Search This Blog

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mystery: The Black Dahlia. A Tragedy Turned Mythical

The Case of the Black Dahlia, A Tragedy Turned Mythical

Here’s a simple question: how does someone solve a crime? “Evidence,” you say, “you need evidence to solve a crime.” You look for motive, a weapon, things left by the perpetrator. You learn about the victim if someone died. You check with people who knew the victim, people last seen with the victim, the whole nine yards. You start with a large group of suspects and narrow it down, sometimes you find the right person, sometimes not. Sometimes you missed something, sometimes very little could be done. 

Okay, now think about the many infamous American crimes, OJ Simpson, the Zodiac, Lizzie Borden. There are misconceptions of course but it’s not hard to find out what the evidence was. In the case of Borden: a young woman’s father and step mother were brutally murdered with an ax, said woman had a negative relationship with the two and there were some issues involving inheritance. The primary suspect was the daughter, who after a long trial was found innocent but doubt still lingers. Also something something lesbian conspiracy theory, an idea that will come up later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves now.  

OJ: a famous football player’s wife is brutally murdered along with another man she was seeing. Said player was known to be aggressive and had previously beaten her. There is a bloody glove, a car chase, and a lack of other suspects. There is a long drawn out trial where the prime suspect is found innocent but doubt lingers.  

Zodiac: a man goes around San Francisco and neighboring areas, shooting and stabbing various people while sending cryptic messages and puzzles. Many people are suspected but nobody is found guilty and the crime spree stops by the 1970s. These statements are all broadly speaking, true. All of these crimes are technically unsolved, although with Borden and OJ many people strongly believe the courts got it wrong.  

Now finally we have what is arguably the most famous unsolved murder in US history, or at least the most famous unsolved Los Angeles murder. A beautiful girl who is an up and coming actress, brutally tortured and murdered. She is found cut in half in a vacant lot. It later comes out that she was promiscuous, perhaps even a lady of the night. The prime suspect is a creepy doctor obsessed with a surrealist artist who is a suspect in several other murders. He is almost arrested, but flees to another country never to return. The press nicknames this poor soul the Black Dahlia and it passes into legend as what fate awaits young aspiring stars.  

There is just one problem, unlike the other summaries, almost everything I just said is bullshit. Unlike many famous criminal cases, like Jack the Ripper, the objective truth is fairly difficult to obtain. Odds are, your understanding of the Dahlia case is wrong in some form. It’s not your fault, the facts started to become blurry not long after her tragic death. With each retelling the truth becomes hazier. By now the woman who was once named Elizabeth Short has more in common with Elizabeth Bathory then Nicole Brown Simpson. Less a human, more a legend. Her case is still open to this day, staffed by LAPD officers who were born years after the murder took place.  

There has never been a good book written about the subject. There has never been an accurate movie. There has never been a truthful television show. There has never been a fully honest video game. Every secondary source you can obtain is flawed, which makes researching this crime, especially if you don’t live in the LA area, incredibly difficult. I can’t claim to know all the facts and I’m sure I made some mistakes. With all that said, tonight let’s talk about the tale of Elizabeth Short, at least to the best of my knowledge.

Preface: almost all of the information in this post comes from former LA Times writer Larry Harnisch. He is the foremost expert on the history of LA and the Black Dahlia case. He has been writing a book on the subject for almost 20 years. If he is reading this, God bless your heart Larry, you are a great writer. I pray that book comes out soon. Here is a link to his old site. Here’s one to his current site.

A photo of Larry Harnisch. From Tyler and I, thank you for your assistance and kindness. It means the world to us!

Post War LA

The date is January 15th, 1947. The United States has only recently won the Second World War and across the nation, times are changing. Los Angeles in particular and its 1.9 million citizens were experiencing many rapid changes. The House of Un-American Activities Committee is beginning to investigate Hollywood for communists. With many GI’s coming home from Germany and the Pacific, there is a large housing shortage. This was partially caused by the war forcibly stopping various housing projects. On Norton Avenue, the lots in the 3800 block between Coliseum and 39th were empty outside of some bushes and garbage. Popular films at the time include the eventual Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and the moving post war drama The Best Years of Our Lives. Crime is also rising despite the Los Angeles Police Department and its 4333 sworn officers doing their best. on this day it is reported that 47 burglaries, 13 robberies, and two murders happened. One of these murders will never be forgotten.  (1)

