Chapter 21 ~ Sgt. Peter Vetcher

In the FBI Black Dahlia files, an office memorandum relates the story told by First Sergeant Peter Anthony Vetcher, who said he met Elizabeth Short and spent time with her in Los Angeles. Special agents interviewed the sergeant on March 27, 1947 and he spoke of meeting Short near the Crown Grill and the Biltmore Hotel in September of 1946.

First Sergeant Vetcher was stationed at Fort McClellan in Alabama. He was in California with another soldier, First Sergeant Charles Moffett, with orders to return an AWOL soldier to Ft. McClellan. Both men were given unofficial leave to sight-see around Los Angeles for a few days.

Vetcher was among the original First Ranger Battalion group at the Commando Training Depot, Achnacarry, Scotland on June 19, 1942. He was a member of the famed Darby Rangers. Vetcher himself, who was wounded twice, first in the Africa campaign and again in Italy, estimated that of the 500 elite soldiers, only 43 survived the war. He was awarded the Silver Star, among other medals. He was held as a prisoner during the war in Stalag 3B near Fuerstenberg, Prussia. His capture was first reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross on January 30, 1944. He was held prisoner for at least 526 days. Pete Vetcher was born in 1915 and died in 2001.

Sergeant Vetcher said he wrote the LAPD after the murder, but said the police never contacted him. Eventually, he was interviewed by FBI “special agents” on March 27, 1947. He recounted his story to the agents.

On September 20, 1946, he “proceeded to downtown Los Angeles.” He then, “wandered around the downtown section of Los Angeles until about 1:45 P. M., when he stopped and stood leaning against the wall of a store on the corner of what he recalls was 6th and Olive Streets. While he was idly watching the passers-by, he observed the victim, accompanied by another young woman, walk by at about 2:00 P. M. After passing him, the victim turned around and walked over to Sergeant Vetcher,” and inquired about a friend who had been in the service. She explained that they had been “childhood sweethearts in their hometown of Medford, Massachusetts.”

Vetcher “stated that after this conversation he inquired of the victim whether she would give him a date for the evening.”

“The victim’s girl friend separated from them, and the victim and Vetcher eventually proceeded to the Columbia Broadcasting Station Studios, where they saw TONY MARTIN broadcast.”  Tony Martin was enjoying the success of his first million selling record, “To Each His Own,” which he sang on radio.

“Thereafter they proceeded to Tom Breneman’s. Vetcher stated that at the corner of Hollywood and Vine they met First Sergeant Charles Moffett who accompanied them to Tom Breneman’s. Upon arriving at Tom Breneman’s, they observed that a number of people were waiting in line for a table, but as soon as they entered the door, the head waiter came over to the victim and escorted her, along with Vetcher and Moffett to a nearby table. Vetcher stated that during the time they were at Tom Breneman’s, he observed that the victim appeared to be well known to all of the waiters there.”

They talked again of the “childhood friend” from Medford. The man reminded her that he only knew this friend of hers under “combat conditions.” Lieutenant John P. O’Neil was the hometown boy and Beth and Pete Vetcher wrote him two postcards the next day, according to Vetcher, stating they were married and living “in Hollywood and very happy.” Beth signed one card Betty Short Vetcher.” The sergeant “also stated that the victim was very well dressed and caught the attention of many of the guests at Tom Breneman’s He stated that he caught snatches of conversations of people seated in the immediate vicinity and heard some of them suggest that she must be a professional actress employed by RKO or some other studio.” According to his statement, they left at about 12:30 A. M. and separated from Moffett.

Pete Vetcher told the special agents that they returned to downtown on a trolley and as they walked about five blocks from the stop, “a black car drove up beside them and stopped. Vetcher stated that there were five men seated in the car who appeared to be dark complexioned and possibly were Mexican, three of whom jumped out of the rear of the car and yelled, ‘There she is.’ Vetcher stated that he suggested to the victim that he beat these individuals up, but she told him the best thing to do would be to run. According to the FBI report, “they ran and escaped from these individuals, who apparently were unknown to the victim.”

When they reached her hotel, Beth invited him upstairs. Her roommate was working that evening and said Vetcher could sleep in her bed if it was alright with Beth. After sneaking into her room and making advances, Vetcher said that they made love several times throughout the night, but “that at no time was the victim in a passionate mood, which led him to suggest the possibility that she was a Lesbian.”

“In order to corroborate this statement by VETCHER, he pointed out that during his conversations with the victim, she related to him that she at one time frequently visited a wealthy woman who resides either in Hollywood or Los Angeles, and that this woman had made improper advances towards her, which she resisted.”

Vetcher spent time with her the next day, before they went their separate ways. He watched her enter the Figueroa Hotel with a girl friend and “stated that as the girls entered the hotel, he observed the victim in a heated conversation with a short, chunky, well-dressed man who appeared to be 40 or 45 years of age.” The soldier said, “he had not seen the victim since that time, and had never had any correspondence with her.”

The report said,

“VETCHER stated that during his various conversations with the victim, she never expressed fear of anyone, but she did mention that Los Angeles was a tough city and that it was dangerous for a girl to be alone on the streets at night. She told him that she was afraid to be alone on the streets at night, and while they were reading a newspaper in the lobby of the Figueroa Hotel, she pointed out to him an article which featured a resume of the number of murders and rapes which had occurred in Los Angeles over a short period of time. In addition, VETCHER stated that the victim told him that she was going with a man whom she did not like very much, but she stated that she did not want to hurt his feelings by stopping to go with him. VETCHER advised that he did not know the name of this man. It may be noted that VETCHER vigorously denied that he had ever been married to the victim.”

“VETCHER claimed that after reading in the Birmingham, Alabama newspapers that the victim had been murdered, he wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department advising them of his meeting with the victim. VETCHER stated that he feared that his name might be found in the little black book of the victim’s girl friend, and, accordingly, contacted the Los Angeles Police Department as soon as possible. VETCHER advised that he never received a reply to his letter.”

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