It’s a story as old as Tinseltown itself. Troubled, attractive small town girl, dissatisfied with her humble surroundings and station in life, decides to move out west and hit the big time in the motion picture game. Capitalizing on her god-given charms, an innate acting ability, and sheer determination, odds are it won’t take any time at all before the natural beauty gets noticed by the right person, and overnight, becomes a Hollywood legend. Elizabeth Short wasn’t the first woman to fit the aforementioned criteria and not become a movie star, and yet tragically she did turn in to a Hollywood legend – The Black Dahlia.
The nickname “Black Dahlia” is one Short garnered in death. She typically dressed in black from head to toe. She also was frequently seen with a flower tucked in her raven dyed hair, just behind her ear. A movie entitled, “The Blue Dahlia” starring Allan Ladd and Veronica Lake was popular at the time, and it is assumed the posthumous moniker developed from both the film’s recognition with the public, and Short’s theatrical every day appearance.
The immediate cause of death, according to the coroner’s report was hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of brain and lacerations of face, but that doesn’t paint much of the gruesome picture. Elizabeth Short was kidnapped, brutally tortured, and sexually violated over the last three days of her existence.
The murder of Elizabeth Short has baffled police and amateur sleuths for decades. The case is undeniably intriguing. Why was this pretty young woman killed in such a horrific manner, and what kind of monster would commit such cruel acts to a defenseless human being? As each new day passes, it becomes less and less probable this vile crime will ever be solved.
Short has been inaccurately described as a prostitute in a number of books and articles written about her. It’s probably fair to say she was a quite the opposite. Not that she didn’t enjoy the attention of men; Short developed physically at an early age, and understood the power she possessed over the masculine gender, but she is most likely better described by men who dated her as a “tease.” Some experts claim one reason Short should not be characterized as a loose woman, is she was ashamed of a condition known as “infantile genitalia,” (underdeveloped genitals in a full grown adult) though just like nearly every other piece of this puzzle, that theory has been deemed false by other so-called authorities on the subject.
What does ring closer to the truth is the melodramatic, but often financially strapped head-turner dated a number of men, but often it was more for the free dinner, which might be repaid by a peck on the cheek, and no more. In letters to her one-time military fiancée, there is evidence the two were waiting until the night of the honeymoon to consummate their love. Tragically, he was killed in a plane crash, and the event left Short mentally shaken to the point she would occasionally make up stories to friends in which she and her late “husband” had a child who died at childbirth.
Short has also been referred to as a dance girl, which brings to mind images of lurid lap grinding and lusty pole dancing, but she was a showgirl in a reputable supper club called the Florentine Gardens. (Yvonne DeCarlo, TV’s Lily Munster, also is alleged to have danced at the same club when she was starting out in show business.) It was at the Florentine Gardens that Short may have originally met a young Marilyn Monroe – the two were said to have been friends. Monroe had her first wedding reception at the club when she was just 16 years old. Was Monroe frightened of someone connected to the Florentine Gardens who also might be connected to the Black Dahlia Murder? Before the murder, Monroe was frequently seen at the dance hall, after Short’s death however, Monroe refused to enter the establishment. There is no way of knowing exactly what happened all those years ago, but what we do know is this:
On January 15, 1947, Betty Bersinger and her three-year old daughter were walking along the then vacant lots of L.A.’s Norton Avenue when the young housewife noticed something large and white among the overgrown weeds. At first she assumed it was discarded garbage, and then it seemed to be two sections of an unclothed department store mannequin. Upon closer inspection, the unsuspecting woman realized it was the severed body of a woman. Shielding her young child’s eyes, Bersinger ran to the closest house and phoned the police.
Officers Will Fitzgerald and Frank Perkins were the first to arrive on the scene, and the pair immediately noted the body had been sliced in two with surgical precision, scrubbed clean and drained of all blood. They also recognized the victim’s hair was freshly shampooed. The torso and legs of the deceased had been separately yet purposefully arranged in a chillingly seductive manner – arms raised over the shoulders, and legs spread obscenely.
Rope marks were found on her wrists, ankles and neck, indicating to investigators that she had been tied and tortured for days. Her nipples had been cut off of her breasts, and her mouth had been sliced with a knife from ear to ear – giving her the dehumanizing appearance of a ghoulish circus clown.
The autopsy later revealed more horrifying surprises. A tattoo of a rose from her left leg was cut sliced off and shoved inside her vagina along with clumps of grass. Contents of her stomach contained human feces, which it is surmised she was forced to consume, and her reproductive organs were missing, leading some to speculate perhaps Short was pregnant at the time of her death. Some theories suggest she was impregnated by either a high-ranking city official, or perhaps a mob boss, and refused to have an abortion.
The unfortunate woman also had signs of blunt trauma to her face and head, and was in all probability made to endure acts of depraved sexual acts. It is also believed the murderer committed similar sexual acts well after Short finally passed away.
Not long after the titillating story hit the press, dozens of “Confessing Sams” came out of the woodwork claiming they were the killer. The police had a long list of suspects, but sadly were never able to pin the horrendous deed on anyone. The case has gone officially unsolved and will undoubtedly always remain one of the darkest tales ever to come out of Hollywood.