Chapter 1 ~ The Beginning

“The world will whirl around forever

But you won’t be there to know or to care

Remember, you’re only young once.”

~ From the 1937 Andy Hardy film, You’re Only Young Once

Elizabeth Short was born on July 29, 1924 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts to the parents of Cleo and Phoebe Short. She was raised nearby in Medford, where she attended school. Her father deserted the family when Elizabeth and her siblings were young. 

* * *

Before Elizabeth Short ventured out into the world and was given the appellation, “The Black Dahlia,” she was an unknown local girl who grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, one of five daughters raised by a caring mother during the Great Depression. Her father abandoned the family when she was young.

She was well liked at school, and according to newspaper reports after her death, her school mates described her as a “movie struck girl.” She was called “Medford High’s Deanna Durbin,” referring to the widely popular film actress and singer. In Elizabeth’s autograph book, there were 10 references to the nickname. One passage read, “To a friend worth having and Medford High’s Deanna Durbin.” Another said, “To the sweetest and cutest double of Deanna Durbin.”

* * *

When she was old enough, Elizabeth began traveling, something she would do frequently throughout her brief life. Her mother said she left high school before graduation to “venture on her own.”  She was an attractive, dark haired woman with light blue eyes and pale, white skin and a feigned air of sophistication. She worked occasionally, but was usually without funds, living in hotels or homes of friends or acquaintances, often at the expense of others.

Her mother said, “She was a very affectionate, sweet girl and if she was out at night she always stopped in my bedroom to talk. And she would talk and talk and tell everything that she had done and everything.” She was the prettiest of the sisters and wrote to her mother frequently when she was away from home.

She first went to Florida as a teenager for her health and later moved around the country, stirring the attention of young men and creating a sense of mystery about herself. When she was only 22 years old, she disappeared from the streets of Los Angeles and was not seen again until her naked, bifurcated body was discovered in a vacant lot in Leimert Park. Her murder was never solved and her incomplete story has become part of Los Angeles lore.

* * *


On August 17, 1942, 23 year old Matt Gordon arrived in Miami, Florida. He and Elizabeth Short would have a brief whirlwind romance that ended in his early death.

According to district attorney documents, Phoebe Short and her daughter Elizabeth, “saw the father, Cleo Short on the street in Medford, Mass.” Phoebe said that her daughter had a conversation with Cleo. Later, Beth wrote to her father expressing her desire to visit with him and care for him. Cleo said he sent his daughter $200 and in December, 1942, Beth traveled to Vallejo, California and stayed with her father..

After awhile, father and daughter moved to Los Angeles, where Cleo lived with a friend from Vallejo, a Mrs. Yankee, at 1028 1/2 W. 36th Street. Roughly three weeks later, Beth left word with Mrs. Monte, a neighbor in a rear house, that she was going north to Camp Cooke, where she secured a job in a post exchange.


Elizabeth arrived at Camp Cooke on January 29, 1943. She found work in the post exchange, where Inez Keeling, the manager of the PX, said of her later, “I was won over all at once by her almost childlike charm and beauty. She was one of the loveliest girls I have ever seen- and the most shy.”

According to an FBI memo, Elizabeth was an applicant for a clerk position at the post exchange at Camp Cooke on January 30, 1943. Ralph Aylesworth, manager of the PX, in an interview with author Mary Pacios, said Elizabeth Short “only worked a couple of weeks for me before she took off, not long after being chosen Camp Cutie.”

P. O. Box 66

Elizabeth lived in a number of towns in the area over a brief period of time, including Lompoc, and Casmalia. Paul Veglia*, a twelve year old boy who lived at his father’s hotel, The Hitching Post in Casmalia, remembered seeing Beth every day for two months in the summer of 1943. She stayed in a cabin near the hotel and collected her mail at P. O. Box 66 at the local post office. He recalled seeing Beth in the hotel bar, where his mother was the bartender.

Bruno Zemaitis, founder and owner of Overland Security Services in Santa Maria, worked briefly on the murder in 1947. He said Beth was a frequent customer at the Snappy Lunch Diner at the corner of Broadway and Cook Streets, where his wife was a waitress.

It was in Santa Barbara, while living with Vera Green at 321-C West Montecito Street, that she was arrested on September 23, 1943 for “being a minor in a place that served liquor.” Mary Unkefer, Santa Barbara Police Department jail matron and the arresting officer, befriended Elizabeth. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that officer Unkefer let her stay with her in her home for nine days. The January 17, 1947 article quoted officer Unkefer as saying, “She was very good looking with beautiful dark hair and fair skin. She dressed nicely and was a long way from being a barfly.”

