In January 1947, a woman was found in an abandoned lot. She had literally been cut in half and the blood drained from her body. The beauty instantly caught the attention of national media who dubbed her The Black Dahlia after the main character in the movie The Blue Dahlia.
During this time in Los Angeles, murders were mostly gang related (think organized crime, not modern gangs). The LAPD was as crooked as a police department could get. Press interference was astronomically cringe-worthy. And the body of a beautiful woman was terrible, but she wasn’t really connected (financially) and there were lots of assumptions made (like she was a prostitute).
Over the years, it is has been postulated that The Black Dahlia murder wasn’t the only one of it’s kind. It might have been a serial killer, which was nearly unheard of during this time period in LA (possibly due to police corruption and ineptitude), or it might have been related to another murder.
The facts: Elizabeth Short was a hostess and actress. She was popular at the Hollywood Canteen where she worked as a hostess. She was an extra in a few films. There’s no evidence she was a prostitute and she actually had not been living in LA for very long. She was faced with tragedy when her fiance died during WWII. After her murders, there seems to have been a series of letters sent to someone about her death. These letters do exist according to the LA Prosecutor’s office even today, but it is nearly impossible to find out anything about them (if you are really good, they were released in the FOIA documents regarding the Short case from the FBI, but I’m not good enough to find them).
Given that Short was cut in half, many believe her death t0 be connected to the Cleveland Torso Murders (The Madbutcher of Kingsbury Run). The Torso Murder investigation was spear-headed by the famous Elliot Ness and pretty much killed his career. However, he did have one prime suspect; Dr. Francis Sweeney. Sweeney checked himself into a mental institution in 1938, after the last known victim of the Madbutcher, which meant he was free to check himself out at any time. There are rumors that he was in LA during the time of the Short murder.
There has also been the theory that Elizabeth Short and the murder of Suzanne Degnan are related. Suzanne was six, lived in Chicago, but was cut up. Ironically, the street where Short’s body was found was reported to be Degnan Drive and the Black Dahlia letters were reported to have the same characteristics as Suzanne Degnan’s ransom note. Suzanne’s murder would later be connected to the Lipstick Murders in Chicago and William Heirens would be convicted of her murder.
However, more interestingly, in 1944 Georgette Bauerdorf an oil heiress and hostess at the Hollywood Canteen was murdered in her home. Police found the light outside her apartment had been tampered with. She was found in a bathtub full of water, but cause of death was strangulation. Like Short, she was a dark-haired beauty. While Short had been sexually assaulted, Georgette Bauerdorf had been sexually active within a short time before death, but it was not ruled a sexual assault. The only thing missing after her murder was her car, meaning the motive probably wasn’t robbery (all her expensive jewelry & money was found inside the house). The LAPD blamed it on her lifestyle, since she was known to give rides to servicemen… How that translates into someone waiting for her to arrive home (the tampered outside light) and killing her, is a mystery to me. Her murder is also unsolved.
Recently, a retired LAPD detective has claimed his father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, Jr. was the murderer of Elizabeth Short. It was at this time that the LA Prosecutor’s office admitted they had Hodel, Jr. under surveillance and considered him the primary suspect in Short’s murder. The fact that he was a doctor helped, since it was thought that Short’s murder would require someone with very good dissection skills (and probably would have). Surveillance of Hodel, Jr. ended in 1950 when he moved out of the country. While his son does an excellent job giving explanations and evidence as to why Hodel, Jr. was the Dahlia’s murderer, he seems to have blundered when he wrote a second book (this time associating his father with Zodiac, during which time his father was not living in the country… Hodel, Jr. would have had to come visit his children every time one of the Zodiac murders was committed). The LA prosecutor’s office has agreed that if Hodel, Jr. were still alive he would be prosecuted for the murder of Elizabeth Short.
Which leaves the question of Georgette Bauerdorf. The idea that she was killed for giving soldiers a ride home is ludicrous. She was specifically targeted and killed for the simple pleasure of killing her (much like Short). Is it pure coincidence that both women, who worked at the same place and actually bore a resemblance to each other, were both murdered by different people and that both murderers went the rest of their lives without killing another person?
*On a side note, many famous actresses worked at the Hollywood Canteen during its heyday, including Marlene Dietrich. It wasn’t a stretch for a young woman to think working there would get them into showbiz.