Everything You Need To Know About The Black Dahlia Murder - And Whether It Can Ever Be Solved

On the morning of January 15th, 1947, a mother's morning walk with her young daughter turned into a nightmare when she discovered the mutilated body of a young woman in a vacant lot. That body turned out to be 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. Over the years, people grew to know her as the Black Dahlia.

More than 70 years have passed since Short's brutal murder, but there are many more questions than answers. Who did it? Why was her body moved to a vacant lot? Why did she check all her belongings at a Greyhound bus station days before her murder?

Short came to Hollywood after World War II to become a star, and in a horrific turn of events became an icon of popular culture and true crime. To this day, her story remains an enigma. 

Photo: user uploaded image

  • A Female Reporter May Have Found The Killer
    Photo: Allied Artists / Wikipedia / Public Domain

    A Female Reporter May Have Found The Killer

    Agness "Aggie" Underwood outperformed many of her male colleagues as an investigative journalist in Los Angeles. Underwood had a penchant for murder cases, and was excited to cover Short's. Despite her detailed and vivid reporting, Underwood was taken off the case not once, but twice during the drawn out investigation. Conspiracy theorists who are convinced the LAPD was plotting a cover up believe Underwood was close to solving the case. 

    At the end of her life Underwood confessed to her grandson that she knew the identity of Short's murderer. When pressed for questions, the ailing Underwood flatly replied, "He's dead and it doesn't matter anymore."

  • Some Think The Cops Let Short's Murderer Get Away

    In her true crime biography of Elizabeth Short, Black Dahlia, Red Rose, author Piu Eatwell contends that a bellhop named Leslie Duane Dillon orchestrated Short's murder. Dillon was briefly a suspect after sending a letter to the LAPD claiming a man named Jeff Connors murdered Short. The cops ostensibly wrote off Dillon as crazy, and claimed Connors was a figment of his imagination.

    One theory, however, posits that Dillon murdered Short because she knew about a hotel robbery he was staging with a couple of other men. Somewhere along the way, crooked cops and gangsters meet, and Dillon is left alone while LAPD follows other leads. Maybe the Dillon theory is just a theory, but a substantial body of evidence - including that he knew a number of gruesome details about the murder - suggests otherwise.

  • The Black Dahlia's Body Was Cut In Half And Drained Of Blood
    Photo: United States Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Black Dahlia's Body Was Cut In Half And Drained Of Blood

    When police arrived at the scene, they quickly determined that Elizabeth Short's body had been posed. Short was described as, "lying on her back with her arms raised over shoulders, and her legs were spread in a twisted display of seductiveness." Short was also cut in half at the waist, her bottom half approximately 10 inches from the top half of her body. The corpse was drained of blood and carefully washed.

    Rope and burn marks indicated that she had been tortured leading up to her death. One of the most infamous crime scene photos shows her face slashed ear to ear in a garish grin.

  • A Retired Police Officer Thinks His Father Murdered Short

    Because Elizabeth Short's body was bisected with such precision, then carefully drained of blood and washed clean, police suspected a doctor murdered the Black Dahlia. Retired police officer Steve Hodel claims that his father, a well respected Los Angeles doctor, murdered Short. Hodel cites a photo album with a picture of the actress, which he found while cleaning out his father's home after his death.

    The late doctor's handwriting is also similar to that found in letters written to the police by the "Black Dahlia Avenger," an unknown person who claimed to be the murderer. While law enforcement remain skeptical of Hodel's findings, he has a large following who believe he has solved the murder of the Black Dahlia. 

  • The Media Connected The Black Dahlia To The Lipstick Murder

    The media did a great deal to sensationalize the murder of Elizabeth Short, dubbing it "The Werewolf Murder" before finally giving her the moniker of the Black Dahlia. A month after Short's murder, a middle-aged woman was found beaten to death in her home, with a message written on her body in red lipstick. 

    The media quickly connected The Lipstick Murder to the Black Dahlia, suggesting that there was a sadistic serial killer loose in the city. Some claim the theory has more credibility than initially believed, but no conclusive connection between the two murders has ever been made.

  • The Media Fabricated Stories About Elizabeth Short
    Photo: Film Star Vintage / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Media Fabricated Stories About Elizabeth Short

    As reporters delved into the life of Elizabeth Short they uncovered a likable woman with lots of friends and male suitors. Needing to keep the case in the headlines, some of the less ethical reporters at tabloids began fabricating stories about Short, with some even insinuating she was a prostitute.

    The tabloids pointed to the tight dresses Short was known for wearing as proof of her lewd behavior. Although Short led a tumultuous life, most of her friends saw her as a respectable woman who was just trying to make a go of things in Hollywood.