Original content © Larry Harnisch 2003-4
Not sure where to look? Search my entire site here:Search Amazon.com here: Q. Are there any movies of Elizabeth Short?
A. None that I know of. Many people have the idea that the April 13, 2003, broadcast of "Dateline NBC" showed film of Elizabeth Short. In fact it was apparently stock footage. Here's a transcription of the narration:
Josh Mankiewicz: It's VJ Day, 1945. The Second World War is over and Hollywood Boulevard, the main drag of the movie capital, is one big party. Look closely at these home movies and you'll see a famous face. We're not 100 percent sure, but that dark-haired girl about to kiss the sailor seems to be the Black Dahlia, the soon-to-be victim in perhaps the most sensational unsolved murder in American history.For the record, Elizabeth Short wasn't even in Los Angeles in 1945.
Q. Is it true that there is no Detective Herman Willis, as claimed in "Severed"?
He's not in the 1940s city directories or phone books, like the other LAPD detectives of the period. Unlike other detectives, he doesn't appear in any of coverage of the Black Dahlia case. In fact, there's not a single word about him in the clip files of the Los Angeles Examiner or the Los Angeles Times (where I work). The directory of retired LAPD officers doesn't list him, and a friend of mine, a former officer who keeps a huge database of all LAPD retirees and their death dates going back decades, has no listing for a Herman Willis.
As far as I can tell, he does not exist--and the story attributed to him about Elizabeth Short's supposed deformities is untrue.
This is my standing challenge on Herman Willis:
1) When did he graduate from the Police Academy?
2) When did he make detective?
3) What was his badge number?
A real detective could answer those questions in a minute. It's a little harder if he's fictitious.
Q. At what anatomical point was Elizabeth Short cut in two?
A. According to a transcript of the inquest, Elizabeth Short was cut in two between the second and third lumbar vertebrae.
Will Fowler's "Reporters" incorrectly says that she was bisected between two of the thoracic vertebrae. Steve Hodel's "Black Dahlia Avenger" gives both locations in different parts of the book. The differences between the two areas are readily discerned in this illustration from "Gray's Anatomy."
Q. I just tried to e-mail Pamela Hazelton at the bethshort.com Web site but the mail came back saying her address was no good. How do I get in touch with her?
A. I know nothing of the bethshort.com Web site. As I told Pamela several years ago, I detest the idea of having photos of Elizabeth Short's body posted on the Internet, so I won't even go to that site. That's why there are no body shots, no crime scene photos, no morgue pictures, on my Web site--and never will be. The people who keep searching my site for those images should go somewhere else.
Q. What is your opinion of "Black Dahlia Avenger"?
What I dislike the most is the effect on the victim's family. It is shameful to put Elizabeth Short's surviving sisters and their children through the trauma of having this case in the limelight once more in what is either a fantastic self-delusion or a cynical attempt to cash in on a parent who is conveniently dead and unable to defend himself.
Q. Has the theory that the Cleveland Torso murderer was the Black Dahlia murderer been officially dismissed?
Q. I was doing research on the Torso Murders in Depression Era Cleveland, Ohio and, being superficially acquainted with the Black Dahlia case, I was intrigued by the similarities in the two unsolved cases. Are they related?
In all honesty, it is part of human nature to attempt to classify the world around us into an orderly pattern. Most of the time, this serves us well. But there are occasions when it works to our disadvantage and seeing patterns in a series of unrelated phenomena of any sort can be one of them.
Q. I think I have identified a man in a photo on the bethshort.com Web site Do you think I'm right?
A. Let me say again: I can't really answer questions about other Web sites, especially the bethshort.com Web site, which I don't like because it has the body shots (see above) and it's based on "Severed," which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. I try to stay out of there. For that matter, I don't like the crimelibrary.com for the same reason: It's largely based on "Severed" and has body shots, but at least someone maintains that site and can answer queries.
But after repeated questions, I got the picture to look it over and frankly, rather than worry about identifying the man, I'm not even sure it's Elizabeth Short. Without a better scan it's impossible to tell for certain, but until someone can prove that it's Elizabeth Short, I'm not going to bother with any more questions about the photo.
Q. Are there any Black Dahlia sites left in San Diego?
Q. The links on Steve Hodel's "Black Dahlia Avenger" Web site don't lead to Steve Lopez's articles in The Times. Do the articles really exist?