Beth said she was married to one of the soldiers at her table, but it was untrue. When Officer Unkefer went to her home on West Montecito Street she found two soldiers in the apartment and her roommate Vera Green. Green said she was married to one of them, but that proved untrue, too. Green was married, but her husband was overseas.

Officer Unkefer also said she,  “had a rose tattooed on her left leg. She loved to sit so that it would show.”

In October, she was put on a train by juvenile authorities and sent home to Medford. In a matter of weeks, she was in Florida again.

* * *

Miami Beach: The Rosedale, El Mar and Mammy’s

According to the Los Angeles District Attorney files, Elizabeth was living in Miami Beach in 1943. She arrived at the peak of the Art Deco movement in the area. Hundreds of structures were built between 1923 and 1943, making the Art Deco District of Miami Beach the largest concentration of Deco architecture in the world. The city, which was incorporated in 1915, was also a leading beach resort destination.

In early December, 1943 Elizabeth worked at Big Dave’s Rosedale Delicatessen and Restaurant, Miami’s premier delicatessen, located at 1437 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The Rosedale was one of the first delicatessens that served Jewish-style fare in Miami. Washington Avenue was and is a busy shopping district, intersecting with Lincoln Road, a fashionable area during the 1940s. Soon after she worked there, the restaurant moved from Miami Beach to Miami. At the time, Elizabeth lived a little over half a mile away at the El Mar apartments at 220 21st Street.

The Roney Plaza (“Might I remind you Mr. Holiday, this ain’t the Roney Plaza.”:  Alan Ladd, Box 13), the jewel of Miami Beach hotels, built in 1926, was located at 2301 Collins Avenue. It took up the entire block on Collins, between Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Streets. The hotel, at the north end of South Beach, faced the ocean and offered gracious accommodations for guests.

The Roney Plaza was just three blocks from Mammy’s restaurant (“Where the Stars Come Out at Night and Play Until Dawn”), where Elizabeth worked for Meyer Yedlin in the “latter part of 1944,” according to the D.A. Files. Mammy’s was located at 2039 Collins Avenue. Wolfie’s Restaurant was even closer to the El Mar, at 21st Street and Collins Avenue. It closed in 2001.

It was at the El Mar that Elizabeth received the inscrutable telegram from Washington, D.C. that read, “A promise is a promise to a person of the world.” The El Mar was a small apartment building with eight units. Mrs. Carmelita DeVaul was the manager.

It was in 1943, according to Joseph Gordon Fickling, that he and Elizabeth met for the first time in Miami. He said they renewed their relationship in June, 1946 and she traveled to Long Beach California, where he was stationed, to meet him there in July.

Miami Beach pioneer John S. Collins donated the land across the street from the El Mar for a permanent public park in 1914. The Park marks the beginning of South Beach’s boardwalk that extends to South Pointe Park, the southern tip of Miami Beach.


In March, 1944, Elizabeth was in Atlanta, Georgia, and in April she was back in Miami Beach, where in September, she met Gordon Fickling, a man she would live with in California. In November, she returned to Medford for Thanksgiving, but she was back in Miami in December, staying with Carmelita DeVaul at the El Mar.  According to the District Attorney files, Elizabeth, “stayed in Florida during the winter months of 1944 and 1945, as she had been operated on for a lung condition and could not stand the cold winters in Mass.” On New Year’s Eve, 1944,  she met Matt Gordon, the man she would later claim was her husband.

Two people stated she had been in Hollywood as early as 1944. In a Los Angeles Times newspaper article, Gordon Fickling, the boyfriend who lived with her in Long Beach and in Hollywood, said he met her in Southern California in 1944. Arthur Curtis James, Jr, a self-proclaimed artist, who claimed to have sketched her and painted her over a three month period, also said he knew her in Hollywood in 1944. According to a newspaper story, he said he met her in a cocktail lounge in Hollywood in August, 1944. James is quoted as saying, “I was sitting alone at the bar, making pencil sketches on a bit of paper, when a girl who turned out to be ‘Beth,’ sitting beside me, showed an interest in my sketches.”

James, who was also known as Charles B. Smith, was convicted of violation of the Mann act, after being arrested in November, 1944 in Tuscon, Arizona. His story remains largely unsubstantiated.


On August 22,  Elizabeth was sent a telegram that told of the death of Matt Gordon, the pilot that she asserted was her husband. Word was sent from the young man’s mother, Mrs. Matt Gordon, Sr., who said, ” Just received word from War Department that Matt was killed in crash. Our deepest sympathy is with you.” Afterward, Elizabeth would carry a newspaper clipping of the incident with her, telling people she met that she was a widow.

She did not work from the latter part of 1944 until the first part of 1945.  She was employed at St. Clair’s in Boston from March 30 until September 1, 1945. From late December, 1945 until January 9, 1946,  she was registered at the Colonial Inn at 2104 Riverside Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida.  Her mother sent her checks to the Jacksonville address.  No employment records in Jacksonville could be found for her.


