Chapter 39 ~ Myth

Where does Elizabeth Short fit in Hollywood lore today? To those who know little of her, she may have been a woman of loose morals or a prostitute who was killed years ago in a sex slaying. For others, she was a beautiful, young aspiring actress, the victim of a terrible murder. To others still, she was a sponger, a teaser that stuck men with the tab and was eventually made to pay for her sins. To her family and many who knew her, she was simply a nice girl.

In the days and weeks following her death, investigators and journalists asked everyone they could find who knew Elizabeth Short to describe her. One newspaper article said, “although she spent long hours in the night spots, barmen recalled that she usually ordered soft drinks.”

* * *

The young women who knew Beth Short usually spoke well of her. Anne Toth called her “Young and tender” and said “we used to think the world of that kid.” In San Diego, Dorothy French recalled, “There was something so sorrowful about her ~ she seemed lost and a stranger to the area, and I felt I wanted to help her.”

But others did not think well of her. Mark Hansen said that “she picked up with bums.” Harry Hansen called her a tease.

She sponged off Mary Unkefer in Santa Barbara and Mark Hansen in Hollywood and the French family in San Diego. She asked Red Manley for a ride to Los Angeles. Syd Zaid let her stay at his home. Bill Robinson and Marvin Margolis let her stay at their apartment. Anne Toth found her a room at the Chancellor and borrowed a car to move her. Gordon Fickling put her up in Long Beach and Hollywood. Carl Balsiger found her a room in Hollywood on Yucca Street. Glen Kearns tried to find a place, but failed and took her back to Mark Hansen’s, where she had already been thrown out. She accepted money, rides and places to sleep. She borrowed Anne Toth’s beige coat when she left for San Diego. Perhaps, Anne did the most. “-I helped her move before. I did an awful lot for that girl-.”

And she lied to almost everyone. She lied to her mother about working in San Diego. She lied to the Frenches about working for Western Airlines. She lied to Anne Toth and Mark Hansen about going to Oakland and Berkeley. She lied to Red Manley about meeting her sister at the Biltmore and about never having been to Los Angeles before. She told Mark Hansen that she worked at the cafe in the Burbank airport, and according to Anne, “- she was working all the time that she lived at Mark’s house, she was supposed to be working. She went to work in the morning and came back at night like she did.” “I just assumed that she was working at Western Airlines where she said she was. After all, you got to believe some things some people say.” Despite her shortcomings, most of those who knew her seemed to like her and care about her.

* * *

Elizabeth Short has become a  mythological character over time and is probably as misunderstood now as she was when she roamed the streets of Hollywood. Boardner’s, an old Black Dahlia hangout, wouldn’t allow her photo to be displayed years ago. The Biltmore Hotel, however, celebrates her life and death with a cocktail named after her and a framed portrait of her hangs on a lobby wall. The old haunts around Hollywood are disappearing. The neighborhoods that she knew so well have changed so much that she would find it difficult to recognize them today.

Tempus fugit.

19 Responses to “Chapter 39 ~ Myth”

  1. BOB SILER Says:

    This is such an interesting case. Does anyone know where Harry Hansen, Thad and Finis Brown and Jack Donahoe are buried?
    Thank you

  2. Smoochie Says:

    It would be easy for me to enjoy your site quietly, then leave. But instead I wanted to take the time and tell you how much I loved it and how hard it was for me to stay away until I was done reading everything in it!
    I liked everything about it. Thanks!

  3. Tony Fleming Says:

    Nice work. Right up our alley. See It’s stories like this that were the genesis of EJ’s first book. Good stuff. Good research. Nicely put together. Feel free to contact us, anytime.

  4. LHARC Says:

    Wow, this site has a lot of information. I have all ready read part of the FBI report (would have read it all by now, but the site kept crashing), and many newspaper articles. From this I know that you have really worked to provide good, accurate, blogging. Sure would be good to know who really murdered Elizabeth Short, but unless someone who knew the killer (who is probably passed on by now) steps up with solid evidence, I don’t think we will ever know who murdered her, at least in this life on earth. Sure would help to know who the two men and one women were that Elizabeth seemed so afraid of. Perhaps they were people who tracked her down from another area, another state, due to circumstances we know nothing about.

  5. tiffany Says:

    I know this may sound silly but with our dna advancements etc wouldn’t there be a way to find out just who did it? I mean I heard a little while ago of a story where the FBI uncovered a 20 year old murder mystery? Why is it that with so many things now available to them that they wouldn’t want to just try? She was so brutally murdered that I would think some kind of evidence was on the body, maybe something that they missed back then…I guess I only hope for this because this story breaks my heart think of a woman, or anyone for that matter to suffer that way…even if the killer is dead I think if they found something, anything on him it would let her ghost be at peace

  6. Minkykat Says:

    Love this website! And thank you, too, for being honest about Elizabeth Short. She wasn’t a plaster saint, nor was she a fiend. She was simply a very lonely soul trying to fill a void and not going about it very well.

