3825 S Norton Ave | January 19th 1947
Welcome to the two-part season finale event of “Hollywoodland: Unsolved.”
This is a two-part episode, so if you haven’t listened to part 1, I recommend you go back and listen to that first before continuing with this episode. Trust me, everything will make a lot more sense. And now, let’s go to the show.
Please note that this case is one of the more graphic cases discussed on this show yet and may be frightening to listeners under the age of 13 - so listener digression is advised.
On the morning of January 15, 1947 the mutilated body of a young woman was found on a vacant lot. The body was severed at the waste and appeared to be laid out carefully as though she was basking in the southern California sun. There were also three inch gashes cut into her face – causing her to have a permanent smile. The the dark hair of the women was framing her delicate features and her body was stoic and complete white, perfectly drained of blood. Her breasts had been slashed and an alleged “BD” had been carved into her left thigh.
The body belonged to an aspiring actress with raven black hair and a reputation in the Los Angeles party scene – her name was Elizabeth Short.
I’m your host, Ansley, and welcome to Hollywoodland: Unsolved and part 2 of the investigation into the Murder of the Black Dahlia.
Last episode we talked who Elizabeth was and who the conventional suspects are.
My top two are George Hodel and Walter Bayley. Both medical men. Both had the knowledge to cut the body with precision. Neither were deeply investigated. We will look at them again later in the episode.
Now we are going to look at theories that are not as widely talked about: the potential of a woman being the killer, the black dahlia murder being part of a series of murders from one serial killer and if it was a male, who and why.
So let’s start with the first unconventional idea: Could a woman have killed Elizabeth Short? This theory has become more popular in recent years and I think it is worth looking into.
Around the time of Short’s murder there were 3 prominent woman murderess on the scene: Louise Peete, Winnie Ruth Judd, Clara Phillips.
Louise Peete was the first woman to be given the death penalty in California and committed a string of murders throughout the 1920s. She was arrested, did time, was released and then committed another murder. She was executed in April of 1947.
The next is Winnie Ruth Judd…. QUOTE “Winnie Ruth Judd committed two murders in Arizona. She was busted in L.A. when a trunk containing the dismembered remains of her two victums began to get a little ripe and leak bodily fluids in the baggage claim section of a local train station.” End Quote (http://bit.ly/2g0Kgyx) That is quite a way to get busted, if you ask me.
And finally there’s Clara Phillips. Phillips was arrested for killing a woman who she thought was coming onto her husband. She struck the woman multiple times with a hammer and then rolled a 50-pound boulder on top of her body. (http://bit.ly/2g0Kgyx)
So what do these 3 ladies have to do with the murder of the Black Dahlia? In researching these three women, none of them were questioned in the killing of Elizabeth Short and their whereabouts couldn’t all be accounted for on the night of Short’s murder, nor were they really looked into. What I think is interesting is all of these women had committed crimes before Short’s murder, but maybe there is another woman murderess that the LAPD never looked at?
So the idea that it could have been a woman holds up on some aspects – a newspaper in LA did a whole profile about how an older woman could very well have killed Short, but if you ask me, I don’t think that is what happened.
The second unconventional idea: Could the black dahlia have been the victim of a serial killer?
There were a number of deaths before and after short’s murder that to this day, have yet to be solved. This could be an episode all in itself, but I am going to condense it as much as possible.
Starting with the mysterious death of georgette bauerdorf – an American heirs who was found murdered in her bath tub in 1944. She had dark hair, just like Elizabeth short, and was around the same age. She was murdered in West Hollywood and her murder has never been solved.
The link between Beauerdorf and Short is most clearly The Hollywood Canteen. Which has been described as “the famous nightclub created by Bette Davis and John Garfield, that allowed servicemen to eat and be entertained for free while served by a staff of Hollywood notable” End quote (http://bit.ly/2xmpH2W)
Both were junior hostesses there in the 40s. Both had dark hair. Both were friendly with men.
In the early hours of October 12th 1944, the couple living below Beauerdorf heard heels clicking and heard what they described as a tray hitting the ground. Around 2:30am they heard Georgette scream “Stop! You’re killing me!” (http://bit.ly/2v0pHZE).
Her body was found in the bathtub the next morning by Georgettes maid. She was bruterally raped and the the official cause of death was strangulation. Georgettes car was found miles from her apartment – out of gas and empty. The case quickly went cold. I’ve included her apartment on this episodes map – her actual apartment was up for rent not too long ago.
There are a few similarities to Gerogette Beaurdorf and Elizabeth Short that have caused people to speculate correlation between the two. For 1 – they both worked at the Hollywood Canteen as junior hostesses. 2 – they were both around the same age 2- they both had dark hair.
