he fine, light powder she
smoothed over her body may have been the only light thing in Elizabeth
She moved in dark shadows, frequented dark bars,
always wore black clothes and ultimately died amid blacker secrets.
They called her the "Black Dahlia."
She died 35 years ago Sunday, and she remains as
enigmatic as on that Jan. 15, 1947, morning when newspaper headlines
screamed about 'THE MANIACAL WEREWOLF
who tortured and then bisected the 22-year-old
brunette, abandoning her hacked torso in a grassy lot on Norton Avenue
between 39th Street and Coliseum Avenue.
Fanned by the flaming journalistic excesses of the
day, it was a murder that has horrified and fascinated Los Angeles ever
since. No motive, no weapon and no killer have ever been found.
But John Gilmore -- the 13-year-old son of a Los
Angeles cop at the time of the murder - believes he has solved the
crime that has stumped police for three decades. After 13 years of
research, the author of books about Charles Manson ("The Garbage
People") and Charles Schmidt ("The Tucson Murders") is convinced the
killer is alive and running a bar in Nevada.
lthough he is
willing to release composite drawings
of his prime suspect, Gilmore won't reveal the man's name, calling him
instead, "Mr. Jones." Gilmore's key source is "Mr. Smith," who knew
both Jones and Elizabeth Short.
"According to Smith, Jones told him he'd done it,"
Gilmore says. "My source said he sat in the hotel room and drank an
entire bottle of whiskey and told him in great detail what he'd done."
Jones was a shady figure, according to Gilmore,
connected with two deaths in Chicago before he came to Los Angeles and
"did jobs" for people. After holding her against her will in a rented
house on 33rd Street, he murdered Elizabeth Short in a fit of
It is the latest theory in a case that has offered
as many smoke screens as suspects. The Black Dahlia is, after all, a
murder 40 people have confessed to.
"There are people today who confess to the murder
even though they weren't born at the time."
But Gilmore, who has talked to "a couple hundred"
people in his 13-year quest, is convinced he has finally pieced the
story together, building on the collection of shady characters who
found their way to Hollywood after World War II.
So certain is Gilmore of his findings that he took
his evidence to the Los Angeles Police Department several weeks ago.
[Editor's note: A photo of this
much of the story
appears in "Severed." What follows does not.]
riday, Homicide Detective John
St. John, one of two detectives now assigned to the Black Dahlia,
called speculation about Gilmore's findings "premature."
"We've been tied up on the Bonin Freeway
(Killer) case and we haven't had any time to work on that information
that he gave us. It's going to have to wait until we get through with
the Bonin case and, as time permits, we'll look into the information he
has spent years poring over the tattered
press clippings that spawned much of the case's macabre fascination,
Gilmore's version of the murder is different from the "EXOTIC BLACK
of the day's screaming headlines. "Beth," as he calls
a diffident girl, sickly as a child, a secretive loner who somewhat
naively relied on men for mobility and money.
"People say this is a story of a girl who came to
Hollywood to be a star and wound up being a prostitute, but that's not
really the case," Gilmore says. "She didn't really have the ability to
form goals. She was an extremely peculiar, strange girl, very odd in
Contrary to bedding down with men for money,
Elizabeth Short declined men's sexual overtures. Smith, in fact, is the
only man Gilmore has found who [Editor's
note: Yes, I know that should be whom]
she was intimate with --
a factor he believes is key to her murder.
"She went out with a lot of different guys, but it
was like a little game. They would have a nice dinner -- she liked to
go have a nice dinner -- and then she'd want to dance. She loved the
idea of it being romantic. Then, of course, they'd want to go to bed
and she can't she won't, she can't.
"She always had a thing about how she had to
be at her sister's at her family's in the morning, that's why she can't
go tonight. Instead she'd take your card or your number, and maybe
contact you, maybe not contact you.
"But then she'd say, 'I really need some money, too,
you know. Do you think you could loan me about $20? Because I have to
catch this bus to go see my sister.' "
had been engaged to a Flying Tiger
pilot who was killed in China [Editor's
note: Yes, I know it was India]
, she told the men she met
that they had
and then embellished the story by inventing a nonexistent baby who also
"It was like a little act, a little speech that she
In the end, Gilmore believes, it was insane jealousy
and anger that drove Short's murderer to beat her, cut off one breast [Editor's note: Yes, I know this is
slash her mouth from ear to ear and then cut her in
half, methodically draining the blood from her bisected body by running
water in a tub.
Although the gap in the Black Dahlia case has always
been the five "missing days" between Jan. 9, when Elizabeth Short was
last seen at the Biltmore Hotel, and Jan. 15, when her bloodless body
was found on Norton Avenue, Gilmore says he has placed her on the 12th
and the 14th.
On Jan. 14, she and Jones traveled from an apartment
in Hollywood to the Roosevelt Hotel, where he picked up a key to the
house at 33rd and Trinity.[Editor's
note: Yes, I know that in "Severed" this is 31st Street.]
was an old two-story, long, narrow,
brown wood house and the owners rented it out. This is the house where
he finally brought her, and this is the house where she was finally
re-creation, Jones was angered by
Elizabeth Short's behavior and her refusal to give in to his advances
-- especially since Jones knew she had alreeady been intimate with
The two quarreled about a phone call she wanted to make, according to
Gilmore, and when she insisted on leaving the wooden house, an incensed
Jones beat her, raped her, and then, losing all control, tortured her
and ultimately killed her. In his frenzy to cut up the body for
disposal purposes, Jones cut the body in half.
Then panicked at the prospect of discovery,
Jones wrapped each part of Elizabeth Short in curtains from the house,
wrapped the entire bundle in an oilskin tablecloth and loaded the body
in his car. In the early morning hours of Jan. 15, Jones drove a few
short blocks and dumped the body, and Elizabeth Short achieved in death
the notoriety she had only fantasized about in life [Editor's note: Nobody can resist
that cliche, can they?]
police and the press had a "field day,"
according to Gilmore, with some reporters inventing suspects, facts and
even the name "Black Dahlia" itself. [Editor's note: Yes, I know this is
law enforcement officers were little
better, conducting exhaustive searches of irrelevant houses in a flashy
show of conscientiousness.
"The case could have been, I believe, solved at one
time," Gilmore says. "The investigative work that was done was done in
At one time Jones was sought by police for
questioning, but he slipped through their net.
Today, clues are hard to come by. The house where
Gilmore believes Elizabeth Short was murdered was destroyed in 1960. A
vacant lot sits there now, in a neighborhood where they shoot craps on
A housing development has been built over the field
where the tortured body was found.
And others who might have talked about the case are
speaks with confidence about his version
of the Black Dahlia murder, Gilmore admits to frustration about the
"black holes" still left in the story, holes he believes "have got to
do with the psychology of the people involved rather than awkward legal
Gilmore is also unhappy that, in 1978 he went to
Indianapolis to see Jones -- but just to see
"I just looked at him. Now I'm sorry I didn't talk
to him about Elizabeth Short because I didn't know at that time that he
had killed her. I didn't have that part of the story. I didn't know
there was a situation between Smith and Jones, that there was always
Even if Gilmore has succeeded in solving the crime,
could anyone be convicted of a crime when so little evidence remains?
"You'd have to have a lot of corroboration," says
LAPD's St. John. "First, it would have to be proved to be true, and
second, you'd have to have corroboration of it."
St. John says the department continues to get
information on the Black Dahlia "from time to time" and "as time
permits, we look into all of it. You never know - it's one of those