True Grue: The Tragic & Terrifying Black Dahlia Murder


Welcome to “True Grue,” a weekly article that dives into real life, harrowing horrors. For the interest of good taste, this graphic feature aims not to be exploitative, but rather informative, and rest assured, there are many different territories that will be strictly off-limits. But for those with a hungry mind and a strong stomach, read on at your own discretion…

In the 1940s, there was little that the culture of Los Angeles didn’t find a way to sensationalize. Hollywood gossip and scandalous politicians made the front page of newspapers just as much as organized crime and murder. Of course, no tragedy grabbed the attention of the city, and the world at large, as the infamous and gruesome death of Elizabeth Short, posthumously dubbed by the media as ‘The Black Dahlia.’

A petite 22-year-old girl from Massachusetts, Short moved to Los Angeles three years prior to live with her father, who until then was rumored to have committed suicide. The two had a falling out and Short had found her way floating around California, frequently suffering from bad luck. During that time, Short was arrested for underage drinking, sent back to Massachusetts and became engaged to an Air Force officer who died in a plane crash shortly after his proposal. It wasn’t until Short reunited with a previous boyfriend, coincidentally another member of Air Force personnel, that she returned to Los Angeles in 1946.

On January 15th, 1947, Short was found in a vacant lot within the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles by a local resident who had mistaken her body for a discarded mannequin. Short was in a grisly state of dismemberment and displayed rather methodically, with her blood completely drained and her body washed clean by her murderer. She was cut in half at the waist, mutilated severely on her breasts and thighs, and had a Glasgow Smile cut into her face, which would forever become associated with this particular crime.

After Short’s identification, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Examiner both exploited the case, putting Short’s mother, Phoebe, through a psychological ringer in order to get more information about her daughter, now labeled “The Black Dahlia.” The William Randolph Hearst-owned publications later aimed to paint Short as “victim material,” offering the image of an adventurous and nightcrawling sexual deviant to the fascinated public. The Examiner was even contacted anonymously by someone claiming to be Short’s killer, who mailed in many of Short’s missing personal possessions.

Due to the reporting spawning numerous false confessions, the Los Angeles Police Department found much difficulty in solving the case. To this date, Short’s murder remains unsolved, and is occasionally linked to the Cleveland Torso Murders, although that speculation has never been proven. There have been multiple depictions of Short’s murder in the media, including the TV movie WHO IS THE BLACK DAHLIA?, TRUE CONFESSIONS, Brian De Palma’s THE BLACK DAHLIA and even shortly on the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. You can see the extremely graphic photographs from the crime scene and morgue of Short below, though they’re definitely not for the weak of heart.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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