The Chilling Black Dahlia Murder Revisited

The Chilling Black Dahlia Murder Revisited

October 10, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


this week on a special episode of BuzzFeed unsolved true crime TNT’s i am the knight has asked us to take a closer look at a case we previously covered the infamous murder of the Black Dahlia I am the knight is a new limited series on TNT inspired by the incredible true story of fauna hotel a teenage girl given away at birth who makes a discovery about her past that leads her to question everything her search for her identity leads her to the heart of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved murder the Black Dahlia and one of the prime suspects in the case in this episode we’ll take a new look at the murder the suspects and the pile of evidence that has yet to be enough to solve this case you can’t hide the truth now shame this was before your time on the show so you may not have seen this episode I have not that do you know the case at all The Black Dahlia Hollywood murderer and it’s gruesome it is gruesome there was a movie I think it’s also a show oh yeah TNT I am the night the point I’m trying to get across he was a little bit shorter because it was one of the first episodes that was you making your little power points you know okay no need to get back I’m just saying now we’ve been given the opportunity to dive deep yeah I got my goggles on I’m ready to dive deep I got a scuba tank baby let’s go digging around 10 a.m. on January 15th 1947 Betty Persinger was taking her three-year-old daughter and on a morning errand to the shoe repair store near what’s now the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles as they passed an empty lot on Norton Avenue Persinger recalls quote I glanced to my right and saw this very dead white body my goodness it was so white it didn’t look like anything more than perhaps an artificial model it was so white and separated in the middle and quit rough start to this story there’s a reason why we’re going into the grisly details of this because they’ll come well you got we take no pleasure in this we’re not sickos yeah I’m no I’m not why are you looking at me with that accusatory glare yeah sometimes I get a little worried about yeah the body of 22 year old Elizabeth Short was lying face-up and naked her body split in half at the waist she was oddly posed with her eyes open hands above her head with elbows bent and legs out straight and spread apart she had been hit over the head and pieces of her flesh had been cut out at the corners of her mouth there were three inch long slits as gory as the scene was there was no blood it appeared that the body had been drained and scrubbed before being placed where it was found Betty Persinger went to a nearby home and called the police to report the body Persinger then continued her errand I would not be going to get my shoes repaired after that I would say that if I saw something as traumatic as this I probably need to you know go home but it is weird to be the first person to arrive on the scene because when you call in you are going to be the first suspect usually well she’s not gonna commit a grisly murder I’m her way to repair her don’t underestimate anybody if history has taught us anything you don’t underestimate anyone anyone can murder anyone can murder Julia Child do you think she could murder if pressed yeah I think you could murder if pressed I don’t know if I found out today that you had murdered somebody I wouldn’t be too surprised I think cause someone told you right after identifying the body by its fingerprints with help from the FBI the LAPD began circulating a flier in the hopes of getting more information it described short as quote 5 foot 6 inches 118 pounds black hair green eyes very attractive bad lower teeth fingernails chewed too quick end quote eventually more information about the woman began to emerge originally from Medford Massachusetts Elizabeth Short moved to Hollywood some say in the hopes of stardom like many actresses she had worked as a waitress and a cashier and dealt with periods of unemployment as she struggled to get minor acting roles that’s Hollywood that’s Tinseltown you moved from Chicago here with the same hopes of stardom yeah you did also take an improv comedy class as well right I did to meet people you follow the Wi-Fi PlayBook in LA Oh a hundred percent and I’ll tell you what I did meet some of the most insufferable people had an improv class I can’t believe that but they also met me and I wish that uh no one okay all right it was common at the time for newspapers to bestow nicknames on murder cases the papers called her The Black Dahlia due to reports that she often wore sleek black clothing and had striking dyed black hair the autopsy on the body provided a chilling glimpse into shorts final moments officially short died of hemorrhage and shock marks on her legs wrists neck and right thigh suggested she had been bound in tortured the slits at the corners of her mouth were made while she was still alive she had also suffered a concussion from blows to her head reports say that the cuts were clean raising suspicions early on that someone with surgical skills may have been responsible likes gruesome one thing too to mine from that yeah if you wade through all the grisly details which are upsetting is that whoever did this had surgical skills this was not committed by someone you know who just picked up a knife at the hardware store this is somebody who knew what he was doing he knew Anatomy sure so that’s gonna come in big later in the case okay I wouldn’t want to be a detective I have no aspirations to be in law some of the most disgusting stuff I’ve ever heard it’s gross yeah it’s much easier to be an asshole sitting behind a desk like we are yeah the gory details and proximity to the glamour of Hollywood cause shorts murder to become a huge story making page one headlines in Los Angeles for a full month feeding this sensation was the apparent murderer themself nine days after her body was found an envelope arrived at the offices of the Los Angeles examiner it contains some of shorts belongings including her social security card birth certificate photos and an address book was missing a