Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Black Dahlia

Last Days

Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short

In the last six months of her life, Short moved constantly between a dozen hotels, apartments, boarding houses and private homes in Southern California. She crashed for free where she could, paid as little as possible where she couldn't. She was chronically short on cash.

From November 13 to December 15, Short lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood with eight other young women — cocktail waitresses, telephone operators, dime dancers — other out-of-towners who hoped to break into showbiz. The women paid $1 a day for a bunk bed and a couple feet of closet space. But Short couldn't even afford this paltry sum, and snuck out a side door to avoid the manager when the rent was due.

Her roommates told the LA Times after her death that Short was out "with a different boyfriend every night" and didn't have a job.

"She was always going out to prowl [Hollywood] boulevard," Linda Rohr, 22, told the paper.

Short was elusive in life as she remains in death. She didn't have close friends, male or female, but preferred the company of strangers and a constant change of entourage.

The last person to see her alive was a recent acquaintance, a 25-year-old married salesman named Robert Manley, nicknamed "Red" for his flaming auburn hair. According to press reports, Manley picked her up on a street corner in San Diego. He noticed her standing alone, a beautiful woman with no apparent destination, and pulled over to ask if she wanted a ride. Short played coy, turning her head and refusing to look at him. But Manley kept talking, reassuring her that he was harmless, that he just wanted to help her out, give her a lift home.

Robert Manley, submits to a lie detector test
Robert Manley, submits to a lie detector test

At the time Short was staying with a family who took pity on her after finding her at the 24-hour movie theater where she'd gone to spend the night. But they soon tired of her. She lazed around their small house during the day and spent her evenings out partying. In early January 1947, they asked her to leave. Manley came to pick her up.

The pair stayed in a local motel but Short slept in her clothes and the pair didn't have sex, he later told a reporter. The next day, January 9, he drove her to Los Angeles and helped her check her luggage at the bus station. She told him she was going to Berkeley to stay with her sister, whom she was meeting at the Biltmore hotel downtown. Manley accompanied her into the hotel lobby, but took leave of her at 6:30 p.m. to return to his family in San Diego.

The Biltmore was exactly the sort of place Short loved to hang out in. It was as glamorous as she aspired to be, filled with wealthy travelers and luxuriously appointed. Built in the early 20s, it was the largest hotel west of Chicago, with 1,000 rooms.

Its lobby was its centerpiece, featuring hand-painted cathedral ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and marble floors. This elegant setting could offer no greater contrast to the dirt lot where her desecrated body was dumped one week later.


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