Originally presented to Rocky Mountain Chapter, Mystery Writers of America, February 2018, and updated here. You can find more of my “Mystery Minutes” here and here.


She was considered to be very attractive. She was 22 years old. 5 ft. 6 in., 118 lbs. black hair, green eyes, bad lower teeth, and her fingernails were chewed to the quick. This subject was found on the morning of Jan. 15, 1947 in the weeds of a vacant lot near the corner of Norton and 39th Street in the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles.

She had been brutally murdered. She was found naked with her body severed in half at the waist and mutilated. Her once lovely mouth was cut jaggedly from ear to ear creating a macabre smile. There was no blood on, or in the body, or at the scene. Investigators said the body was clean and appeared to have been washed somewhere else.

She was last seen alive on Jan. 9, 1947 leaving the lobby of the Biltmore hotel in L.A. She wore a black suit, nylon stockings, high-heeled shoes, white gloves, full-length beige coat with no collar and carried a black plastic handbag.

Her name was Elizabeth “Beth” Short, better known in death as “The Black Dahlia.”

During the 1940s, it was common practice for newspapers to attach interesting names to female murder victims and their killers. The Los Angeles Times reported that customers at a drug store in Long Beach dubbed Elizabeth Short the “Black Dahlia” as a joke, in reference to the film noir murder mystery, The Blue Dahlia, which was released nine months prior to her murder. Elizabeth had frequented the drug store when she first lived in Long Beach, and the customers remembered Elizabeth for her black hair, black garments, and fair complexion.

Before “Black Dahlia” caught on, however, her killing was dubbed the “Werewolf Murder.” A reporter found out about the nickname “Black Dahlia” and the newspapers adopted the nickname shortly after, and the case of the “Black Dahlia” was born. Even after “Black Dahlia” became more prominent, some sources still referred to her killer as the “Werewolf.”

Some 60 people came forward and confessed to the crime. Of these, 25 were seriously considered by the LAPD. Many of the suspects were household names, including Fred Sexton, the artist who created the Maltese Falcon prop in the iconic movie of the same name; Norman Chandler, publisher of The Los Angeles Times; and mobster Bugsy Siegel.

Seventy-four years later, we still don’t know who brutally murdered Elizabeth Short. And we don’t know much about her except she was pretty, she was from Medford, Massachusetts, and she harbored dreams of Hollywood stardom.

Her death remains a cold case, officially unsolved. LAPD records have not yet been made public and the FBI has 211 public files concerning the Black Dahlia case. Countless theories abound as writers and researchers have spent years trying to solve this case.

The Black Dahlia case may be the most infamous unsolved crime for L.A. to date. The case has been featured in numerous books, films, documentaries, articles, and video games. Some notable books are:

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder by John Gilmore
Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel (Hodel is a retired LAPD detective who believes his father, Dr. George Hodel, was the murderer).
The Black Dahlia Files by Donald Wolfe (considered one of the most compelling theories behind who killed Elizabeth Short)
Fallen Angel by Troy Taylor
• The newest, published in 2018, is Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption and Cover-up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell, a British author.
• Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint, wrote about the case three weeks after the murder. That story was written up by Jack Webb, creator of “Dragnet” in his book, The Badge.

The death of Elizabeth Short remains one of the most intriguing mysteries from the dark side of Hollywood.