“I saw the body from the sidewalk.” On January 17, 1947, a young American, Betty Bersinger, walked along Norton Avenue in Los Angeles with her 3-year-old daughter, Anne. In the distance, enthroned in the middle of a vacant lot, the young mother thinks she sees an old window mannequin. She is wrong. She has actually just made a discovery that will change America. What she mistook for a model is actually the lifeless body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. Cut in half at the waist, it was emptied of its blood and carefully cleaned by its executioner. The young woman’s face shows traces of mutilations from the ears to the corners of the lips. A sinister smile from Glasgow forever inked in everyone’s memory.
Due to the color of her brown hair, the dahlia flower she wore in her hair or the color of her outfit, Elizabeth Short is nicknamed by the media “The Black Dahlia”. A reference, also, to The Blue Dahlia (the Blue Dahlia), a film released shortly before focusing on the murder of a young woman. First, the Los Angeles police interrogate Robert “Red” Manley, a 25-year-old married man whom the young waitress who dreamed of being an actress dated. The latter claims to have dropped off Elizabeth at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on the previous January 9, 6 days before the discovery of the body. Several hotel employees confirm to have seen the young woman in the hotel, moving Manley away from the viewfinder of the police …
500 confessions, 0 guilty
On January 24, the police and media in Angeles received a mysterious letter. Inside, Elizabeth’s birth certificate, address book, business cards and photographs. The whole thing is accompanied by a letter on which is written “These are the personal effects of Dahlia. A letter will follow.” The investigators will never receive the announced missive. On the cover of the victim’s address book, they find Mark Hansen’s name. A wealthy owner of Angeline clubs and nightspots and theaters, he is suspected of having murdered Short after she spurned him. The man is nevertheless released, like all the suspects who will follow. And there were many.
On March 14, 1957, a farewell letter was discovered in an abandoned shoe at the edge of the ocean: “To whom it may concern: I waited for the police to capture me for the murder of the Black Dahlia, but did not not been. I’m too cowardly to surrender so this is the best way out for me. I couldn’t help myself. Sorry, Mary. ” The author of the letter is the first in a long list of alleged culprits gripped by a morbid fascination with the case. 60 confessions were recorded during the first survey, more than 500 in all.
“The black Dahlia is a ghost, a blank page that expresses our fears and our desires. A post-war Mona Lisa, an icon of Los Angeles”, wrote the writer James Ellroy in 1988. The murder of Elizabeth Short has never been elucidated. To this day, one of the most serious suspects remains George Hill Hodel, a mysterious man exposed by his own son, Steve Hodel, a former Los Angeles cop. Before Short’s murder, Hodel was already suspected of murdering his secretary, Ruth Spaulding. He will say, “Imagine I killed the Black Dahlia. They can’t prove it. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore since she’s dead.” The Black Dahlia case is one of America’s oldest and most successful cold cases. Dozens of books, films and documentaries are inspired by it.
Elizabeth Short © DR