  7. Iris Says:

    I really like this website! Beth was pretty and admirable 🙂
    Thanks for not including the gruesome photos too. I was worried they’d pop up somewhere but it was a relief to see lovely life pictures instead.

  8. suspiria_2 Says:

    isn’t it a bit too far to take the “she was a sponger” line? yes, she indeed relied upon others in her last months, but do you really have any idea whether she ever showed thanks to any of these people? you’re saying she didn’t thank her own mother. how would you even know this with any great certainty? did you read all of her letters home? it wouldn’t be enough to ask her family, as sometimes sibling rivalry and the fact that the two older girls were not at home themselves much in those years would obscure what was really going on between Beth & her mother.

  9. admin Says:

    The District Attorney investigation revealed that Elizabeth Short, “has been known to see as many as four men in one day chiseling a ride, a dinner, money or a place to stay and would then brush them off with a fabricated line of conversation.”

    She, “lived at the El Mar Hotel with Ms. Devaul during the last part of 1944 and until the first part of 1945 but did not work.”

    “In the latter part of September, 1945, she registered in the Colonial Inn” in Jacksonville, Florida. She remained there until January 9, 1946. “During her stay there she received checks from her mother, and there is no work record of her in Jacksonville.”

    She moved in with the French family in San Diego on December 9, 1946 and left on January 8, 1947, borrowing one dollar before she left for Los Angeles.

  10. Bob Says:

    Amazing and thorough web-site.
    The more I read about the life and murder of Beth Short I keep leaning more and more towards a woman as the murderer here. No sperm was found, and a guy with a pretty girl he plans to kill, would want to have sex. Sick I know, but a woman would take revenge in a different way, Cutting and torturing their victim. Also Beth seemed to be a tease to men but may have angered the women in Hollywood?
    I believe it was in a transcript to the police that the Avenger’s voice over the phone sounded soft, and the Avenger also commented that the police would never solve this case. Maybe because she knew the police would be looking for a male suspect?
    This case could be solved with DNA testing, but the interest in solving this murder has seemed to pass many years ago.


  11. Craig in Virginia Says:

    I think this site is very interesting and very comprehensive. It paints a portrait of the seedier side of Los Angeles and Hollywood just after the end of World War II. It serves as another cautionary tale of the naïve, pretty girl who comes to Hollywood only to be devoured by the heartless, cruel city.

    But there is a lot more to this story than simply that line. The real story here is how a somewhat unusual murder gets blown up into major, long-lasting mystery based, as it happens, on an off-the-cuff nickname — The Black Dahlia.

    That name was infinitely more interesting than its subject.

    Elizabeth Short was an aimless, unfocused drifter who clearly suffered from severe depression and probably high anxiety as well. It seems that as January 1947 started, Short was beginning to realize that she was running out of time. She had used up everyone she knew and had burned all of the bridges behind her.

    I don’t think she was afraid of anyone in particular; I think she was terrified of everything in general by that point. Pretty girls were (and still are) a dime a dozen in Los Angeles, and most of them were probably a lot more interesting than her. Short was looking for something or someone to take care of her; but since she was depressed, all she seemed capable of doing was getting a drink or mooching a meal from any man whose attention she could attract.

    I can only imagine that as a man, I would soon find her rather boring and her teasing irritating. This seems to have been the case with successful men like Mark Hansen, so the only men who seemed willing to put up with her for any length of time were those straight off the boat looking for a good time (i.e. a one-night stand).

    She lacked the energy to look for work, to develop a plan for herself, or to even try to make life better for those who cared for her at all. She lied to everyone she met or knew, which only served to alienate her from practically everyone around her.

    Despite the claims that Short wanted to be a movie star, I don’t think that was really her desire at all. She lacked the drive and perseverance needed to find an agent, take professional glamour shots, land a screen test, or even pursue roles as an extra. I think the movie star idea was simply a pipe dream, with about as much a chance of happening as winning a multi-million-dollar lottery. Short lacked the desire to even bother to buy a ticket.

    When a person lives from moment to moment, bad decisions will naturally follow in her footsteps. Elizabeth Short seemed to depend upon people who a) wanted only to use her, b) felt sorry for her (temporarily), or c) were not in much better shape than she was in. Since she bounced around so much from Massachusetts to Florida to California and back and forth, there was little chance that she would stick with anything long enough to advance any further than she did.

