It has been nearly 70 years since the naked, severed body of Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant Los Angeles lot earning the moniker of “The Black Dahlia” and remaining the City of L.A.’s most famous unsolved homicide.
Here’s a tour of select locations tied to Elizabeth Short’s life, and the investigation that continues.
Your Guide to Black Dahlia related spots in Los Angeles
On the early morning of January 15, 1947, Mrs. Betty Bersinger was pushing her 3 year old daughter in a stroller along Norton Ave. when she caught a glimpse of a heaps in the overgrown grass just off the sidewalk. It was so white she thought it was a department store mannequin, separated at the waist.
Concerned it could scare school children, and suspicious maybe it was something more, she rushed to a nearby home to call and ask police to check it out. Within minutes of the call going out over the radio, reporters from the Herald Examiner arrived, beating police to the scene.
What they had come across was 22 year old Elizabeth Short, her naked body laid spread eagle, severed cleanly across the waist. Additional cuts had been made on her body, most prominently on both sides of her mouth which had been slit open into an eternal smile. The first reporter who arrived found her with her eyes wide open, which he closed out of respect for the victim.
In spite of a massive dragnet, the case remains open to this day. Complicating efforts to solve the crime were dozens of false confessions made to the police within days of the homicide, along with tips and suggested suspects that the LAPD devoted resources to investigating along with their own internal leads.
Considering all the possible suspects, including recent claims in best selling books that the authors’ relatives were the killer, we’ve decided to limit a directory of Black Dahlia related sites to only those that have a confirmed connection to Elizabeth Short in life, and a single theory of who the killer could be.
Washington Hotel, 53 Linden Ave., Long Beach: Elizabeth Short lived here from July 12 to August 3 1946. She frequented the soda fountain at the nearby Landers Drug Store at 102 Linden, where the regulars nicknamed her “The Black Dahlia” for her raven hair. Police investigating the case shared this tip with a Herald Examiner reporter, branding the homicide for millenia.
6024 Carlos Ave., Hollywood: Mark Hansen, who owned and operated the nearby Florentine Gardens, rented rooms in his home here to woman who danced in his club, among others. Short had befriended Anne Toth, a popular performer, and stayed with her here for a period in August of 1946.
From November 13 to December 5, Short spent $1 per night to stay at what has been described as a “flophouse”with double decked bunk beds at 1842 N Cherokee, Hollywood, with 8 other women.
After a summer in Hollywood, Short headed for San Diego where she befriended some locals and crashed or a few months. According to numerous reports, she claimed to be afraid of someone from Los Angeles. Regardless, she asked a man she dated periodically, Red Manley, to drive her back to Los Angeles in early January, 1947.
On January 9, Manley dropped off Elizabeth Short in front of the the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. This was the last last confirmed sighting of Short alive. Manley said that Short told him she had planned to meet with her sister at the hotel, but when he checked with front desk, the sister had never checked in. She allegedly haunts the hotel to this day.
A pair of shoes and a bag that matched Short’s personal belongings, per Manley, were reported to be in a dumpster on January 24 outside of a deli at 1136 Crenshaw Blvd. By the time police arrived to investigate, a dump truck had picked up the trash, and officers spent hours sifting through trash at a local dump. They recovered a patent leather bag and a single black high heel shoe, which Manley personally identified as Short’s (though there is an argument that Manley, desperate to clear himself, made the confirmation under stress).
Around this same time, a post office turned over to police a addressed to “Los Angeles newspapers” which contained Elizabeth Short’s birth certificate, some personal photos, and a journal embossed with Mark Hansen’s name on it, among other items. A note inside, composed of letters cut from a variety of newspapers, read, “Here is Dahlia’s belongings. Letter to follow.”
The package had been soaked in gasoline, presumed to remove any fingerprints of either the killer, or someone who wanted to return the items but did not want to be identified. So far, they haven’t, unless…
A Convincing Suspect
Of all the potential suspects and confessors in a case that lacks physical evidence,LA Times writer Larry Harnisch‘s theory behind Dr. Bayley contains the most circumstantial evidence: a suspect whose personality and background matches those given by profilers, geographic proximity to both the crime scene and the location the victim was last seen, and a direct connection between the family of the suspect and the victim.
He came upon this theory after discovering what could have been a simple coincidence between the Short family and the crime scene.
While doing an exhaustive search of records and locations related to the homicide and nearby communities, he discovered that Elizabeth’s oldest sister, Virginia, had married soldier Adrian West in 1945 at the home of Dr. Walter Alonzo Bayley at 3959 S. Norton… one block from where the bride’s sister’s corpse would be found years later.
On October 26, 1946, the doctor left his wife for his mistress,Dr. Alexandra Partyka. This was less than three months before Elizabeth Short’s body would be found.
Bayley, a surgeon, had a medical office at 1056 West 6th Street, just a few blocks from the Hotel Biltmore, where Elizabeth Short was last seen alive. In a 2001 television episode discussing the case with James Ellroy, Harnisch says he learned that Bayley and Partyka, the mistress who worked at the office with him, would eat their dinner there while watching autopsy film reels.
According profilers, the killer would have also exhibited a change in personality before and after the killing. Throughout the period before and after the killing, it is believed Dr. Bayley was suffering from Alzheimers disease.
Bayley died January 4, 1948 at the age of 67. Harnisch writes that his death certificate “lists a condition known as encephalomalacia, which involves shrinkage of the brain, which would have caused a mental impairment.”
In January 3, 1948, an unusual battle over a will was taking place in the local courts. Dr. Bayley’s widow was contending that her husband’s alleged mistress, Dr. Alexandra Partyka, had been added to the will because she had threatened to reveal a dark secret about Dr. Bayley to the public.
Harnisch teases that more will be revealed in a book he’s writing about the case. In the meantime, almost all of the above is easily verifiable in the public record.