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The Black Dahlia

Earlier this year, I received a long-distance call from Los Angeles, California one morning. It was from a producer working on an investigative documentary film about the Black Dahlia case.

He called and said that they had read my blog about the Lucila Lalu case and how I had mentioned the late Dr. George Hodel.

He also informed me that his production team would be traveling to the Philippines to learn more about the Lucila Lalu case and had invited me to be interviewed for the documentary.

However, I was in Moncada, Tarlac that time taking care of my father. February came and I informed them that I couldn’t make it to Manila for the interview because I had to take care of my father who had become bed-ridden after suffering from a fall and affected his spine.

So I passed up the opportunity to meet the production team. However, it made me decide to feature this 72-year old case which produced more suspects but not even one was arrested.

The Discovery

On the morning of 15 January 1947, around 10:00 am, Betty Bersinger was walking her three-year old daughter on Leimert Park, Los Angeles. She saw on a vacant lot what she initially thought was a discarded mannequin. When she realized that it was a dead body, she rushed to a nearby house and called the police.

When the police and the press descended on the remains, they discovered a half-naked body of a female, completely severed at the waist, and drained of blood. It seemed that the killer had washed her body before leaving it there. The face had been slashed from the corners of the mouth to the ears creating an effect called the “Glasgow Smile”. The corpse had several cuts on the breasts and a “B. D.” carved on her thigh. The body was also made to “pose” with her hands over the head, elbows bent on right angles and legs spread apart.

Elizabeth Short

The police took her fingerprints and sent copies to Washington, DC. Records showed that the dead body belonged to someone named Elizabeth Short, 22 years old, who was arrested in 1943 for underage drinking.

Investigation showed that Elizabeth Short spent her early life in Medford, Massachusetts before moving to Florida, and eventually to California in 1946. It was known that she wanted to be an actress but she had no known acting credits or jobs.

The Black Dahlia

Further investigation revealed that she had been living like a rolling stone in California, moving frequently, and never staying at one address too long. She was a waitress by day but haunts sleazy bars and pick-up joints at night. This was a woman who was always out, no regular place to stay, no regular job, and dating a lot of people.

The inevitable happened. Elizabeth started to accept money for her favors. She soon became known for her black apparel which suited her enigmatic personality. That’s probably the reason why the “B.D.” seen on her body was immediately interpreted as the “Black Dahlia”.

Too Many Suspects

Usually, police would start asking the person who had last seen Elizabeth Short. At the top of the list is a traveling salesman by the name of Robert “Red” Manley. According to reports, Elizabeth met Manley down at the street corner. He was married and he would test his love for his wife by picking up Elizabeth Short. Manley told police that he and Short spent time together on 8 January 1947 in a San Diego motel room. The next day, 9 January, he drove her back to Los Angeles where he left her alive and well at the Biltmore Hotel. The police took Manley and had him undergo two polygraph tests which Manley passed.

Staff of the Biltmore Hotel recalled having seen Short using the lobby telephone. Shortly after, she was allegedly seen by patrons of the Crown Grill Cocktail Lounge approximately a half mile away from the hotel.

The case itself took a life of its own. Early on, for two months, it was front page news on all the local papers everyday.

Since the news hit the headlines, several persons claimed to be the Black Dahlia’s “killer”. One of them sent letters made of cut and pasted words or letters from the newspaper saying, “Here is Dahlia’s belongings, letter to follow.”

The envelope contained Short’s birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper, and an address book with the name “Mark Hansen” embossed on the cover. The packet had been carefully cleaned with gasoline, similarly to Short’s body, which led police to suspect the packet had been sent directly by her killer. Despite the efforts to clean the packet, several partial fingerprints were lifted from the envelope and sent to the FBI for testing. However, the prints were compromised in transit and thus could not be properly analyzed.

Mark Hansen, the owner of the address book found in the packet, became a suspect. He was a wealthy local nightclub and theater owner and an acquaintance at whose home Short had stayed. According to some sources, Short had rejected sexual advances from Hansen, and suggested it as potential motive for him to kill her. However, he was cleared of suspicion in the case.

Another tip came from a waitress who said she had heard two killers discussing the crime at the table. She gave the police a description. And inquiries revealed that the “killers” were a couple of detectives having an off-duty coffee.

