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" Elizabeth Short - The Black Dahlia"
Elizabeth Short (better known as the Black Dahlia), was the victim of an infamous murder in 1947. She was born July 29, 1924 and died January 15, 1947.
Born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Short was raised in Medford, Massachusetts, by her mother, Phoebe Mae. Her father, Cleo, abandoned her and her four sisters in October, 1930. Troubled by asthma, she spent summers in Medford, Massachusetts and winters in Florida. At the age of 19, she went to Vallejo, California, to live with her father, and they moved to Los Angeles in early 1943. She left almost immediately because of an argument with her father and got a job in one of the post exchanges at Camp Cooke, which is now Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc. She moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested September 23, 1943, for underage drinking and was sent back to Medford by juvenile authorities. For the next few years she resided in various cities in Florida, with occasional trips back to Massachusetts, earning money mostly as a waitress. In Florida she met Major Matthew M. Gordon Jr., who was part of the 2nd Air Commandos and training for deployment in the China Burma India theater of operations. Short told friends that Gordonówho, according to his obituary in the Pueblo, Colorado, newspaper, was awarded a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 15 oak leaf clusters, and Purple Heartówrote a letter from India proposing marriage while recovering from an airplane crash he suffered while trying to rescue a downed flier. She accepted his proposal, but he died in a crash on August 10, 1945, before he could return to the U.S. to marry her. Short later embellished this story to say that they were married and had a child who had died. Although Gordon's friends in the air commandos confirm Gordon and Short were engaged, his family subsequently denied any connection after Short's murder.
She returned to Southern California in July 1946, to see an old boyfriend she met in Florida during the war, Lt. Gordon Fickling, who was stationed in Long Beach. For the six months that remained of her life, she stayed in Southern California, mainly in the Los Angeles area. During this time, she lived in at least a dozen hotels, apartment buildings, rooming houses, and private homes, never staying anywhere for more than a few weeks.
Short was last seen alive on the evening of January 9, 1947, in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel at 5th Street and Olive in downtown Los Angeles. She was 22 years old.
On January 15, 1947, her body was discovered in a vacant lot of the 3800 block of South Norton Avenue in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, cut in half at the waist and mutilated.
Elizabeth Short was laid to rest in Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, California. She was interred there rather than a cemetery within Medford because her oldest sister lived in nearby Berkeley and, reportedly, because she loved California.
Popular myths and misconceptions
According to newspaper reports shortly after the murder, Short received the nickname Black Dahlia at a Long Beach drugstore in the summer of 1946, as a play on the then-current movie The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Los Angeles County district attorney investigators' reports state the nickname was invented by newspaper reporters covering the murder. In either case, Short was not generally known as the "Black Dahlia" in life.
A number of people, none of whom knew Short in life, contacted police and the newspapers, claiming to have seen her during her so-called "missing week" between the time of her disappearance January 9 and the time her body was found on January 15. Police and district attorney investigators ruled out each of these alleged sightings, sometimes identifying other women that witnesses had mistaken for Short. Many crime books and other allegedly factual accounts claim that Short lived in or visited Los Angeles at various times in the mid-1940s; but these claims have never been substantiated, and are refuted by the findings of law enforcement officers who investigated the case. A document in the Los Angeles County district attorney's files titled "Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946" states that Short was in Florida and Massachusetts from September 1943 through the early months of 1946, and gives a detailed account of her living and working arrangements during this period.
Although popular myth as well as many "true crime" books portray Short as a call girl, a report by the district attorney's office for the Los Angeles County grand jury states that she was not a prostitute.
Another widely circulated myth holds that Short was unable to have sexual intercourse because of some genetic defect that left her with "infantile genitalia." Los Angeles County district attorney's files states the investigators had questioned three men with whom Short had sexual intercourse, including a Chicago police officer who was a suspect in the case. The FBI files on the case also contain a statement from a man with whom Short had sexual intercourse. According to the LAPD summary of the case, in the district attorney's files, the autopsy describes Short's reproductive organs as anatomically normal. The autopsy also states that Short was not and had never been pregnant, contrary to what is sometimes claimed.