This lead the police to think that initially both Beaurdorf and Shorts murder was someone in the service that they had met at the canteen.
This is the most strikingly the similar case to the black dahlia and kicks off the idea of a serial killer. If you want more information on the idea of the Black Dahlia murder being part of a serial killing – I recommend you check out the podcast “Hollywood & Crime” from Wondery.
They look into multiple murders that could all be linked to the Black Dahlia Murder – all were women, all had dark hair, all were nude or partially nude, all of their personal items were taken and they all were left in public places where they were sure to be found.
It is a really interesting theory and one that I think could hold up against some of the suspects we have already looked at in the episode. I’ll link the podcast in the show notes because it’s really well done and worth a listen.
I want to talk about Elizabeth Short’s life in Hollywood for a minute – she was in Los Angeles for only 4 months before she was murdered and she moved 8 times in those 4 months. She has been described by those “close” to her and those who lived with her as “lazy” and that she “didn’t want to lift a finger.” But in contrast, she has been described by lovers and former boyfriends as “being able to get the best table at a packed restaurant” and “always put together.” This strikes me as so interesting because this idea of a near-broke wannabe actress that Short was at home is so different from the polished, elegant lady that she presented to the men she associated with. Could that be a clue?
In the months before her murder Short had fallen on unusually hard times – Crime Magazine.com says “On December 8 she took the Greyhound bus south to San Diego. Later that day she fell asleep in the Aztec Picture Theater and was awakened by Dorothy French, a 21-year-old cashier and usherette. Short spent a month living with Dorothy, her mother Elvira, and younger brother Cory in their home in Pacific Beach, just north of the city limits. During this time she dated a number of men, one of whom was Robert “Red” Manley, a 26-year-old travelling salesman from Huntington Park, in Los Angeles. On January 9, 1947 it would be Robert Manley who would drive Elizabeth Short back to Los Angeles and let her off at the Biltmore Hotel.” END QUOTE (http://bit.ly/1ybx1O9)
So there was have the introduction of Red. We know that he supposedly left her at the Biltmore Hotel and that she was waiting on a call – from another lover, perhaps? We know that Red was cleared as a suspect early on in the investigation but that Short’s murder would haunt him for the rest of his life. I wonder if he knew more than he ever let on, but couldn’t come forward for fear of looking guilty or associated?
What I think is interesting is that I have found in my research that the case files – not the evidence, because that is all missing – but the “four filing-cabinet drawers” of files are still sealed. They are not open to the public and have never been shared or disclosed. Which makes me wonder… yes this case is a “cold-case” that could be re-opened at any minute, but it’s over 70 years old and there is no evidence left… so they say?
Which leads me to my next suspect, and the one most widely accepted at the murdered of Elizabeth Short: George Hodel.
The was the prominent surgeon who owned the Mayan Replica Frank Lloyd Write house on Franklin Ave has been described as the number one suspect in the killing of the Black Dahlia – mainly due to his son: Steve Hodel. As I mentioned last episode, Steve Hodel believed his father’s guilt so strongly that he has basically dedicated his life to proving it by working for the LAPD and writing a number of books including the 2003 “The black Dahlia Avenger”
I began correspondence with Steve Hodel over a year ago. When I began researching this case, I thought that George Hodel was the most blaringly the obvious suspect. How was he never questioned? The DA even had tapes of him saying “Supposin' I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn't prove it now. They can't talk to my secretary anymore because she's dead.... They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her. Maybe I did kill my secretary”
That “secretary” that Hodel mentions is Ruth Spaulding. She was believe to be murdered by Hodel in 1945 but it was later determined that she committed suicide, yet Hodel was present and burned some of her personal documents before contacting police. Weird.
And I wanted to get Steve Hodel’s perspective – he is the one shouting the loudest that his father is the killer despite there being no hard and fast evidence. As my research went on I wasn’t as convinced that George Hodel could be pinned as the killer… but I still wanted to talk to Hodel. He agreed to an interview back in June and then when I reached back out to schedule the call he said…
“Just in the past week, I've decided not to do any more podcast interviews, at least for the present.
With four books completed with all the new evidence and all the original top LAPD/DA/Sheriffs brass confirming that the case was solved and Dr. George Hodel was the killer, I am no longer presenting BDA as "another theory."
We are now way beyond any "Reasonable Doubt."
Currently involved in putting together a miniseries presenting all the evidence and linkage.
Need to keep my work/investigation clear and free from of the many myths that so many want to keep perpetuating.
This is best done by disassociating my own investigation from the other "theorists" some who are still pushing fictions from fifty years past.” End Quote.
