Dr. de River is “a full time civil employee of the Department; his rating is that of psychiatrist, created in 1936; that position was created. he’s a civil service full time employee of the City, civil employee like a stenographer or a civil employee would be in the Police Department.”
~ Arthur L. Veitch, Grand Jury Legal Adviser
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Jack Sands, alias Leslie Dillon, wrote a letter from Florida to Dr. J. Paul de River, LAPD psychiatrist, expressing his theory of the murder of Elizabeth Short. The two exchanged letters and eventually agreed to meet with each other in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dillon had a suspect, but de River thought Jack Sands made a good suspect.
In late December, 1948, Sergeant John J. “J. J.” O’Mara of the Los Angeles Police Department served undercover as Dr. de River’s chauffeur and body guard. O’Mara met de River at his home and drove with Lt. William Burns, the commanding officer of the Gangster Detail, to Las Vegas to meet up with Leslie Dillon. The three first met with Captain Kearney from the Homicide Squad in Las Vegas. After “around a day or a day and a half,” de River and O’Mara met Dillon, O’Mara said.
From there de River, O’Mara and Dillon all drove to Briar Gate Lodge near Banning, California. The impression was given that O’Mara was simply a driver and not connected with the police department. Dr. de River would be interrogating Dillon, while O’Mara would act as chauffeur and “more or less as bodyguard,” O’Mara said.
During the drive to Briar Gate, O’Mara recalled that de River and Dillon were discussing embalming and bleeding. Dillon claimed he had worked at the Hahn Funeral Home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1943. O’Mara remembered Dillon talked about bleeding a body prior to embalming by making an incision on the “upper thigh” and “inserting a tube to drain the blood.”
At Briar Gate Lodge, O’Mara had a room adjoining de River’s and Dillon had a room to himself. Kearney and Burns checked in, “I believe the next day,” O’Mara recalled. Kearney and Burns were there unbeknownst to Dillon.
At one point Dillon showed a picture of a woman that O’Mara described as the “Madonna.” He said “the picture of the woman had very attractive hair, you might say, as to Dillon’s idea of attractive hair.” O’Mara said Dillon became tense while the doctor viewed the picture.
“Well, there was one occasion, as I recollect, the doctor was questioning him on New Year’s Eve, it was extensive questioning and I was in the next adjoining room in the dark, watching through a crack in the door. In fact, I was supposed to be out of there at that time, it was supposed to be a discussion between the doctor and Dillon. The doctor knew I was there, but Dillon didn’t, and when the doctor was questioning him about various things, he became more and more progressively excited, at least he appeared to me to be, when this was actually a discussion of the picture of that Madonna I referred to, it’s kind of hard to explain, the doctor was studying the picture very intently, and I was looking in the light about the distance of myself to yourself, about that distance from me, and he got very peculiar look in his face. It’s hard to describe, it’s one of, – impression I got it was one of rage more or less, looked like he was about ready to pounce on the doctor, I know it sounds kind of silly, but he had an awful look on his face, his face contorted, and it was a look of rage on his face.”
O’Mara also remembered a conversation about Elizabeth Short and why the body would be cut in half. O’Mara said “there was some talk when he was discussing about the body, the incision, the cut through the body.” Dillon, according to O’Mara, said “the person would want to see how far his penis went into the person.”
After four or five days, the trio drove into Los Angeles. During the drive, Dillon talked of driving to San Francisco to show Jeff Connors to de River. Instead, they continued on to L. A., where O’Mara said, “I noticed that he became increasingly apprehensive as we approached Los Angeles.”
Before reaching the city, the three of them stopped at the La Bonita Motel in El Monte for several days. O’Mara said “it was headquarters, and listening post set up.” In order to avoid suspicion, O’Mara said, “There was a loose security.” Still, he believed that Dillon knew he was a suspect. “- if he did fly we could pick him up immediately,” O’Mara said.
They left the motel one morning and drove towards Los Angeles, eventually stopping at Jiggs Moore’s trailer court, where Dillon had been previously. Dillon hurried out of the car when they arrived and rushed into the office and asked Moore to alter a date in his registration records. O’Mara did his best to follow Dillon without arousing suspicion. O’Mara also noted that Dillon went to a phone booth and wrote down the payphone telephone number for himself.
After they left Jiggs Moore’s, they drove towards Dr. de River’s office in Hollywood. Dillon “volunteered the best way to get there was by going over La Brea -,” But O’Mara avoided La Brea. “I turned more or less on Crenshaw, on Crenshaw Boulevard; I knew more or less where we were going.” O’Mara said Dillon wanted to take them out of their way, but de River told him to turn off Crenshaw.
“So I turned off at Crenshaw Boulevard, and at that time I had no knowledge myself where the exact spot of where the body was found, I never worked the case, never had occasion to go over there, but as we turned, I believe it was on 39th Street, as I recall, and I started to turn up an alley way, and Jacks Sands or Dillon says, ‘You can’t get through that way.’ So I kept on going down to the next street, he says ‘That alley won’t get you through.’ So I went, proceeding near the Coliseum and Norton [intersection], and at the time, there was a little conversation about his denying the fact that he knew about being on Crenshaw Boulevard. At that time, it struck me awful funny that he knew what alley way didn’t go through. Of course I was again the dumb chauffer.
They made their way to the site where Beth Short’s body was found. Dr. de River told O’Mara, “Pull over and park here.” Dillon and de River talked, while O’Mara “more or less hung in the background -.”