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley gave Steve Lopez access to the 1949 Los Angeles County Grand Jury files. As I told Lopez before he went over, since he had no idea what he was getting into, most of the files deal with the Leslie Dillon debacle, which is undoubtedly one of the most embarrassing events in the history of the Police Department. That sounds like an understatement, but believe me, it isn't. For most of its session the 1949 grand jury focused on other matters, but at the end, it looked at the Dillon affair. When it concluded its service, the jury recommended that the issue be taken up by the 1950 grand jury, which took up other questions instead.
As for Leslie Dillon, here it is in a nutshell and I'm not making this up: In the hysteria over the Black Dahlia killing, various crime magazines publish stories about the murder within a year or so. One appears in Police Gazette, the other in True Detective. Above left, the cover of True Police Cases, February 1948. A man named Leslie Dillon, formerly of Los Angeles, now living in Florida, sees one of these articles and writes a letter to the LAPD, where it is received by Dr. Joseph Paul DeRiver, the department psychologist. DeRiver decides that Dillon's story about knowing a man when he was in Los Angeles who might have killed Elizabeth Short is the figment of his imagination. In essence, DeRiver decides that Dillon has a split personality and that under one of his alternative identities Dillon killed Elizabeth Short. He lures Dillon to Los Angeles on the pretext of hiring Dillon as his secretary.
When Dillon flies into Las Vegas, he is met by DeRiver and a group of detectives not related to the separate homicide investigation. The group happily motors back to Southern California until they take a wrong turn in Banning and imprison Dillon at a local resort, where he is grilled mercilessly in an attempt to get him to confess to the Black Dahlia killing. He finally sails a postcard out the window saying pretty much "Help, help, I'm being held prisoner!" and everything hits the fan. For about a day, it looks like the LAPD has solved the case with Dillon and then it collapses into a huge mess when police finally find the man who is supposedly Dillon's alternative personality. There's lots more but that's the basics.
So once Lopez got the files, he called me. I asked him if there was a photocopier in the room, and he said: "There's someone with me." Lopez said that along with all the voluminous testimony on Dillon, which is 80% of the file, the grand jury was presented with the names of about 20 people and why they were eliminated as potential suspects. Because this was 1949, and police were looking at anyone with a medical background who had been accused of a sex crime, Dr. George Hodel was included.
Whatever else has been said about Dr. Hodel, he wasn't a stupid man. He was obviously aware that investigators had tapped his telephone and bugged his house. According to the transcripts Lopez read to me over the phone, Dr. Hodel warned all callers that his line was tapped. Read the actual transcripts. In my opinion, Dr. Hodel was baiting investigators by putting on a charade for them to see if they would storm in. Rather than a smoking gun, this is an exploding cigar; nothing but an attempt to harass investigators.
And yes, I did get names of the 20 people who were eliminated as suspects. I recognized most of the names and yes, I'll have them in my book. I would post the old pulp magazine articles except they are full of mistakes and I don't want to perpetuate them. There's been enough of that already. But I do enjoy the covers.
Q. On what basis do you say "Severed" is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction? I just read it and I think everything is backed up with first-person accounts.
Detective Herman Willis (see above) is a perfect example of someone who is entirely fabricated. I even went through John Gilmore's archives at UCLA Special Collections to see if there are any notes from any of his interviews. There isn't a single word from any of them. The only thing even close is a transcript of an interview with Jack Wilson that is revealing for entirely different reasons. If you live in Los Angeles, I suggest you go and read it for yourself.
As for the errors, they are everywhere. It would be a life's work to point out all the mistakes in "Severed," so I always tell people to pick a chapter at random, go out and check every statement independently and let me know how they do. As far as I know, no one has ever taken me up.
Moreover, in an Aug. 28, 2004, interview with Sydney Morning Herald (registration required) author John Gilmore says he never claimed to have solved the case. He told the Morning Herald: "I carried this thing to a place where the next step had to involve the police. They said they wanted to get this man. They planned to set up a meeting and stake him out, but he died in that fire."
Q. It appears that Steve Hodel might be right when he states that the
"secret" held by Dr. Walter Bayley's colleague/lover Alexandra von Partyka had to do
with his possible connections with the underground abortion ring and not
with his possible murderous relationship with Elizabeth Short.
