Few crimes rival the Black Dahlia for gruesomeness and violence. In fact, any list ranking the most sensational crimes in history is guaranteed to name the Dahlia in their top ten.
Elizabeth Short, 22, was murdered in 1947. She was found, on January 15th, in an abandoned lot in Los Angeles. Her body was cut in half and she was horribly mutilated. including her face, which was sliced from ear to ear. The woman who found Elizabeth originally thought she was a mannequin because of the way the body was positioned on the ground. No blood was found at the scene and investigators deduced that she had been killed elsewhere.
She was a waitress and an aspiring actress, and though she dated quite a bit, allegations that she was a prostitute were never proven. This lent a seedy element to the story and placed Elizabeth in an unsympathetic and unfavorable light with the public. She was quickly dubbed the Black Dahlia, thought to be due in part to her penchant for wearing black flowers in her hair and as a reference to the film, The Blue Dahlia (1946). At that time, she was almost exclusively referred to by this moniker, as opposed to her real name.
The story so gripped the attention of the people, that it was in the newspaper headlines for almost two months. The investigation into the murder never produced a specific suspect and, to date, no one has ever been convicted, much less charged with the crime.
At the time of the investigation, there were some people who actually confessed to the crime, but they were all proven to be false. Since then, there have been several more individuals who have tried to confess to the murder or who have offered up their family members as the murderer.
The most notable of these is Steve Hodel, who claims his father, George Hodel, is the real perpetrator of the crime. Interestingly, George Hodel was on the original list of 22 suspects the police had organized. The original detectives thought that the murderer had medical training of some sort, based on the injuries found on Elizabeth’s body. George Hodel was a physician who was described as being very distant and actually abandoned his family when Steve was still a child.
Steve had grown up to become a very successful and well-respected homicide detective in the LA police department. When he discovered an old photo in his father’s possessions that looked remarkably like Elizabeth Short, it started Steve off on one of the most important cases of his career. Further investigation revealed that way Short’s body was cut up was in actuality a medical technique, and one that was taught when George would have been in medical school. An old letter that had been sent to police, from someone calling himself the Black Dahlia Avenger, and who claimed responsibility for the murder, appeared to match George Hodel’s handwriting.
Steve Hodel is convinced his father is the man who murdered Elizabeth and believes his investigation has produced the proof to substantiate it. We may never know who the truly committed one of the most sensational crimes in history, but Steve believes otherwise.