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.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
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