A. This is actually three questions masquerading as one, but I want to spend some time on the issue as it's a good case study in how "Black Dahlia Avenger" ruthlessly and systematically distorts, misrepresents and represses the facts to reach its intended conclusion.
The first issue is whether a Dr. Audrain was the head of an abortion ring based on what's written in "Thicker'N Thieves" by Charles Stoker and lifted more or less intact with errors and embellishments by "Avenger."
The second is whether Dr. Bayley was in practice with Dr. Audrain based on them having the same address, as charged in "Avenger."
The third question is if the first two items are true, was Dr. Bayley an abortionist, as charged in "Avenger"
First things first.
Anybody who takes "Thicker'N Thieves" at face value isn't worthy of calling themselves a researcher or a historian. It's more than a autobiography with the biases one would expect. It's a polemic casting the author, Charles Stoker, at right, as the victim of all sorts of conspiracies because he's an honest cop who refuses to be pushed around. Not to get into "Thicker'N Thieves" too much, because for an impartial and unbiased historian, it redefines the term "a can of worms." But it's short on names, dates and other essential facts and very long on how Charles Stoker got the shaft from everybody in Los Angeles.
First question: In the chapter "Angel City Abortion Ring," (Pages 150-162) Stoker says he was approached by a retired LAPD lieutenant who was working as a temporary investigator for the California Medical Board, and of course in "Avenger" the temporary part of it gets left out. This unidentified investigator and another agent curiously left out of "Avenger" praise Stoker for his courageous stand and say they need help looking into a possible case.
"Thieves" says Dr. Audrain is the head of an abortion ring that is being protected by homicide detectives, which in "Avenger" inexplicably becomes "the gangster squad." "Thieves" says: "This inspector and others intuitively felt that its doctors were being protected by a very unique method." In other words, the investigators don't really know about any protection racket, they just feel that something's going on.
To summarize "Thieves," the Medical Board agents have no problem getting convictions of abortionists who pass themselves off as physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, etc., but they can never get anything concrete on doctors. From this lack of evidence, the agents get the notion that doctors are being tipped off by their boss. So they want Stoker's help while their boss is out of town.
Stoker recruits a policewoman, who is certainly one of the more colorful characters in the book. "Thieves" (Pages 62-63, 118-122) describes her as being married four times by the age of 26, along with an apparent affair with Stoker--presumably between husbands. There's much more about her, but remember, I said "Thicker'N Thieves" redefines "a can of worms."
The policewoman goes to Dr. Audrain's office and she is supposedly scheduled for an abortion. But everything falls apart when the investigators' superior returns from vacation (in "Avenger" this is changed to him returning early from vacation), presumably tipping off the doctor.
Stoker decides to proceed and sure enough, the doctor's offices are locked--at 7:30 a.m., as I would suspect are the doors of most doctors' offices even today. For Stoker, this is the end of case, for he breezily writes that the doctor presumably took off for Mexico.
Now I would expect any competent researcher to dig into "Thieves" a bit to find out about Dr. Audrain before writing about him and certainly before accusing him of anything illegal. Being an abortionist is a serious charge; for a doctor at that time, it meant losing one's license and practice, and going to jail.
The problem is that there's nothing in the historical record implicating Dr. Leslie C. Audrain of anything illegal. Preliminary research shows that he was a surgeon in ob-gyn and was a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., a professional organization intended to ensure certain standards--certainly not something you'd expect for an abortionist.
In addition, news reports show that he filed a complaint with the FBI in 1939 about extortion attempts (Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1939). A man named Frank John Thomas Boyle was indicted for trying to extort $500 from Dr. Audrain and several other doctors by various threats. But Boyle didn't confine himself to doctors: he also threatened to bomb the car of a gas company employee unless the man hired him. In light of all this, it is difficult to imagine the head of an abortion ring making a criminal complaint to any police agency, let alone the FBI, and even more difficult since a federal grand jury believed Audrain enough to indict Boyle.
So how was Charles Stoker able to accuse Dr. Audrain of being an abortionist? The answer is quite simple. Audrain died in May 1949, so Stoker, writing in 1951, could write whatever he pleased without fear of a libel suit.
Now for the second question: Were Audrain and Bayley (note the Norton Avenue address) in practice together? It is true that both doctors had the same address, as noted in "Avenger."
