Catch the Killer
Catch the Killer
The Black Dahlia murder investigation was conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department and was the largest since Marian Parker’s murder in 1927. It necessitated the borrowing of officers from neighbouring police forces in order to investigate every person who had known Short, starting with 20 of her former ‘boyfriends’. These people, numbering in the hundreds, were all treated as suspects, who had to be eliminated one by one.
In February 1947, as a direct result of the Short murder, California became the first state requiring the registration of convicted sex offenders. It was a breakthrough for LAPD psychiatrist Dr J. Paul De River who had been making recommendations for this legislation for a number of years.
The police spent precious manpower interviewing thousands of people and the Biltmore Hotel's registration records were examined from December 1946 to January 1947 but none of the suspects' names appeared. A house-to-house search was conducted, the police searching for blood-soaked clothing, but they gained no solid leads. At one point in the investigation, the detectives were convinced that the clean bisection of Short’s body pointed to the murderer having medical knowledge. They focussed on medical students and some doctors made it onto their list of suspects. By June 1947, police had eliminated approximately 75 suspects and by December 1948, the number had reached 192.
Various witnesses reported seeing different cars in the area, including a black sedan that had been driving slowly along the driveway of the vacant lot at around 6 am, with its headlights off. It had stopped against the curb, idling, but no one had seen the driver. Whilst there were hundreds of suspects and intensive investigation and interviewing, no perpetrator was ever found.
The last person to see Short alive on 9 January 1947 was Robert “Red” Manley, a 25-year-old married salesman. The pair had apparently stayed a night in a local motel and Manley had driven her the following day to Los Angeles, to check her luggage in at a bus station. Short had told him she was going to Berkeley to stay with her sister, whom she was meeting at the Biltimore Hotel. Manly accompanied her to the hotel lobby but left at 6:30 pm to return to his family in San Diego. Police booked him as a suspect but he was released after he passed a polygraph test. Later, he was given sodium pentathol (the ‘truth drug’) but was absolved a second time. Manly suffered a mental breakdown and in 1954, after claiming he heard voices, was committed to Patton State Hospital by his wife. He died on 9 January 1986.
On 24 January 1947, nine days after the murder, a package was mailed anonymously to the Examiner newspaper, still smelling strongly of the petrol the sender had used to wipe it clean of fingerprints. There was speculation that it had been sent by Short’s killer. Inside were some of Short’s belongings, including her birth certificate, social security card, some photographs, Major Matthew Gordon’s obituary and an address book, containing the names of 75 men. All of these men were traced and their stories found to be similar. They had met Short at a nightclub or on the street, bought her drinks or dinner but not seen her again after she made it clear she was not interested in a physical relationship.
On 25 January 1947, Short’s black patent leather handbag and one of her black open-toed shoes was found in a dumpster, several miles from the crime scene. Manley confirmed them as hers, as the handbag still smelled of her strong perfume and the shoes were the same he had paid for to be resoled in San Diego.
The police and the newspapers were contacted by several people who claimed they had seen Short during the week between her disappearance on 9 January and the discovery of her body on 15 January. All reports of alleged sightings were investigated and ruled out. None of the people actually knew Short and in some cases, police identified other women witnesses had thought were Short.
22 final suspects were investigated by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office:
1. Mark Hansen
2. Carl Balsinger
3. C. Welsh
4. Sergeant “Chuck” (name unknown)
5. John D. Wade
6. Joe Scalis
7. James Nimmo
8. Maurice Clement
9. A Chicago police officer
10. Salvador Torres Vera (medical student)
11. Doctor George Hodel
12. Marvin Margolis (medical student)
13. Glenn Wolf
14. Michael Anthony Otero
15. George Bacos
16. Francis Campbell
17. “Queer Woman Surgeon”
18. Doctor Paul DeGaston
19. Doctor A.E. Brix
20. Doctor M. M. Schwartz
21. Doctor Arthur McGinnis Faught
22. Doctor Patrick S. O’Reilly
Mark Hansen, a 55-year-old Dane who owned Florentine Gardens, a Hollywood nightclub that featured burlesque acts was a major suspect. He had known Short while she was in Los Angeles and she had lived in his home on several occasions between May and October 1946. Hansen had received a telephone call from Short on 8 or 9 January, making him one of the last people to have spoken to her. The address book sent in the anonymous package to the Examiner newspaper was embossed with Hansen’s name. He had never used it and had given it to Short. Hansen remained a key suspect until 1951 and was linked to three others, Doctor M. M. Schwartz, Doctor Arthur McGinnis Faught and Doctor Patrick S. O’Reilly. Hansen had no criminal record or history of violence and no charges were brought against him. He died of natural causes in 1964.
Doctor Patrick S. O’Reilly was a medical doctor who knew Short through Hansen. O’Reilly reportedly frequented the Florentine Gardens and attended sex parties with Hansen. O’Reilly had a history of violent, sexually motivated crime and had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon but no charges were brought against him.
Physician Doctor George Hodel only became a suspect in 1949 when his neighbour, Lillian DeNorak accused him of molesting her. He was placed under surveillance from 18 February to 27 March 1949 and tried and acquitted in December 1949. Lillian was later committed to a state mental institution. Hodel died in 1999 and his son, LAPD detective Steve Hodel published his book ‘Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder’ (2003). In it he depicts his father, George Hodel, as a misogynist and a pervert, holding orgies at the family home and raping his 14-year-old daughter. He goes on to claim his father was the Black Dahlia killer and committed other unsolved murders over two decades.