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Elizabeth Short: The Black Dahlia

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Horrific Crime

The 22-year-old Short was last seen alive in the foyer of the Biltmore Hotel at 5th Street and Olive in downtown Los Angeles on the evening of 9 January 1947. A week later, on 15 January 1947, local housewife Betty Bersinger found Short’s body in a vacant lot in the Leimert Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Bersinger was walking with her three-year-old daughter to the cobblers and thought at first that the waxy white figure lying near the pavement was a store mannequin discarded in the lot. The gruesome truth was that it was a woman’s naked, badly mutilated body, cut in half at the waist and lying face up in the dirt. At 10:40 am, Bersinger ran to a nearby home to call the police, saying, “A person needs attending to” and hung up without leaving her name. She phoned again a few days later to identify herself as the caller.

Two detectives were assigned to the case, Finis Brown and Harry Hansen, but by the time they reached the crime scene, it was overrun with reporters and onlookers, all carelessly trampling the evidence. Agnes Underwood, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald Express was one of the first at the scene. The body had been positioned as if the killer wanted it discovered. The dead woman’s arms had been placed above her head at 45-degree angles and her lower half was lying about a foot away, with her straight legs spread wide open. Her wrists and ankles bore rope marks, suggesting she had been tied up prior to death and possibly tortured. Her mouth had been slashed three inches open on both sides, making it into a hideous clown-like grin. Her nipples had been cut off and her vagina stuffed with grass. Her intestines had been removed and were positioned neatly under her buttocks and her body washed clean of blood.
The detectives concluded that due to the lack of blood on the body and the surrounding grass, the murder had taken place elsewhere. They knew from the dew still present under the body, that it had been placed in the lot after 2 am but before dawn and that she had been dead approximately ten hours. They had no clue as to her identity, so they sent her fingerprints to FBI headquarters in Washington and a match was found. Short had her fingerprints taken on two previous occasions, when she was arrested for underage drinking and when she worked in the mailroom at the military base post room in California. Short’s mother confirmed that her last known address was in Pacific Beach, San Diego. The coroner’s office cited the cause of death as massive internal haemorrhaging caused by blows to the head. No traces of sperm were found anywhere on her body.