At around 10:30 in the morning on a bright and sunny day, a woman living on Norton Avenue named Betty Bersinger was pushing a stroller containing her 3-year-old daughter Anne. She was going to a repair store to pick up some shoes for her husband. The neighborhood was mostly nice outside of the undeveloped area. As she walked through the garbage covering the sidewalk near the vacant lots, she saw something. She saw a body, pale as milk. It almost didn’t look human, it was also in two distinct segments. Bersinger ran from house to house, looking for someone to let her in to call the police. She was eventually let into a house by its concerned owner. She called the LAPD and told them there was a murder before hanging up and continuing on with her day.  (2)

LAPD officer Wayne Fitzgerald was one of the first men on the scene, he didn’t even think he was looking at a corpse at first. He said quote, "The first thing we thought was that it was a mannequin. That someone was playing a trick because there was no blood. Then we realized what the hell we had. We started calling all our supervisors, telling them this was something big."  (3)

Now it’s important to note that unlike nowadays, the press had a very friendly relationship with the LAPD. Often they were often given badges and free beer during cases. For the many citizens in the LA area, news came from four sources. The conservative Los Angeles Times, the Herald-Express, the Daily News, and the largest being the William Randolph Hearst owned Los Angeles Examiner. Despite popular belief, the crime scene was well handled. The press was only allowed to get within a certain distance of the body.  

The body itself was in terrible shape, flies were buzzing around it constantly. She had been carefully posed, with her legs spread apart and her arms positioned over her head. She was in two pieces, cut in half around the navel. She had also been drained of her blood, there wasn’t a drop of it to be found on the corpse. 

Who was the first reporter on site has become a fairly contentious issue. Unsurprisingly many reporters claimed to be the first person to see the soon to be infamous crime scene. Both Examiner reporters William Randolph Fowler and Agness “Aggie” Underwood both claimed to be the first. In all likelihood it was Marvin Miles of the LA Times based on photographic evidence.  (4)   

By this time the crime scene was full of detectives carefully investigating the area as the press looked onward. Among the officials were detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown, men who would soon be leading the investigation. This press continued following the case with countless reporters watched the autopsy of the body in the basement of the LA Hall of Justice.  The autopsy was performed by doctor Fredrick Newbarr and doctor Victor Clealu. It was noted that the entire body had been washed to destroy evidence such as fingerprints. The severing of the body between the second and third lumbar vertebrae had been done very cleanly, none of the internal organs had been touched. Something only a skilled surgeon would have likely been able to do. There was notable bruising around her head, consistent with repeated blows. The neck, ankles and wrist all showed ligature marks, indicating she had been tied down. There were lacerations to the right breast. The gruesome lacerations to her face extended for a few inches from the lips. Death was hemorrhage brought on by the lacerations. She was likely unconscious from the blows when this occurred. The mutilation occurred post mortem. Doctor Newbarr gave an educated guess that the mutilations had been done in a bathtub.   (5)

Fredrick Newbarr.

The fingers were still so wrinkled from the water that it was difficult to get a fingerprint for identification. Eventually a set of prints was lifted and sent to the FBI for identification. To speed up the process, the LAPD went to the Examiner and asked to use its state of the art Soundphoto, a primitive fax machine more or less. It took only a day for the fingerprints to match someone in the database: a 22-year-old woman by the name of Elizabeth Short.  (6)

Elizabeth Short

Elizabeth Short, known as Betty to her friends, was born on July 29th 1924. She was the third of five girls born within an eight year period. Her mother Phoebe helped raise the children while her father Cleo built miniature golf courses for a living. She spent most of her life in Medford Massachusetts, famous for Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. The Great Depression hit the Short family quite hard and Cleo’s miniature golf business dried up fast. In 1930 he abandoned the family wholesale, forcing Phoebe to get a job as a bookkeeper.

Elizabeth with her mother, Phoebe.

