Elizabeth Short – victim aka Black Dahlia Short was born in Medford, Massachusetts and lived with her father, Cleo Short, for a time in Vallejo, California. Eventually Short left her father’s home and became somewhat of a drifter. She was arrested in Santa Monica for underage drinking. Finally Short settled in Hollywood, California. Her goal was to become a movie star. She lived in different locations with a number of roommates over the months she was there. She was usually unemployed and low on money. Short dated numerous men in order to secure dinner dates as she could seldom afford to eat. It is believed this is the manner in which she met her killer.
Phoebe Short – Mother – nee Sawyer Phoebe was a caring
mother who worked hard to keep her four daughters. When Elizabeth was a child, Phoebe’s husband, Cleo, abandoned the family in such a manner that many people believed he had committed suicide. Phoebe had to deal with bankruptcy and debt after Cleo abandoned the family. She took work whenever she could as a bookkeeper to support her girls. Phoebe often took Short to movies. This was a treat for the girls and Short dressed up to make the occasion special. may have been the manner in which Short began to dream of becoming a movie star. Phoebe would send Short to Florida every winter because her daughter suffered from asthma, and the warm climate helped relieve her symptoms. When Phoebe was interviewed about Short after her murder, she stated Short “was a good girl.”
Cleo Short – Father Cleo Short was a handsome, yet enigmatic man. He made a small fortune building miniature golf courses. Cleo abandoned his family when Elizabeth was about 8 years old and went to Vallejo California. After several years, he contacted Phoebe and asked if he could return to the family but she refused. When she was 19, Elizabeth moved in with Cleo but the two separated within several weeks. When contacted about his daughter’s murder, Cleo stated he had no interest in the case and refused to identify her remains.
Mrs. Betty Bersinger – discovered the body. Bersinger was a young, pretty mother who was pushing her 3-year-old daughter in a stroller, walking along 39th and Norton Avenue.It was the time that “children were going off to school.” She noticed a mannequin that was broken into two pieces, lying beside a vacant lot. Confused, Bersinger decided to report the doll to the police. It occurred to her that it might “scare these kids” as they went to school. The thought of a corpse didn’t cross Bersinger’s mind. She was convinced Short was a mannequin because “it was so white.” But as she walked along she wondered whether “it could be something other than a mannequin.”
Matthew Michael Gordon Jr. – Member of the United States Army Air Force and Fiancee Short and Gordon met when she was working at an army base as a waitress. He was an
army pilot. The two fell in love and were constantly seen together until he was stated overseas in India. Gordon contacted his sister, asking her to write to Short so she wouldn’t be lonely. On his last night fighting Gordon was killed. His mother sent Short a telegram stating her sympathies. After the murder the Gordon family denied knowing Short.
Red Manley – Businessman Handsome, married man Manley drove Short on the now notorious drive to the Biltmore Hotel where she was staying on the night of her death. It is the last known time an acquaintance saw her alive. Before he
returned Short to her hotel, the two stayed in the Mecca Motel for a night. He told investigators: “She was sick in the Mecca Motel before they left. “Well, she didn’t even care to have me do much talking after we got back to the room, after we had been dancing. She just took a blanket off of the bed, propped her legs up against the wall by the heater and I asked her what was the matter with her and she said she just didn’t feel well and for me to leave her alone so I did, and she didn’t talk much more after that. She said it was just that time of the month and she wanted to be left alone.” Manley was taken into custody, where, he said, he read about the murder. “I turned sick inside,” he was quoted in newspapers. Manley was cleared of all charges and died on January 9, 1986.
Anne Toth – Actress and Roommate Anne was perhaps
Elizabeth’s only good friend in Hollywood. She helped Elizabeth to move out of Mark Hansen’s house, a boyfriend, and to find a new apartment. She also paid Elizabeth’s first month rent. Anne generally spoke kindly about Elizabeth to the press. She insisted Elizabeth had good morals and wasn’t a promiscuous girl. Toth defended Short’s relationship with Mark Hansen and other men. She gave helpful information to the police about Short and Hansen but the leads led nowhere.