    Short had been living on the edge for so long that it was inevitable that she would stumble into a situation beyond her ability to extricate herself. She was easy prey for a predator, much like a lamb wandering off from the herd, surrounded by wolves.

    Let me be clear — Elizabeth Short in no way deserved what happened to her and I would never have wished her any harm whatsoever. But I think she allowed herself to get into a dangerous situation out of some sort of desperation. Where was she going to go after the Biltmore Hotel? She didn’t have a clue. She was completely at the mercy of whoever picked her up.

    Without the utter perverse brutality of her murder and the disposition of her body in the vacant lot, her murder would likely have ended up on an inside page of the Los Angeles Herald or Los Angeles Times and been forgotten long ago.

    If not for her moniker — The Black Dahlia.

    Contrary to the perception of that name, nothing about it actually applied to Elizabeth Short. Her black hair was a dye job, her clothing was borrowed, and unlike the image of a dahlia, there was simply nothing exotic or mysterious about the poor girl.

    Elizabeth, in reality, always came up short.

  12. Wendy Herman Says:

    Sheesh, WHEN will the slut-shaming finally end? How human can we still be once we’ve utterly lost touch with our humanity? Craig from VA, if you didn’t know this poor girl personally, then you’ve really NO idea how “boring” she was in life. Or perhaps you’d simply think that of any women who didn’t ‘put out’ for dessert after you’ve gone to the trouble of paying for her meal? Most of us ladies just call that sort of action (buying someone a meal with no expectations for what happens afterwards) as “being a gentleman”.

    While much of what you said may indeed be true, I find it disconcerting that you are so very lacking in empathy for someone who, by all appearances, was suffering from a mental condition (depression/anxiety) which MANY people battle. What she truly needed was medical (& dental) attention, and a MUCH better father. Her mother Phoebe did the best she could raising 5 kids on her own, but how on earth was she to raise 5 happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids all by herself? No one could do that alone, esp. during the Great Depression. Elizabeth’s issues were not her poor Mother’s fault. No, if anyone (besides the killer, of course) deserves the type of blame you’re dishing out, Craig, it was her useless father Cleo. That childhood abandonment by her Dad must have taken an enormous toll upon the poor girl, completely undermining her self-esteem, perhaps preventing her development of any ability (a/k/a gumption, perseverance, drive, motivation) to drag herself out of her depression & anxiety so that she could really go after the dreams she’d nurtured in her imagination as a way of dealing with her pain. Add to all of that the tragic wartime death of the guy she’d hoped to marry, and it’s NO WONDER she was emotionally down & out. Too bad she didn’t run into someone w/ a kind & loving heart who could have helped her, instead of those who merely wanted to use her (or other females trapped in the same situation who could only help to a certain degree b/c they were in the same boat she was in). The only non-villains in this story – the folks who really tried to help her while entertaining NO expectations of what they’d get out of it – were the women, most of the young, pretty & financially strapped like she was. Did you notice that fact? Interesting, isn’t it?

    Most of the men in this sad tale sound like absolute CREEPS, from Red (the guy who tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to cheat on his pregnant wife w/ Ms. Short) to all the others who called her a “tease” & dropped her like garbage the minute they realized that buying her a meal didn’t lead to easy sex. Sounds more like those guys should have skipped the restaurant & simply picked up a cheap hooker, rather than “trying to help” a lost young girl suffering from mental illness (as severe depression has now been classified). And those types of predatory guys are why females SHOULD be afraid, even to this very day. That sort of “man” views ALL women as whores, because that’s the ONLY kind of female such males attract – the broken birds who have zero self-esteem after surviving heartbreaking childhoods. And if that’s how a guy treats a woman, he won’t be attracting any healthy ones, that’s for sure. I don’t feel sorry for those pitifully self-entitled guys who were so demoralized at buying a woman dinner but not getting the expected “payback”. I’ll save my compassion, instead, for the sad girls who ran to Hollywood with a combination of horrid memories & hopeful dreams, only to lose their innocence to power-tripping jerks who thought their own sexual urges were more important than anything about the many women they used & then tossed away like used Kleenex.

    Kindly save your ample distaste for the creepy dudes, instead of heaping it upon their victims (esp. the ones who can no longer defend their lost honor b/c they were horribly murdered, probably by a guy who was irate at hearing the word “NO”). In Elizabeth’s memory, please try to gather at least an ounce of compassion for the poor girls who have to get by on only their wits, back then and today as well. Women are NOT chattel; we’re as human (meaning as deserving of basic human dignity, despite our flaws) as the male half of the species. We always have been, even during times when the temporary popularity of a toxic-machismo-mindset encourages insecure & unhappy men to paint alluring women as “she-devils” or succubi. What those men cannot have they seek to destroy, after all.