Betty her schoolmates said she was a pretty, nice girl that almost everyone got along with. She was an average student at best, usually scoring Cs and Ds in class.  She gave up on school after her freshman year, it wasn’t her thing. She suffered from asthma much of her life, she also had a scar on her back from surgery related to emphysema.  (7)

When Betty was 15, her mother sent her to Florida to help with the asthma and to avoid the harsh New England winters. She would come home to Medford during the spring. In 1942, out of the blue, she happened to run into her father, who was now living in California. By now she was 18 so she moved to Vallejo California to be with her father who now worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay. Betty and her father didn’t get along, she would never stay home for long, always wandering somewhere. In 1943, Betty left her father and moved to Lompoc to work at Camp Cooke as a clerk. Due to it being a government job, her fingerprints were taken. This job didn’t last for long, she then moved to Santa Barbara, where on September 23 she was arrested for being at a bar. Betty for the most part never drank, so she was likely arrested for being underage. After being booked she befriended the jail matron Mark Unkefer, who thought she was a nice young girl. She then was then sent back to Medford. (8)

In 1944 she moved back to Florida and fell in love with Army Airforce Officer Matthew Martin Gordon Jr. He died on August 10th 1945 when his plane crashed. His obituary stated that Betty had proposed to him and he had said yes. Gordon’s family claims this never happened and Betty simply asked for money after his death.  (9)

Betty moved to Los Angeles in 1946 after meeting another military man, Army Air Force Lieutenant Joseph Gordon Flicking. She seemed to wander around LA, living at three locations for the last six months of her life. The home of Florentine Gardens owner Mark Hansen at 6024 Carlos Avenue, the Hawthorne Hotel on Orange Drive, and the Chancellor Apartments at 1842 N. Cherokee.  (10)

Despite popular belief, Betty never worked as a waitress in LA. In fact she didn’t work at all for the last six months of her life. During this time she received the nickname that would forever be associated with her. Patrons at a drugstore on Long Beach drew comparison to her raven black hair and the popular Veronica Lake noir film the Blue Dahlia which had premiered in April. The nickname? She became known to the patrons as the Black Dahlia.  (11)

In late 1946 took a trip to San Diego and moved in with the French family. They didn’t much like her. They said she spent her days moving around, picking up men and going to nightclubs. Even in her youth many people had described her as a bit of a tease. She was also a frequent liar, concocting stories of losing a son in order to gain sympathy.  Although its often said she had aspirations to be an actress, something even Phoebe mentioned, there is no evidence that she actively tried to attending casting calls. Betty had also never even been in a play her whole life. At the time, she was described as constantly getting into trouble, although still usually described as a kind woman. She couldn’t afford dental visits, her teeth were badly decaying, so much so that she would often plug her teeth with wax. 

One of the men she ran into was a redheaded married salesman named Robert Manley, nicknamed Red. He seemed to get along with her. He even arranged a job interview for her, something she never showed up to.

After the holidays, the French family kicked her out. She asked Manley for help, saying her sister Virginia was visiting LA.  Manley paid for a motel room in Pacific Beach for Betty. He himself didn’t stay in the motel. Manley drove her to Los Angeles, checked her suitcases at the bus stop and took her to the Biltmore Hotel on 506 South Grand Avenue. It was January 9th 1947. Manley waited for some time expecting Betty’s sister to arrive. She never did so he left around 6:30 PM after making sure Betty was alright. What follows next is documented in the District Attorney’s file on the case.    (12)

“She was observed alone by employees of the Biltmore until approximately 10 p.m. Jan. 9. Mr. Studholme of the Biltmore Hotel stated that he observed the girl get up from the lobby as if she had been signaled by someone on the outside and walk out of the Olive Street entrance. He last saw her walking south toward 6th Street on Olive, on the west side of the street. Investigators were unable to determine whether she made a phone call while there or not, but witnesses state they observed her on several occasions go toward the telephone booths.”  (13)

After leaving the Biltmore, Elizabeth Short was not sighted again for six solid days. What occurred during the so called lost week is unknown and she wasn’t seen again until the morning of the 15th in Leimert Park.

                                                The Investigation

With her identity now known to the public, a preverbal arms race began between all four major newspapers. Newspaper men and women were sent all across California to with the various people who had crossed paths with Betty. Her nickname was found first by rewrite man Jack Smith after talking with Arnold Lander, the owner of the drugstore in Long Beach. This wasn’t the original name for the crime however. The Herald originally called it the Werewolf Murder; the name Black Dahlia only caught on later. The Examiner however outdid all of the papers when it came to underhanded techniques. In what is almost single handedly one of the most disgusting tricks pulled by journalism in the 1940s, the Examiner broke the news to Phoebe Short by saying her daughter had won a beauty contest. The plan was sprung by rewrite man Wain Sutton and editor Jimmy Richardson. Phoebe spoke at length about her daughter, giving the newspaper all the information they needed. When they got what they wanted, Richardson figured it was time to tell her the truth. Phoebe at first refused to even accept that her child had been murdered. It was only when local Medford police contacted her did the horrible truth sink in. On January 20th Phoebe had to identify her child’s remains.  (14)