A small-time underworld figure gave himself up to police, saying “I killed the Black Dahlia.” This time detectives thought they had solved the case, because in Elizabeth’s address book had been the name of a firm the suspect had once worked for. But a lie-detector test showed he was just another crank.

Around fifty men have claimed they committed the murder of the Black Dahlia plus a hundred of other possible suspects. The police interviewed literally thousands of people because it was such a tough case. Everybody who had known Elizabeth Short was a suspect.

But by the spring of 1947, the murder had become a cold case with few new leads. Detectives on the case blamed the press for compromising the investigation through reporters’ probing of details and unverified reporting. Also, the public had been immunized with the constant sensationalized news reporting, thus the interest started to fade.

How Come Dr. George Hodel Became a Person of Interest?

“I was close to my father the last ten years of his life,” said Steve Hodel, a retired LAPD Homicide Detective, of his late father, Dr. George Hodel, Jr. “I know my Dad has sex problems and I believe the incest, but murder, no way.”

The incest he was talking about was the incestuous sexual abuse case filed by Steve’s half-sister, Tamar, against their father George in 1949. She was a teenager then. It was a celebrated, well-publicized case but George was acquitted.

After their father died in 1999, Steve had struck up a conversation with Tamar. “I talked to Tamar, my half-sister, whom I haven’t spoken to in 50 years,” he said in an interview. “Out of nowhere in a phone conversation, she said, ‘Well, you know, our Dad was the suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.'” And he replied, “What are you talking about, Tamar? Where does this coming from?” Tamar said, “Well, you don’t know it but he was a suspect.”

Fourteen years into retirement, he started researching about the Black Dahlia initially to vindicate his father. But once he saw the evidences mounting, it became hard for him to ignore.

“I found the actual original receipt of 50 pounds sack of cement during the week Elizabeth Short was murdered at the house and they were at the crime scene,” Steve Hodel said. “So we got the physical evidence connecting.”

He continued, “One of the most important things is the secret DA tapes when they bugged the house for six weeks and got actually his confession to the murder — murder of the secretary, to the Black Dahlia murder and the payoffs to law enforcement, to performing abortion — all of these were on tape and hidden away in the DA’s office.”

A transcript of the taped conversation revealed this statement coming from Dr. George Hodel: “Supposing I did kill the Black Dahlia, they can’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her. Maybe I did kill my secretary.”

Back then, Dr. George Hodel was a suspect for killing his secretary, Ruth Spaulding, by drug overdose. He was suspected of having murdered her in order to cover up his financial fraud, such as billing patients for tests that were never performed, and to protect various valuable secrets he had obtained about police and politicians from clients for his illegal abortion services.

Steve said that the case was tight and authorities were literally looking for him to lock him up but before they can get the chance, George left the US in 1950 and made another life and family in the Philippines.

George married a Filipina wife, Hortensia Laguda, and they had four children. They got divorced in the ’60s but George went back to the United States in 1990.

The Lucila Lalu Connection

If you will check the timeline, the Black Dahlia and the Lucila Lalu cases were similar and almost connected. Here’s why:

  • Both were mutilation, done by someone who might have a medical or surgical background.
  • Elizabeth Short died in 1947 in Los Angeles where George Hodel also lived. Lucila Lalu died in 1967 when George Hodel lived here to escape from the US authorities.
  • Although his name was never mentioned as someone whom Elizabeth and Lucila had met prior to their respective deaths, it was highly probable that George Hodel attracted these two women to fall into his trap.
  • With this high intelligence and money, George Hodel could have paid authorities so he could get away with murder.
  • Both were unsolved crimes until now.

Steve Hodel had written several books about the Black Dahlia case and his theory that his father, the late Dr. George Hodel, Jr., had probably killed Elizabeth Short and many others. He had been compiling what the FBI and LAPD found and other evidences he could come across.

Related Article: Lucila Lalu Case

72 years had passed and this case has been identified as one of the most highly-publicized crimes in a post World War II America. It produced too many suspects but no one was even arrested, tried, or convicted. Justice wasn’t served well, and it will never be. This will remain one of the most famous unsolved crimes in the world.

Published inTrue Crime