The Black Dahlia Revisited

The rotting corpse of Elizabeth Short as photographed by the police. Photo taken from
The rotting corpse of Elizabeth Short as photographed by the police.
Photo taken from

The end of October marks another Halloween, a day when tales of the supernatural and the occult gain prominence over the mainstream media. A day when paranormal experts, cryptozoologists, conspiracy theorists and similar pseudo-professions are taken seriously when otherwise they are perceived as kooks. It is also a day when people remember those who had gone before us and spend one more day with them.

Most would dismiss the 31st of October as mere child’s play, a day for dress-ups and an excuse for promiscuous costume parties. However, there is something more to this day than pure novelty and humor. On a more serious note, unexplained phenomena and paranormal events which have been forgotten are given attention and pondered on once more. Some events which most have discarded to be hoaxes or mere inventions are given a chance to be given a more serious consideration. More importantly, the unsolved cases and disappearances which have been kept in police file folders and are collecting dust as ‘cold cases’ can be remembered once more and possibly be reopened.

When talking about unsolved mysteries, there arguably is not a more compelling case that has not yet been resolved by investigators or debunked by skeptics than the decades-old ‘Black Dahlia murder’. A riddle that has perplexed crime investigators of the highest calibre and has been capitalized in the form of movies, books and even a video game by Rockstar Inc.

Yet the case is no cause for a laugh. The infamous event involves the gruesome murder and mutilation of a 22-year old female named Elizabeth Short on the 15th of January 1947. The name was given as a result of the media’s penchant for giving colorful nicknames to publicized cases at that time, the Black Dahlia is thought to be a word play of the ‘Blue Dahlia’ which was a movie in 1946.

Elizabeth Short’s corpse was found on a vacant lot early morning of January, she was cut in half from her torso and there were several wounds to her body including missing pieces of flesh from her thighs and breasts which had been sliced off. In fact, the body was so mutilated that the passerby who discovered it, Betty Bersinger a local resident, thought it was a mannequin that was torn apart by stray dogs. You can’t imagine how frightening it would have been when she realized the blood oozing out of the rotting carcass.

It has been more than sixty years now and the Los Angeles Police Department still has no lead on the suspect. The reason for this primarily is that the case became so sensationalized that several individuals impeded the investigation. A few days after the murder was made public over fifty people came forward admitting responsibility for the crime, because being a murderer was apparently a fad at that time. Obviously, not all of them were credible. Of that number the police only took half as viable candidates for suspect, the rest were dismissed as nuisance.

Some of those suspects were so desperate to be indicted that they presented personal belongings of the Black Dahlia as evidence incriminating themselves. The fact that so many wanted to own up to this crime makes this case even more mysterious. Most of the serious suspects were medical men, in fact the lead detective investigating the case made a deathbed confession that he believes the killer was a top surgeon. However no conclusive evidence would support that testimony.

Those who followed the case before or even until this very day would say that the biggest deterrent to any conviction was the obstruction done by the media who passionately sensationalized the case. Police noted how journalists would squeeze every piece of intelligence and information from investigators and make them public, helping the real culprit evade arrest. The media were also behind several phony tip-offs given to police which led them away from the actual facts and also fabricated their own witnesses and paid people to step forward as suspects in order to boost their tabloids. All these were baffling the investigators and undoubtedly wrecked their own investigation.

To make things worse, the media were also noted to have approached several informants and acquired pieces of evidence which they kept from police as they were more worried about reporting the finding first.

As terrifying as the nature of the killer may be, what is more worrying is the conduct of some people. There are people who would go to great lengths to milk the most out of a story or as they would say, to make a mountain out of an anthill. The journalists who followed the case were more worried about boosting their profile rather than contributing to the case or aiding the investigation. As a result, the suspect remains at large to this very day if they are still alive.

We can draw an uncanny parallel to the manner which those journos acted to today’s media – desperate for a good story without caring about compromising the investigation. We live in a capitalist society, where opportunists are rewarded. While that is mostly a good thing, it is also good to draw a line between opportunity and humanity. There are decisions when we would have to forego opportunity for the sake of doing the moral good. And if only this was learned during the time of the Black Dahlia investigation, perhaps the killer would have met justice.

Further Reading

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