“I want the cops to chase me some more”
It is unlikely that anyone would now know the name of Elizabeth Short, if not for the appalling circumstances of her death. Born in poverty in Hyde Park, Massachusetts on 29 July 1924, she moved to Santa Barbara where she was noticed because of her habit of always wearing black and was nicknamed the Black Dahlia. Promises of a screen career never developed and she became a prostitute. In December 1946 she became a lesbian for a brief period but decided that she wanted to find a man, settle down and raise a family. Then she told her friend she had fallen for a man she called only “Red”.
On the morning of 15 January 1947 Betty Bersinger and her three-year-old daughter were out for an early morning stroll when they came across the bisected torso of a naked woman. When the police examined the remains of the woman they noted that the face had been slashed and the mouth cut on each side so that it resembled a huge grin. The breasts, thighs and arms had all been cut and rope burns were apparent on her wrists and ankles.
There were cigarette burns all over the body and the letters BD had been carved into one thigh. The lower half of the body was in a recumbent position. Elizabeth Short’s body had been drained of blood, washed and then dumped where it was found.
3925 South Norton Avenue, South Central Los Angeles, California, USA
Wednesday 15 January 1947
On 21 January 1947 Jimmy Richardson, the city editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, received a phone call from someone claiming to have killed Elizabeth Short. “I’m going to turn myself in but I want the cops to chase me some more. You can expect some souvenirs of Beth Short in the mail.”
Not long afterward, an envelope arrived containing Short’s birth certificate and her address book containing the names of more than 70 admirers. Police began to systematically check through them. Another item arrived, with a note saying “Dahlia killing justified.”
It was to be the last contact. Police tracked down Robert “Red” Manley who at first denied knowing Elizabeth, then confessed he did know her but nothing had happened between them and he had not seen her since 8 January. He was released and in 1954 his wife had him committed to an asylum. Police questioned more than 400 suspects and numerous cranks confessed.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The case inspired the 1953 film The Blue Gardenia, which had a title song sung by Nat King Cole.