Black Dahlia: How to Read a Story on the Murder of Elizabeth Short, and the Traps That Await Unwary Writers

Oxygen posted a story for the anniversary of Elizabeth Short’s murder, so I thought I would go through it and point out the sorts of errors that writers usually make.

Christina Coulter falls into many of the traps that await writers who assume that published articles, even from reputable sources, are accurate.  And if you want to honor the memory of Elizabeth Short on the anniversary of her murder – trim your roses.

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.

8 Responses to Black Dahlia: How to Read a Story on the Murder of Elizabeth Short, and the Traps That Await Unwary Writers

  1. Matt Berger says:

    Or put flowers on her Medford, MA memorial, as I do every year. (


  2. Sylvia E. says:

    Thanks. As I’ve said before, so glad you’re in Ms Short’s corner. Her story deserves that objective support.
    Your step by step breakdown, using this particular writer’s article, as an example of where there seems to be some due diligence in the research and at the same time, where due diligence is just thrown into the wind, is like a master class in nonfiction writing. Very fair to Ms Coulter and at the same time holding her (and other writers) accountable for what appears to be a careless approach on some of the sources she chose to use and sections where she completely neglects citing any resources at all – really important. And this was written for a rather high profile publication. Oxygen also reckless in not checking out Coulter’s story – not even on basics apparently. The editor should have kicked it back to her. Just removing the things you point out would have improved it, as it was only to be a “remembrance” piece anyway and not bringing forth anything new.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Thanks….There’s so much misinformation about the case now that even writers who are trying to be accurate can’t be sure what to believe. And young writers who trust their sources (TV didn’t exist in 1947? Who knew?) are likely to be tripped up.


  3. Stephen Powers says:

    It seems to me a large encyclopedia in the vein of “Black Dahlia: Fact vs. Fiction,” is needed. The problem is it would incorporate every non-fiction book and article out there, yet could perhaps economize by going after all the major myths that have been stated as facts.


    • lmharnisch says:

      The Black Dahlia myth is constantly evolving. Marginal characters, like Leslie Dillon, suddenly take center stage when another crackpot author comes along with a “solution.” New mistakes are always being introduced so it’s impossible to know what’s going to come along next.


  4. Carol Gwenn says:

    Yes – one can easily spot the copy editor in you! Can never resist your Dahlia material – accuracy is precious & much appreciated.

    Never heard you speak before — Philadelphia or Baltimore?


  5. Matt Berger says:

    Thank you for this. I discovered this case through a true crime board game in the late 1990s. Its “solution” was nutso bonkers, but it sparked my interest. I ruefully admit reading Severed, Avenger, Files and Red Rose – though all of them left me with a nagging feeling I had been duped by authorial sleight of hand. Luckily, I had already found your original website, your Wolfe live blog and your “Heaven Is Here” video, all of which helped to inspire my own work. Perhaps we should band together as a capital C, capital T Critical Thinking society. 🙂 I look forward to your book.


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