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October 15, 2019

The Brutal Murder of The Black Dahlia

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.

Tags from the story

Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short

George Hill Hodel

Recent Comments

Abelle Rein

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.



3:24 pm

Mohammed Hani Shaik

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!



3:24 pm

Daniela Iniguez-Jaco

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.



3:24 pm


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.



3:24 pm

Chris M

Give me a break. The things mentioned about her lifestyle are all real and relevant and each were sited with footnotes. She had a very loose lifestyle, may not be pretty but its reality. Doesnt mean she deserved to be killed but it does mean that she (willingly) came in contact with a lot of unsavory men, a small percentage of which will usually be psychopaths. Heres some more salacious details to offend you, she was giving blowjobs to random store clerks for merchandise. No Im not making that up. And yes lifestyle has a lot to do with increasing the likelihood of being a victim of crime.



3:24 pm

Jadyn Evans

I am very well acquainted with the story of the Black Dahlia, it is horrific and upsetting. I feel like a lot of people failed this case which left it to being unsolved. During this time in Los Angeles corruption in the police force and government officials was at an all-time high. The suspect that many have later related to the Black Dahlia murder fits the profile of the murderer perfectly.



3:24 pm

Phylisha Liscano

A very detailed and interesting article. Before reading this article I had little to no prior knowledge of Black Dahlia, I would hear the name but never knew the story. A very gruesome story and the fact that it cannot be solved is beyond awful. May she rest in peace. This was a well-written article and congratulations on the award. Great article!



3:24 pm

Anissa Navarro

As someone who is majoring in forensic science towards criminology, dealing with cases like this is what I hope to do in my career. I have heard and read about the black dahlia murder a couple of times, it is so crazy how little to no evidence can halt an investigation. I also cannot believe that many cases can go unsolved or without further investigation because of corrupted police forces. Although Steve Hodel had eventually decided to investigate his dad who he did not know was guilty or innocent, it is interesting to think about how the case could have been solved years earlier if he had just started the investigation before his dad died. Although no one would know for sure, there could have been a possible confession from his dad or someone else. I think you described the black dahlia case perfectly and with enough detail to fully understand the case.



3:24 pm

Irene Urbina

I have heard of the Black Dahlia before and how gruesome it was. It is frustrating that cases like this are left unsolved even if there is an obvious suspect, but they are dismissed due to their status and influence on the public. It was kind of admirable how Steve started to investigate the case to clear his dad’s name but still decided to go with it after finding out that all the evidence showed that his father was guilty. I enjoyed how this article presented each person involved but did not drift from the main topic. Congratulations for the award!



3:24 pm

Izabella Torres

This was a very detailed and well written article. I have heard about the murder of the black dahlia taking place before but I have never really heard about all of the different gruesome things that happened to Elizabeth Short. Once I began to read the article, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Overall this was a very chilling and interesting article. Congratulations on the award, you deserve it! Nice work.



3:24 pm

Andrew Dillon

This is one of the most inaccurate accounts of the Black Dahlia murder I have ever read, and I’ve been studying this case for almost 20 years. Your description of Bette’s lifestyle as well as the condition of her body are not based on facts.



3:24 pm

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