It was 68 years ago this week that the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found mutilated and sliced in half in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. Newspapers would give the victim of this crime an unforgettable nickname: the Black Dahlia.
The murder has become one of history's most enduring unsolved crimes, offering an irresistibly tragic tale of an aspiring starlet who might've had the looks to make it in show biz — but took a wrong turn somewhere and met the person who ended her life so cruelly. The details of her death (her mouth was slashed ear-to-ear, her hair and body had been carefully washed, and her upper and lower halves were so posed that the woman who found the body mistook them for pieces of a mannequin) were so gruesome that it seemed at first her killer would be easy to catch. Clearly, someone so maniacal would be easy to track down, right?
Clearly not. Immediately after the crime, and gradually over the next seven decades, dozens of suspects have emerged, but none have ever been charged. (The case has also inspired several false confessions, as high-profile ones tend to do.)
Last year, retired LAPD detective turned private investigator turned author Steve Hodel made a splash with fresh evidence in the case against his late father, Dr. George Hodel. (He'd previously laid out his claims in 2006's Black Dahlia Avenger: The True Story, which he revised and re-released in 2014.) In a story on the new clues last June, the Daily Mail reported that the younger Hodel was able to gain access to the LA home where he'd grown up (incidentally, it's the architecturally significant Sowden House) and investigate it like a crime scene.
In November 2012, Hodel, together with retired police Sgt. Paul Dostie and Buster, a Labrador retriever trained to detect the unique smell of human composition, visited his childhood home.
Once let loose, Buster quickly established four locations in the basement where he could pick up a faint trace of human remains.
Hodel believes his father killed Short in the basement while the rest of the family was out of town, having confirmed the dates aligned with Short's murder. Though Hodel began to suspect his father after encountering a photograph that resembled Short in a family album, the older man was actually on the LAPD's shortlist after the crime, since he was a doctor who'd recently been accused by his teenage daughter, Steve's sister, of molesting her. Though he was acquitted of those charges, he was still suspicious enough to be placed under surveillance for a time in 1950.
The Mail reports:
Transcripts reveal that detectives heard Hodel discussing the Dahlia case at one point, while another time they picked up noises from the basement which sounded like a woman being attacked.
Hodel's father fled to Asia in the late 1940s, leaving his family behind.
Steve Hodel, who believes his father may have also killed other women around the time of the Black Dahlia murder, maintains a highly detailed website devoted to his theories. Definitely worth a peek for anyone interested in the case, whether or not you believe him.
Top image via the Los Angeles Times.