The Brutal Murder of The Black Dahlia

Police Bulletin Distributed the Day Elizabeth Short's Body Was Discovered in Los Angeles County on January 15, 1947 | Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Winner of the Fall 2019 StMU History Media Award for

Best Article in the Category of “Crime”

Elizabeth Short, widely known as The Black Dahlia, was a young 22-year-old American woman who was raped, brutally murdered, dismembered, and thrown on a vacant lot in a Los Angeles suburb for everyone to see. Elizabeth’s murder took place in Los Angeles County on January 15, 1947. No one knows the exact events that led to Elizabeth Short’s last moments when she fought for her life. There was no murder confession, and there was a lack of evidence to lead investigators further. Sadly, Elizabeth Short and her family never saw justice for her brutal murder. To this day, the case of The Black Dahlia is still unsolved. A man named Steve Hodel believed that The Black Dahlia murder was in fact not unsolved. Steve Hodel, a former detective, believed he had solved one of Los Angeles’ most notorious murders—but the infamous, troubled, charismatic doctor that Steve Hodel accused for being Short’s murderer, happened to be his own father, George Hodel.1

Elizabeth Short aspired to be an actress, and her young life was full of drinking and partying. She was very attracted to men and the sexual connections that came with men. Short had a desire to attend nightspots and nightclubs. Going to these nightspots, she frequently drew attention to herself, and she was arrested on September 23, 1943 for underage drinking of alcohol. She was only nineteen.2 By this time, Elizabeth had achieved a reputation as an aspiring actress who would go to bed with anyone who could possibly offer her a part in a movie.3 But her lifestyle soon led her to have a horrible encounter with a horrible man.

Elizabeth Short’s Mugshot Taken on September 23, 1943 When Arrested for Underage Drinking | Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Police

January 15, 1947 was just like any other day in the Los Angeles area. It was especially cool and overcast, which set the mood for the horrific discovery later that morning. A woman walking with her young daughter caught a glimpse of white flesh through a clump of brown grass in a vacant lot just a few inches from the sidewalk.4 They stumbled across the horrific sight of Elizabeth Short’s naked body cut in half just above the hipbone, drained of blood and arranged as if on display, with her legs spread and arms raised at right angles above her head. In a gruesome addition, two knife gashes extended her mouth up towards her ears.5 Her body also had the letters “B D” carved deeply into one thigh, and these letters were believed to represent the initials of Elizabeth Short’s well-known nickname Black Dahlia.6 This name stuck with her because of her tendency to always wear black clothing that contrasted with her white complexion, as well as having a dahlia flower in her hair on most occasions.7


Dr. George Hill Hodel in 1952, The Possible Black Dahlia Murderer | Courtesy of Steve Hodel

George Hodel seemed to be an extraordinary man. He was a phenomenal doctor with a very respected reputation. Due to the extensive dismembering and perfect cuts discovered on Elizabeth’s body, her murderer had to have been a doctor.8 A couple years after the Black Dahlia murder, in 1949, Dr. Hodel’s reputation was left in tatters when he was tried for incest with his daughter Tamar Hodel, Steve Hodel’s half-sister.9 This trial brought light to George Hodel’s name in the police department. Because everyone knew that he was a very talented doctor, Dr. Hodel was put at the top of the suspect list for Elizabeth Short’s murder. Due to police corruption at the time, Dr. Hodel’s possible guilt was not presented to the public.

Dr. Hodel ended up passing away on May 16, 1999 due to a heart attack.10 Upon his passing, his son Steve Hodel began an intensive investigation into his father’s past. Steve Hodel made the trip to his father’s home to gather his father’s assets. While looking through his father’s belongings, Steve came across a tiny, palm-sized wood-bound photo album, with twelve golden fleurs-de-lys imprinted on the front.11 Inside this photo album, Steve discovered a number of strange photos of many familiar women. One of the women looked very similar to the Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short. There were two photos of this women. In one, the woman had paper dahlia flowers in her hair. In the other, the woman was nude with her eyes shut.12 After Steve realized that the women in his father’s old photo album was the Black Dahlia, he became determined to find answers, to possibly clear his father’s name in the eyes of the law. Shortly into his private investigation, Steve Hodel realized that the evidence he was uncovering led to his father’s obvious guilt, not his exoneration. Now he wanted only to do all he could to prove it.


When Steve Hodel started the investigation into his father’s connection to the murder of the Black Dahlia, he found a substantial amount of sufficient yet circumstantial evidence against him. He soon found out that his father and Elizabeth Short knew each other. They had met in 1944 and had begun a non-sexual relationship. George would provide Elizabeth with financial aid for food and rent whenever she needed it in return for showing love interest in George. Steve’s suspicions of his father’s guilt skyrocketed when he came to find out that Elizabeth and his father were together at a downtown hotel three days before Elizabeth’s body was found. During the course of Steve Hodel’s investigation, he recognized his father’s unique handwriting multiple times, especially on the original note mailed by the Black Dahlia Avenger to the LAPD and to the press. The note with his father’s handwriting read “Here it is; Turning in Wed; Jan. 29 10 A.M.; Had my fun at police; Black Dahlia Avenger.” This was the first note that the Black Dahlia Avenger made no attempt to distort or conceal his actual handwriting.13 Hand writing analysis has since confirmed these claims. Although this evidence is circumstantial, Steve Hodel was very passionate in proving his father’s guilt. Another piece of incriminating evidence was a white-faced military watch that Dr. Hodel was seen wearing in contemporary photographs. A similar watch was found in the vacant lot close to where Elizabeth’s body was found.14

A number of men and one woman confessed to the crime, but none of them were able to match the gory details of the slaying known only by the police.15 Elizabeth’s murder seemed to bring out the worst among the psychologically disturbed in the Los Angeles area. The police were overwhelmed with the number of people who confessed to the murder.16 Despite all of these possible killers, Steve Hodel still truly believes that George Hodel was the guilty one.


