Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Black Dahlia Profiled

Grim Mystery: The Facts

Short was left sexually posed, on her back with her arms raised over her shoulders, her elbows bent, and her legs spread wide apart.  More striking was the fact that she had been sliced in half at the waist, and the two parts were carefully placed in a linear alignment about 10 inches apart. Her face and breasts had been badly slashed, and rope marks on her wrists, ankles, and neck indicated that she had been bound. Pubic hairs appear to have been pulled or cut out, and there were deep slashes from her mouth running along both sides of her face.  The lower torso was angled upward at the hips, leading police to believe she had been in a semi-recumbent position at the time of death, and her body had stiffened in that position.

A crime scene photo of the victim, Elizabeth Short
A crime scene photo of the victim,
Elizabeth Short

From the lack of blood on the ground or body, among other factors, it was clear that Short had been killed elsewhere and dumped in the vacant lot.  Oddly, it appeared as though her body had been washed clean; even her hair was damp, leading some to surmise that it had been freshly washed.  Fowler stated that a section of her left leg had been cut deeply through the muscles, and a large piece of muscle and skin was missing.

There was speculation that the corpse may have been refrigerated: Her fingerprint ridges appeared shrunken and the skin of the fingers had puckered into grooves, as if she'd been kept on ice.  The cause of death was from "hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face."  There were multiple lacerations to the mid-forehead, right forehead, and top of the head.  There were also multiple crisscross lacerations in the pubic area, and stab wounds into the intestine and both kidneys.  She had not been pregnant, but within the vagina, which reportedly was not fully formed, the pathologist found a piece of skin with subcutaneous tissue attached. On it were several crisscrossing lacerations. 

It appeared that the victim had been anally penetrated after death as well, and inside the anal canal was a tuft of brown curly hair, which bore similarities to the victim's pubic hair.  The stomach was filled with feces, but there was no sperm in any orifice.  (Fowler stated that the pubic hair was found in Short's vagina and the hunk of flesh, which bore a rose tattoo, was inside her rectum.)

Because there was little blood in the body, it was surmised that the victim could have been cut in half before she died, leading her to bleed to death through a severed artery. 


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