Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Black Dahlia


In Miami, Short distracted her heartache with a parade of men. She enjoyed the company of men of every stripe — soldiers, entrepreneurs, older, younger — but the men she enjoyed best were the sort with plenty of spending money in their wallets.

Short knew the value of her beauty. As she sashayed down the sidewalk in peep-toed heels, she held her head high, primly aware of her effect on male passersby. They gawked, they whistled, they offered to buy dinner. Frequently, she accepted. They paid for her meals, bar tabs, rent, clothes. They gave her cash. What were a few greenbacks for the privilege of basking her dazzling aura? Some authors have suggested that Short took this behavior to an extreme and worked as a prostitute, but there is no evidence to back this up.

Letter that was entered into evidence
Letter that was entered into evidence

Whatever money she managed to accumulate on her own through waitressing she used to expand her wardrobe. She'd rather go hungry than wear outdated or worn clothing. When she stepped outside, she was always dressed to the nines, favoring tailored black suits, feminine ruffled blouses, high heels and long gloves. She embodied the cool sophistication of a 40's working gal.

Short had a particular fetish for men in uniform. In July 1946, she returned to Southern California to be close to Joseph Gordon Fickling, an intensely handsome air force lieutenant with sensual dark eyes. They'd met in California two years earlier, shortly before he was shipped overseas. It was a rocky relationship from the start. In their private letters — which were confiscated by the police and excerpted in newspapers after Short's murder — Fickling expressed impatience with Short's flirtations, wondering if he ranked higher in her heart than any other man.

Apparently she wasn't able — or didn't try — to convince him that he did. He moved to North Carolina to work as a commercial airline pilot, but they stayed in touch. And he continued sending her money, including a $100 wire transfer the month before she died. The last letter Fickling received from Short was dated January 8, 1947, seven days before her murder. In it, she told him she was moving to Chicago, where she hoped to become a fashion model.


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