Georgette Bauerdorf: An Unsolved Murder, Part 4

Jan. 23, 1947, Elizabeth Short, Bauerdorf

Jan. 23, 1947: The Herald-Express publishes an article headlined “Werewolves Leave Trail of Women Murders in L.A.” (The obnoxious watermark is so that people who see this image after it has been swiped by Pinterest, skyscraper.com and all the Black Dahlia sites will know where it’s from).


One reason I’m devoting so much time to the Georgette Bauerdorf killing of 1944 is not because of what it is, but because of what it is not.

The Bauerdorf slaying is not in any way related to the Black Dahlia killing of Jan. 15, 1947. Armchair sleuths and dreadful “true” crime books have done much work to fuse the two crimes together over the years. Their narrative arcs are quite similar and follow the typical “life cycle” of an unsolved murder, but the details are entirely different.

I will revisit this issue at the conclusion, but it’s important to state from the outset that regardless of what people might have read elsewhere, these two cases are not related.

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

A fable is born

The 1944 killing of Georgette Bauerdorf was more or less forgotten – at least by the newspapers  – until January 1947, when Elizabeth Short was murdered. On Jan. 23, 1947, the Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express, the more lurid, sensational sister paper of Hearst’s morning Los Angeles Examiner, published a roundup of unsolved killings of women in the 1940s with the headline: “Werewolves Leave Trail of Women Murders in L.A.”

Note the use of “Werewolf.” The Herald frequently nicknamed murder cases and in reporting the Elizabeth Short killing, it used references such as the “Werewolf Murder,” the “Werewolf Killing” and the “Werewolf Slaying.” The Herald stubbornly continued using the “Werewolf” name even after other papers began referring to the killing as the Black Dahlia  case and sometimes used the names interchangeably. I mention this because in local folklore, Los Angeles newspapers nicknamed the Black Dahlia. The Herald nicknamed the case, but as the “Werewolf” murder.

The Herald’s Jan. 23 article is typical of what newspapers still do when covering an ongoing story. If there is a major flood, newspapers will publish a list of other floods. If there is a major wildfire, newspapers may publish a list of other fires. The same is true of riots, earthquakes, campus shootings and any other large calamity.

As the Black Dahlia case entered its second week, someone at the Herald decided to write a roundup of other recent killings, including  Ora Murray (1943), Gertrude Landon (1946), Rochelle Gluskoter (1946) and Georgette Bauerdorf (1944).

‘Severed’

The prime mover in tying the Bauerdorf and Black Dahlia cases together was the 1994 book “Severed,” by John Gilmore. It’s worth noting that Agness “Aggie” Underwood made no reference to the Bauerdorf case in her 1949 autobiography “Newspaperwoman,” although “Severed” claims she thought the crimes might have been connected.

Despite its popularity as a gritty, alt-crime history, “Severed” is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction, and that includes what it says about the Bauerdorf case.

“Severed” says that Georgette Bauerdorf and Elizabeth Short volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen and knew each other.

Which is nonsense: Bauerdorf, who volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen, was killed in October 1944. The Hollywood Canteen closed in November 1945. Elizabeth Short came to Southern California in the middle of 1946, arriving in Long Beach toward the end of July. Elizabeth Short never volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen and did not know Georgette Bauerdorf.

But some writers are unconcerned that this portion of “Severed” is impossible. This fictional story appears in subsequent books, including Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” and John Douglas’ “The Cases That Haunt Us,” and is all over the Internet.

The life cycle of an unsolved crime

The Bauerdorf and Black Dahlia cases share the narrative arc of an unsolved killing, which may be divided into these phases:

1) A young woman is brutally killed.

2) There is flurry of police activity as investigators seek each victim’s last male companion. For Bauerdorf, it is the “jitterbugging soldier” at the Hollywood Canteen. For  Elizabeth Short, it is the mysterious “Red.”

3) The investigation is deflated when the men are identified and eliminated as suspects because they have alibis.

4) The clues run out and detectives may be described in the newspapers as “frustrated” and “mystified.”

5) Investigators devise increasingly speculative scenarios as to what might have happened.

6) False confessions and crackpot mail cloud the investigation.

7) The case fades away, at least until there is another false confession, and then steps 6 and 7 repeat.

But if the story arc of the cases is similar, the crimes are nothing at all alike. Here’s a table to illustrate the differences.

Georgette Bauerdorf Elizabeth Short

Victim

Unmarried white female, 20

Unmarried white female, 22

Cause of death

Strangled with a piece of fabric

Shock and loss of blood from being struck in the head and slashed

Raped

Yes

No
Clothing Wearing pajama top Naked

Postmortem mutilation and dismemberment

No

Yes

Crime scene

Bathroom of victim’s apartment

Vacant lot in Leimert Park; victim was killed elsewhere

Crime scene cleanup

The killer apparently made an attempt to clean up blood

Unknown; victim was killed elsewhere

Post-crime activity

Killer steals victim’s car and abandons it. He is never heard from again

Killer calls Los Angeles newspaper; mails some of victim’s belongings to newspapers

To be continued

Advertisements

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, 1947, Black Dahlia, Cold Cases, Hollywood, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Georgette Bauerdorf: An Unsolved Murder, Part 4

  1. Anthony says:

    Well. so much for the phony links between Georgette and Elizabeth. Can’t wait to hear what’s next! Thanks

    Like

  2. Lee Rivas says:

    I can sense your investigative juices just fighting to be heard. (I know — bad metaphor) You’ve got my attention, though….

    Like

  3. Bob says:

    The third episode of Dragnet (radio version), broadcast in June of 1949 was about a crazed man on the loose in LA robbing, assaulting, and killing women. The episode was called “The Werewolf.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.