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Mountain View Cemetery

Oakland, Alameda County

California, USA

Elizabeth Short

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1924 - 1947

* July 29, 1924 in Hyde Park, Boston, Massachusetts

† probably January 14 or January 15, 1947 in Los Angeles

achieved tragic fame in the USA in the 1940s as The Black Dahlia, when she was murdered and cruelly mutilated at the age of 22. The murder is considered the most famous unsolved murder in Los Angeles to date.

Elizabeth Short was born as the third daughter of Phoebe Mae and Cleo Short. When she was very young, the family moved to Medford, also near Boston. She had two older sisters, Virginia and Dorothea, and two younger ones, Eleonora and Muriel. Her father built miniature golf courses and his company was quite successful until the stock market crash of 1929. He left the family in October 1930 and made it appear as if he had committed suicide. Elizabeth (known as “Betty” to her friends and family) was a popular girl who got mediocre grades in school. She was sickly and suffered from asthma.

She dropped out of school after her freshman year of high school in 1940 and went to Florida for the first time in the fall of that year to work as a waitress and escape the harsh New England winter that aggravated her asthma. From the spring of 1942 she worked in a drugstore in Medford until her father sent her money at the end of 1942 so that she could join him in Vallejo, a small town north of San Francisco.

She went to live with him in December 1942, and the two of them moved to Los Angeles together in January 1943. However, after a short time there she had an argument with him because he accused her of being lazy; he expected her to do the housework for him. Shortly afterwards she moved in with an acquaintance in Los Angeles; From the end of January she worked in the mail station at the Army base Camp Cooke near Santa Barbara. There she had many admirers and was voted Camp Cutie, the “sweetest woman in the camp”. She resigned in August and was arrested in Santa Barbara on September 23, 1943 for underage drinking and sent back to her family in Medford.

However, she only stayed there until early December 1943, when she moved to Miami Beach to work in a fine goods store. She lived there in a cheap hotel. In September 1944 she met a soldier named Gordon Fickling, with whom she had a brief relationship.

At a New Year's Eve party in 1944/1945 she met the pilot Matt Gordon, with whom she fell in love. They became engaged, and when he had to go back to the war, she returned to her family in Medford in early 1945, where she worked as a waitress and waited for her fiancé to return. On August 22, 1945, eight days after the end of World War II, she received a telegram informing her that Matt had died in a plane crash. She was shattered and just sat at home for a few days. In December 1945 she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she remained for three months before returning to Medford.

In April 1946 she left Medford for the last time and made her way to Chicago. There she met Gordon Fickling again. The two resumed their relationship. However, he first moved to Long Beach, near Los Angeles, and she to Indianapolis, before she followed him to Long Beach to marry him in July 1946. They did not marry, but lived together and moved from hotel to hotel in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Hollywood. At the end of August 1946, Fickling ended the relationship because he was unsure whether Betty was faithful to him. In the fall of 1946 she lived with casual acquaintances in cheap hotels, where she often didn't pay the rent, and in run-down apartments in the Los Angeles area.

On December 8, 1946, she took a bus to San Diego, not knowing where she would spend the night. She wanted to spend the night in a cinema; Cashier Dorothy French took pity on her and let her stay with her family in San Diego. On January 8, 1947, she wrote a letter to Gordon Fickling in which she said she wanted to go to Chicago with a certain Jack to become a model. That same day, the French family reportedly asked her to leave their home. She was hitchhiking and was picked up by Robert Manley. He took her to a café in San Diego and the two stayed at a hotel. He was asleep in bed, she was fully dressed in a chair because she wasn't feeling well. The next morning, Manley drove her back to Los Angeles, where he dropped off her suitcases with her at the bus depot. She said she wanted to meet her sister Virginia at the Biltmore Hotel downtown and then drive with her to Berkeley, where Virginia lived. None of this was true, Manley waited with her until around half past six in the evening. As the evening progressed, she left the hotel lobby. Three people said they saw her at a downtown cocktail bar that evening. What happened next remained unclear.

Contrary to persistent rumors, Elizabeth Short was never an actress and never appeared as an extra in a single film. The only possible connection to the film may have been an affair with director Orson Welles in 1946, but this has not been proven.

What happened to Elizabeth Short after she left the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel on the evening of January 9, 1947 is unclear. The only thing that is certain is that she was found dead in a meadow in the south of Los Angeles on the morning of January 15, 1947 by a woman and her daughter on their way to the cobbler. She was naked, cut apart at the waist, her vagina and one of her breasts mutilated and the corners of her mouth slashed down to her cheekbones in the shape of a Glasgow Smile. Her murderer could never be identified, even though the case had aroused great interest in the media and the public, and even though every investigator seriously interested in solving this case must have had the impression that the massive mutilation of her female sexuality and beauty was clearly due to let a former and/or spurned lover or admirer be concluded as the perpetrator. Such acts of relationship are now known as so-called elimination killings.

The fate of Elizabeth Short was also circulated as a warning - the story of an easy-going young woman who went to Hollywood in the hope of a career as an actress and met a terrible end there.

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