The Key to the Killing

lindgren image

Larry Harnisch 1999

The interview with Douglas (conducted in 1996) was illuminating and maddening. He was so certain that the killer had chosen the neighborhood on South Norton Avenue for a specific reason; that the killer had some connection to the immediate area and wanted to get back at someone there. In our conversation, Douglas must have mentioned a link between the killer and the land half a dozen times. But what was the connection? And who was the target? I originally had no intention of writing anything more than a newspaper article. But I had uncovered so much unexplored material that I decided there was enough for a book. I decided to leave no stone unturned.

I spent months researching the history of the land, starting in the 1820s with its days as a rancho (Rancho Cienega o Paso de la Tijera), and later as a land development (Leimert Park). I interviewed Walter H. "Tim" Leimert Jr., the son of the project's developer and a developer in his own right. I also talked to a group of scholars at Cal Poly Pomona who had made a detailed study of the area's history and architecture. I spent every day for several months going through the Los Angeles city archives on the neighborhood, learning about sidewalks, the widths of streets, lighting districts, residents' appeals for crosswalks, improvement districts, paving, zoning issues and all the other tedious, bureaucratic nitty gritty of city records.

In the early 1940s, Ringling Bros. came in on the railroad tracks along Exposition Boulevard, had a circus parade down Crenshaw Boulevard and set up its tent at 39th Street and Crenshaw, two blocks from the crime scene, so that meant research on the circus. There had also been a small airport on the west side of Crenshaw at 39th Street, so that required an exploration of early aviation in Los Angeles.

The area was also one of the key locations in the court battle to break restrictive deed covenants that banned the sale of property to non-whites (long before he became mayor and was still a police sergeant, Tom Bradley had to go through a white intermediary to buy a house a few blocks from the crime scene on South Norton Avenue; nor was his experience unusual). That meant I had to learn about integration of neighborhoods. (As a side note, Leimert Park is today one of the leading African American neighborhoods in the city and an undiscovered gem as far as most of white Los Angeles is concerned. The 3800 block of South Norton Avenue where Betty's body was found, however, is mostly Asian American.)

Another prominent resident of Leimert Park in the 1940s was Jack Dragna. One of the leaders of organized crime in Los Angeles, Dragna lived 4 blocks from the crime scene, which meant I had to explore any mob connections to the killing.

It all came to nothing. All I knew was that if I ever ran across a connection between the killer and the land, it would stand out like a beacon.

I had set a deadline for myself as to when I would end my research and start writing: Aug. 1, 1997. And then it happened.

My family was out of town on summer vacation so I had some extra time to explore aspects that were (or so it seemed) marginally related to the crime. As I was researching my article, people sent me things that they believed would help me. Some items were very helpful while others were only curiosities. One of the people was a filmmaker named Kyle Wood, who sent me a box of materials related to the Black Dahlia case. In addition to everything else, including his own documentary and photos of the monument he had placed in Medford, Mass., there was a dim photocopy of wedding certificate for Virginia Short (Betty's oldest sister) and Adrian West. When I got the marriage certificate, I looked it over, noticed that they had gotten married in Inglewood, and filed it away, not thinking much more about it.

So on one day in August, I decided to explore Inglewood and find the home where Virginia and Adrian got married. I got out the marriage certificate and began looking for the address. I found it all right, and it was in Inglewood, but there was something else.

My blood ran cold. For there on the wedding certificate was the key that I had been looking for all along--an address on South Norton Avenue. Or so it seemed. The photocopy was so dim I could barely make it out. I sent off for an original copy and waited six tense weeks until it arrived in the mail. The signature is reproduced above: Barbara Lindren, 3959 S. Norton Ave., exactly one block from the crime scene. Now I had two members of the Short family connected within a block of each other on South Norton Avenue: Betty and her oldest sister, Virginia. But who was Barbara Lindgren?

Home         Next