It didn’t take long for both the press to come across the name Red Manley, and seeing how he was one of the last people seen with Betty, he quickly became the prime suspect. He was tracked down to his home in Eagle Rock and interrogated rigorously by Harry Hansen on January. Many people figured the case was already over, it had to be him. Against all expectations, he passed a polygraph test and was cleared. He was soon sent back home to try and patch up the relationship with his wife. Even though the police deemed him no longer a suspect, some people continued to doubt his innocence, neither his 1954 commitment to Patton Hospital nor his death, ironically on January 9th 1986, fully satisfied everyone. That one day haunted him his whole life.  (15)

With the prime suspect cleared, police continued to check door to door hoping to catch a break in the case. Some of the theories the police were working with were a bit of a stretch, like that since Betty had checked her items in at the bus station, she must have stayed with a woman. This obviously meant that she was a lesbian, and had possibly been murdered by one! The 1940s were hardly the most progressive era, depictions of lesbians as murderous monsters bore as much realism as Reefer Madness did to marijuana, but it was believed at the time. This belief led to some time being spent on the gay community with nothing to show for. Betty’s suitcases were eventually recovered. They contained mostly personal items such as photos and letters. She had frequently written to her mother. At the same time, dozens of people were confessing to the murder, often times it was people not even from California. All were lies of course.  (16)

Just as it appeared that all hope was lost, a letter was received on January 24th addressed to the Examiner. It contained no written words, merely letters cut from various ads pasted together. All it said was, “here is Dahlia’s belongings.” Inside the letter were the bus ticket for her suitcases, her birth certificate, her Social Security card, various personal belongings and an address book. At least 75 people were listed including club owner Mark Hansen. As the month drew to a close, none of those 75 people turned out to know much or was the killer. The last major break when Betty’s purse was found in the trash along with her shoes. More letters were received but all were deemed fake. Police captain Jack Donahoe, head of the homicide division, even had to admit that the case was at a standstill. Outside of a prolonged and wrongheaded investigation of a bellhop, this was more or less the end of the Black Dahlia case.  (17)

Detectives were slowly pushed to other more pressing cases. Harry Hansen and Finis Brown continued to investigate the case until their retirement. Various law enforcement individuals continued to work the case from time to time, including legendary LAPD  detective John P. “Jigsaw John” St. John. Even weeks before his death in 1995, he was still looking into leads and such, trying to bring closure to Elizabeth Short’s story. The case to this day is technically still active, and LAPD detectives are still in charge of it to this day. The case is so old that the detectives in charge were all born after the murder took place. Detective Brian Carr was in charge of the case until 2009. At this time it’s currently headed by detective Mitzi Roberts. Due to the age of the case and the high likelihood that the killer has long since died, it’s very likely that the case of the Black Dahlia will never be solved.

A photo of John P. "Jigsaw" St. John.

                                                Myths and Legends

Before we get to the theories, we need to talk about misinformation. As I’ve said before, there is a lot of false information out there and I need to go over just a few. If I had to mention every myth, well we’d be here all year. 

First off, many people claim Elizabeth Short had the middle name of Ann. This is false, she had no middle name. This came from a 1970s LA Times article.  

Did she live in Los Angeles prior to 1946? She did not. It’s commonly listed to give credence to the theory that her murder was a part of a string of murders along with women, like Georgette Bauerdorf and Jeanne French. Those murders were not connected and anyone claiming it is a liar.

Did the press nickname her the Black Dahlia? Common myth but it was something made up during her lifetime. The press wanted to go with Werewolf Murder, but Black Dahlia became more popular, simple as that.

Was Elizabeth Short an actress who worked as a waitress on the side? Here’s a tricky one, she said she wanted to be an actress, but she said quite a few things that are verifiably false. With no evidence to speak of, we have to assume it was a lie. Same with being a waitress. She worked as a waitress in Florida, but when she moved to LA she never got a job. She may have told people she was a working waitress but it was again a lie.

Was she a lesbian, a prostitute, or both? Well the lesbian angle came from the misguided part of the investigation and common misconceptions of lesbians at the time. The prostitute part is surprisingly a more recent addition. While some of the papers claimed she wore sheer black clothing and was very suggestive, nobody called her a hooker until the 1977 novel True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne.

