Black Dahlia: Can’t Anybody Get This Story Right?


Writers who are unfamiliar with the Black Dahlia case have a terrible time keeping the facts straight, as shown in the latest coverage by Christine Pelisek in the Daily Beast. There are the common mistakes and one can almost track them as they spread virally until they become “commonly known.” The incorrect middle name, Ann, for example, originated in the Los Angeles Times and has even infected the FBI file. You can be sure that people who refer to “Elizabeth Ann Short” don’t know what they are talking about.

But even though I have spent years researching the case and I thought I was familiar with most common mistakes, I don’t know where Pelisek got some of her nonsense.

Like this:

Now, almost 70 years after 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found posed and mutilated in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot, her throat slit and her body sliced in half at the waist and drained of blood, one man and his dog think they may have sniffed out a clue.

A downtown parking lot? Her throat was slit?

Utterly wrong.

No one has ever been charged with the gruesome slaying, despite years of police work, nearly 50 discredited confessions, and intense media attention—heck, there was even a movie. Original detective files have long been destroyed; theories linking the case to the Cleveland Torso Murders of the late 1930s and the Lipstick Killer murders in 1940s Chicago have come up short.

Leslie Dillon was arrested on charges of killing Elizabeth Short , but the case against him disintegrated before he could be arraigned. The original detective files are kept at LAPD headquarters and some of them were recently displayed at the Los Angeles Police Museum.

Of course, sometimes a writer is fed misinformation:

[Steve] Hodel, a crime writer and former LAPD detective who has written two books about the Black Dahlia case (a nicknamed bestowed by the tabloid press), is convinced that his father George Hodel, a surgeon, killed Short after a romance between the two turned ugly. He also believes his father killed close to a dozen women in the 1940s in his Hollywood home and then gruesomely posed them in different locales around the city.

The Los Angeles Herald-Express frequently nicknamed murder cases, but the Black Dahlia wasn’t one of them. The paper referred to the killing of Elizabeth Short as “The Werewolf Murder.” Elizabeth Short got the Black Dahlia nickname at a drugstore lunch counter in Long Beach as a riff on the current movie “The Blue Dahlia.”

George Hodel was never in practice in Los Angeles as a surgeon nor was he a member of the American College of Surgeons.

Did I mention that there’s nothing to show George “Evil Genius” Hodel and Elizabeth Short ever met?

And there is no record of a  killer in the 1940s who left posed bodies all over Los Angeles. It’s true that there were a number of grisly killings of woman in that era, but their bodies were not posed.

Aside from the doggy evidence, Steve Hodel’s own research points to some persuasive clues. Hodel started working on the case after his father died in 1999, leaving behind secret photos of a woman who looked like Short. After digging through an old grand-jury file, Hodel learned that the LAPD had placed bugs in his father’s house in February of 1950, two months after he was acquitted for molesting his 14-year-old daughter, Hodel’s half-sister “There were 18 detectives assigned to pick up Dad and take him down for questioning in the spring,” Hodel says. “While they were questioning him they sent out detectives who put microphones in the rooms. They did this for six weeks.”

What was claimed at the time was that two photographs found in Dr. George Hodel’s belongings showed Elizabeth Short. In fact, the photos look nothing like Elizabeth Short and one woman – Marya Marco – has since come forward to say that she is the woman in one of the pictures. Elizabeth Short’s family also says that the photos aren’t her, not that it makes any difference to the George “Evil Genius” Hodel franchise.

George Hodel’s house was bugged from Feb. 18, 1950, to March 26, 1950, 36 days.

In one of the picked-up conversations, George Hodel, who is speaking to an unidentified visitor, says: “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead.” (Police  investigated Hodel as a possible suspect in his secretary’s poisoning but later dropped the case.)

Nobody ever investigated George Hodel as a suspect in his “secretary’s poisoning” because she died of an overdose of sleeping pills in 1945 – way before the Black Dahlia case of 1947.

And I’m going to snip a bunch here…

Unfortunately, Buster can pick up almost every form of human decomposition, which means that he can be alerting on everything from crematory ashes, fetuses (George Hodel was known to perform abortions at his home), human blood, old human remains, you name it.

There is nothing to show that George Hodel ever performed an abortion, not at his home or anywhere. It’s too long to get into here, but I have done a lengthy study of the history of abortion in L.A. and there is no way George Hodel could have been performing abortions at his house.

Some of these mistakes are new and some of them originated in the George “Evil Genius” Hodel franchise in which he supposedly committed every unsolved killing in Los Angeles for decades – with police complicity because he knew which local powerbrokers had venereal disease. And yes, as ridiculous as that sounds, the argument is at the heart of the George “Evil Genius” Hodel franchise.

I guess this was supposed to be “cute animal story meets Jack the Ripper.” And don’t let the facts get in the way. But Los Angeles deserves better treatment than this junk. Much better.


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Black Dahlia, Hollywood, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Black Dahlia: Can’t Anybody Get This Story Right?

  1. JAMES says:

    I love the way you pick apart every bogus theory that’s out there. You are probably the world’s greatest expert on this case. We need an encyclopedia type book that will present all the true/false imfo that’s out there and show us what facts are truely known about this case.


  2. William Desmond Taylor says:

    Thanks for calling out the lazy, fact-free, non-stop stupidity that is much of so-called “journalism” (assuming was person is paid, unlike the scabs at Huffpost or the “interns”/scab labor that has replaced so many paid positions today, especially at media companies).

    I think your readers understand that this is a much more important problem that it might appear, just a lazy “reporter” repeating half-truths and lies about something that happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

    The sad thing is that today you can get away with anything – regurgitate the easy stuff and put your own crazy ‘spin’ and ‘interpretation’ on any story. Just make it up. In other words, they don’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about, as there are no editors or researchers.

    Online “news” won’t pay for editors or researchers or fact checkers. That is a thing of the past and newspapers are sinking beneath the waves. Why?

    The Harvard MBAs who have shredded journalism as a profession over the last 30 years say all you need is bloated talking heads who know nothing on TV and anyone can write news for a paper. For example, out of all the TV news channels, the channels never interview actual economists when talking about the economy, just politician-hacks and far-right tea party loons. This garbage is much cheaper and more profitable to produce than real shows with real journalists or real facts that just bum out the audience. Keep it fake and stupid for the stupid viewers says the Harvard MBAs who run everything. The MBAs who only work to destroy the long term survival of companies they run, and who have no concern or idea there was a public trust and public duty. The MBA who have ruined the economy, and fired everyone over 50, and made the big banks and bankers the unquestioned lords and masters of us all.

    Now watching or reading news seems like rape. There once was a free press, a vital part of our society called the fourth estate, or 4th branch of government. But now with FOX and the Daily Beast, the New York Times cheer-leading the US into the Iraq war, who needs news or facts? Certainly not a free and open democracy in the 21st Century says the greedy MBAs and bankers.

    The contempt for the public and their audience is what is so astounding at all these online hack sites and most mainstream media as well. That the public puts up with it is tragic and spelling the doom of democracy and democratic institutions. So yes, these lies and distortions and outright stupidity represents a deep sickness and a clear and present danger to each of us and our country.


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