Were two unsolved murders the work of one killer?
When it comes to mid-century murders in Los Angeles, the Black Dahlia gets all the ink, but during that same winter of 1947 another woman was slain. Like Elizabeth Short, she was found dead in a vacant lot, nude, with massive pre- and post-mortem injuries. Her name was Jeanne French. She had been stomped to death, and her killing became known as the Red Lipstick Murder because of a cryptic message written on her abdomen. It read: “Fuck you B.D.” Next to that it said: “Tex.” The Los Angeles Herald-Express ran a banner headline: “Werewolf Strikes Again Kills L.A. Woman Writes B.D. On Her Body.” By Werewolf, they meant the Black Dahlia killer—the Herald-Express and other papers believed the initials B.D. were a reference to the Dahlia.
Above and below are two crime scene photos of police gathered around Jeanne French the morning she was discovered, and below is a close-up of the message scrawled on her skin. Though the killer had left shoe impressions all around—and on—French’s body, police were
never able to generate any significant leads, and the case went unsolved. They were not sold on the idea of Elizabeth Short and Jeanne French falling victim to the same killer, but many others were convinced. Decades later, a handwriting analysis initiated by writer Steve Hodel tied the Red Lipstick killer and the Black Dahlia killer together. The suspect? Hodel’s father. But the evidence
was not considered conclusive enough by police to pursue, and both murders remain officially unsolved. Jeanne French was found dead sixty-six years ago yesterday.
Yes, sweetie, I’m fine. But it did remind me that we’re out of half and half. Can you pick some up on the way home?
Above, a photo of Betty Bersinger, the woman who discovered the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, seen here at the police station looking unaffected by her grisly encounter. While on a morning walk with her young daughter she saw what she thought was a discarded mannequin that had been broken in two. Instead it was the two halves of Elizabeth Short’s bisected corpse. That happened today in 1947.
The murder that keeps on giving.
Above is a photograph documenting one of the most important moments in crime history—the discovery of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short’s mutilated corpse, found in a Los Angeles vacant lot early one morning by a woman walking with her three-year-old daughter. Along with a few other murders, such as those committed by Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia killing (as it came to be known) began as a case, then became a national obsession, and finally developed into a full-blown industry, as evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars made on movies, television shows, books, and websites. All of it began today in 1947. You can see our previous posts on the subject here and here.
The Black Dahlia legend was born sixty-two years ago today.
It was today in 1947 that Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, was found dead in Leimert Park in Los Angeles, sparking a massive investigation that ultimately came up empty. Short’s may be the most famous unsolved murder in Los Angeles history. It’s certainly one of the most grotesque. She had been beaten, mutilated in numerous vicious ways, cut in two, drained of blood, and arranged in an explicit, spread-legged pose. The killer is always thought of as a man. Safe assumption. The crime just screams hatred and fear of women. The poet Robert Burns wrote famously of man’s inhumanity to man, but he could have added that there seems to be a special type of inhumanity reserved for women. Dahlia material fills the web, so we don’t really need to add much more. But we’d have been remiss in not noting this day—after all, pulp would not be the same without poor Elizabeth Short. But her death serves another purpose besides literary inspiration, in our view—it reminds us that murder is the obscenity that trumps all others.
She earned by dying what she sought while living.
Elizabeth Short was just another girl drawn like a moth to the bright lights of Tinseltown. She dreamed of becoming a star, but instead became the victim of a horrific January 1947 murder. The killing was never solved, and its enduring strange- ness served as creative inspiration for numerous authors, including James Ellroy, who crafted a feverish, violent and definitive crime novel entitled The Black Dahlia. Short was from Massachusetts, but drifted between there, California, and Florida. In 1946 she made a trip to L.A. to reunite with a boyfriend. Six months later she was dead—sexually mutilated, her mouth slashed open, her torso cut completely in half, the pieces carefully arranged in a vacant lot for passersby to discover. Veronica Lake’s film noir The Blue Dahlia was in cinemas at the time, and so reporters christened dark-haired Betty Short the Black Dahlia. At Pulp we often speak of people passing from history, but they arrive as well. The moment Betty Short steps onto the stage is in the mug shot above, from today in 1943, when she was arrested in Santa Barbara, California for underage drinking. After the arrest juvenile authorities shipped her back east, but she didn’t stay. They never stay. She returned to L.A.—and became more famous than she ever could have imagined.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
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