She was tortured for hours with cigarettes and forced to eat feces. She also couldn’t have sex due to infantile genitalia. While she sadly suffered greatly, the autopsy report didn’t mention burn marks or anything forced down her throat. The cigarette story comes from a widely reported story involving a girl who disappeared a few weeks after the murder. The feces and genitalia story came from the 1994 John Gilmore novel Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder and feces is the word to describe that thing. It’s a completely useless garbage novel filled with fake sources and made up facts. It’s been famously described as 25% mistakes and 50% fiction and I have nothing else to say about it. There are more outrageous books, but few have proven as influential outside of one which we’ll get to. 

I could go on about more and more myths but I feel this gets the point across well enough. Be very careful where you get your sources from as there are dozens of rabbit holes you can fall into and some are very deep and very insane. Now finally to our list of suspects, spoilers but most of them are ridiculous and shouldn’t be taken seriously.  (18)


First off, this is not a comprehensive list of all the suspects. Anyone even remotely associated with Elizabeth Short was considered a suspect, so the list is over 100 people. The only true primary suspect was poor Red Manley and he was proven innocent beyond a shadow of doubt whether you like it or not. This is only a roundup of the most interesting or amusing suspects. They also have to be real people, so made up suspects like Jacob Edward Fisk and Ed Burns will not be included.

Norman Chandler

Chandler was the publisher of the LA Times from 1945 to 1960. It’s claimed he impregnated Betty while she worked as a prostitute for the infamous Hollywood madam, Brenda Allen, so he got his friend, mafia legend Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, to kill her. I hope I don’t need to explain why I don’t take this too seriously. That is the shortest summary I can give as there are so many connections and conspiracies that I cannot in good faith write. It was proposed by writer Donald Wolfe in his 2005 book “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul, and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles”. It sucks, I got nothing clever to say, mostly because everything clever was said in this magnificent breakdown of the book. Trust me, this isn’t what happened to Betty.  (19)

Joseph A Dumais

Dumais was a 29-year-old soldier who confessed fairly early on to having murdered Betty. It was briefly considered a breakthrough leading to it being on the front page of the LA Times. Alas it turned out he was stationed at Fort Dix on January 15th so he clearly didn’t do it. He continued to claim that he killed her years later but nobody took him seriously. Of interesting note, this was the only time for 50 years that the Black Dahlia was front page news for the LA Times. The fairly conservative paper had mostly stayed out of the newspaper arms race.

Mark Hansen

Hansen was the owner of the Florentine Gardens and he did know Betty fairly well. His name was on the address book and his girlfriend Ann Toth didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about him. He was suspect far longer than other people the LAPD investigated. While this does look good at first, Hansen had no history of violence or a criminal record. Any claim to mafia connection is a lie. He also didn’t have any medical skills whatsoever, so he couldn’t have cut up Betty with the precision the murderer had.

Jack Anderson Wilson

Wilson was a petty criminal and drunk who was extensively interviewed by John Gilmore for his book Severed. Wilson died in a fire on February 4th 1982 and not long after Gilmore started to claim he had very strongly implied he had killed Betty. Gilmore then claimed he passed this information to John P. St. John but Wilson died before he could be arrested. Your probably skeptical as all hell and you should. St. John and the FBI all strong denounced what Gilmore said, but Gilmore only made this worse by tying Georgette Bauerdorf’s murder to Wilson. In all likelihood, Gilmore took advantage of the fact that this man was now dead and he couldn’t be sued. It’s about what I’d expect from John Gilmore. Fun fact, since John Gilmore is dead, he cannot sue me for calling him a hack!

Editor’s note: you’re a hack, Gilmore.

Leslie Dillion

Dillion was a 27-year-old bellhop who had been a mortician’s assistant for three weeks. He was fingered by Paul De River, a man who claimed to be a psychologist but was in reality somewhat of a fraud. Dillion read about the Dahlia case from a tacky true crime magazine that mentioned De River. Dillion wrote to De River talking about sadism and then mentioned the name Jeff Connors.