Unfortunately, "Avenger" sweeps lots of details under the rug and in this case, it's the fact that the two men had different phone numbers and obviously didn't share an office.
In fact, both men were located in the Professional Building, shown below, an eight-story office building at 1052 W. 6th St. devoted entirely to doctors. Using the line of reasoning in "Avenger" all of them were abortionists!
Finally, based on the first two questions, which I have thoroughly disproved, was Dr. Bayley an abortionist?
The answer is no. Here's why: Dr. Bayley was a member of the county medical association and the chief of staff at Los Angeles County Hospital. More than that, he was an associate professor of surgery at USC Medical School and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Physicians with these kinds of credentials weren't going to risk everything doing something illegal.
If that isn't enough, I have even more. I interviewed the daughter of Phoebus Berman, Dr. Bayley's friend and the head of Los Angeles County Hospital, as well as Dr. Bayley's secretary. Both women said there was nothing illicit about Dr. Bayley's practice.
As I said, "Avenger" distorts, misrepresents and represses the facts. It is poor work--nothing less than a literary lynching.
Q. Where were Elizabeth Short's parents living when she was born?
Q. How did Elizabeth Short get the nickname the Black Dahlia?
A. The nickname is frequently misattributed (as in Jack Webb's "The Badge," among many others writers who followed) to reporters. It's true that the Los Angeles newspapers, particularly the Herald-Express, prided themselves on nicknaming murders, usually after flowers. There was the "Red Hibiscus Murder" and the "White Gardenia Murder" and the "Red Rose Nude" (the latter was given by a pulp detective magazine), among many others.
But Elizabeth Short was known in her lifetime as the Black Dahlia as a play on the movie title "The Blue Dahlia" that came out in the summer of 1946, when she was in Long Beach. This original Jan. 17, 1947, clipping from the Los Angeles Daily News (no relation to the current newspaper, which is technically the Daily News of Los Angeles) gives the most authentic information because rewrite man Jack Smith got it from Arnold Lander, the pharmacist in Long Beach.
Q. I'm doing a term paper on the Black Dahlia killing. Where do I look for information? Can you help me?
Second, none of the popular books, "Severed," "Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer," "Black Dahlia Avenger," etc., are worth the paper they're written on, certainly not for a dedicated and impartial researcher. This applies even more to the Web sites that rely on them. And especially the TV shows. (Television shows are *not* research). That leaves the original newspaper stories from 1947. Unless you live in Los Angeles and have access to the downtown public library, you will find most libraries in the rest of the known world only have microfilm of the Los Angeles Times back to the 1970s or 1980s and nothing of the other papers. The radio show "Somebody Knows!" while dated, is fairly accurate--though not without problems. That's one reason I posted it.
I hate to be discouraging, but unless you live in Los Angeles, you'll have to use secondary sources that are highly distorted, mostly mistakes and fiction.
Q. How about comparing Walter Bayley's DNA to that found on the envelope used to mail Elizabeth Short's belongings to the Examiner?
First, did the DNA ever exist?
Second, can it be recovered?
Third, to whom can it be compared?
As you say, it's quite possible that whoever mailed the items was the killer and that the subject licked the envelope and stamps on the front. However, some sort of adhesive was used to attach the pieces of newsprint to the envelope and it isn't impossible that the killer also used that material to close the envelope and affix the stamps. In the same way, one of the common accessories on many office desks at the time was a shallow glass container that held a sponge used for wetting stamps and envelopes.
Even so, it's still most likely that the envelope and two stamps were licked. But there's no guarantee. Remember that whoever sent the material soaked everything in gasoline or some other solvent to destroy fingerprints. It wouldn't be impossible for someone like this to try to cover his tracks even further.
Second, there's the question of survival. The people with whom I've discussed this say recovery of DNA from saliva on old envelopes and stamps is problematic at best. I don't even pretend to be a DNA expert, but that's what I have been told.
After that, there's the question of finding the envelope to even begin the investigative process. At the time it was received, the envelope and cut-out letters were disassembled in an attempt to recover fingerprints from the back. I haven't any idea how much of it was taken apart, but I'm fairly certain based on investigators' remarks, that the backs of the larger pieces of newsprint were examined. As of 1949, the envelope and contents were in the possession of the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab. I'm not sure where they are today.
