1/15/1947 - Taking a morning walk with her three-year-old daughter to a nearby shoe store through Leimert Park along South Norton Avenue in Los Angeles (between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street), at around 10:00 am, local housewife Betty Bersinger notices what appears to be a discarded and broken department store mannequin laying in the weeds of a vacant lot just off the sidewalk. It is not a mannequin however, but is actually the horribly mutilated body of 22-year-old murder victim Elizabeth Short ... a woman who will soon become famous in death as the mysterious Black Dahlia.
Stifling a scream when she recognizes she is looking at a corpse cut into two pieces, Bersinger grabs her daughter, runs to a nearby house, and immediately calls the police. Within minutes, Officers Frank Perkins and Will Fitzgerald arrive on the scene, and seeing the state of the body, call for assistance ... soon, the area is swarming with more cops, newspaper reporters, photographers, and ghoulish curiosity seekers that damage the crime scene and destroy evidence. The hideous condition of the body makes LAPD Captain John Donahoe assign the case to his top detective and his partner, Detective Sergeant Harry Hansen and Finis Brown. Investigation started, the as yet unidentified body of Short is taken to the Los Angeles County Morgue for an autopsy, and her fingerprints are sent to FBI headquarters in Washington D.C., with the help of the Los Angeles Examiner's "Soundphoto" equipment (in a squalid moment for the Fourth Estate, a newspaper reporter will pump Short's mother for info on her life by lying that she has just won a local beauty pageant ... only when he has what he wants does he tell Phoebe Short of the death of her daughter).
L - R ... Hansen & Brown
A very personal killing by someone, Short's body is completely severed at the waist and drained of all blood, at some other site the body has been washed, her face bears numerous slashings, including a "Glasgow smile" in which the corners of the mouth are cut all the way to the ears, there are cuts to her thighs and breasts, the intestines of the corpse are neatly tucked beneath her buttocks, the body is posed with hands over head, elbows bent, and her legs spread open, there are ligature marks to be found on the ankles, wrists, and neck, and there are bruises on the front and right side of her scalp consist with a beating to the head taking place.
The Investigation Begins
Name finally known using her fingerprints, police dig into Short's life to try and find who killed her and discover she was born in Boston in 1924 into a well-to-do family (until the Depression destroys the father's miniature golf course building business), she had a bad case of asthma and bronchitis as a child, spent time living in the widely separated communities of Miami, Vallejo, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, and had lost two lovers to WWII. An aspiring actress and model in a town full of such dreamers, it is noted that Short liked to drink, go dancing at night clubs, and had been missing for a week before her body was discovered in Leimert Park. Rumors that she worked as a prostitute, or that she had a child size vagina and couldn't have sex are shot down, but no one can stop William Randolph Hearst from seizing the opportunity to sell more papers by transforming the black tailored suit wearing women into a femme fatale seeking romance and success in Hollywood called the Black Dahlia (a recently released crime thriller starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake is called The Blue Dahlia).
1943 Mug Shot - Underage Drinking
Short and Army Major Matthew Gordon
Partying At Center
And sadly for justice, it all leads nowhere, becoming one of the most infamous unsolved murder cases in American history. Despite thousands of hours of investigation by hundreds of police officers (many borrowed from other nearby agencies), and scores of suspects being interviewed, no one will ever be arrested and brought to trial for the murder (there will be over 60 confessions to the crime over the years, none of which the authorities will ever find viable) and eventually the case goes cold ... but never entirely. Over the ensuing years since Short's body is discovered, newspaper, book, and screen writers will keep returning to the case ... along with a cottage industry of true crime books (many featuring folks accusing dead family members of being the killer), Lucie Arnaz will play Short on television, the crime will be featured in the book True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne, and in the movie version starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, James Ellroy's novel "The Black Dahlia" will be published in 1987, actress Mena Suvari will play Short in an episode of American Horror Story, the killing will play a role in the novel "Toros & Torsos" by Craig McDonald, famed author Joyce Carol Oates will write a short story called "Black Dahlia and White Rose," and Brian De Palma will make a movie called "The Black Dahlia" in 2006.
Former Suspect - Salesman Robert "Red" Manley
Gone but certainly not forgotten, Elizabeth Short is buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. Were she still alive, Short would be 92 in 2016!