O’Mara said that Dillon became “very agitated, and the doctor says, ‘Do you recall now, this was where the body was found.’ As I recall, Dillon said, ‘What body do you mean? You mean the woman who was stomped and kicked?’ You might say off-hand – the other murder that happened in West Los Angeles, where a woman was kicked, at least there was footprints on the body, and the doctor’s conversation was, ‘You know what I mean, you know what body I mean.’ And Dillon was very – didn’t have much to say there. He was kind of more nervous than the average person would, in casual observation, if somebody told me that, I would say, ‘Are you accusing me?’ or something like that, he made no statement of that kind, he more or less appeared that he was becoming ill, at least that’s the impression I got, and we didn’t stay there very long, and we proceeded back to the motel, and the doctor began questioning him again en route to the motel, and when we were proceeding along, he wanted a drink, or had to go to the restroom, we stopped in a service station, got out at the service station, and he said something about wanting a Coke. He felt very thirsty, we went over to the Coke machine, and he ordered a Coke, and as I recall, he didn’t drink it, he still appeared, well, very nervous. We got back to the car and drove, continued on to the motel, and one time there the doctor was questioning him, he manifested a peculiar thing, you might say, the doctor would question him and the questions were kind of tight, you might say, he had a habit of sticking his hand out through the wind wing and crowding over close to the door, now it would probably take a psychiatrist to explain why he did that.”
The trio eventually made their way to San Francisco in search of Jeff Connors, who they never found. Dillon was agitated much of the time, according to Officer O’Mara. He was eventually taken into custody outside San Francisco by Sgt. Bublichki, with O’Mara present. He observed that Dillon, “ – kind of sunk down, he relaxed -.” Omara said, “His reactions were one of a person that seemed to have slumped down in his seat.”
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O’Mara concluded that Leslie Dillon was “- an individual that I have never seen the likes of before, and probably will never see again, if I may say so, he was – his facial expression would change and his temperaments would change very quickly and suddenly, he was very – I mean to a point of super cunning. I mean little things he did, in his conversations, the way he would shoot a few statements and he said something and watch your reactions, and he was – in other words, he was not a stupid person. He was very, very clever in my opinion. In other words, one you had to more or less spar with, box with, a person – reference came up one night about him wanting to sleep with me. A question of shortage of rooms, he said, ‘I’ll sleep with J. J.’ He got quite a laugh out of that, I wouldn’t sleep with that fellow, not even in the same room, unless I was wide awake. I merely state that of what I think of the man. He’s not stupid in any sense of the word.”
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Finis Brown first heard about a new suspect in the Black Dahlia murder when his partner Harry Hansen called him at home on January 10, 1949. Brown was working nights on a special detail. Captain Kearney of Homicide directed the detectives to get downtown as soon as they could. When asked, “What’s up?” Kearney said, “Something pretty hot, how soon can you get down?”
Dillon was booked as a suspect on January 10, 1949 at the Highland Park station, north of downtown. Lead detectives Finis Brown and Harry Hansen first questioned Dillon that evening. The next night, January 11, San Francisco police contacted the LAPD and informed them that they had located Jeff Connors.
In April, Sgt. Brown and Officer Barnes of the Gangster Squad went to the Bay Area to interview witnesses. For almost a week, they talked with Phil Coponie, Shirley Anderson, a Mr. and Mrs. Ross, Bell Dugmas MacMerdo, Woody J. Wood and others. Although Brown had reservations concerning the caliber of witnesses, he said, “From all the reports that I have read – other officers and my own report would indicate that he was in San Francisco all during the time up until the 22nd of January, 1947.”
Brown also said, “There is apparently nothing else that we could do, be any more sure of other than the testimony of these people which we could expect as alibi witnesses for Dillon if he would ever be brought to trial.”
Dr. de River made recordings of his interviews with Dillon, where he questioned his suspect about the details of Elizabeth Short’s murder:
de River: What do you think the killer did with the hair he shaved off the private parts of the body of Elizabeth Short?”
Dillon: “I think the killer such as he was would probably have thrown the hair into a toilet and flushed it.”
de River: “What do you think a killer such as he was would do with the piece of flesh with the tattoo on it after he cut it off her thigh?”
Dillon: “Well, I think he would probably have thrown that down the toilet and flushed it.”
And on another recording:
deRiver: “You are the one who murdered Elizabeth Short.”
Dillon: “Dr. de River, the trouble with [this] is that you first reach your own conclusions about this case and then you try to dig up things to prove that your conclusions are correct.”
de River: “What do you think I am, a child? What do you mean by talking to me that way? I’m a person who has been around.”
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District attorney investigator Frank Jemison concluded in October, 1949, in part, “the present administrators of the police department are of the opinion that there was an error made on the part of the preceding administrators when they assigned the Gangster Squad and Dr. Paul de River as Psychiatrist to investigate the Short murder. They appear to be of the opinion that the Homicide Division officers should have had control over it at all times.”
By the end of 1949, Finis Brown no longer believed that Dillon was a viable suspect, but he said the investigation was not complete, including the verification of Dillon’s work history and whereabouts at the time of the murder. Dillon did have alibis supplied by witnesses, but they were not always convincing.
After his release, Dillon sued the city of Los Angeles for $100,000. The affair led, in part, to the grand jury investigation of the murder of Elizabeth Short.
In the end, Jemison, concluded:
“It is the consensus of Officers Ed Barrett, Jack Smyre, F.A. Brown and the undersigned that there is insufficient evidence as of this date, October 28, 1949, upon which any suspect could now be brought to trial for the murder of Elizabeth Short.”