Phoebe and Cleo Short were married for several years before Cleo abandoned the family in what looked like a suicide. In reality, the selfish man had left for Vallejo, California. Cleo left his wife alone to deal with bankruptcy, credit collectors and debt. She couldn’t afford the $35.00 a month to rent the spacious house they lived in at the time, so Phoebe took the family to a smaller house on Evans Street instead. Two months later the landlord increased the rent substantially and the family was forced to move again. Finally they settled in the downstairs floor of a two-family house on Magoun Avenue. It was very cramped and a makeshift bedroom had to be made for Elizabeth, Eleanora and Muriel on the sun porch. As cramped as the house was the family managed to stay in a good neighbourhood, Phoebe’s most important concern. Now and then Phoebe got work as a bookkeeper but the family mostly lived on welfare and Mother’s Allowance. Phoebe is pictured here using the phone after Elizabeth’s murder. Phoebe wore her own flower in her hat, as was the fashion of the day.
Like Elizabeth, Phoebe enjoyed movies. She got free passes and twice a week she took Elizabeth and Muriel with her. The other girls , Eleanora and Virginia, weren’t interested in films. Muriel remembered Elizabeth making the trip to the movies a special event. She made sure they dressed up and went window shopping in ladies’ boutiques along the way, dreaming of a time when they would be able to afford the gorgeous apparel they saw. Later in life, Short would spend every penny she had on beautiful clothes; she went hungry rather than skimping on money for clothes. She was accustomed to living without ample food but the yearning she had for the lovely dresses and skirts she’d never worn as a little girl never left her.
After a time, the landlord on Magoun also increased the rent. Apparently there was no rent control in Massachusetts. Phoebe found yet another home for her brood on (of all the coincidental names) Salem Street. It was yet another step down in the world for Phoebe but by then she had secured a full-time, 6 day a week job at a bakery in Medord Square. Often, Elizabeth, Virginia and Eleanora whispered about Cleo, wondering what had happened. Phoebe wasn’t inclined to discuss her errant husband with her children. This may have contributed to the void in Short’s life after her father left. Perhaps all the dating and attention-seeking was the behaviour of a love-starved girl whose trauma over the abandonment by her father had never faded.
Suddenly out of nowhere Cleo contacted Phoebe and asked her if she would take him back. To her credit, Phoebe emphatically told him not to contact her again. After the hell he’d put his family through for several years, it was astounding that Cleo even thought he stood a chance. He didn’t take rejection well. Afterward, he never contacted his family again. That was the end of Cleo and Phoebe Short.
Decades after the murder, Phoebe stated to an interviewer, “She was a very affectionate, sweet girl and if she was out at night she always stopped in my bedroom to talk. And she would talk and talk and tell everything that she had done and everything.” Clearly mother and daughter were close. Mrs. Short told reporters that, “It was only 10 days ago when she wrote me from San Diego telling me she had a job in the naval hospital there. I never dreamed that she was having financial difficulties. Her letters were always so cheerful.” That was very much like Short; she could put on happy airs around people when necessary but in reality she wasn`t a happy girl most of the time. It is possible that her father`s abandonment of the family when she was a child had a great deal to do with her sadness. And Short`s lack of funds likely led to her murder, since in dating different men she managed to keep herself fed.
At the inquest in Los Angeles, Mrs. Short was asked to tell about hearing of her daughter’s death. “She was murdered!” she said, rising from her chair. Silence fell over the courtroom as Mrs. Short regained her composure. She stated, “Elizabeth always wanted to be an actress. She was ambitious and beautiful and full of life, but she had her moments of despondency. Betty always loved California so, so I think we’ll have the funeral in Berkeley. That is, as soon as the body is released.“Short`s married sister, Mrs. Adrian West, told reporters about Short before the funeral: “She was always being told how pretty she was and I guess it went to her head. We just can’t understand the things they say about her in the papers. She was never like that. We just can’t believe it.”
After 35 years, the press still wanted to know Phoebe`s thoughts about the unsolved murder:“I expect it would
be good to close the case, but like I say, I’m not a person that holds a grudge, but I, I would like to see the case closed.”
Virginia Short, Short`s sister, said, “This case seems to be constantly coming up. It’s never been buried, it’s never been solved. But there always seems to be, you know, unfinished business with it. It’s a very mysterious kind of thing.”
A Herald Times editor named Wayne Sutton, was assigned to locate Short’s mother in Medford, MA. Sutton found her and used the cruel ruse that Short had won a beauty contest in order to obtain lots of information about her. Phoebe loved to talk about her beautiful daughter. Sutton finally exhausted the beauty contest sham, and his boss instructed him to tell Mrs. Short the truth about Elizabeth. In shock and skeptical, Phoebe refused to believe Sutton. It was inconceivable. Local Medford cops were contacted and they went to Phoebe’s house to tell her the news, confirming Sutton`s story.The horror of that day and that phone call has long subsided, but the lack of closure continues for Phoebe Short and her children. The public and LA police know a thing or two about that.