By the next month, February, Elizabeth was back in Medford with her mother. Beth worked in a theater and at several restaurants in Medford and Cambridge, before scheduling her next trip west. By June, she was on the move again.  This time she was heading west.  “The shipping records of her trunk were dated June 1, 1946,” according to the District Attorney memorandums.

She purchased a bus ticket to Indianapolis, and then it was on to Chicago, where she stayed at the Park Row Hotel from June 24 until July 12.  She also stayed at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago with Jack Chernau.

While in Chicago, Elizabeth became interested in the Suzanne Degnan murder.  William Heirens, a young man from the area, was accused of killing the young girl and dismembering her body. The Los Angeles Examiner reported:

“In Chicago, Freddie Woods, 23, who described himself as a “friend” of the slain girl, revealed that she was “fascinated” with the brutal slaying of six year-old Suzanne Degnan, which took place in Chicago a year ago.

Woods said he met Miss Short last August when she was in Chicago for 10 days.  She told him she was a Massachusetts reporter covering the trial of William Heirens, who was convicted of the Degnan kidnaping and slaying.”

“Elizabeth Short was one of the prettiest girls I ever met,” Woods said.  “But she was terribly preoccupied with the details of the Degnan murder.”

* * *

Later, she continued west to California and Gordon Fickling, who picked her up at the bus depot in Long Beach. She checked into the Washington Hotel on Linden and stayed there from July 22 until August 3. While there, she became a regular customer at Lander’s drugstore on the corner, attracting men in uniform, just as she would all across the country. In an interview, David Landers said, “she was very popular with the men who visited the soda fountain and they got to calling her ‘The Black Dahlia,’ partly because of her clothes and partly because of the flowerlike arrangement of her jet black hair.”

When Elizabeth moved out of her hotel room in Long Beach, acquaintances described her as “radiant.”  She told them that she was planning to marry an army officer. Days later, witnesses said she boarded a Pacific Electric streetcar to Hollywood.  Investigators believed she  lived at the Sunset Motel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood for about a week in August.

*Thanks to Steve Hodel and his interview with Paul Veglia in 2017.

21 Responses to “Chapter 1 ~ The Beginning”

  1. firewilson Says:

    it is a shame nobody was able to teach her how to get along with people since she was reliant upon them taking her in and paying rent for her, so to speak. like her dad, he kicked her out because she didn;t keep house for him, but also he could have been a slave driver and a drunk anyhow, but the hansen thing too, she even took the man’s property to use as her address book. not very good for a guest to act like that. so when she needed him, oh well. in the case of the san diego frenches, she didn’t make that a good guest visit either, according to what i read, if its true. so a lot of the problems were due to the way she lived her life not just the other people. have to look at it in its perspective. she is the real life noir person, incredible as it seems, like a fictional character in real life. and what a shame for her life to end that way. but if she had stayed at home, things would have turned out differently for her. she loved adventure and took the chance. life is tough.

  2. Phoebe Says:

    Hello administrators 🙂
    A quick question about the narrative:

    “In March, 1944, Elizabeth was in Atlanta, Georgia.”

    Has anyone ever come up with a confident answer as to what took her there?

    (Mary Pacios’ timeline says it was to visit Matt Gordon, but then later says Elizabeth met Matt Gordon on New Year’s Eve of 1944.)

    Thank you for your help, and for all the info you share!

  3. admin Says:

    We have been unable to find more information on that trip to Atlanta.

  4. me Says:

    “In Darkness, Let their be light”.

  5. Anita Evans Says:

    It’s really a shame this young woman’s mother didn’t prepare her for living on her own. Even so, with being hungry and broke so much, you would think Elizabeth Short would have learned from experience that you need to work consistently to pay rent and eat. Her roomates obviously understood this. Let this be a lesson to all that there are no free rides. Nobody deserves to die the way this woman did, but she put herself in harm’s way by allowing herself to be so vulnerable and at the mercy of other people. Somebody clearly saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

  6. me Says:

    teenager on her own sad

  7. me Says:

    could of been many issues in her life taken too soon!

  8. me Says:

    Her mother did the best she could to raise her and sisters. She suffered plenty losing her child!

  9. me Says:

    Murder is Murderr, nobody’s prepared for that”

  10. october Says:

    is there no address as far as where she lived in hollywood? extremely curious since i heard she was living in an apartment in hollywood, 1942 n cherokee ave 90028.. i have been trying to figure out if this is true or not. was the sunset motel the only place they believe she lived in while living in hollywood?

    thank you.