De River.
De Rivers, being the genius he was, suspected that Jeff Connors was an alternate personality and that Dillion had murdered Betty. He more or less broke rank with the LAPD detectives and took it into his own hands to arrest Dillion. This led to a horribly drawn out court case that eventually led to him being found innocent. It was, to put it bluntly, a massive disaster on a scale rarely seen by the LAPD. Dillion even received a settlement from the city of Los Angeles, it was that much of a mistake. While Dillion was named as the killer in the Rap Sheet, most of the interest in him comes from the recent 2017 novel “Black Dahlia, Red Rose” by Piu Marie Eatwel. Unfortunately neither the Eatwel novel nor anyone else can get over two major problems. One, it was firmly proven that Dillion was in San Francisco at the time of the murder. Second, although it’s true that he worked with a mortician, his job as assistant was driving the hearse, not cutting up corpses. Even if he did, being a mortician doesn’t give you the skills to perform the cuts done to Betty, you would have to be a surgeon. Which speaking off…   (20)

George Hill Hodel Jr.

Oh boy! A lot has been said about this man. He is by far the most talked about suspect in the case of the Black Dahlia. Hell he is the only suspect with his own individual Wikipedia page. Hodel was a music prodigy in his youth and later a doctor. As a doctor, he ran a clinic for poor African Americans in the segregated section of town called Bronzeville. He lived in the famous Sowden house from 1945 to 1950. The house was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hodel had an interesting history with women, up to his daughter Tamar accusing him of molestation—an accusation he was found not guilty of, mostly because Tamar frequently would accuse people of molestation. Hodel moved to Hawaii in the 1950s and later moved to the Philippines. He briefly came back to the United States in 1990 and passed away in 1999 at the age of 91. 

Now does this sound like a man who has been described as the most evil man in history? No? Well his son, Steve Hodel, sure doesn’t think so. Steve was an LAPD detective, strongly believes his father was the killer of Elizabeth Short. Also of various other women in LA. Also the Lipstick Killer. Also a Filipino serial killer.  Also the Zodiac. No I am not making any of those statements up. See, depending on what time of day or maybe lunar alignment, he either found two pictures of women that looked like Betty in his basement, or he was told by a woman named Janice Knowlton. 

A picture of Janice.

Knowlton claims her father George Knowlton molested her and killed Betty with a hammer along with George Hodel. She was a woman with a tenuous grip on reality who sadly committed suicide in 2004 so I won’t be mocking her. Speaking of mocking, those two pictures Steve found that were supposedly of Betty aren’t her at all. One photo was identified as another woman, while the  other unknown woman was identified by Betty’s surviving family as 100 percent not her. Though don’t let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story. Just ask Steve! He sometimes claims the photos aren’t Betty… but they pointed him in the right direction, so it’s okay.

Daddy shot the sheriff. Buy my new book.

While it's true that Hodel was a suspect and the police bugged his house, everyone was a suspect and in the end the surveillance went nowhere. Hodel was well aware of the bugging and said outrageous stuff like saying maybe he did kill Betty and referenced his secretary Ruth Spaulding who had killed herself years before. Hodel also had no surgical skills. Despite all this, Steve Hodel wrote a book in the increasingly popular “daddy did it” true crime genre in 2003 called Black Dahlia Avenger. He claimed his dad knew Betty well and killed her to impress a famous artist named Man Ray. Also that the entire LAPD conspired to cover up the incident because Hodel was powerful. 

This theory was sadly taken seriously by some, including Stephen Kay, the head deputy district attorney. Now I won’t mock Kay, he is a law enforcement veteran that has dealt with many real life monsters like Charles Manson and Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker (PS Bittaker died on December 13th of 2019 so hurrah!) so I’ll just politely disagree with him. Not everyone agreed with Steve’s conclusions. Brian Carr couldn’t give less of a damn about this theory and frankly thought Steve was full of it.

Steve’s pet theory that his dad was Satan only got worse in 2009 with the release of Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel. He claimed Hodel had been behind the Lipstick killings back in 1945 and 1946. The case that famously inspired Robert Ressler to join the FBI was supposedly solved when 18-year-old William Heirens confessed to them. Unfortunately I strongly suspect Heirens was innocent and the criminal justice system screwed him over from 1946 all the way to his death in 2012. This does not mean I believe Hodel was the killer of three women, including 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan. Far from it, Steve’s evidence is that there is a street in LA named Degnan. That’s it. Riveting. The Zodiac stuff?  I’m not even touching that with a 20 foot pole. Let’s just say it’s a stretch. 