Finally, assuming that it was possible to find the envelope and recover DNA, the challenge remains of comparing it to someone. Walter Bayley's only biological descendant died in 1920. While he and his wife had two daughters, they were adopted, so any descendants wouldn't be a match anyway. Walter Bayley did have several siblings and they did have offspring, but whether they would be willing to cooperate is at best uncertain. The notion--which some people have suggested--of exhuming Walter Bayley, which would obviously require the family granting permission to something that's quite invasive and unpleasant in hopes of recovering DNA, is at best problematical. Frankly, I wouldn't even dream of asking the family such a thing.
I'm afraid that for now it will have to remain nothing but an interesting theory.
Q. Was Elizabeth Short a prostitute?
A. No. The Feb. 12, 2004, correction on the New York Times obituary of John Gregory Dunne says:
� Because of an editing error, an obituary of the writer John Gregory Dunne on Jan. 1 referred incorrectly to the victim in the Black Dahlia murder case in Los Angeles, the basis of his novel "True Confessions." The victim, often described as a would-be actress, was not a prostitute. Also because of an editing error, the obituary misstated the surname of the author of "Panic in Needle Park," a nonfiction book that Mr. Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, turned into a screenplay. He is James Mills, not Mill. This correction was delayed by an editing lapse. (Go to Article)
Q. Did George Hodel kill his secretary to keep her from talking about the Black Dahlia case?
A. No. Read the Herald-Express story from 1945.
Q. Did Elizabeth Short work at the Hollywood Canteen as claimed in "Severed?"
A. "Severed" is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction. The Hollywood Canteen closed Nov. 22, 1945, while Elizabeth Short didn't arrive in Southern California until the middle of 1946.
Q. I don't live in Los Angeles, so I don't have access to historic newspapers on microfilm at the Los Angeles Public Library. Is there any way I can read the original newspaper articles online?
A. Yes, at least some of them. Proquest has scanned in most of the Los Angeles Times, including the critical dates in 1947. You'll need to find a library that subscribes to the service. The link is right here.
Q. What happened to the bethshort.com Web site?
A. I'm unable to answer questions about other Web sites. Apparently it was defunct for a while and is back online but not maintained.
Q. What is in Elizabeth Short's FBI file?
A. Here's a sample from her file. While the censorship on this page is extreme, it is by no means the exception. Because the murder was not under the FBI's jurisdiction, there is very little pertinent in the file, which consists mostly of newspaper articles clipped from the Washington newspapers, memos on identifying Elizabeth Short's fingerprints, and anonymous statements from people who claimed to have known her.
You could buy a "bound" copy for $30 on ebay, but here's the FBI's link to her file--for free. Note that it mistakenly calls her Elizabeth Ann, the alleged middle name she erroneously received in a 1970s Los Angeles Times story. In fact, she didn't have a middle name.
I have mirrored the files here:
Part 1 4.2 Megabytes
Part 2 5.1 Megabytes
Part 3 2.6 Megabytes
Part 4 4.1 Megabytes
Q. When did the "Hunter" TV show air an episode on the case?
A. The 78th episode of "Hunter," titled "The Black Dahlia" aired on Jan. 12, 1988, claiming to be the 41st anniversary of the murder, although her body was found Jan. 15. A related site deals with the TV show.
Q. Hey, I love your site, but where are the Black Dahlia bomber jackets, T-shirts, coffee mugs, baby bibs and dog bandanas?
A. Go away. Far, far away.
Q. What do you make of the "black dahlia solution.org" claims?
A. I think the site's gross manipulation of photos--alterting Elizabeth Short's eyes and mouth, for example--is disturbing. The writing style is virtually unreadable, so it's hard to get through, but what I've read is dysfunctional and demented.
Using the same logic (that Elizabeth Short's body was a "pointer" to Degnan Boulevard in reference to the Suzanne Degnan murder), one could say that the killer was "Gene Rayburn" because the next street over is "Grayburn." It's lunacy. And I wish the author, whoever he is, would stop sending me things under the phony name of "Jack Pico" from his mail drop in San Diego because I never read them. And for the record, there was no Ed Burns.
Special note: This is sarcasm not to be taken literally. I give this warning because it is impossible to say something about this case so absurd that no one will believe it. Again, I'm not saying Gene Rayburn was the killer. This is sarcasm intended to show the lunacy of the Degnan Boulevard claims!