Leo Hymes, Anne Toth’s boy friend and Mark Hansen’s friend, Hymes worked in ladies apparel. In late 1946, he spent time visiting Anne at the Hansen’s Carlos Avenue house. Hymes recalled, “Easter was getting around there – Easter is in April; we were shipping early in November, December and January. I had been packing and I got over there one night. There was an argument between Beth and another girl.” About Short he claimed, “I always felt that she had – her hair; she had real dark brown – more on the black side -.” And, “Appeared to be dyed. She just didn’t look attractive.” “Another thing I remember about that Short girl was her teeth. There was something about her teeth. Bad.”
Mark Hansen – Owner of the Florentine Gardens and Boyfriend Hansen was a shady yet financially successful character. He owned the very popular nightclub Florentine
Gardens, which was frequented by celebrities, beautiful young women and the Mafia, including Kingpin Mickey Cohen. Hansen hired only beautiful young women to dance as showgirls at his club, whether or not they had any talent. He also offered pretty women a place to stay when they were “down on their luck.” Short lived with him for a time, but it wasn’t a financial arrangement. Hansen was a very jealous man and didn’t want Short dating other men. He was a suspect in the murder but threatened police to leave him alone or he would approach the press about the bribes he had to offer police in order to keep the Gardens open.
Gordon Fickling – Short’s former boyfriend. Fickling and
Short were involved before Short arrived in Hollywood. After her fiancee, Gordon, died in action Short moved in with Fickling. Soon afterward the two fought and Fickling told her to leave. They remained in touch with one another, writing each other tender, kind love letters. He was a suspect in the murder.
Capt. Jack Egger – Movie Theatre Usher John F. Egger was born on July 27, 1927 and began work at the Columbia Broadcasting System in Hollywood in March, 1941. Egger claimed to
see Short on her last night alive. He worked as an usher at CBS studios. On the night she was murdered, Egger stated he saw Short on a date with a Chicago police officer. Egger worked security at the Florentine Gardens. In January, 1947, Egger lived with his father, Frank Egger two blocks from the Chancellor Apartments. Egger was shown photographs to see if he could identify the man Short dated. He identified Dr. Patrick S. O’Reilly, but after he saw O’Reilly in person, he changed his mind. Balsiger was a suspect in the murder.
Marjorie Graham – Friend and Roommate Short and Graham
knew each other from Boston. Short and Graham lived at the Hawthorne Hotel with Lynn Martin, a 15-year-old runaway from Long Beach. Short stayed from August 28 until September 20. The three didn’t get along, so Short and Graham moved to another room at the Hawthorne. Short was broke as usual, and relied on friends to help her. Eventually the manager, Mrs. Richmond asked the girls to leave. Graham left Hollywood before the murder and returned to Massachusetts where she got married in 1948. She stated “I left the West Coast October 23 and came home to Cambridge. I had one letter from her afterward.”
Linda Rohr – Roommate Short and Rohr shared an apartment on Cherokee near Hollywood Blvd. Rohr, a worker in the “Rouge Room” at Max Factor in Hollywood, stated she was fascinated by Short’s make-up. According to Rohr, “She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes I think she overdid with make-up an inch thick.” Short’s finished look was startling and almost geisha-like. During the post-war era most women used make-up to enhance their natural beauty. Ingrid Bergman personified the ideal of natural beauty. Eventually, in the 1950s, this trend would give way to the glamorous appeal of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Due to Rhor’s opinions about Short’s makeup, novelist James Elroy, “concluded that Beth was using her make-up as a mask, a way in which to keep people at arm’s length. I don’t think that it was a conscious decision; I believe that without ever realizing it Beth created the character she would become in death, Black Dahlia. And I also believe that her distinctive look played a crucial role in her abduction and subsequent slaying. I don’t mean to suggest that Elizabeth Short deserved her death, or that she brought it upon herself, only that her killer was drawn to her because she fulfilled the criteria for his (or her) perverse desires.”