few pages all of the items have been cleaned of fingerprints using gasoline and the envelope had been addressed using cut out letters taken from movie advertisements all told 13 letters were sent to the police and press taunting them as the investigation unfolded many signed Black Dahlia Avenger we’re dealing with a great áááhole here the mob was all over the town you got dirty cops the whole town is filthy yeah greedy corrupt maybe that’s why that woman went to go get her shoes repaired it’s probably the fifth dead body she’d seen that week about that one other thing that we should talk about is the address-book had a few missing pages what means what could could the killer have been in her address book yeah he probably knew her for a little bit there were many suspects throughout the investigation it’s been estimated that hundreds were questioned and cleared the police contacted about 75 men listed in the address book that was sent to the Los Angeles examiner the majority of them said they’d met short only briefly going out on a dinner date or to the movies but that things had ended before they went any further during the case the FBI investigated approximately 300 USC medical school students though it seems nothing came of this at one point fingerprints were found on one of the Dalia letters sent to police the FBI race to match these prints with an identity but the fingerprints were not in their files so they were unable to find a match eventually the case went cold after more than 70 years I think there are three main suspects worth examining the first is a salesman and former Army musician Robert Redman Lee his relationship with short began about a month before short was murdered when Manley noticed her outside a bus station in San Diego and asked if she wanted a ride according to Manly at first short would not speak to him but he was persistent and she eventually did get into his car for the next month Manley would take short on dates when he was in town in San Diego when the place where short had been staying in San Diego suddenly fell through short contacted Manley and asked him to come pick her up Manley said next they both stayed platonically in a tell in pacific beach after which manly drove them both to los angeles there he says he brought short to the Biltmore Hotel and left her there at about 6:30 on the evening of January 9th as far as the investigation was ever able to ascertain that is the last place short was seen alive six days before her body was discovered when questioned by the police manly pleaded his innocence and willingly took to polygraph tests both indicating that he was telling the truth years later in 1954 doctors gave manly sodium pentothol at one point thought to be a truth drug that would induce honesty and questioned him about the case again it seemed manly was innocent didn’t they determine that’s pretty much baloney that’s some professor snape shit it’s not real I do wonder what the effects of it are you know we should do huh we should inject you full of truth serum and then ask you if you think ghosts you’re real do you think I’m lying about that sometimes I make you’re lying to yourself hmm now I know this isn’t the season for that it’s not the season manly died on january 9th 1986 after an accidental fall in his apartment in Anaheim California 39 years to the day after he last saw short alive at the Biltmore now that sounds like a coincidence an accidental fall on the anniversary of the last time he saw somebody he was accused of murdering oh so you think he maybe was remorseful and jump I’m not saying that it could go beyond coincidence that’s all I’ll say or the thing though is if I’m living in Anaheim and I’ve got a balcony and I’m smoking cigars because it’s the 80s and I grew up in Hollywood in the 40s and 50s yeah yeah I’m addicted to every substance known to man and I’m out there on my balcony in Anaheim it’s a miracle that I’m not going over that thing any given day of the week well you got the fireworks to keep you on the balcony Oh from Disneyland in 1997 for the 50th anniversary of the murder the LA Times interviewed Ralph Osdol the last living detective from the original investigation as they’ll claim that within weeks he found the man he believed to be the murderer as Dahl had received a few tips in a description of a man witnesses noticed near the empty lot where short was discovered other witnesses described seeing a black car around dawn as Dale found a man matching that description whose car which had been recently repainted also look like the one described because as Dale had no hard evidence and only a hunch to go on he was unable to confront his suspect but as of 1997 he believed that this mystery man was the black dahlia murderer great insight provided by as Dale here you’re not a big fan of this one he’s the last living detective from the original investigation he spent 50 years having his nose rubbed in it and now in the end he is just like yeah I knew who was all along can’t tell you his name but I know if that’s true kind of a bad detective yeah the third and final suspect is well known to even those only casually familiar with the case dr. George Hodel many who worked on the case over the years believe they interacted with the real killer at some point perhaps no one feels stronger than Steve Hodel after retiring as an LAPD homicide detective having worked on over 300 murder cases Steve Hodel published his research claiming the murderer was one George Hodel the detectives own father this is juicy can you imagine being a detective working your ass off on this case he’s got a big board and suddenly he takes the yarn on the board and just where am I putting this on a photo of my father I know oh well he wasn’t assigned to the case this is something he took on after he retired interesting okay his dad also as you will soon find out was a bit of an asshole and it made sense why he would suspect his father of being capable of something horrible George Hodel was a wealthy doctor in Los Angeles described as a well-connected dashing man with high IQ George was in charge of a venereal disease clinic in LA which supposedly gave him knowledge of the sexual lives of people ranging from local sex workers to the city’s elite while George