    Elizabeth Short’s demise is simply one example, if one of the most lurid. Simply look at the way society STILL views the supposed “bad girls”, making anything that happens to them their own fault, any horror somehow deserved. Then look again, and see who the majority of such victims have always been – those who have been raped, murdered, mutilated over the centuries, right up to today. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the majority of such victimization hasn’t been done TO men, it’s been done BY THEM. And it’s continued for so damned long that it finally became the #MeToo / #TimesUp moment we’re at now. Hopefully, much can & will now – finally – change for the better. Because pretty girls ARE much more than just things to be acquired. Acquired, then broken, torn apart & deposited in a field like a sack of trash.

    Elizabeth Short suffered ENOUGH of the world’s harshness during her short life, then yet more of the same mistreatment after her brutal death. Try to show just an ounce of kindness now, if merely for the sake of her surviving relatives. May her poor soul rest in peace, and may her killer have found the justice which he (as it was surely a man) avoided on Earth. If there really is a Higher Power, then NO ONE gets away w/ such deeds forever.

  13. Fenton Hardy Says:

    Wendy, you say “Most of the men in this sad tale sound like absolute CREEPS,” but you object to Craig’s assessment of Beth Short. Why is your criticism okay, but his is not? Neither of you knew Beth or the “CREEPS.”

  14. Scott Tracy Says:

    Beth Short lied to Elvera French, a war widow, telling her that she also was a war widow.
    Beth asked Matt Gordon’s parents for money after hearing that he died.
    Beth never looked for work in Los Angeles, she expected to manipulate men and situations to her advantage every day. Her emotional and psychological issues are evident, but Elizabeth Short bears significant responsibility for her vulnerable situation; homeless and broke on Jan 9th in downtown Los Angeles. (Why not go to Oakland in December 1946 where she has family instead of San Diego? Has she burned all her bridges?) Elizabeth Short did not deserve her fate but she did create her situation.
    I find the emotional investment in Beth Short understandable, most of us are not coroners, However we are closer to the truth if we are looking at the case with the same attitude as a professional autopsy.

  15. Mark Spitz Says:

    I think both Craig and Wendy have good points in their posts… I think Wendy’s comment regarding Beth’s father is important, the guy was a complete A-hole. Had he been more supportive of her and the family he ran out on, all this very well may have never happened.
    And as Craig said, I have read nothing about Beth going to auditions, or being involved with actor workshops and such.

    No matter what Beth’s motivation, look again at the picture of Beth’s body at the dump site… Some very sick mother fu*ker was out roaming the streets during this time and never been caught. People do not just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll kidnap someone, beat, torture, and mutilate their body… They have past experience with such crimes b-4 they build up to such acts. And usually continue until caught or die.

  16. Anne Wallace Says:

    Wendy, thanks for your humane comments. Incredible that a 22 year old who met their end in such horrendous circumstances and was robbed of the opportunity to turn their circumstances around should be held up to judgement by people who seem to think they knew her. Surely our ultimate response should be respect for the dead, compassion for the vulnerable, which she most certainly was.

  17. J.K. Jacobs Says:

    This website absolutely has by far the most extensive and in depth information regarding Elizabeth Short and her mysterious life and death.
    Bottom line is I believe that she was looking for father figure in a man to take care of her.
    Growing up as one of five girls during the depression with your father up and ditching his responsibilities of raising his children.
    Leaving her poor mother to raise 5 daughters alone during those times. That is a hell of jolt.

    It seemed to me Elizabeth just existed, barely getting by.
    She seemed to be searching for something solid. Some stability from the many men she had in and out of her life. But never found happiness or stability. Only heartache and destruction.

    I do believe her worthless father, who abandoned the family and then kicked her out in California, played a role in her demise.

    A naive teenager striking out on her own thousands of miles away from home and having to rely on strangers for guidance or trust.
    I don’t think she made good decisions or really had any goals or plans.

    She seemed to live a nomadic existence without any direction.

    And a naive, pretty young woman who was a high school dropout with zero skills was at the mercy of the dark, unforgiving, under world.

    In my opinion she lived a short, sad, and pathetic existence. And gained the attention in death that she seemed to crave but never found in life.

  18. Heidi Powers Says:

    Hi there admin, could you let us know the sources for the Lynn Martin and Marjorie Graham interviews that are in the left column?

  19. admin Says:

    Many of the quotes and interviews are culled from local newspapers, such as the Daily News, L. A. Examiner, Hollywood Citizen News, Herald Express and others.

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