Who Was ‘The Black Dahlia’?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question lies in the more seedy criminal backstreets of Los Angeles then the glittering Hollywood party-scene and is the centre of the most brutal and shocking murder the film industry has faced.

Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short aka ‘The Black Dahlia’

The ‘Black Dahlia’ aka Elizabeth Short was a pretty raven-haired aspiring actress born July 29, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. She had sickly and unstable childhood suffering from severe asthma and bronchitis and balancing the need to remain in warmer climates with her need to keep steady employment. At age 19, she moved to Hollywood intent becoming an actress and embodying the style and sexuality of such icons as Hedy Lamar and Rita Hayworth. A few years later she became a regular visitor of the LA nightclub scene often heading to the most exclusive places, such as, the Boogie Woogie Club and the Hollywood Canteen with the aim of capturing the attention of producers and fellow actors.

Although somewhat successful, her heavy partying appeared to have made her some dangerous friends and two years later, aged 23, Elizabeth Short would be dead.

The Murder:

It was in Leimert Park, Los Angeles on January 15, 1947 that a female body was found by a woman, Betty Bersinger, who was walking with her three-year-old daughter. According to police reports the body, later identified as Elizabeth’s, was severely damaged with her corpse being cut in two from the waist and drained of blood and her face slashed. It was then cleaned and placed with her arms, bent over her head. The crime scene appeared to have been minimally touched and there was little blood found around the body.

The severed body of Short
The severed body of Short

The character of Short was sensationalised in the newspapers and gossip columns as an “adventuress” who wore “a tight skirt and a sheer blouse” and whose lifestyle “made her victim material.” It was this depiction that led the leading LA newspapers – both owned by mogul William Randolph Hearst – to coin her ‘The Black Dahlia’ after the 1946 noir film ‘Blue Dahlia’ starring  Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake and cementing Short’s presence in decades of myth and pop culture.

The Suspects:

Due to the notoriety and sensationalism of the case in total there were hundreds of suspects – both logical and unreasonable – as well as around sixty people who have reportedly confessed to the murder. Of them twenty-five were considered to be likely suspects by the Los Angeles District Attorney including a night club owner, several doctors and a member of the police department. In addition, the public nature of the case has lead to many famous figures being suspected of having involvement; including the legendary Orson Welles and folk singer Woody Guthrie.

Although, more than 250 police officers were involved in the long and intensive investigation, the case remains unsolved 65-years after the murder took place. A detective on the case noted, “The more you learn about this case, the less you know.” Even though the answers to this shocking case stay unanswered, it will always be indelibly linked with the historical underworld of the Golden Age of Hollywood which persuaded many young starry-eyed girls to enter the uncertain industry with sometimes disastrous consequences.

For more information, note a fictional 2006 film was created called ‘The Black Dahlia’ starring Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson which discusses the trials of two policemen obsessed with solving the case of the murder of Elizabeth Short.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I'm a film lover and writer whose main interest is classic or pre-1960's Hollywood. At the moment I am obsessed with the Precode era - from 1929 to 1934.

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  1. Taylor Ramsey

    2 great articles in a row! I saw the movie and did some research of my own at the time and found lots of really interesting info. Keep these posts up, they are very cool!

    • EmmaAlsop

      Thanks, for the comment Taylor!! I think everyone needs to know at least a little about Classic Hollywood.

  2. Hadoken

    Wow very informative. I did not know much about this incident. Thank you for sharing your knowledge Emma!

  3. Brandon Somma

    I’m pretty confident you’re writing the best articles on this sight. Excellent topic and execution.

  4. Fernando

    Great essay!

  5. Corey Koepper

    Fantastic article! I’ve been meaning to see the film for awhile now.

  6. Mike G

    While I find the case itself incredibly interesting, I thought the movie was horrible. It had some decent elements, but it ultimately just failed. I preferred Zodiac way more when it comes to these police procedurals.

  7. I thought that the movie itself was good, but what turns a lot of people off was the mix of classic film noir and dialogue in a contemporary reception context. People walked in not expecting a Classic Hollywood film, warts and all.

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