Monday, January 09, 2017

Who Killed the Black Dahlia?

Seventy years ago today was the last time anyone other than her murderer saw the raven-haired beauty Elizabeth Short alive.
She had been dropped off at the ritzy Biltmore Hotel by a friend who had given her a ride up from San Diego. She had lied about meeting her sister there. Beth, as she was called, wasn't going to stay at the Biltmore, she could barely afford a flophouse. It was Beth's way to affect money she never had.

What happened at the Biltmore is one of the many mysteries surrounding her death. Was she meeting someone there who would give her a place to sleep or did she just linger there a while before walking out into the night.

The next time Beth was seen was January 15, 1947. A housewife walking her three year-old along South Norton Avenue a couple miles south of Hollywood spotted a broken mannequin in a vacant lot.
She had been sexually mutilated and grotesquely posed. Most disturbingly, her body had been neatly bisected at the waist, cleansed, and drained of blood. The autopsy revealed she had been beaten to death with the mutilation being postmortem, although she had clearly been tortured before death.

The Prime Suspects
We can deduce a few things. The murder was not done in a hotel or boarding house. The amount of time and privacy needed required a private home. The neatness of the cuts suggests medical training. And this was almost certainly not his first kill. You've got to work up to this.
  1. George Hodel - Hodel's son makes a strong case. He was a doctor, a sexual deviant who had used his 14 year-old daughter as a sex toy at parties, and his time in the Philippines coincided with a series of sexual sadist murders there. In a follow-up book, the son undermines his case by also accusing his 60 year-old dad of being the much younger Zodiac killer.
  2. Walter Bayley - The favorite suspect of LA Times reporter Larry Harnisch. Bayley was a skilled surgeon, knew Beth's sister, and his estranged wife lived a block away from the dump site. Bayley was 67 years-old and suffering from Alzheimer's.
  3. Patrick O'Reilly - Another doctor, a friend of nightclub owner Mark Hansen with whom Beth had stayed for several months. Accused of sex crimes including beating women for sexual pleasure. Protected from prosecution by the well connected Hansen.
  4. Maurice Clemment (AKA Ed Burns) - His name was in Beth's phone book that the murderer had given to the press. Only here because Black Dahlia Solutions spends considerable effort describing bizarre codes and symbolism connecting them.
The Silly Suspects
A number of other people have been accused who definitely didn't kill Beth.
  1. 'Queer Woman Surgeon' - The LA District Attorney had a list of 25 suspects. The weirdest theory was that an unknown lesbian doctor had killed Beth and cut her up for ease of transport. Hey, it was the 1940's and they were desperate.
  2. Red Manley - The man who had driven Beth north from San Diego and the last person to see her alive. The LAPD pressured him to confess even after they had proof he couldn't have done it.
  3. Orson Welles - Here's the theory, Welles had a magic act where he sawed a woman in half. Beth was cut in half. Get it? Really, the claim is out there.

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