Lynn Martin – Roommate Martin and Short weren’t friends, in fact the two women didn’t get along. Martin, Short and Graham lived together briefly at the Hawthorne Hotel but Short’s continual encounters with Martin led to Martin’s moving into another room with a different roommate. After the murder it was discovered that Martin was only 15 and not in her early twenties as she claimed to be. She was adopted and had run away from home to become a movie star. Police returned her to her home after her interview. It was for this reason that Martin didn’t want to be interviewed but her friend “Duke” convinced her to turn herself into police. Duke told police that Martin, “Crying, she told me she knew nothing of it and I know that to be truth. Miss Martin was very vague about her past. Seemed depressed and a little nervous most of the time. She said she had no family and had been married to a military policeman at El Paso, Texas, and divorced…” Martin stated “I don’t want any notoriety,” and eventually disappeared from the public eye.
George W. Welsh Jr. – Suspect in death of Anne Welsh (sister) Welsh was suspected of murdering his sister Anne in
their home. Anne was tortured and raped while her mother and supposedly Welsh slept nearby. He was a suspect for two years. Police suspected he killed his sister since she inherited a generous amount of money from their father, while he received nothing. Investigators suspected he may also have been involved in Short’s murder. Welsh was eventually cleared of his sister’s murder.
Capt. Carl Balsiger – Suspect Balsiger was an acquaintance of Short’s. He drove her to Camarillo, California for the day and then brought her back to Hollywood, where he dropped her off at a motel on Yucca Street. The following day, he took her by car to the bus depot, gave her a ride to Hollywood. Balsiger was also a suspect in the Leila Welsh murder.
Elvera and Dorothy French – Temporary Family On
usherette Dorothy French found Short asleep in the movie theatre where she worked. Feeling sympathy for Short, French took her home to her mother Elvera, who agreed to take Short in for a time. However, Short’s slovenly habits, the same that she displayed when living with Cleo Short, tried their patience and they told Short to leave. Within weeks Short would be dead. The French family were not suspects in the murder.
Dr. Melvin Schwartz – medical doctor Schwartz may or may not have made Short’s acquaintance. He wasn’t a fan. He told police that one afternoon a “lady in red” attended his office and asked to see him, claiming she had an inflamed gland.
During their appointment she told him he was a good-looking man then grabbed his hand and pulled it beneath her dress. He ordered her out of his office. The lady in red attended his office another time then suddenly disappeared. Dr. Arthur Faught, the daytime doctor, told Schwartz she was “a streetwalker, the type, a pick-up type.” Two uniformed policemen talked with Dr. Schwartz. Investigators showed a photograph of Short to Dr. Schwartz, who said, it “resembles her very, very closely, I’m inclined to think that was her.” He said the nurse, Mrs. Zickler “appeared to be” positive that the young woman was Beth Short. “ I think she wore red nearly every time she came in, or had a red flower in her hair, I don’t know, they referred to wearing a carnation or some type of flower all the time.” The good doctor was not a suspect in the murder.
Art Richman – Friend of Martin and Graham Richman was part of the Carpenter Drive-In crowd that included Short. He knew information about Lynn and Margie and the fellows that dated them. Art suffered from head injuries, but he was able to recall names and dates from 1946. Richman never met Short, but he knew Lynn and Margie. “I believe [I met Martin] up here at a drive-in stand on the corner of Vermont and Sunset. She was working at a dime store.” Richman met Martin and Graham and brought them to his friend Bob’s house. “ I took both of them up to Bob’s house. I took Lynn home and after, Bob may have taken Margie home.” He told investigators that Martin moved to an” old-time movie theater” near Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, and that she, “sort of worked for her room and board -” Richman was not a suspect in the murder.
Marvin Margolis – Short’s boyfriend Margolis served in the U.S. Naval training stations in Illinois, Washington state and at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. One psychiatric report from Illinois read, “This subject is calm, quiet and a resentful individual who shows ample evidence of open aggression; has had trouble in adjusting himself to Navy discipline, has become resentful over this. He desired operating room technique which was never granted to him and this is one of the underlying bases for his resentment and disgust. For a time Margolis was Short’s boyfriend but after a few weeks, he delivered her belongings to Mark Hansen’s house and deserted her. After Short was murdered Margolis was wanted for questioning. Margolis was a suspect in the murder.
Jack Sands aka Leslie Dillon – Informant Dillon wrote a letter to Dr. J. Paul de River, LAPD psychiatrist, stating he knew a good suspect in the Dahlia case, one Jeff Collins. de River communicated his concerns to Sergeant John J. “J. J.”
