Black Dahlia and the Hotel Cecil: L.A.’s Noir Folklore

The Guardian
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The Guardian has jumped into it again with the Black Dahlia case, finding that it can’t resist the yarn about Elizabeth Short “rumored to have had her last drink at the hotel bar.”

The Guardian, in case you don’t recall, was the latest to jump on the incredible tale of retired LAPD Detective Steve Hodel and his ridiculous claims about his father, Dr. George Hodel, as portrayed in “Black Dahlia Avenger,” “Black Dahlia Avenger II,” “Even More Black Dahlia Avenger – With Entirely New Evidence,” “Kid’s Letters to the Black Dahlia Avenger,” “The Black Dahlia Avenger Diet” and  “Most Evil,” which claims that Dr. George Hodel was Zodiac.

Actually, no. The last known location of Elizabeth Short was the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel. There is nothing to show that she was ever anywhere near the Hotel Cecil. After the killing, the manager of the Dugout Cafe, which was next to the Hotel Cecil, claimed that he had seen Elizabeth Short. But that sighting, like so many others during her “lost week,” was never confirmed.

The urban folklore linking Elizabeth Short to the Cecil is a recent invention, but it has shown a remarkable ability to become embedded in the Los Angeles mythos.

And really: Is anyone surprised that bad things happened at a cheap hotel on the fringe of skid row? Seriously?

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Another Good Story Ruined, Black Dahlia, Cold Cases, LAPD. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Black Dahlia and the Hotel Cecil: L.A.’s Noir Folklore

  1. Dane says:

    What is your theory on who killed Elizabeth Short? Living in Cleveland, I’ve heard much about Dr. Francis Sweeney who was the lead suspect (by a pre-Chicago Elliot Ness) in the decapitation/murders of about 13 people in the 30’s, known here at the Cleveland Torso Murders. There has been some connection between Sweeney being in Los Angeles at the time of Short’s murder….probably just more wild fairy-tails!

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    • lmharnisch says:

      The Cleveland Torso Killer remains a popular theory in the Black Dahlia case, although it was discarded by the original investigators decades ago.

      Here’s the concise answer: The Cleveland killer dismembered victims for purposes of concealment and disposal. Whoever killed Elizabeth Short wanted her to be found and selected a location that ensured she would be seen.

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  2. B.J.Merholz says:

    I spent my first night in Los Angeles in 1950 at the Hotel Cecil.
    I think the huge painting on the north wall advised: Rooms $6. (Is this where Motel 6 got the idea?)
    We had picked up a hitchhiker on our way in and let him take the floor in our room. During the night he stole my buddy’s wallet and disappeared. I guess we were lucky.
    Thanks, Larry: I love historic L.A.

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  3. mandymarie20 says:

    Hotel Cecil clearly wants to cash in on local lore. The Black Dahlia is such a famous case which seems to allow an endless amount of people to make money off of it regardless of how outrageous the claim or ‘connection’.

    Every hotel has some dark history. Every hotel has some crime, illness, death, suicide, etc. Even the ‘best’ hotels have death and crime. Some is more salacious or involves historical figures which makes it more of story and frankly, gets more press and business.

    If your hotel doesn’t have something to get people in the door and are desperate, I’m sure the legacy of The Black Dahlia is just too tempting. Since it was not solved, anyone and their mother could be brought forward as a suspect. We don’t know where Elizabeth Short went after the Biltmore, so people could say they went anywhere and no one could dispute it. It’s a free pass for people and organizations to do whatever they want to exploit poor Elizabeth. It just proves people will do anything for money.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      At some point, newspapers quit covering suicides under the belief that the stories encouraged more people to kill themselves. Based on reading years of old newspapers, I would say that some poor individual has jumped off or out of nearly every tall building in downtown Los Angeles and in Hollywood. The landmark that really has the reputation is “suicide bridge” in Pasadena.

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  4. Santos L Halper says:

    I’m surprised the Guardian didn’t mention the unsolved death of Elisa Lam at the Hotel Cecil, which is an absolutely bizarre case that reminds one truth is quite often stranger than fiction.

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  5. Warren says:

    I know you get asked this a lot, but when is the book coming out?

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