Real Name: Elizabeth Short
Nicknames: None (Elizabeth Short was never known as "The Black Dahlia;" this was a name the press called her after her murder.)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 1947
Details: One of the most famous unsolved crime mysteries of the Twentieth Century, the mutilated remains of twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short were found posted in a vacant lot in the unfinished Leimert Park housing development of Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. The passerby who discovered her remains thought it was a discarded mannequin at first because the body had been neatly bisected at the waist. Across her face was a deep cut called the Glasgow smile.
Elizabeth had come to Hollywood hoping to become an actress. However, with no prospective jobs and little money, she turned to prostitution. Her last days were shrouded with mystery. It seemed as if she were constantly on the move. She was last seen at a diner in San Diego, leaving with an unidentified man. Some suspect that the man was Robert Manley, a hardware salesman who had dated her in the past. He was brought in for questioning but later cleared of any involvement in the crime. Other men who knew her were brought in; they were also later cleared.
During the investigation, the murderer taunted the police with letters, sending them a packet of Short's belongings including her birth certificate, address book, and social security card, which had been soaked in gasoline to eliminate fingerprints. Another item was her "trick book" which listed the names of her clients. One page was missing and it is assumed that the killer's name was listed on this page.
Robert Manley was a hardware salesman who had dated Elizabeth in the past. Some believe that he was the unidentified man who was last seen with her before she vanished. He was known to have mental instability, which also made him suspicious. He was considered a suspect until his alibi was established for January 14 and 15.
Dr Walter Bayley
Dr Walter Bayley who knew Elizabeth's older sister, Virginia. It is theorized that Dr Bayley's degenerative brain disorder which symptoms include homicidal ideation/behaviour in even pacifists. What we do know about Elizabeth is that before her murder she was short on cash and constantly moving. She may have contacted Dr Bayley, a surgeon who specialized in liposuction, hysterectomies and amputations. We also know that Elizabeth wasn't shy about asking for money and she often tried to gain some through a sympathetic sob story that her husband had died in World War II and she miscarried. While she did have a lover who died at war, she was never pregnant.
Walter had a son, named Walter Jr. who died in a car accident. It is hypothesized that since he is a doctor, he saw through Elizabeth's lie and acted in a fit of rage. Police and psychologists agree that the murderer must have had to sustain his anger for quite some of time, meaning she must have touched on something that really upset him. Coincidentally, Walter Jr.'s birthday is on January 14, the day before Elizabeth's body was found. It was rumoured Walter Jr. liked clowns, which explains the Glasgow Grin.
The Torso Slayer of Kingsbury Run
There is speculatory evidence suggesting Elizabeth might have been a victim of a 1930s Cleveland killer known as the Butcher Of Kingsbury Run, a figure investigated by Eliot Ness of the Cleveland Police Department. The Butcher killed at least a dozen people between 1934 to 1938, hacking the bodies into small pieces and disposing of their heads, many of which were never found. The victims were mostly prostitutes and drifters. The victims appeared to be dismembered in a similar fashion to Elizabeth.
In December 1938, the Torso Slayer allegedly sent a letter, claiming that he had moved to California and killed a woman there. He claimed that he had buried the head in Southwest Los Angeles. Elizabeth's body would be found in the same area, eight years later. In the letter, the killer referred to himself as a "DC" or Doctor of Chiropractic.
Another connection to the cases is that both Elizabeth and the Torso Slayer victims had been thoroughly cleaned after death. In fact, brush bristles were found embedded in her skin. Also, a butcher knife was believed to have been used in both sets of cases.
Yet another connection was that both Elizabeth and the Torso Slayer victims were held captive, tortured, and tied up prior to being killed. Sexual elements in both cases were believed to be similar.
One significant difference between the two cases was that Elizabeth was not decapitated, while the other victims were. However, this fact alone does not mean that the cases are not connected. Some suggest that he simply changed his M.O. at the time.
A prime suspect in the torso slayings was Francis Sweeney, who allegedly walked off scot-free thanks to his first cousin, politician Martin Sweeney. Francis had been to medical school and had failed two polygraphs. When confronted, the man did not deny being involved in the murders.
He often sent Eliot Ness taunting postcards after he admitted himself to a mental institution, which happened to be exactly the same time the killings abruptly stopped. He mentioned he was travelling in one of his postcards and is thought to be related to dozens of murders in Mississippi, Kentucky and California. One postcard he did leave said he was in "sunny California" and "felt bad for operating on his guinea pigs, but science must progress!" in a gruesome ode to sadistic murder.
Dr George Hodel
Steve Hodel a retired City of Los Angeles homicide detective, has argued in his 2003 book "Black Dahlia Avenger" that he believed there was evidence that the murderer of the Black Dahlia was his father, Dr George Hodel, a Los Angeles physician who was a prime suspect in the infamous murder, although he was not publicly named as such at the time. Hodel believes his father actually tortured, murdered and dissected Elizabeth in the Historic Sowden House. The location has been investigated on Ghosthunters and Haunted Encounters, who believe Elizabeth's spirit is still in the house.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on the December 9, 1992, episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Robert Stack, the host of Unsolved Mysteries, portrayed Eliot Ness in the TV series, "The Untouchables."
The Black Dahlia was also profiled on an episode of America’s Most Wanted.
- The Black Dahlia on Unsolved.com
- Website on the Black Dahlia
- The Black Dahlia on Wikipedia
- Elizabeth Short at Find a Grave
- The Black Dahlia on the FBI website