Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Black Dahlia

The Investigation

In the wake of her murder, 40 police officers scoured the neighborhood, going house to house looking for clues and evidence. The checked gutters and laundromats for blood-stained clothing, interviewed residents, poked through dumpsters. They gained no solid leads.

Investigators tracked down Cleo Short, who was living a mere three miles from the dirt lot. He told them he hadn't heard from his daughter in three years. He was apparently still angry that she refused to keep house for him when she came to California, but spent her time "running around" instead. He refused the coroner's request to identify the body.

The coroner's office determined that Short had been killed by massive internal hemorrhaging caused by blows to the head. No traces of sperm were found anywhere on her body, the coroner's report revealed. It also disclosed a less-than-becoming detail about Short: her teeth were in a "severe" state of decay and plugged with wax.

Investigator George Wheeler examines the evidence.
Investigator George Wheeler examines the evidence.

They questioned more than 20 of Short's former "boyfriends," but gained no solid leads. After the story hit the newspapers, more than 30 "confessing Sams" stepped forward, ranging from certified nutjobs to attention-starved losers looking for a moment in the spotlight. The police wasted precious manpower proving they were innocent while searching for the real killer, Det. Hansen complained to the press. His office had to sort through letters from "pranksters" and "wiseacres" writing from as far away as El Paso and the Bronx. He came to theorize that whoever killed Elizabeth Short wasn't someone she knew, but a "pick up." 

The police interviewed thousands of people who had even the slightest knowledge of Short or her acquaintances and quickly stuffed a steel filing cabinet with notes and affidavits.

At one point, LAPD investigators were so certain that the clean bisection of Short's body was the handiwork of an expert that they persuaded the University of Southern California — located in the same neighborhood where the corpse was found — to turn over a list of medical students, according the FBI, which has declassified 203 pages of documents related to its own investigation of the murder.

The bureau was inundated with hand-written letters to J. Edgar Hoover from individuals claiming to know who the murderer was or blaming the crime on someone they held a grudge against.

"This suspect swindle[d] $75 out of me, which he promised would put me in motion picture and make me famous," one woman wrote the bureau on May 23, 1947.


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