wasn’t a practicing surgeon he was reported to have breezed through Medical School where he’d studied to be one yeah I got murder after George hotels death his son Steve found two photos of a woman who Steve believed to be Elizabeth Short the Black Dahlia he began investigating coming to believe that his father had a romantic relationship with short and that they had been spotted together at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles so George’s son is looking through his dad’s photo albums and he comes across two pictures that look strikingly similar to Elizabeth Short now I will say I have not seen any confirmation that they are in fact Elizabeth Short did they run these past in a ransom they I seen that they ran past a couple experts but no one conclusively said yes but they also didn’t say conclusively no are they a little more revealing than that photo of the back of Amelia Earhart’s head that you tried to pass off as if I didn’t say I tried to pass that okay that wasn’t mine you see her face in these things though we do you see her face hmm yes you have his profession which gives him a unique insight mm-hmm and then you have these photos and then you have the claims that they had been seen together at places No so he obviously knew her at the very least George Hodel would have had the medical training needed to produce the surgical mutilation performed on shorts body and that is only the beginning steve has suggested that George is also responsible for the murder of Jean French which occurred a mere three weeks after shorts on February 10th like short French received blunt-force trauma to the head and her body was also found oddly posed in a vacant lot early one morning French’s body bore the initials B D possibly thought to stand for black dahlia written in red lipstick yeah yeah B D sure yeah I’ll take it did they send any letters following that one no but the actual writing of BD is going to come into play the penmanship of it notes allegedly sent by the killer after the murder match hotels handwriting according to handwriting analysis performed by one forensic expert hired by Steve Hodel that expert also believed that the BD initials written on gene French’s body matched George hotels handwriting now that comes with obviously the disclaimer that it was a handwriting expert hired by the person who was purporting the theory yeah but are they’re crooked I can’t see why this person would be would aid in the miscarriage of justice right right that doesn’t make any sense to me if you’re a handwriting expert you got to do your best yeah how many jobs are you getting I I also I don’t know if this is weird but I think there’s more weight to it because it’s his son doing the accusing I think it could be less because one against blood well it could show a personal vendetta if this guy had a bad childhood which is strong but this he was not even a whole he’s not a good dad evidence was found that hotel had 50 pound sacks of concrete sent to his home for remodeling on january 9th 1947 the last day short was seen alive and less than one week before her body was found Hodel son has claimed that there were similar bags found near shorts body that police speculated could have been used to carry shorts body from the car to the lot what’s more George drove a black 1936 Packard that looked similar to the descriptions of the black car that had been seen at dawn near the empty lot wear shorts body was found Steve’s research pointed out similarities between house shorts body was found and works by George’s reported friend surrealist artist man ray the dahlias arms were posed above her head not unlike man Ray’s photograph possessed by MoMA Minotaur as for the slits on dahlias mouth they could have been inspired by the artists painting Observatory time the lovers according to Steve George idolized Man Ray and wanted to be an artist himself could the Black Dahlia have been George’s sick attempt at art one of George’s daughters Tamar Hotel recalled her father hosting huge parties at their Hollywood adjacent home with guests including man-ray as well as movie stars Tamar also claimed she had posed for nude photos for Man Ray when she was a child after running away from home in 1949 Tamar reported her father to the police telling them he had tried to teach her about oral sex at the age of eleven that he had offered her to his friends for sex when she was 14 and that George himself had had sex with her if this man is not a murderer he’s obviously a bad man yeah this guy is awful surprised these kids didn’t get together and just kill their dad well one of them said hey maybe I’ll indict him for murder no I got it yeah as a side note at age 15 Tamar gave birth to a baby girl in San Francisco that girl fauna hotel would be adopted by a family in Nevada and not know the story of her biological grandfather until much later when conducting research of her own do we know who her father is I’m not saying this is what happened but it’s possible that Tamar since she claims that George had had sex with her at the age of 14 and gave birth to a baby at 15 it’s possible that the father of that baby which is fauna hotel could have been George her grandfather oh this guy’s a real piece of shit Ryan do you see why I said Steve Hodel may have a conflict of interest now yeah now I get I thought you were just like oh oh he’s a monster yeah he’s a he’s a monster yeah George Hodel was ultimately acquitted of incest charges after several other family members testified that Tamar was lying there are those who have stated however that the family could have been motivated to do so because George was the breadwinner supporting the family in 1950 a few years after the black dahlia murder George Hodel moved or perhaps fled to the Philippines perhaps not so coincidentally a woman murdered in Manila in 1967 reportedly was also found bisected and posed in an empty lot just like the black dahlia Steve claims that at the time George Hodel was living just a half-mile away from the I’m Z in 2012 Steve Hodel visited his childhood home with a production crew another former police officer and a search dog that picked up the scent of human decomposition in multiple locations on the property such as the Le way in back of the house