Today In Pop Culture: The Black Dahlia Is Discovered In Leimert Park

Published on January 15th, 2016 in: Books, Movies, Today In Pop Culture |

By Jeffery X Martin


Trigger Warning: graphic descriptions of murder

Leimert Park is a funky little neighborhood in South Los Angeles. It was planned in the 1920s, and the architecture is mostly Spanish Colonial Revival. Now, it is known for its music, its food, and its embracing of African-American culture. But Leimert Park is known for something else, too: one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history.

It is 1947, and on this day, the body of Elizabeth Short is discovered in Leimert Park. Death by natural causes is out of the question. Short’s body is mutilated, sliced in half at the waist, and intentionally posed. The newspapers, happy to make the situation as lurid as possible, give Short the nickname, “Black Dahlia.” Elizabeth Short is 22 years old at the time of her murder.

Short’s story is a typical one. She came from a broken home, drifted around between Florida and California, and ended up in the City of Angels hoping to break into acting. She was working as a waitress at a cocktail bar when she was killed.

Short had a reputation around town. She was known for wearing nothing but black, which was pretty gothy for the 1940s. She was also considered a giant mooch. Her attitude was one of entitlement, and the people she lived with noted her lack of appreciation for any help given. In other words, popular opinion was that Beth Short was a cold bitch.

That doesn’t justify her murder, of course, nor does it explain the calculated brutality of the killing. Her body was found by a housewife out walking with her child. Short’s hands were folded behind her head. Her intestines were gathered up and tucked under her buttocks. Her legs were splayed apart, and the two halves of her body were about a foot apart. The killer had also seen fit to give her a Glasgow smile.

The killer was never caught. The LAPD reported that over 60 people confessed to the crime, but a viable perpetrator was never arrested. Theories abound to this day over who the killer may have been. One theory claims that Short was murdered by William Heirens, the same man who kidnapped and killed six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago. There was handwriting evidence pointing to Heirens, but nothing was ever proven.

Beth Short may not have made it onto the silver screen, but the story of her untimely violent death did. Brian DePalma directed a film, Black Dahlia, based on James Ellroy’s novel of the same name. Well, the book is good. Lucie Arnaz played Short in a TV movie called, Who Is the Black Dahlia?

Metal fans will be familiar with the band, The Black Dahlia Murder, whose name is derived from the Short case. Have they ever written a song about Elizabeth Short? I don’t know. I can’t understand a word those boys say.

The memory of Beth Short still looms over Leimert Park, and the case is L.A.’s most famous unsolved mystery. Whether we will ever learn who killed the Black Dahlia remains to be seen.

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