prowled Hollywood Boulevard”. As time passed, the media coverage became more outrageous, with claims that her lifestyle had “made her victim material”.

On January 23, 1947, someone claiming to be the killer called the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, expressing concern that news of the murder was tailing off in the newspapers and offering to mail items belonging to Short to the editor. The following day, a packet arrived at the Los Angeles newspaper containing Short’s birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper, and an address book with the name Mark Hansen embossed on the cover. Hansen, an acquaintance at whose home she had stayed with friends, became a suspect. One or more persons would later write more letters to the newspaper, calling himself “the Black Dahlia Avenger“, after the name given to Short by the newspapers. On January 25, Short’s handbag and one shoe were reported seen on top of a garbage can in an alley a short distance from Norton Avenue, and then finally located at the dump. Due to the notoriety of the case, more than 50 men and women have confessed to the murder, and police are swamped with tips every time a newspaper mentions the case or a book or movie about it is released. Sergeant John P. St. John, a detective who worked the case until his retirement, stated, “It is amazing how many people offer up a relative as the killer.”

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