  11. bostonrob Says:

    I do not believe it is correct to say that Phoebe had not heard from Cleo Short from 1930 through 1942. Virginia Short seems to have known his address when he lived in Texas. And if Virginia knew it Phoebe probably did as well.

  12. digitalbitch Says:

    Seems to me her dad was looking for a wife to do for him what his daughter was incapable of, oh ya and if dude says he helped dad dump the body, then dude helped dad dump the body.!@#$%^ you’re still an accessory and an accomplice to murder. Oh ya, what body was that hmmmm!@#$%?

  13. Jersey Says:

    This woman put herself out there –
    No, she did not deserve such a horrible death.
    But the fact remains that she was lazy and refused
    to hold a job – lived off whatever unsuspecting fool
    she could find, for years.
    She begged for money, meals, clothing, whatever
    she could get. People like that seldom have a
    good ending.
    Notice how she was constantly on the move –
    she would either get thrown out or forced to leave.
    Does not leave a good impression about her at all.

  14. Amy Says:

    I am appalled. The comments here judging the victim of a horrendous crime make me lose even more faith in humanity. “She was lazy and refused to hold a job” -Does that mean she should have expected to be tortured to death and hacked in half? If the sick animal who ensnared and destroyed her held down a job or possessed great inherited wealth does that give him the right to torment and brutalize a young, and clearly troubled, woman?? If all one values in others is their financial production, one is inhuman and enables the predators who pick off the people marginalized by the dismissive attitude stated by several people in this forum. It’s shameful. Some of us see worth in people far beyond their capital holdings or financial productivity. Give it a try some time, I promise it will make you a better person.

  15. jeTTiscoobs326 Says:

    i get how ES needed to ‘travel’. i dont like how she wasnt responsible for herself but theres plenty of people, even today, using others for selfish purposes. she obviously knew how to play people well.
    i dont understand where the rest of her family was. and as far as friends go, most women her age are jealous of each other and other pretty women. i also get how they had no remorse for what happened to her, but really they shouldve been the ones to warn her about her dates. maybe they shouldve been charged.??
    ES was way too naive. the kind of men she attracted, the ones she was attracted to, were the high risk ones. some people get addicted to drugs, i think she was addicted to that unknown, living-on-the-edge, out of control lifestyle. she was a groupie to GI’s and pushing other’s generosity (and her own creative thinking) as far as she could without having to goto work.
    my fascination with ES is with why the case is still cold. cops, detectives, judges all those people who worked the case had some kind of extensive training, schooling, experiences. they all got big paychecks! you mean to tell me that some killer went to his grave out-smarting all those experts?? its funny how so many suspects and theories that have come up and then dismissed, today, just like they were 70yrs ago?? sounds like its the LAPD who were/are the lazy ones. dropping the ball on suspects, allowing the media to handle evidence, not putting the screws to certain persons of interest?? why not just say that bugsy siegle was the killer?? lying now isnt going to stop people’s curiosity. wait…. maybe youre paying someone to cover this case special, and now hes getting paid a sh__ ton of money too.?? tax-payer money?? oh, still corrupt, huh?

  16. Jersey Says:

    Fact remains that if Ms Short hadn’t put herself out there and drifted aimlessly,
    living wherever she could with whomever would have her, if she had been working
    and responsible for herself, she might still be alive today.
    Strange too that she was fascinated with that murder case in Chicago, the Suzanne
    Degnan murder. One has to wonder if she was discussing that with all the people
    she came across.
    Which is rather interesting – she came across an awful lot of people and moved around
    more than anyone I’ve ever heard of in her short life –
    Was she running from someone??
    I know a few people mentioned she seemed frightened of someone……..

  17. Rons Says:

    Wow – what did this woman think she was doing, living with this man for a week, another man for another few weeks, acquaintances, ‘friends’, whoever she could glom a bed or a meal from. I don’t understand what she was thinking, drifters are a prime target. She was also on the phone calling all kinds of men (for money??) and here’s this ‘Elvera French’ saying she was ‘constantly in fear of someone’.
    Sounds like she really got someone angry, OR she owed ALOT of money to a person she was avoiding and never paid it back!

  18. Berky Says:

    I feel sorry for this poor woman ending up the way she did, no one deserves that.
    Would have been so simple to just get a job and live a more normal life though. She could have still gone out and had fun, poor thing was confused.

  19. Yvonne Says:

    What was the reason for mentioning the roney plaza i stayed there as a kid alot, did she maybe stay there?

  20. admin Says:

    No. She did not stay there. She lived in the general area.

  21. Burgundy Says:

    Is anyone aware of what Mark Hansen had to say about Short, in 1971 –
    “She just asked for trouble. She probably went too far this time, and just set some guy off into a blind, berserk rage.”

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