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What is the Black Dahlia Mystery?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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For almost 60 years, the Black Dahlia mystery has haunted Los Angeles. On 15 January 1947, the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found. Short was an attractive, young girl who had arrived in Los Angeles searching for fame as an actress, just as thousands of others do every year. Her demise was to be one of the most gruesome murders America had ever seen.

Elizabeth Short left her hometown of Massachusetts at the age of 16. She arrived in Los Angeles after a few years of drifting from town to town. Short was nicknamed the Black Dahlia because of her jet-black hair and the black clothing that she constantly wore.

On the morning of 15 January, Short's body was found in a deserted lot in South Los Angeles. Her battered torso had been cut in half and sexually assaulted after her death. To date, the mystery has never been solved by the police. As with all unsolved murders, numerous theories and suspects have been thrown into the frame, but the Black Dahlia is still an unsolved murder.

At the time, the Black Dahlia murder attracted widespread publicity. Numerous people made false confessions to the police, claiming that they had committed the murder. Ongoing investigations by the police could not lead to the real culprit, and nearly 60 years later, interest in the case has been renewed.

At the time of the murder, sensational stories abounded in the press, but many were completely untrue. Every detail of Short's life came under speculation. Widespread reports that she had been a call girl were eventually dismissed by the courts. Everyone who knew Short was treated as a suspect by the investigating officers.

The range of suspects was diverse, from prominent doctors to the folk singer Woodie Guthrie. At one point, film director Orson Welles' name was also thrown into the frame. The amount of suspects and lack of evidence brought much speculation, but left the police no closer to finding the real Black Dahlia killer.

In the years that have passed, there has been intermittently renewed interest in the Black Dahlia mystery. Many books and television shows have used the Black Dahlia as subject matter. In 2006, a major film by Brian DePalma called The Black Dahlia was released. Although the film sticks closely to the facts in some regards, it is also filled with many sensational elements.

After 60 years, it is doubtful whether the mystery of the Black Dahlia will ever be solved. The actual killer, in all probability, is dead. The Black Dahlia's death was a gruesome murder that still casts a long shadow over the history of sun-drenched Los Angeles.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon205742 — On Aug 13, 2011

I'd be reluctant to put much credence in anything Steve Hodel says.

In his latest book, he not only claims that his father was both the Lipstick Killer and the Black Dahlia's murderer (which makes a certain amount of sense, since the crimes have been linked to each other in other analyses, and George Hodel was evidently a suspect in one or more of them at the time), but that he is responsible for the Zodiac killings in the 1970's and a series of murders in Korea, besides. I'm sure he'll get around to accusing his dad of being Jack the Ripper before too long.

Look at the pictures in his book. The photograph of the woman he found in his father's things looks nothing like Elizabeth Short. 'Nuff said.

By anon84393 — On May 15, 2010

Mr. Edwin F. Burns confessed to the Black Dahlia killing in a foolscap note found March 15, 1947 on Venice Beach. He also expresses some remorse for what he did, and what he was about to do. He claims he couldn't help it. No body was ever recovered.

At the time Burns was a deeply disturbed World War II veteran. In fact, he was diagnosed as psychotic in May of 1945 and confined to St. Louis Army Psychiatric Hospital and released in August and returned to to his mom and hometown of Los Angeles.

By anon50275 — On Oct 27, 2009

they should've just shot her dead because, i mean, what a painful death. :O

By anon25534 — On Jan 30, 2009

Steve Hodel is claiming his father killed her, along with Suzanne Degnan in Chicago. He says his father lived in both places at the times of the murders and he found a drawing done by his father showing the same mutilations that was done to Elizabeth Short. Also, Short's body was found on Degnan Rd, the same name of the little girl in Chicago and Hodel believes his father was trying to tell on himself. Sadly, this case may never be solved because his father was a cop and Hodel believes a lot of the evidence has "come up missing" or was "destroyed" to protect his father. A few detectives said if they had known sooner what Steve Hodel had found, they would have stopped the evidence from being destroyed and protected what they could. Hodel is actually wanting to prove his father was not only the killer of the Black Dahlia but also the Lipstick Killer, as to which another man is serving life for being convicted of (and there is no proof proving his guilt).

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