Mary Pacios, a former neighbor of the Short family in Medford, Massachusetts, claims she was a friend of Short’s when Short was about 16. Pacios, ten years her junior, became a younger sister of sorts. Short was her mentor. The two girls would visit movie theatres and watch films. Short made movie days a special treat, by ensuring she dressed up. Presumably Pacios did the same. She doesn’t share a lot of detailed childhood memories during interviews with KTTV (1997) or when she appeared with author John Gilmore on Entertainment Tonight (1991) suggested filmmaker Orson Welles as a suspect. Pacios bases this theory on such factors as Welles’ volatile temperament and his obsession with the bisection of bodies, as indicated by the visual clues Pacios claims can be found in the “house of mirrors” set he designed for scenes that were later deleted from The Lady From Shanghai, a film Welles was making with his ex-wife Rita Hayworth around the time of the murder.
Pacios also cites the magic act Welles performed to entertain soldiers during World War II. She believes that the bisection of the body was part of the killer’s signature and an acting out of the perpetrator’s obsession. She once saw Welles perform the traditional magic trick of sawing a lady in half at the waist. More than ever, Pacios was convinced of his guilt. If that’s the case, we better lock up a lot of magicians or there will be a Black Dahlia-style mass murder spree soon.
Pacios further believed in Welles’ guilt because Welles applied for his passport on January 24, 1947, the same date the killer mailed a packet carrying Short’s belongings to Los Angeles newspapers. Welles left the country for an extended stay in Europe 10 months after the murder. According to Pacios, witnesses she has interviewed state that Welles and the victim frequented Brittingham’s restaurant in Los Angeles during the same time period. Welles was never a suspect in the original investigation. Pacios doesn’t state whether the victim and the actor were ever seen together in Brittingham’s.
There are at least three things wrong with Pacios’ theory:
(1) A complete lack of proof that Welles was a sadistic
(2) The connection of Short’s corpse to the house of
mirrors in the film The Lady of Shanghai
(3) Proof that Welles even knew, or knew of, Elizabeth Short
Once again what we have here is a whole lot of nothing in order to exploit a meager memory of a piece of Short’s life, and an unimportant piece at that (at least where the Dahlia story is concerned). Does anyone care that Pacios knew Short as a child? No. Does that make her a Dahlia expert? No. Does having known her briefly in her early life mean she knew anything about the adult Short? No. Is the book interesting? Well, certainly, as are most publications about the Black Dahlia. There are several red flags here, the biggest being that Pacios resorted to self-publishing. This implies she couldn’t generate enough interest from traditional publishers — whose job consists of separating the literary wheat from the chaff — to publish and promote her work.
I don’t know whether Pacios waxes poetic or pathetic about Short as I haven’t read her book, but if the answer is neither, then that is one positive the publication has going for it. There are far too many books in publication that portray Short as a prostitute, tease, user, squatter, tragic heroine, debutante, glamour girl, pedophile, and no-good drifter. Drippy, sentiment like Pacios’ isn’t going to convince us or get anyone anywhere. Neither is glamorizing Short’s life as a sort of build-up to her horrific death. The next author could at least aim for simple, pragmatic objectivity, firmly rooted in reality. Had that been what life had to offer Short, there would never have been a Black Dahlia murder.