Completely lacking respect or sympathy for Elizabeth and her family, Los Angeles newspapers sensationalized the case and dug up every dirty detail of the starlet’s life. They also fabricated information and portrayed her as a prostitute prowling Hollywood Boulevard to make the stories more scandalous and sellable. Dubbed the “Black Dahlia” by an imaginative newspaper copy editor, the nickname plays on the The Blue Dahlia, a popular film noir at the time.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie also explore the investigations of Steve Hodel, a Los Angeles homicide detective who staunchly believed that his own father, a medical doctor, was responsible for murdering Elizabeth Short and many other women.
“Supposing I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead,” said Dr. George Hodel.
Reporters from Citizen News, the Examiner, Sentinel and Times swarm the crime scene to photograph Elizabeth Short’s mutilated body. The lead detective on the case yells at his men to cover her body.
To get personal details about Elizabeth’s life, a reporter from the Examiner calls Phoebe Short, her mother, pretending to be a Miss Muscle Beach Beauty Pageant representative. Thinking that her daughter just won a beauty contest, Phoebe happily gives the reporter information. She has no idea Elizabeth is actually dead and the front page headline of all the newspapers in Los Angeles.
It’s only after the reporter gets what he wants that he finally tells the proud, excited mother her daughter was murdered. His subsequent insistence to pay for her airfare and accommodations in L.A. “to help police with the ongoing investigation” was also a sham. The Examiner kept her away from the police and other papers so that they could retain their exclusive.
Rather than reporting the truth, the newspapers mercilessly spread rumors that she was a call girl and falsely stated that she had an “infantile vagina” despite the medical examiner’s repeated testimony to the contrary.
Nailing someone for the murder looks pretty good when Army Corporal Joseph Dumais turns himself into the police for the crime. He claims to have blacked out while bar hopping with Elizabeth in L.A. Then after waking up several days later in New York and hearing about Elizabeth’s death, he believes himself to be the murderer because of his history of getting rough with women while drunk. Police discount Dumais’ confession when they find evidence placing him in Fort Dix, New Jersey at the time.
Soon after Dumais’ confession, the Los Angeles Examiner receives an anonymous caller claiming to be the murderer. He sends the paper a box filled with Elizabeth’s personal effects and a letter postmarked by the “Black Dahlia Avenger.” Any time there was a lull in the Black Dahlia case and its press coverage, the killer sent another letter.
Unfortunately, the police could not get any fingerprints off any of the letters, because the killer soaked the paper in gasoline.
While over 60 men and women confessed to the crime, the most likely suspect was Dr. George Hodel, a medical doctor who ran the county’s only venereal disease clinic. In his free time, he threw extravagant parties out of his home, inviting artists, photographers and Hollywood stars, which maybe what connects him to Elizabeth. There were rooms in his house where his children were not allowed to enter and in 1949, two years after the Black Dahlia case, his daughter accuses him of sexual assault and child pornography.
Years later, after Dr. Hodel’s death in 1999, his son Steve finds a photo album of his father’s with a picture of Elizabeth Short inside, a taunting letter and handwritten note from the Black Dahlia Avenger. He recognizes it as his father’s own handwriting. After further investigation into a D.A. file on the Black Dahlia, Steve finds that Walter Morgan, an investigator who worked for the office, bugged his father’s home.
The transcripts catch Dr. Hodel talking about the Black Dahlia and he suspiciously mentions that the police can’t question his secretary Ruth Spaulding because she’s dead. Sure enough, police found Ruth dead from an apparent drug overdose. A day later, the transcripts reveal that the LAPD may have witnessed his father murdering another woman but did not intervene.
Rife with corruption, the LAPD notoriously had a reputation for accepting bribes and payoffs. Nearly all the physical evidence from the Black Dahlia case, including the Dr. Hodel audio recordings disappeared. It is quite possible Dr. Hodel paid the top brass in the police department to look the other way.
Dr. Hodel’s medical knowledge also fits. Elizabeth’s killer had to have acute knowledge of the human body to mutilate her with the precision that he did. Also, the dirt sampled from the back of Dr. Hodel’s house tested positive for human remains.
However, professionals have since refuted Steve’s evidence. Handwriting comparisons disproved that the Dr. Hodel and the Black Dahlia Avenger’s handwriting are the same. It was also proven that the woman in the photo found in Dr. Hodel’s album wasn’t Elizabeth Short.
Still, Steve wouldn’t give up his case against his father and the more he investigated the more he believed Dr. Hodel was the Zodiac Killer. Dr. Hodel was also believed to have been responsible for the Lipstick Murders in Chicago and the Jigsaw Murders in the Philippines. Yet, none of this was ever proven either.
We’ll never know what happened to Elizabeth Short during the last week of her life, but her name will be forever etched into the pages of history and its gruesome unsolved murders.