Georgette Bauerdorf: An Unsolved Murder, Part 1

Non-Reading Material

The unrecommended reading list. Not shown: Donald Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files,” Scotty Bowers’ “Full Service,” Howard Blum’s “American Lightning,” Wikipedia, etc.

These are curious times to be a diligent researcher in Los Angeles history.

There is more of Los Angeles history around us, mostly in cyberspace, which may be the result of the downtown renaissance, where derelict and long-vacant buildings are being repopulated with young hipsters who are naturally curious about their still-gritty surroundings.

Unfortunately for the diligent researcher, very little of the history being put forth today is any good and some of it is ghastly.

Georgette Bauerdorf, an Unsolved Murder:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31

Binghamton Press, Oct. 16, 1944
Georgette Bauerdorf in the Binghamton Press, Oct. 16, 1944, via

And although all of this may seem unrelated to the 1944 killing of Georgette Bauerdorf, it is essential from the outset to discard the nonsense that has been written about this case, most of which can be traced to John Gilmore’s “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. This is especially true of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger,” which relies heavily on “Severed” in its treatment of the Bauerdorf case.

To cite one of the uncountable errors in  “Severed,” the book says that Georgette Bauerdorf knew Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, from their days at the Hollywood Canteen, utterly ignoring the fact that the Bauerdorf was killed in 1944, the canteen closed in 1945 and Elizabeth Short didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until the middle of 1946. The fact that “Black Dahlia Avenger” doesn’t catch this blunder speaks volumes about the caliber of its research. But this is no surprise for a book that claims on Page 3 that the LAPD investigated the Fatty Arbuckle case, which occurred in San Francisco.

But it isn’t merely “Severed” and “Black Dahlia Avenger” that are problematic. It’s fair to say that such “true” crime  books trade in lurid sensationalism (or in the case of “Black Dahlia Avenger” a bizarre “daddy did it” fixation) and are held to a standard for accuracy that is low to nonexistent.

The problem is that research, as everyone learns it in middle school, usually consists of going to the library, shoveling a shelf full of books into a wheelbarrow, running the whole thing through a literary blender and coming up with a book that appears to be more reliable, such as the treatment of the Black Dahlia case in John Douglas’ “The Cases That Haunt Us.” Granted, “The Cases That Haunt Us” is still a “true” crime book, but we find this same flawed approach to research in such highly regarded books Otto Friedrich’s “City of Nets” and even in Kevin Starr’s “Embattled Dreams.”

I say all of this now for the benefit of those folks who will undoubtedly wonder at some point: “But ‘Severed’ says … ” or “ ‘Black Dahlia Avenger’ says” or “Wikipedia says …” It is too complex to delve into the problems with these sources (indeed, debunking “Severed” could be a life’s work). The bottom line is that before we go any further, you have to discard anything you might have read about the Bauerdorf case in any of these awful books or in Wikipedia.

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, Black Dahlia, Cold Cases, Crime and Courts, Homicide and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Georgette Bauerdorf: An Unsolved Murder, Part 1

  1. B.J. Merholz says:

    I have never even heard of Georgette Bauerdorf so I am virgin territory for your series. Since you have rejected all previously published references to the case, I will be interested in learning of the new sources you have uncovered and that process.


  2. dlhartzog says:

    Good start, I’m looking forward to reading this. I have read the bizarre Black Dahlia Avenger, did not find it convincing.


  3. la peregrina says:

    I haven’t heard of the Embattled Dreams book. Is it in the trash because the book is bad or because the author is bad?


    • lmharnisch says:

      Kevin Starr has a huge reputation as the gold standard of California history. His book on the 1940s, however, does an appalling bad job of covering the Black Dahlia case.


  4. Riley says:

    Keep it coming, Larry!


  5. Benito says:

    Those books in the Bucket Of Shame remind me of Voltaire’s response to a nasty letter: “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your letter is before me. Soon, it will be behind me.”


  6. gabymemorial says:

    Severed is atrocious, I agree. But I think Steve Hodel has made his case, particularly since a cadaver dog made several alerts at the Franklin House. I know a bit about cadaver dogs and this is highly compelling evidence. I think Hodel’s theory will be borne out, as unpopular as that opinion might be here. Otherwise, love the blog, Larry.


    • lmharnisch says:

      That’s the problem: People only know “a bit” about the Black Dahlia case and about cadaver dogs.

      Unfortunately, very few folks have access to any reliable data on the Black Dahlia case, so they can’t know how much “Black Dahlia Avenger” has distorted the facts and suppressed everything that doesn’t fit the scenario. The average trusting reader cannot imagine the degree of fabrication and error in books like “Severed” or “Black Dahlia Avenger” or “Black Dahlia Files.”

      In addition, the claims about Buster the cadaver dog are highly exaggerated. Rather than saying his behavior is “consistent with” finding remains, it is blasted out as confirmation. Let me remind you that Buster’s purported “finds” at Barker Ranch were thoroughly disproved.

      It’s all a big con job. Really.


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