Editor’s note: the supposed proof is that the lowercase writing between Dr. Hodel and the Zodiac are a match. No writing samples have ever been found of Dr. Hodel to the best of my knowledge. In the 1970 cipher sent by the Zodiac, it supposedly gives the killer’s name as “H O D E L”; the method to crack the cipher being Ogham, an ancient Celtic alphabet. This is patently false as the Zodiac’s style was never through ancient European means. In fact, many think the final ciphers he sent are complete nonsense and don’t mean anything. Steve Hodel is reaching so far for answers, he’s reaching back in time to high-five Jesus.

Steve continues to post new quote “evidence” to this day and the story of supervillain George Hodel was made into a miniseries in 2019 with the TNT series “I Am the Night”. Despite having some talented individuals like Patty Jenkins and Chris Pine, it was fairly dreadful. So do I think George Hodel killed more people than Elizabeth Bathory or Harold Shipman? OF COURSE NOT!  

I actually think he was a good man that tended to people who had nobody else to turn to. He may have had a thing for women, but even Martin Luther King Jr. had his issues. Also Steve if you're reading this, piss off. Maybe in between making up evidence, you can guest star in another episode of Ghost Adventures, where freaking Zak Bagans comes off as more sane.  (21)

Orson Wells and Woody Guthrie

Now this is just a complete farce, but some people with very active imaginations believe that the legendary Citizen Kane director and the man behind This Land Is Your Land murdered Elizabeth Short. Guthrie, believe it or not, was actually on the suspect list. He sent some rather explicit letters to a woman whose sister went to the police. Obviously, they didn’t find any evidence, so he was never charged with murder, although they did try to nail him with charges of illegal material being sent via the mail. I guess someone really wanted destroy that tree hugger Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.  

Wells, on the other hand, is even more extreme. Mary Pacios, a girl who lived in Medford at the same time as the Short family, claims in her book “Childhood Shadows: The Hidden Story of the Black Dahlia Murder” that Wells had the skills to perform the murder because of his magic tricks. She also points to the fact he left the country not long after the murder. I’m sure that wasn’t a coincidence at all. Pacios also claims that Wells had a temper and that one of the mannequins in the film “Lady From Shanghai” had lacerations exactly like the ones on Betty. This theory seems to be discounting the fact Wells wasn’t known for abusing women. Hell he seemed to have really loved his wife Rita Heyworth, so much so that he felt genuine sorrow for her when she began to suffer from Alzheimer’s. He said this to Merv Griffin on his show the night before Wells himself died, he called Heyworth quote, "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived … and we were a long time together—I was lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life." 

A photo of Mary Pacios.

Yeah that sounds like someone who could cut a woman in half. Right, yeah, I don’t think anyone considered reasonable should believe that everyone’s favorite Paul Masson wine drinker and hippie folk singer were homicidal maniacs.

Now all of these suspects seem pretty unlikely right? Well I was saving the best for last, someone who actually has an honest to god chance of being the killer.

Walter Alonzo Bayley

Bayley was a well-respected surgeon who lived a mere block away from where Betty’s remains were found. His daughter, Barbara Lindgren, was actually good friends of Betty’s sister, Virginia, so much so that she was present at Virginia’s wedding. Bayley died in 1948 and it was later found out he was suffering from a degenerating brain condition. A condition that could cause normally passive people to become very violent. After his death, Bayley’s wife claimed that his mistress knew a horrific secret and after a court battle, she made the main benefactor. Although Bayley was 67 at the time, this could support the theory that Betty being cut in half was for convenience to move the body and nothing else. As a surgeon, Bayley’s specialty included operations such as mastectomies, removing breasts. As a pastime, Bayley and his mistress would eat dinner while watching footage of surgeries and autopsies. Also of note was that Bayley had a son who was tragically hit by a car on January 13th. Betty used to claim she lost a son to gain sympathy. It’s possible that Betty had gone to a decently wealthy man looking for help and may have set him off, which would explain why her face was in such a terrible state as these types of injuries are most common when the victim knows the perpetrator. Bayley’s death in 1948 would also explain why no other crime in LA history looks even remotely similar; it wasn’t the act of a serial killer. I won’t say for a fact that Walter Bayley murdered Elizabeth Short, he’s long dead and cannot be taken to court and of course not all these assumptions are provable. Though it sure looks a lot more likely than the Cleveland Torso Killer acting up again or George Hodel did it shortly before shooting JFK, RFK and MLK. (22)  (23)