O’Mara. O’Mara worked undercover to investigate Dillon. Dillon gave the two men that he worked in a funeral home and knew about bleeding and embalming. Dillon stated Short’s body was cut in half because “the person would want to see how far his penis went into the person.” Dillon was able to direct the men to the exact location of Short’s body. Although Dillon was a suspect in the murder he had alibis. After his release from custody, Dillon sued the city of Los Angeles for $100,000, the equivalent of about $1,000,000.00 today.
Glenn Wolfe – Chancellor Hotel Landlord Wolfe was the hotel`s landlord while Short lived there in apartment 501 in 1946. Wolfe, ni
cknamed “Scotty,” was born in Indiana on July 25, 1908. He was married and divorced four times by 1936. Ann Toth stated Wolfe was “one of the worst type.” She described him as a ``sexual pervert, maniac, everything. I hate him. He even threatened to kill me once.” Wolfe “was putting four girls into a room, where there should have been two, for $5.00.” He was jailed in 1946 after one of his twelve ex-wives accused him of beating her. Wolfe, who preferred girls, once said “You have to spank them once in a while, but after they’re tamed they make wonderful wives.“ It would seem to me that Wolfe (irony) was the one who needed the taming. Wolfe stated he married teenagers “because they’re happy that they don’t have to work, and they don’t make demands`, but eventually they get, “fidgety and want to run loose. And you can’t hold anybody if they don’t want to stay.” The late Bonnie Lee Bakley, who was once married to actor Robert Blake, claimed to have been Wolfe’s 26th wife. In 1991 Blake was acquitted of charges in Bakley`s murder. By the time Wolfe died in 1997, Wolfe was married 29 times. Clearly, a man with great respect for the institution of marriage. Wolfe`s only tie to Short was that she was his tenant in the hotel for a number of weeks. There is no evidence that they were romantically involved with one another. Wolfe was a suspect in the murder.
Media – Wayne Sutton will stand as an example of the damage the press did to the Short family and especially to Elizabeth’s memory. Sutton contacted Phoebe Short after her
daughter’s murder on the pretense that Elizabeth had won a beauty pageant in Los Angeles. He was seeking information about the dead girl to publish along with censored photographs of Short’s corpse. Phoebe spoke excitedly about her daughter until Sutton interrupted and admitted the real reason he was calling. A bewildered Phoebe refused to believe him until local Medford police attended her house to confirm Short was indeed dead. The press invented the name Black Dahlia in reference to a film released the previous year titled The Blue Dahlia. In the film, the Dahlia was a nightclub and not a person.
Dr. George Hodel – Doctor Hodel was a suspect in the Short murder for three reasons: he was a surgeon and therefore had anatomical knowledge of the human body. He lived only one block away from the crime scene. His daughter took him to court for incest (he won the case although this didn’t prove him innocent). His wife, Dorothy Hodel, was astounded that her husband was a suspect in the murder. She commented “it is incredible to me that he should in any way be connected with it.” When police showed Dorothy a picture of Short and asked if she’d ev
er seen or met Short she replied, “no I haven’t.” When asked if her former husband said, “They can’t pin that murder on me,” she said, ” – to the best of my knowledge he didn’t and doesn’t know her.” Detective Jemison asked, “Has anybody ever told you that Dr. George Hodel had Beth Short over to his home?” Dorothy answered, “No.” Jemison said, “For your information the photograph has been identified by certain persons as resembling the young lady that was over to his house prior to the murder.” Again Dorothy denied the accusation. Dorothy said to Jemison, “I have nothing to tell you that would bear out any idea you may have that he did this. All I know is that he is not the sort of man that would psychologically be the kind to do it. He has a fine record as a doctor and is a dedicated man. He has never had a fashionable practice. He could have had. He is a man that really cares about medicine, not of earning money, but it is incredible to me that he should be in any way connected with it.” I’m inclined to agree with Dorothy, butI do believe he was guilty of child molestation charges. It is a big leap from incest to sexual sadist, however, so I don’t give this accusation any credence.
