Black Dahlia: ‘The Murder Squad’ Botches the Black Dahlia Case


I have a longstanding aversion to podcasts, especially “true crime” podcasts and particularly when it comes to “true crime” podcasts about the Black Dahlia. “The Murder Squad,” with Billy Jensen and retired Detective Paul Holes, released an episode earlier this week on the Black Dahlia and I thought that Holes, given his outstanding work on the Golden State Killer, might have some worthwhile insight on the case. I won’t make that mistake again.

Executive summary: Lots of bad information from Billy Jensen scraped off the Internet. Paul Holes scans the incomplete medical report included in the inquest,  looks over some morgue shots from the Internet and comes up with the wild claim that Elizabeth Short’s mouth was slashed so she could perform oral sex on the killer and that she asphyxiated while performing oral copulation. Don’t waste your time on this or risk your head exploding .

Caveat: I got through the ad for hair dye, but quit listening at the 46-minute mark when Holes got into the “asphyxiated while performing oral copulation” stuff. I am also not linking to the podcast because I don’t want to spread its misinformation any further.

I generally put the term “true crime” in quotes because as a rule so very little of “true crime” is actually true. The genre, whether it’s blog posts or sleazy books, makes a minimum effort at original research and a maximum use of lurid speculation. The TV shows, and I’ve done about 20 of them now, tend to be surprisingly well researched, the exceptions being when the producer jumps on the “George Hodel: Evil Genius” train.

In my limited experience, podcasts – and they are incredibly popular — can be the worst offenders when it comes to “true crime.” Exhibit 1 being BuzzFeed’s murder bros, Ryan Bergara and his sidekick du jour. Otherwise, they all have similar names: “My Funniest Murders,” “Madcap Murders and Drunk Soccer Moms” and “Bloodshed and Two-Buck Chuck.”

This is particularly true of two ladies (you know who you are) who giggle a lot about crime and use my voice without permission. Ladies, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sign a release for you to use my voice and imply that I gave you an interview. Knock it off.

Podcasts like “Madcap Murders and Drunk Soccer Moms” generally go like this:

Ad for Audible, hair dye, etc

Intro (raucous laughter) We’re not (hahaha) making fun (hahahah) of murder victims (hahahahah). No, we’re not (hahahahahahah).

Content read directly from Wikipedia. Groaner puns: “That part always makes me go to PIECES! hahahahah”

Ad for Audible, hair dye, etc.

Content read directly from Wikipedia. More groaner puns: “You’re killing me here! hahahahah.”

Wrapup (more laughter)

Ad for Audible, hair dye, etc.

Which is why I never listen to them. Until now.

The biggest fault with “The Murder Squad’s” presentation on the Black Dahlia is the poor research that went into the show. I gather that several shows were done rather hurriedly because Paul Holes is having surgery. So perhaps in the interest of pumping out a lot of episodes, research was the first victim.

But whoever did the research, whether it was Billy Jensen or someone who fed “facts” to Jensen, scooped up whatever they could find and passed it along without the slightest skepticism.

The chronology of Elizabeth Short’s life as rendered by “Murder Squad” was full of mistakes. And then the topper: Jensen falls for Steve Hodel’s claim that “hemicorporectomy” (cutting a person in half as a lifesaving measure) was a medical procedure taught in the 1930s.

Sorry, but it was introduced after the killing of Elizabeth Short. I’m no fan of Wikipedia, but even two minutes with Wikipedia will raise enough doubts to indicate further research or just scrap that claim. Unless you’re in a hurry to pump out a lot of episodes.

So for the historical gaffes, Jensen gets a D-minus.

Which brings us to Holes – and if it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t have even listened to the podcast. I would give him a C-minus or D-plus.

I will preface this by repeating that I only listened to the first 46 minutes of the podcast because that’s all I could take without my head exploding. Holes was hampered by incomplete information and having nothing more than Internet pictures of Elizabeth Short’s body.

As such, you might think he would defer to the views of the medical examiner, the head of the LAPD crime lab who was at the crime scene and attended the autopsy, and the original detectives who examined the body and attended the autopsy.

You would be wrong. As far as Holes is concerned, the medical examiner misused several terms, probably didn’t bother to perform some procedures, and generally the autopsy was a haphazard examination because what do you expect for the dark ages of 1947, when people were still living in mud huts? Holes’ arrogance toward the past is a little hard to take, frankly. I will say it again: The Black Dahlia case was a state-of-the-art investigation for 1947. The LAPD might not have had the advanced technology we have today, but the lead detectives were seasoned investigators and the department excelled at one veteran called “basic gumshoeing.”

Dr. Frederick Newbarr, a prominent pathologist of his day, attributed Elizabeth Short’s death to “hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face.”

And Holes goes in a completely different direction. I didn’t listen to enough of the podcast to find out if he went the “serial killer” route, but he laid the groundwork by talking about the “triad” of serial killers. And he surprised my by saying that the killing of Elizabeth Short was the work of a sexual sadist. (Retired FBI profiler John Douglas classifies the killing as a “lust murder” and I invite anyone who’s curious about that to do further research).

Cutting the body in half? Newbarr, the head of the crime lab and the original detectives – who viewed the body – all said it was a clean professional job. Holes thinks anybody with a knife could do it, no problem. Easy peasy.

Washing the body? Holes accepts the common view that the body was washed and scrubbed for transportation. But he then speculates that the killer might have been like Ted Bundy, cleaning up the body to continue having sex with it.

Holes says that the slashes in Elizabeth Short’s mouth were so that she couldn’t refuse oral sex and that she died, not from the causes given by Newbarr, but from asphyxiation while performing oral copulation on the killer.

And at that point, I quit listening to keep my head from exploding.

Based on part of one episode, it looks like “The Murder Squad” is just another fly-by-night, poorly researched program, with some bizarre takes by a retired homicide detective. I had a lot of respect for Paul Holes until now, but I have to say, a profiler he is not.

About lmharnisch

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

3 Responses to Black Dahlia: ‘The Murder Squad’ Botches the Black Dahlia Case

  1. Eve says:

    No, hot Paul Holes with your silky silky shirts, how can you disappoint me like this? And why are you on a podcast? The only reason we watch your shows is to shamelessly ogle you.

    I love the notion of “cutting a person in half as a lifesaving measure.” “But doctor, I only have a sprained wrist–ACK!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tyler Bioshock Rodriguez says:

    I’m going to assume the two ladies were My Favorite Murder? I have an aunt who likes them so of course I’ve heard a few episodes. They… aren’t the best researchers. I did notice they made an episode in conjunction with TNTs I Am the Night which I assume was awful, is that the episode with voice clips?

    Man I genuinely admired Holes work with Golden State, so how did someone who is clearly intelligent come away with such a deranged conclusion that even Steve Hodel hasn’t claimed.


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