Unsolved Murder of The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia murder has gone unsolved for over 65 years. It is still talked about among the ranks of police investigators to this day. It is a crime that is talked about and examined time after time. Who was this woman who became known as the Black Dahlia? Who could have done this terrible crime? The backdrop of this murder is set in California in the late 1940s. There has been much said and written about this case. There have even been some film adaptations of this infamous crime.

Elizabeth Short - Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short - Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short

Elizabeth Short was born in Massachusetts on July 29, 1924 and was the third of five girls. Her father in 1930 committed suicide by jumping off a bridge but was later to be found alive. For health reasons at the age of 16 she would live the winter months in Florida and she did so for three years. At 19 she went to live with her father in Vallejo, California where he worked in the naval shipyard. Later the two moved to Los Angeles but Elizabeth argued with her father so she moved out and struck out on her own. She ended up in Santa Barbara and in September 1943 she had a run in with the law for underage drinking. Because of her age she was sent back to Medford were he mother was living. Over the next few years she would go between Massachusetts and Florida working as a waitress. In Florida she met Major Matthew M. Gordon Jr. and supposedly he asked her to marry him in a letter that he had sent her. She would tell people that they had married and that she had a baby but lost the it. Major Gordon died in a plane crash and was found out that he had never married Elizabeth Short. This seems to be a theme that runs through Shorts life, of stretching the truth or just downright lying. This would later come back to haunt her since investigators where always trying to figure out who she really was and what the truth was.

After the death of Major Gordon Jr.in July of 1946, Elizabeth moved back to southern California to see a former boyfriend Lt Fickling. For the six months prior to her death, she remained in Southern California hopping from one place to the next. This too would make it hard for investigators to find reliable information about her since she never stayed anywhere long enough for people to get to know her. It also seemed she preferred to run around with different people each night and never really made any close friends. Elizabeth had the reputation as a party girl who lazed around all day and went out every night.

Mug Shot - SBPD 1943
Mug Shot - SBPD 1943

The Murder of the Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short’s body was found on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. The condition of her body was horrific. It had been severely mutilated, drained of blood and cut in half. Her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth towards her ears. Her body was posed with her hands over her head and her elbows bent at right angles. There were rope burns on her wrists and ankles either to subdue her and or possibly torture her. It was also said that her body was wiped clean, with very little blood at the crime scene. It also appeared that she had been sodomized and her sexual organs abused but she had not been raped. There was no sperm present on the body and most of the damage appeared to have been done post mortem. The coroner also noted that her stomach contents contained human feces. The site where her body was found was just a dumping ground for the body after her murder. The actually killing took place elsewhere. Where this was done the perpetrator would need privacy to carry out his gruesome act.

The police investigation was intensive and time consuming. Because of Elizabeth’s social life and moving around investigators had a lot of ground to cover and people to talk too. There was no stone left unturned and after all the work police had very little to go with. The week leading up to her murder remained a mystery with very little information coming forth about that time. Ten days after her body was discovered, her purse and a shoe were found in a dumpster at 1819th E. 25th street, several miles from the crime scene. A package arrived at an LA newspaper the Examiner nine days after Elizabeth's death. It reeked of the gasoline possible to destroy any evidence like fingerprints from the envelope. Inside the package were some of Elizabeth’s belongings, including her birth certificate, social security card, Matt Gordon's obituary, and an address book. The address book contained the names of 75 men, which police quickly tracked them down. They told investigators a similar story that they’d met Elizabeth on the street or in a nightclub. There would be 13 letters from the killer sent the police and the media. These letters are no longer to be found.


Those that top this list of most probable:

Robert Manley
Manly was the last known person to see Elizabeth Short alive. He was initially booked as a suspect, but released after he passed a polygraph test. Manley had a long history of mental health problems. In 1954 his wife committed him to a psychiatric hospital. That same year, doctors gave him a shot of sodium pentothal (truth serum) in another attempt to gain information about the Black Dahlia murder from him. He was absolved a second time. He died 39 years to the day after he left Elizabeth at the Biltmore.

Jack Wilson
John Gilmore fingers an alcoholic drifter named Jack Anderson Wilson in his book "Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder". When Gilmore interviewed him in the early 80s, Wilson supposedly divulged details about the murder that only the killer would have known. This included knowledge of a supposed vaginal defect, which for the record is not listed in her autopsy. A few days before his pending arrest, Wilson died in a hotel fire. The validity of the book has been questioned since no one seems to be able to track any of his primary sources.