                                            Respect and Decency

Finally, before we go, I’d like to ask the viewer for something. I want you to not think about Elizabeth Short as just some sexy murder victim. She was an attractive young woman but she was clearly more than that. She had a loving caring mother and four sisters. Most people that knew her thought she was a decent person. She wasn’t a famous movie star, she wasn’t some down on her luck prostitute with a heart of gold. She was simply a human trying to scrape by. She is deserving of far more respect then she gets. She doesn’t deserve to be a Halloween costume for terrible teenage girls. She doesn’t deserve giant bus tours showing people where she died. She doesn’t deserve assholes trying to find the spot where she was found and recreating her death pose. She doesn’t deserve tasteless depictions in film, television and in video games. She doesn’t deserve to have a beer named after her at the Biltmore; she didn’t even drink for Christ's sake. She also very much doesn’t deserve dozens of terrible quality books making up outrageous lies about her in order to sell more copies. Her mother suffered enough of that at the hands of Hearst journalists. Most of all, she was more than the legend of the noir character known as the Black Dahlia. So please, whether its January 15th, July 29th, or just a normal day, please be respectful. If you can, make a donation to Shelter Inc in her memory, or to the First Baptist of Medford, Mass. We won’t  be able to turn back time and erase all the myths attached to this case, but we can at least try and help others in need along with doing our best to tell the truth. It’s the least she deserves.  (24) (25)

                                            Elizabeth Short, July 29, 1924 – January 15, 1947.  Rest in Peace.

1 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 7  

2 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 8 

3 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 9

7 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 4  

9 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 13

12 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 14

14 Larry Harnisch, paragraphs 11 and 12

15 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 15

16 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 16

17 Larry Harnisch, paragraph 17

18 Larry Harnisch, entire section of myths and legends

23 James Elroy’s Feast of Death


  1. It's got to be either Bayley, or Hodel. This required surgical precision, and while Hodel Jr's son or whatever believes his daddy is one of many monsters, the fact remains he may not be wrong, at least in the case of Short.

    Or it could be Bayley. Hell, Walter has the skill but motive is shaky beyond crazy. Hodel has motive too, and has a history of molestation. He is the obvious suspect, and perhaps it's cliche to say sometimes the obvious suspect is the right one. On the other hand, he is obvious and Bayley is fairly disturbing in his own right. I mean, no normal person watches autosopies and such over dinner. I just don't know.

  2. You say it was established conclusively that Leslie Dillon was in San Francisco at the time of the murder. You are completely inaccurate on that point. In fact, the District Attorney investigation made a point of saying they could not account for his whereabouts between January 8 or 9 to January 15 the precise period Elizabeth Short was missing. Also, the police could account for his being in SF from January 16 up until January 22. But not after January 22. On January 23 the killer posted a letter to editor Richardson and Short's shoes and handbag were dumped the same day. Anyway, your statements are overly simplistic. Also, Walter Bayley had end-stage Alzheimer's a severe dementia. Having worked as a nurse, I can tell you that Bayley would not have been capable of tying his shoelaces. With Alzheimers all cognitively functioning is impaired. People with this condition lose the ability to organise and plan. Also, this was sadistic rape judging by the bruising of Short's inner thighs. It was a violent rape. A 67-year old man in the 1940s simply wouldn't have it in him to carry out a rape, bearing in mind he had end-stage dementia. Stephen Karadjis

  3. You say it was established conclusively that Leslie Dillon was in San Francisco at the time of the murder. You are completely inaccurate on that point. In fact, the District Attorney investigation made a point of saying they could not account for his whereabouts between January 8 or 9 to January 15 the precise period Elizabeth Short was missing. Also, the police could account for his being in SF from January 16 up until January 22. But not after January 22. On January 23 the killer posted a letter to editor Richardson and Short's shoes and handbag were dumped the same day. Anyway, your statements are overly simplistic. Also, Walter Bayley had end-stage Alzheimer's a severe dementia. Having worked as a nurse, I can tell you that Bayley would not have been capable of tying his shoelaces. With Alzheimers all cognitively functioning is impaired. People with this condition lose the ability to organise and plan. Also, this was sadistic rape judging by the bruising of Short's inner thighs. It was a violent rape. A 67-year old man in the 1940s simply wouldn't have it in him to carry out a rape, bearing in mind he had end-stage dementia. Stephen Karadjis