Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Black Dahlia Profiled

Is This Suspect Viable?

"Mr. Smith" has to be considered a viable suspect in this murder and perhaps the murder of Ms. Bauerdorf as well. Physically, he matches the description of the man Georgette was dating, who frightened her. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Smith's relationship was with the alleged killer he described as Mr. Morrison, but it is unlikely that a lone sexually sadistic killer would confess to anyone, especially in such great detail. The exception might be if there was an extraordinarily close relationship between two, such as co-conspirators in other violent crimes. The other possibility is if they were one and the same, as the police suspected.

An obvious consideration is whether or not Mr. Smith provided any exclusive knowledge, i.e. knowledge not available from any other source, such as the media. If everything he relayed was available from public source information, then the significance is questionable (as it was in a number of other confessions to this crime that proved to be false). If, however, he relayed information known only to the killer or investigators, then obviously his revelations are of considerable importance. Of interest is the alleged motivation for the murder — the victim's unwillingness to engage in sexual activity with the killer — which seems more self-revealing than anything. It provides a reason for the kind of anger evident in the brutality of the crime.

Elizabeth Short
Elizabeth Short

In brief, the person who killed Elizabeth Short had to have access to a place and had to have some criminal sophistication. He was probably older than her and would not have been panicked over killing her. He was angry, but it was a controlled rage. He was able to form a plan and carry it out.

So why her? She probably typified whatever set him off. He struck out at her, but he didn't just kill and dump her. We always ask: What did he do that he didn't have to do to effect the murder? It's important to see that what he did to her represents the needs of that particular offender. He cut her face, cut her in half, mutilated her, and did other things. It was important to him to do it, which reflects a hatred for women like her and perhaps a need to strike out. Perhaps she made herself despicable to him by acting like a loose woman, but then wouldn't let him have any action. Thus, she incites intense feelings in him by both offending and rejecting him.

Would he have killed again? From the circumstances, we can see that he wasn't just a random killer; to kill again, he'd need a similar context. He had a profound pathology, true, but he wasn't just striking out. There were certain criteria that his victims had to meet, certain circumstances. If a similar situation occurred again, he would probably kill again. Otherwise, maybe not.


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