Walter Alonzo Bayley
Los Angeles Times writer named Larry Harnisch in 1997 suggested yet another suspect: Dr. Walter Alonzo Bayley. Dr. Bayley was a surgeon whose house was located one block south of the lot where Elizabeth’s body was found. Bayley's daughter was a friend of Elizabeth Shorts sister Virginia. While the police believe Elizabeth's killer may have been a surgeon or butcher. Dr. Bayley was 67 at the time of the murder and had no known record of violence or crime. There was never a connection made between the two. For many this would have been a younger mans crime.

Mark Hansen
The 55-year-old Denmark native was the manager of the Florentine Gardens, a sleazy Hollywood nightclub featuring burlesque acts. Elizabeth was his guest for several months in 1946, and is rumored to have tried to bed her - unsuccessfully. Hansen's name was embossed on the address book that was mailed to the Examiner; it's unclear how the item fell into Elizabeth's hands. It may have been while she was staying at his home.

George Hodel
In 2003, a retired LAPD detective named Steve Hodel published book that would became a national bestseller. Hodel depicts his dad George Hodel as a tyrant and misogynistic pervert who held orgies at the family home and was put on trial for raping his 14-year-old daughter. He would be acquitted of these charges. After his father died in 1999, Steve Hodel acquired his father's private photo album, which contained two snapshots of a dark-haired woman. Hodel claims the woman was Elizabeth Short.

Cleveland Torso Murders

These murders took place in the 1930’s and some believe they are linked to the murder of Elizabeth Short. Another unsolved mystery.

My Two Cents on the Dahlia Murder

A line out of “Silence of the Lambs” where Dr. Hannibal Lecter ask Clarisse “what does one covet?” one covets, what it knows. The killer knew her whether it was a run in at some night club or elsewhere. I do believe he had some skill with a knife. What he did with the body would indicate some strength. The brutality behind it suggests anger or rage. Was it personal in some way? What he did to her face with carving a morbid smile on her face may indicate something along the lines of ruining her looks. Again seems to be personal. Dumping her body and leaving it out in the open like it was garbage suggest that he had no remorse for what he had done. Where she was found does not appear from the photos, that she was just thrown out but laid out on the ground on her back. Where he did the actual killing would be a place he felt comfortable and safe to do what he wanted without being discovered. It has never been released with what the police thought was used to cut her in half. Lastly, I do not think this was a fledgling murder and as some say "practice makes perfect". The murder of Short was done by someone with experience. The killer meticulously thought about what he was going to do down to the last detail.

*Note - crime scene and autopsy photos were not posted because they are graphic. They are out there on the Internet.

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Comments 6 comments

BrokenSunset 5 years ago

wow, i read about the Black Dahlia murder yesterday and now i want to do a report on it for school, im so into this now and i was shocked when i saw videos and pictures of Elizabeth Short, im amazed as of right now because its almost 64 years since that happened, and they still dont know who the murderer is :( she needs her justice, he needed to be found and put in prison......poor lady :'(.

crazybeanrider profile image

crazybeanrider 5 years ago from Washington MI

I Love this hub! This case has fascinated me forever, some of the worst crimes committed years ago that can never be solved. I often wonder if they had all the technology they have now if they would have been able to solve the crime against Miss Short.

GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

This case is so horrific/good Hub. I had nightmares after reading the Hodel Book on it. Check out my Hub on Tamar Hodel, who had her surgeon-father arrested for Incest after the killings.

David R Bradley profile image

David R Bradley 6 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

Such a fascinating case. I've read a few books about it. Although, I wasn't sold on it, I really enjoyed "The Black Dahlia Avenger" and the trip back in time. Nice Hub!

mkott profile image

mkott 6 years ago from Reno, Nevada Author

Tried to find out what Manley did for a living. Still looking. I still think it was someone very familiar with cutting like a butcher, surgeon, etc. Looking at the photos of her body at the scene and autopsy shows a clean cut, not hacked.

resspenser profile image

resspenser 6 years ago from South Carolina

Excellent hub but you seem to know quite a bit about this. Hmmmmm. What's your alibi? LOL!

I saw a little of the last movie about this case and all I know is what I just read on your hub. I would go with Manley as a suspect. A polygraph today is only as good as the examiner and back then the science was not as good.

Enjoyed it.

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