Monday, September 18, 2006
A twisted, savage murder
If you don't know the story of the Black Dahlia murder, you need to ask yourself this: Do I really WANT to know?

The reason that Los Angeles crime buffs still obsess over this unsolved murder after 59 years and the reason it still inspires books, movies, conspiracy theories and Web sites is this: The murder was so twisted, so bizarre, so savage, that once you've heard about it, you can't forget it.

Here is the sanitized version: On January 15, 1947, the body of 22-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The body had been cleanly cut in half at the waist and drained of blood; she had been beaten and tortured, perhaps for several days, and her body was mutilated in unspeakable ways. If you must know more, there is plenty on the web; you can try lmharnisch.com or bethshort.com.

For tonight's story for AC360, we spoke at length to a retired LAPD detective who believes he has solved the crime, and has convinced a lot of people he is right.

Even that part of the story is twisted: Steve Hodel believes the killer was his father, a prominent doctor who died in 1999.

Hodel came to this conclusion only after the father died and left behind a small photo album containing two mysterious pictures, Hodel believes they depict Elizabeth Short. There is more: his father was trained in surgery; many believe it would have taken a surgeon to cut the body in half so cleanly, and his father's handwriting closely matches that on notes the police received in the 1940s from a main claiming to be the killer. The father's specialty was venereal disease, and because he treated LA's most prominent citizens, he was untouchable, just the kind of man who could get away with murder, the son says. He lays out his case in a widely praised book, 'Black Dahlia Avenger.'

When Hodel's book came out in paperback in 2004, James Ellroy who wrote 'The Black Dahlia' in 1987 said in the book's foreward, 'Now we know who killed her and why.'

But for reasons he won't now discuss, Ellroy has changed his mind, and made it clear he no longer endorses the Hodel theory. When I went to hear Ellroy speak in Los Angeles last week, he started his talk with these words of warning: 'One topic is forbidden: Who really killed Elizabeth Short. It's un-provable across the board. I will not discuss it under any circumstances.'
Posted By Peter Viles, CNN Correspondent: 2:05 PM ET
  7 Comments
Hey Peter-
We all love an intriguing "who done it" murder mystery. How unfortunate it's too late for DNA testing. Isn't it even more sick and heinous when a doctor kills? I remember the book about the Houston,TX. Doctor John Hill who killed his socialite wife Joan with injections of bacteria he grew in a lab. Yucko! That was in the 1950's.
As for why James Ellroy changed his mind about this doctor who allegedly murdered Elizabeth Short,who knows. Could it be? Yes, it wasn't that long ago. Remember John Karr? Alright, you have my attention. I'll be tuned in!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 3:17 PM ET
I have to tell you that, no, I really don't want to know who killed Elizabeth Short, especially for a crime that happened so long ago. This kind of story really gives me the creeps, especially if you add eerie music to the background. I'll probably have to turn off the TV when you air this story so I can get a good night's sleep.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 3:49 PM ET
'Those that do not learn from history are bound to repeat it'. Look, read, learn - one may not solve the mystery, however one may learn a lot- if only about themselves by listening to their own subconcious thoughts on what happened, why, and what kind of individual could carry out something so very unacceptable.
Posted By Anonymous BC , Schenectady, New York : 4:06 PM ET
This story is facinating.. this is the first time I have heard so many facts about the case..with a little reading at the websited you provided.. it would be an awesome thing to solve this case.. but probably too many years have gone by.....the Hodel theory makes the most sense to me..
Posted By Anonymous S.D. St. Augustine, FL : 4:22 PM ET
By watching Cold Case files, explaining the all story, I do believe this crime will never be solved knowing that they lost all the evidences including DNA. Cold as ice, will always be forever. Better forget about it. Whoever committed that crime will be punish. God will take good care of it.
Posted By Anonymous Johanne, Ontario, Canada : 5:05 PM ET
Incredible. Incredibly heartbreaking to be more accurate, and it's mind-blowing to think, this sounds cliched, that humans are capabable of these things. It reminds me just how bad we as humans can be. A very "right on" question to ask oneself and a suitable warning for the blog- "Do I really want to know?"
Posted By Anonymous Angelica, Virginia Beach, VA : 6:41 PM ET
Could she have been cut apart so brutally to mask a botched abortion, I wonder? I mean, to shift the focus away? Because the brutalizing of her body was a little overkill, you know?
Posted By Anonymous LR, Wheeling, WV : 6:51 PM ET
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