Black Dahlia Murder
Who killed the Black Dahlia? That is the question that has intrigued and mystified people, since the hideous crime was committed in 1947. The sensational nature of the murder, the unusual name of the case, and the lack of a solution to the case add to the mystery.
On January 15, 1947 a woman, by the name of Betty Bersinger, thought she saw a dummy lying in the grass. As she looked closer she realized that it was not a dummy, but the body of woman, severed and mutilated. The body had been severed into 2 halves and lay separated from one another, with the bottom half twisted into some kind of sexual pose. Her face and body had been slashed viciously. Rope marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck suggested a very nasty scene before she died. (Taylor)
By the time detectives got to the scene, it was very much alive with reporters, photographers, and a curious crowd of bystanders. The crime scene was being trampled by outsiders who were more than likely destroying the evidence. Captain John Donahoe, of LAPD’s Homicide Division, cleared the scene and the body was taken to the Los Angeles County Morgue. Fingerprints were lifted and sent to the FBI in Washington. Meanwhile, an examination of the body was started at the coroner’s office. It began to detail an incredible and horrifying variety of wounds on the woman’s body, although the official cause of death was “hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face.” (Carter)
Dr. Victor CelFalu assisted Dr. Newbarr, Chief Surgeon on the woman’s autopsy. A report, written by Dr. Newbarr, is quoted below:
There are multiple lacerations to the mid-forehead, in the right forehead, and at the top of the head in the midline. There are multiple tiny little abrasions and lacerations. The trunk is completely severed by an incision, which is almost straight through the abdomen. There are multiple crisscross lacerations in the suprapubic area, which extend through the skin and soft tissues. There are lacerations of the intestine and both kidneys. The uterus is small and no pregnancy is apparent. The tubes, ovaries, and cul-de-sac are intact. Within the vagina and higher up there is lying loose a piece of skin with fat and subcutaneous tissue attached. On this piece of loose skin there are several crisscrossing lacerations. Smears for spermatozoa have been taken. The anal opening is markedly dilated and the opening measures 1 ј” in diameter. There are multiple abrasions. Smear for spermatozoa have been taken. The stomach is filled with greenish brown granular matter, mostly feces and other particles, which could not be identified. All smears for spermatozoa were negative. It appears as though many of the laceration, including the dilation of the anal opening, were done after the woman’s death. (Newbarr)
The FBI came back with a match, to this brutal murder. She was a 22-year old woman named Elizabeth Short who was born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts on July 29, 1924. During WW II she had been a clerk at Camp Cooke in California, which is why her fingerprints were on file with the federal government. (Elroy) Once this information was discovered, the detectives tried to find out who knew Elizabeth Short. They thought this might lead them to her killer, but what they discovered lead them into a dark shadowy side of the city, searching for a woman called the Black Dahlia.
The investigation into the Black Dahlia murder was a high profile crime for the 1940’s. The police were harassed by the newspapers and the public for results. Because this was considered a sex crime, the usual suspects and perverts were brought in for questioning. Hundreds of other people were questioned and even Beth’s friends and acquaintances were questioned as the detectives tried to reconstruct her final days and hours. Every lead that seemed hopeful ended up leading nowhere and the police were further hampered by the lunatics and crazed confessions that were still pouring in.
The detectives retraced the Dahlia’s activities and found that, on January 8th, she had stayed the night in the Biltmore Hotel. As far as the detectives could tell Robert Manley, an acquaintance, was the last person to see her alive. They had gone out to several different nightspots and then had returned to the hotel. They had stayed the night and Beth was supposed to meet her sister the next morning. That meeting never happened. Six days later her body was found on the vacant lot. Manley was now the prime suspect. The LAPD put him through a very grueling interrogation and even administered a polygraph test twice. Still, they had nothing. There was no choice but to release him, because there was no evidence holding him to the gruesome crime.
Police now didn’t know what else to do next. They seemed to be at the end of their ropes. To make matters worse, they were inundated by calls from people who had known the Dahlia, if only by sight. It put a major strain on police personnel to follow up on the avalanche of information. To their dismay, detectives realized that tire tracks, heel prints, and other physical evidence from the crime site had not been captured.
Not long after the death, a package was sent to the “Los Angeles Examiner and other papers.” A note created from newspaper lettering said, “Here is Dahlia’s belongings,” and “Letter to Follow.” Inside the package was Beth’s social security card, birth certificate, photographs with various servicemen, business cards, and claim checks for suitcases she had left at the bus depot. Another item was an address book with Mark Hansen’s name stamped on it filled with names and addresses. The address book also had several pages torn out. When the police tried to lift fingerprints off the items, they found that everything had been washed in gasoline to remove any trace of prints. It created a staggering job for the police to trace every one of the names in the address book and on the business cards. In addition, the promised “letters to follow” arrived but contained no solid clues. With no other leads, the investigation was now stalled.
Fifty-six years later, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, is interviewing the author of Black Dahlia Avenger, when he is handed two Black Dahlia murder files by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. It was in the second file that Lopez discovered the dramatic confession of Dr. George Hodel that he had killed Elizabeth Short. In his article, Lopez revealed that in the same file an eyewitness actually placed George Hodel with Elizabeth Short.(23) Dr. Hodel’s former girlfriend identified Short from the photographs and told police she had been seen the two of them together. In a second visit to the book, Lopez announced “I’ve now been told that Los Angeles police are attempting to match prints of Dr. George Hodel, to material still on file from the case. (Hodel) In a follow up news article, Lopez revealed his own “confidential source” confirmed that the LAPD files linked Dr. George Hodel as a suspect in the Dahlia murder, as well as naming him in a second murder of his own secretary. LAPD would not release the name of the second victim, nor provide a date that the crime occurred. (22)
Steve Hodel, a retired LAPD homicide detective, is now adjusting to all this. His father, a respected Los Angeles doctor, may have killed the Black Dahlia. His father was associated with her and there was a confession. There was no prosecution probably because of his position of authority and also maybe authorities were bribed. (CNN News, 2003)
If the crime had been committed in today’s times, more than likely, it would have been solved. More sufficient DNA testing would have proven who the actual murder was and the crime scene would have been more properly taken care of. The killer more than likely would have given himself away, by his behavior, after the crime. He also may have become paranoid, fearing that he had left some clue behind, and would be obsessed with the case, reading all of the newspaper coverage of it and collectible clippings. It’s also likely that he would have kept some sort of souvenir, of the crime, and when he became convinced that he would not be found out, he would slip and would be caught. So, did Dr. Hodel really kill the mysterious “Black Dahlia?” That is the question that we will always wonder. We will never truly know because, Dr. Hodel is now deceased and he took his secret to the grave
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