according to doctor Arpad Vass a leading forensic anthropologist who helped pioneer chemical analysis of human decomposition this does not technically indicate that remains are located where the search dog found the sense because the markers the dog detects can move carried by water and other forces over the decades however VAS himself analyzed a soil sample taken from the alley behind the home and found that it was positive for human remains though the sample indicated a death that occurred anywhere from 20 to 100 years ago quite likely beside the point but I always feel bad for those dogs that got a sniff dead bodies all day yeah I mean that’s definitely not preferable to the ones that have to sniff for like cocaine cocaine those dogs after hearing about the George Hodel theory LA Times reporter Steve Lopez went to the Los Angeles DA and was given access to case files and grand jury documents in the files he found a photo of George Hodel listing him among 21 other suspects Lopez also found records indicating that the LAPD had snuck listening devices into hotels home undetected and listened to hotel for 40 days in 1950 not long before he left for the Philippines the recordings do not exist anymore but transcripts of the recordings were left in the DA’s files Lopez says one of the transcripts had recorded Hotel saying quote supposing I did kill the Black Dahlia they couldn’t prove it now they can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead end quote well you know people don’t usually say stuff like that it sounds like dialogue written for a villain like that’s something that a normal person doesn’t say another transcript describes what may have been the sound of a woman being attacked in the houses basement according to a CBS 48 hour special on the case the investigation into hotels possible ties too short was shut down abruptly in 1950 with one of the lead investigators stating that the recordings taken from hotels home eliminated him as a suspect if that sounds suspicious to you you’re not alone George’s son claims his father via his connections and occupation had knowledge about corruption in the LAPD and their ties to prostitution and abortion rings and that the police covered of hotels guilt to avoid their own dirty laundry being aired indeed some officers in the LAPD were notoriously corrupt in the early 20th century and the transcripts from the bugs left in hotels house also reportedly quote George’s saying this is the best payoff I’ve seen between law enforcement agencies I’d like to get a connection made in the DA’s office and on the nose there sounds like it it’s George Hodel again why does it always come back to evidence being gone what happened to the tapes they conveniently fell in the trash well seeing that these tapes say this about the LAPD who is then in charge of the chain of custody of certain tapes yeah it makes sense in a sense to me that those tapes would vanish yeah upsetting but then again when you look at that and you see oh the tapes disappeared while they are in the custody of your establishment that only makes you look bad so regardless don’t care they don’t care yeah cops don’t care I guess no lending credibility to the corruption allegation according to the 48 hours investigation the LAPD admits that much of the physical evidence from the black dahlia case is not with the files it’s unclear where it is or why it would be missing pretty clear I understand you know there’s bureaucracy you got to fill out forms stuff goes places oh do we put that on this shelf or that shelf I don’t know but they probably have some pretty good systems in place yeah the police you should be able to keep track of these things if we could assess anything out of that it’s that Shaima de believes the LAPD are crooked wait no while there are some doubts as to whether the photographs found in George’s photo album are actually of the black dahlia or if his handwriting does match the letter sent to the police and press there’s enough cause for suspicion without those leads to keep the lens focused on George Hodel after reviewing the hotel case Steven K the then LA County head deputy da who’d prosecuted murder cases for over 35 years stated he believed the case had been solved speaking for himself not the DA’s office quote I would have no reservations about filing two counts of murder against dr. George Hodel end quote Steven K thrown it on the team I mean I commend him but at the same time duh George Hodel returned to the United States from the Philippines around 1990 he died in 1991 at the age of 91 I’ve always wondered since they found the fingerprints on that Dalia letter can’t they take little George’s finkies and put him on the thing and see if they match well now there bones well I’m sure they have George’s fingerprints on file do they they have to it was he ever brought in for anything he was a suspect yeah today the case is still open but it has been decades since authorities were actively investigating perhaps most frustrating is the sentiment expressed by John Douglas former head of the FBI’s serial Crimes Division and one of the nation’s leading experts on profiling violent crimes Douglass notes that so much information can be ascertained from the murderers interactions and time he spent with the body that today the crime would be quote very solvable and quote the Black Dahlia Murder riveted the nation and continues to fascinate sleuths today was the Black Dahlia merely the most infamous murder at the hands of dr. George Hodel or is there another answer out there lost to time for now the case remains unsolved what are you gonna do charge George Hodel with two counts of murder according to the DA chisel into his gravestone also a murderer yeah I mean maybe I don’t know what you do part of Justice is forcing penance upon the person who did the deed right sure there’s no justice sleep tight everybody oh no way here we go okay yeah another part of justice is that the living descendants of the people who had the act committed against them now they could find solace that the true perpetrator has been pointed out place that’s something it’s good for the living descendants closure check out I am the night on TNT with Chris Pine that guy is okie he’s got nice eyes [Music]