Who Was Elizabeth Short?
Nicknamed "the Black Dahlia," Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress, was brutally murdered in Los Angeles, California, her body cut in half and severely mutilated. Her body was found on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot near Leimert Park. The Black Dahlia's killer was never found, making her murder one of the oldest cold case files in L.A. to date, as well as the city's most famous.
Short was born on July 29, 1924, in Boston, Massachusetts, the third of five daughters born to Cleo and Phoebe Mae (Sawyer) Short. Cleo abandoned the family when Short was 5 years old. At a young age, Short developed a strong affinity for cinema. By her teens, she had set her sights on becoming an actress.
The Black Dahlia Murder
By the mid-1940s, Short was living in Los Angeles, California, working as a waitress to support herself while dreaming of catching her big break into Hollywood's acting scene. Her chance at stardom, however, would never come. In January 1947, a horrific tragedy occurred: At the age of 22, Short was brutally murdered in Los Angeles, her body cut in half and severely mutilated. Her body was found, nude and posed, by a local female resident on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot near Leimert Park, on the 3800 block of L.A.'s South Norton Avenue. "It was pretty gruesome," Brian Carr, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who has long worked on the Dahlia case, later said. "I just can't imagine someone doing that to another human being." In addition to dissecting and mutilating her body, Short's killer had drained her corpse of blood and scrubbed it clean.
The case quickly became heavily covered by the media (her moniker, "Black Dahlia," became widely known shortly thereafter, as it was used more frequently than her real name by the press). "The case itself took on a life of its own," Carr said. "Early on, I think for two months it was front-page news in all the local papers every day."
An in-depth, lengthy investigation by the L.A.P.D. ensued, leading to a number of false reports—including several false murder confessions—and ultimately leaving detectives grasping at straws. The sole witness of the murder had reported seeing a black sedan parked in the area in the early morning hours but could provide police with little else. The combination of faulty witnesses and a lack of hard evidence surrounding the case greatly hindered its progress, and, despite numerous allegations and leads over the years, the Black Dahlia's killer was never found. Today, the Black Dahlia murder remains one of the oldest cold case files in L.A., as well as the city's most famous.
Recent Case Developments
In early 2013, the Black Dahlia case returned to the headlines. An article in the San Bernardino Sun detailed a more recent investigation of the case that was conducted by retired police sergeant Paul Dostie, author Steve Hodel and a police dog named Buster with a keen sense of smell—specifically that of decomposing flesh, which he was trained to detect. According to the Sun, the investigative team has uncovered incriminating evidence against Hodel's father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, who the younger Hodel has long believed to be the Black Dahlia killer. In February 2013, the team conducted an extensive search of the doctor's home, where Buster had previously detected the scent of human decomposition in several areas of the basement, according to reports. Following their search, soil samples taken from Dr. Hodel's home were reportedly submitted for lab testing.
Other evidence against George Hodel, according to his son, includes an old recording of a conversation between the doctor and an unknown person, during which Dr. Hodel allegedly stated, "Supposin' I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn't prove it now. They can't talk to my secretary because she's dead."
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