Very few people noticed when a dark-haired woman arrived at Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Nobody knew who she was and what she was going to do there.

Perhaps she was an aspiring artist hoping to become the next big star in Hollywood or just another land developer closing the deal on cheap agricultural land.

It was postwar Los Angeles, and people flock to the city in great numbers for a shot at a better living in a rapidly expanding development.

Some struck gold; others ran out of luck, many would keep on trying, and then some stumbled upon a tragic end.

Elizabeth Short came to Los Angeles as an unknown; then, she became a household name for a horrible reason.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, Betty Bersinger took a walk with her young daughter in the planned neighborhood of Leimert Park.

Somewhere along a barely developed street, she came across a dead body of a woman, naked and sliced in half but without a drop of blood. It was Elizabeth Short’s mutilated corpse.

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10 Identification

The body was only a few feet from the sidewalk. Due to the absence of blood anywhere in the immediate vicinity, Bersinger thought it was a dummy.

As soon as she realized she was looking at a person’s dead body, she rushed to a nearby house and called the police.

Identification was not difficult. The FBI already had her prints on record.

In January 1943, Elizabeth Short applied for a job as a clerk at the Army’s Camp Cooke commissary in California. The Santa Barbara police had also arrested her for underage drinking.

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9 Soundphoto

Newspaper sales surged as the investigation continued—the L.A. Police Department took the lead, and the FBI was there to help.

Identification of the body bore no longer than an hour after receiving blurred images of fingerprints via Soundphoto, a fax machine used by news services in the past.

Immediately the police knew the woman was Elizabeth Short, born on July 24, 1924, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Once her identity had been revealed, reporters from Los Angeles Examiner contacted her mother for more information. They deceived her into coming to L.A. by telling her that Short had won a beauty contest.



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8 Media Frenzy

The FBI provided her mugshot from the previous arrest to the press. The case quickly turned into a media sensation.

The police worked with the press to publicize some clues in the attempt to locate a suspect. The location of the murder scene in the showbiz capital also played a role in the widespread coverage.

Several people came to the police for confession, but ultimately all were cleared due to the lack of evidence. No one knew with whom she spent her last days or hours when she was last seen alive and how her body ended up in the street.

7 Aspiring Artist

Her death and case kept on inviting media frenzy. Glynn Martin, a former Los Angeles police sergeant, said that the brutal and misogynistic nature of Short’s death became an irresistible lure for the press and the public. 

More than 50 people – male and female – were interviewed about the case. Even those who confessed were not arrested for there was no corroborating evidence to their claims.

The glamor of the area added to the crime’s mystery. Martin also said that Short has aspirations to be an actress. No record of her being an artist.

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6 Popular Victim

Elizabeth Short’s celebrity status was actual, but it was not because she played in a movie or televised program.

It was the relentlessness of the media in reporting the case that made her famous. The Los Angeles Record put stories about Short on its front page for 31 consecutive days. 

Rumors were inevitable. Some said she had been forced to eat feces and that flesh had been inserted into her rectum and vagina. It was hard to keep track of which news stories were true and mere fabrications.

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5 Black Dahlia

The press contributed to making Short known as “Black Dahlia,” supposedly because she liked to wear sheer black clothes. It was also a wordplay on the 1946 film The Blue Dahlia.

Los Angeles Examiner and Herald-Express reported that Short had been seen wearing a blouse and tight skirt when in reality the clothing was a black tailored suit.

That specific part of the story was a complete fabrication to imply an indication of sexual misadventures. No one can tell whether or not the sexual aspect was involved in the case with a reasonable degree of certainty.

4 Medical Dissection

The FBI, in support of L.A. police, conducted interviews for potential leads across the nation. Since the body was cleanly cut, an early suspicion was that the perpetrator might have had medical training to dissect the human body.

The Bureau received fingerprints found on the anonymous letter that the killer might have sent to authorities.

The prints were not in FBI files; it was quite shocking because even back then FBI already had a massive record of fingerprints from more than 100 million individuals.

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3 Story Retold

The death of Elizabeth Short became a subject of numerous books, television specials, and movies. Most offered no new revelations, only repetition of information the public had learned from the police and newspapers.

Black Dahlia case has also inspired art projects and university theses in the decades since. It has been referenced in popular media, including video games and T.V. shows as well.

In 2006, the case received a major motion picture adaptation based on the 1987 novel “The Black Dahlia” written by James Ellroy. The film has the same title and was directed by Brian De Palma.

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2 Misinformation

Kim Cooper, who together with her husband run Esotouric’s literary, crime, and culture bus tours of Los Angeles, said that many people who visited their Black Dahlia tour were mostly misinformed about the case.

Cooper has always tried to debunk false stories in the tour and focused on Elizabeth Short as a person.

James Ellroy himself has stated he doesn’t hope that the police will find the murderer and close the case. According to Ellroy, the Black Dahlia case was never meant to be solved.

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1 A Theory

New theories keep on coming. One of the most recent was proposed by Steve Hodel, a former homicide detective.

He has suggested that George Hodel, his father, murdered Elizabeth Short. Steve even alleged his father responsible for other murders too.

When he went through his father’s possession, he found two pictures of a young woman in the back of a photo album. Steve thought the woman looked like the Black Dahlia.

He sent the photographs to facial recognition experts; it turned out one photo was of another woman, and the other photo remains unknown.

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