The Black Dahlia murder investigation by the LAPD was the largest since the murder of Marian Parker in 1927, and involved hundreds of officers borrowed from other law enforcement agencies. Because of the complexity of the case, the original investigators treated every person who knew Elizabeth Short as a suspect who had to be eliminated. Hundreds of people were considered suspects and thousands were interviewed by police. Sensational and sometimes inaccurate press coverage, as well as the horrible nature of the crime, focused intense public attention on the case. About 60 people confessed to the murder, mostly men, as well as a few women. As the case continues to command public attention, many people have been proposed as possible killers of Elizabeth Short, much like the Jack the Ripper case.
In her 1999 book, Mary Pacios, a former neighbor of the Short family in Medford, MA, suggested filmmaker Orson Welles as a suspect. Pacios bases this theory on such factors as Welles' volatile temperament and his obsession with cutting-in-half as indicated by the visual clues Pacios claims can be found in the crazy house set he designed for scenes that were later deleted from "The Lady From Shanghai," a film Welles was making around the time of the murder. Pacios also cites the magic act Welles performed to entertain soldiers during World War II. She believes that the bi-section of the body was part of the killer's signature and an acting out of the perpetrator's obsession. Welles applied for his passport on January 24, 1947, the same date the killer mailed a packet to Los Angeles newspapers. Welles left the country for an extended stay in Europe ten months after the murder. According to Pacios, witnesses she has interviewed say that both Welles and the victim frequented Brittingham's restaurant in Los Angeles during the same time period. Welles was never a suspect in the original investigation.
Possible related murders
Some crime authors have speculated on a link between the Short murder and the Cleveland Torso Murders, also known as the Kingsbury Run Murders, which took place in Cleveland between 1934 and 1938. The original LAPD investigators examined this case in 1947 and discounted any relationship between the two, as they did with a large number of killings that occurred before and afterward, well into the 1950s. Other crime authors have suggested a linkage between the Short murder and the 1945 murder of 6-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago, who was also dismembered (and Short's body was discovered near Degnan Boulevard in Los Angeles). However, the so-called "Lipstick Killer" William Heirens confessed to the Degnan murder and was in jail when Short's body was discovered, although some have contended that Heirens was innocent of the Degnan murder.
Books, films and other media
A 1975 TV movie about the case, Who Is the Black Dahlia by Robert Lenski and starring Lucie Arnaz is a highly fictionalized version of the murder. Many details were changed because several people, including Short's mother and Red Manley, who brought Short from San Diego to Los Angeles, refused to sign releases for the studio.
John Gregory Dunne used the murder as a point of departure in his 1977 novel True Confessions, which was made into the 1981 film True Confessions starring Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro with a screenplay by Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion.
A 1988 episode of the TV detective thriller Hunter depicts Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall discovering a case similar to the Black Dahlia murder when a skeleton that has been cut in half is found during demolition of a building constructed in 1947. Hunter and McCall are joined by a retired detective who worked on the Elizabeth Short case. The murderer in the recent case turns out to be Short's murderer as well. (A disclaimer at the end of the episode explains that the Black Dahlia case remains open and unsolved on the books of the Los Angeles Police Department.)
Take 2 Interactive published the computer game, Black Dahlia, in 1998. The puzzle-based adventure game tied Elizabeth Short's murder to Nazis and occult rituals which the player had to investigate. The game features Dennis Hopper, whose son-in-law was one of the company's owners, and Teri Garr. It also ties the murder to the infamous Cleveland Torso Murderer, though the torso murders' case was altered to fit into the storyline.
Max Allan Collins combined the Black Dahlia and Cleveland Torso Murder in his Shamus Award-winning 2002 novel, Angel in Black, featuring his character, private investigator Nathan Heller.
The band The Black Dahlia Murder take their name from this infamous murder.
William Randolph Fowler, a reporter at the scene of the crime, included the Black Dahlia case in his 1991 autobiography, "Reporters: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman."
The case inspired the 1953 noir film The Blue Gardenia, including a title song sung by Nat King Cole. Author James Ellroy based his 1987 book, The Black Dahlia on the crime.
A film by Brian De Palma, based on the Ellroy novel, began production in Bulgaria in May 2005. Also titled The Black Dahlia, the movie stars Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, and Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short, and was released in September 2006.
site on Salem Street of Elizabeth Short in Medford by The Medford Historical