Another suspect that we haven’t talked about is George Knowlton. His daughter, Janice, claimed years later that Elizabeth Short was having an affair with her father and that she was living in a makeshift room in their garage. She claimed that short was a sex worker and that she had a miscarriage of her father’s child. According to one report, Janice said QUOTE “she witnessed her rage-filled father beat Short to death with a claw hammer in the detached garage of the family home in Westminster.” (http://lat.ms/2wBhkE1) This comes almost 40 years after the slaying of Elizabeth Short and years after her father’s death. Why now? Alleged “repressed memoires” resurfaced… she later died of an overdose but QUOTE “Psychiatrists and experts on post-traumatic stress disorder who appeared with Knowlton during her talk-show appearances, however, found her story plausible.”
I want to throw one more suspect out here because I think it is interesting: Patrick S. O’Reilly. O’Reilly was a medical doctor that Short new through Mark Hansen – remember him? The nightclub owner who Short stayed with for a bit? One account on O’Reilly states QUOTE “According to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s files, O’Reilly was close friends with Hansen and frequented the nightclub that Hansen owned around the time of the murder. O’Reilly also allegedly “attended sex parties at Malibu” with Hansen.
O’Reilly had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for “taking his secretary to a motel and sadistically beating her almost to death apparently for no other reason than to satisfy his sexual desires without intercourse,” the District Attorney’s files stated. This meant that O’Reilly had a history of violent crimes with sexual motivation.
The files noted that O’Reilly’s right pectoral had been surgically removed, which was similar to the mutilation present on Elizabeth Short’s body. It should be noted that O’Reilly was once married to the daughter of one of the LAPD captains.” (http://unc.live/2iBxuav)
O’Reilly’s name is one of 22 – including Dr. George Hodel’s – that the LAPD looked at as a potential killer of Elizabeth Short. But no conviction came of his questioning. (http://bit.ly/2wgRna2)
Something to note about this case is all of the other crimes that were exposed because of it – George Hodel’s secretary’s supposed suicide, and in the case of Janice Knowlton, the potential that she was part of child sex trafficking.
This case is so muddied and there are so many theories out there as to what actually happened that even speculating is hard. But what I do think is this: Elizabeth Short was murdered by someone with medical knowledge. I don’t think that her death was premeditated – I think it was potentially a crime of passion like in Georgette Beaurdorf’s case.
Now is where I am going to go out on a limb – Elizabeth Short was known to be very friendly with men and had a taste for the finer things in life. We know she had no real roots, but dressed herself as a lady, spent may nights out and was often swept off with men (for example, her trip to Santa Barbara with Red Manley) – if I had to theorize, and this is based on what I have gathered through my year of researching this case – is that Short was an escort of sorts – I don’t know if she was a full-fledged prostitute, but I definitely think she worked in that field. As far as her murder – if it was done by a medical professional such a George Hodel or Walter Bayley, I think it might be under the guise of her getting an abortion – which was illegal at that time. It has been speculated that both men were part of underground abortion rings. That would give her connection to both men, a location for either of them to do their concealed medical work/deal with her body.
Now, the questions with WHY. And I don’t think this is something I can answer. Perhaps it was a crime of passion, perhaps it was a display of art, perhaps it was for sport – because the killer felt that invincible.
At the end of the day, all of this is speculation as the murder happened 70 years ago, those involved are probably long since passed away, and there is no current access to the evidence. But hey, maybe Steve Hodel’s “miniseries” will shed some factual light into what actually happened to Elizabeth short… only time will tell, I guess.
In a weird way, Elizabeth short got what she wanted – for her name to go down in history and her legacy to be cemented in fame, but now quite how she had envisioned it.
So what are your thoughts? Who do you think was the infamous Black Dahlia killer and why? Tweet me @HollywoodlandPC or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know! I love hearing from you guys!
As per usual, complete list of references is included in the show notes and on the website.
I want to thank you all for listening to this season of Hollywoodland: Unsovled and for your emails and tweets. I love hearing from you and having you guys along for the ride of this passion project has been amazing. Cheers to next season! And maybe a little surprise before then.
All elements of Hollywoodland: Unsolved are produced by me, with graphics and maps by Brian Balzerini and music by my amazing father.
Sources: http://bit.ly/2g0Kgyx | http://bit.ly/2xmpH2W | http://bit.ly/2v0pHZE | http://bit.ly/1ybx1O9 | http://lat.ms/2wBhkE1 | http://bit.ly/2wgRna2 | http://unc.live/2iBxuav
Hollywood & Crime: http://wondery.com/wondery/shows/hollywoodcrime/