The Grave of Elizabeth Short, Better Known as The Black Dahlia, Who Was Murdered In 1947 | Original Photo Uploaded September 23, 2006 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The former detective for the LAPD and George Hodel’s son, Steve Hodel, had concluded his investigation on his father’s guilt, and developed an accurate timeline and detailed insight into Elizabeth Short’s last moments. Steve Hodel believes that the torture began on January 14, 1947 around 3:00-4:00 PM. Around this time, George Hodel took Elizabeth Short to the Franklin House. He gagged her mouth, bound her hands and feet with rope, and then began a prolonged and systematic process in which Elizabeth was beaten and subjected to ritualistic and sadistic torture.17 The torture included, but was not limited to the infliction of minor cuts to her body. She was beaten and kicked about her entire body, and she was forced to eat her own or his fecal excrement. Large pieces of flesh were cut from Elizabeth’s body and inserted into her orifices. Her face and breasts were also cut to imitate two of Man Ray’s famous photographs.18 Following this unimaginable torture, George Hodel then proceeded to sexually assault the then-slain Elizabeth Short.19 Although Elizabeth Short’s murderer was never convicted, it is now widely believed that George Hodel is the guilty one. The case of the Black Dahlia is considered an unsolved murder to this day, which makes it the most horrific unsolved murder in American history.20 Steve Hodel did not start his investigation until after George Hodel passed away, and only then because he passed away. George Hodel got away with his crime for over forty years. And even if he had not passed away until later in his life, face it, he still probably wouldn’t have ever been held to pay for his crime.

  1. Grace Bradberry, “My father was the Black Dahlia killer,” The Times, April 24, 2003.
  2. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 18.
  3. Spectacular Crimes of the 1940s, 2007, s.v. “The Black Dahlia Case.”
  4. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 10.
  5. Grace Bradberry, “My father was the Black Dahlia killer,” The Times, April 24, 2003.
  6. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Short,Elizabeth(1925–1947),” by Anne Commire.
  7. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Short,Elizabeth(1925–1947),” by Anne Commire.
  8. Grace Bradberry, “My father was the Black Dahlia killer,” The Times, April 24, 2003.
  9. Grace Bradberry, “My father was the Black Dahlia killer,” The Times, April 24, 2003.
  10. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 22.
  11. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 36.
  12. Grace Bradberry, “My father was the Black Dahlia killer,” The Times, April 24, 2003.
  13. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 273.
  14. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 445.
  15. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Short, Elizabeth (1925–1947),” by Anne Commire.
  16. Spectacular Crimes of the 1940s, 2007, s.v. “The Black Dahlia Case.”
  17. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 434.
  18. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 445.
  19. Steve Hodel, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder (New York: Arcade Pub., 2003), 434.
  20. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Short, Elizabeth(1925–1947),” by Anne Commire.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

108 Responses

  1. The first thing that came to mind reading this was horrendous victim blaming at the core of your writing. FYI Elizabeth did not deserve to be tortured & murdered. And your information about her lifestyle is based on chauvinism of original reporting. Do better.

  2. The story of the Black Dahlia will always bring me chills. I have done so much research on her because I watched American Horror Story and there was an episode about her, and that is where I first heard about her. It is said that he cut two lines on the corners of her mouth because she had such a beautiful smile, and when she died, she was frowning. The person who killed her did not want her to look sad, therefore he cut her a smile. I think this man is sick and twisted, I really wish LAPD could do better and solve the case, there is substantial evidence that the doctor was the murderer.

  3. Never heard of the Black Dahlia incident before but the article gave me goosebumps. An interesting first read and very well written in a way that I could not get my eyes off the article. The gory details of her torture and death terrified me but what scares me more is that the murderer was able to get away with all that and the fact that there could possibly be a high law offender walking the streets outside after having committed a crime. Overall very well done!

  4. I’m so enraged that this man was able to walk free, the fact he had cleaned her body and removed her intestines says a lot about how he wanted to hide the nasty things he did to her, he needed to make sure none of his dna was left in her (semen, fecal matter). Disgusting, I hope she may rest in peace.

  5. Having never heard of such a tragic story this article was able to bring her life and death a new person to be intrigued by her.Being a fan of murder mysteries this true story was chilling to say the least. I always get so sad and dedicated to reading about cases that are unable to be solved because I feel it gives them a little respect and justice knowing that another person cares about their life. Considering that there was evidence pointed to DNA being left on her body I would assume that if taken place in a more current event it would be easier to solve her case.

  6. What a chilling, but fascinating article this was. I knew about Black Dahlia but I never knew the whole story and what a terrifying story it is. The article did a good job of being very detailed with the information about the murder of Black Dahlia and the events that lead up to it. It really is a true shame that Elizabeth Short and her family will never see justice for her brutal death because even though we now know who murder her technically it will forever remain unsolved.

  7. The details of Black Dahlia’s death were graphic. I can understand why many believe it had to be the work of someone with a medical background. I had no idea Dr. Hodel was suspected by police. Based on his background (incest with his daughter Tamar Hodel) I am surprised his son, Steve Hodel, initially thought him innocent. It is sad that the case remains unsolved. Had it occurred now, based on the fact that she was sexually assaulted, I would assume there would be DNA evidence.

  8. This article gave very detailed information about the murder of Black Dahlia, such a horrific and scary story especially that it cannot be solved. Cases that are always unsolved make my shiver spine because there is no wonder to where the murderer could be or what else they have done. The article made it easy to follow and clues to who still is a suspect such as George.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.