Steve Hodel – son of George Hodel Hodel didn’t meet Short as he was either an infant or not even there yet at the time of the murder. For several years now he has been promoting his book that his father, George, was the Black Dahlia killer and he insists he has proof. Hodel claims there is a secret room in the house where he grew up and it was in here that Hodel murdered and tortured Short. The full story (in a few words) is that Short and Hodel were lovers. She lived in a makeshift bedroom in the Hodel’s garage. Hodel claimed Short got pregnant by his father. This didn’t seem to be the catalyst that caused daddy dearest to snap and murder his paramour. Hodel claims he was forced to help his father dump Short’s body and for that reason he has been haunted by guilt for decades. What a load of rot.
The Killer – We know the part he played. We will never know his identity.
John Gilmore – author, actor, musician Gilmore was a student of Lee and Paula Strasberg in the Actors Studio, NYC. He claims to have met Short when he was 9-years-old and his family ran a boarding house. This is his big claim to fame with Short. He wrote a text entitled Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder. I highly doubt that. Gilmore types full conversations between the people in his book as if (a) he was there (he wasn’t) and (b) if he was there he could remember the conversations word for word decades later (nonsense). He documented some details about Short’s early life that I was unable to find before reading a part of the PDF text, however, in light of the many inaccuracies in the book, I don’t know how much these facts are true. For instance, Gilmore discusses the manner in which the Short girls and Phoebe had to live after Cleo abandoned them. I haven’t read it. It looks boring but in spite of the dark subject matter not as menacing as Gilmore’s picture.
Maria Pacios – Pacios claims was 9-years-old when she knew Short. She lived in the same neighbourhood. Short became a sister of sorts to Pacios, often taking her to movies and out for ice cream, whenever money was available. The two had a pleasant friendship until Short moved after a number of either weeks or months. The Short family moved three times after Cleo left due to a lack of finances to pay the rent at different locales. Her book, Childhood Shadows: The Hidden Story of the Black Dahlia. Pacios seems to think Short’s suffering and murder was all about her. “I was ruined. have suffered. My family has suffered…” Not as much as Short.
The Duke – Edward P. Wellington alias Bill Cochrane Wellington ,or the Duke as he was known, contacted the LAPD in a bitter, accusatory letter. It was received on January 27, 1947, after Lynn Martin had been interviewed. Wellington claimed that he did not know Short. His letter says it all:
“I did not at any time meet the girl who was killed nor did I know anything about her until this happened. Miss Martin came to me, running and frightened, either Thursday or Friday of last week when she saw in the papers she was wanted for questioning. Crying, she told me she knew nothing of it and I know that to be truth, unless she and Bobby did it and that is utterly impossible to conceive. I questioned her about her relationship with the dead girl and she could tell me little other than the girl never brought men to her room and rarely had dates at the place.
This smear campaign would only make people afraid of the police. You make people run from you instead of come to you. Ninety per cent of us have things we don’t want publicly displayed. Thanks for the nice publicity. I am washed up. Period. A fair deal for trying to help clean up this Short mess. I am trying to clean up my affairs and will continue to do so until stopped.” Duke was a suspect in the murder. As to whether or not he was washed up, I have found no evidence for or against this claim. In fact, I am unaware as to what he did for a living.
Lester Jiggs Moore – Witness Jiggs had once lived in the same trailer court as Leslie Dillon. He ran the A-1 trailer court at 1270 Pacific Court Highway. Police interviewed Jiggs regarding Dillon. Jiggs said there was a man named Ashford staying at the court. He was living with a black-haired woman with “large bosoms” who was 23 years old and that the two lived next to Leslie Dillon’s. The officers went back the following day with a photo of Elizabeth Short and showed it to Jiggs. “That’s the girl,” came the reply.He “steadily maintained in subsequent interrogation that it couldn’t possibly be anyone else.” Jiggs said they stayed there for a week in July, 1946, that he took their money but did not register them. The ledger book was poorly kept, to no one’s surprise. Mr. and Mrs. Ashford said they were the only people living there with the last name Ashford. They recognized Leslie and Georgia Dillon from photographs, but did not recognize Elizabeth Short.
Resource: The Black Dahlia in Dial Murder Network