Manage episode 270553601 series 2781331
Welcome to the Black Dahlia and Blue Dahlia podcast. This is your host, Scott Tracy.
Jan 16th 1947 The Los Angeles Examiner has written the headline to remember. The Los Angeles Times has written a headline to forget. It’s difficult to conceive in today’s world how essential daily newspapers were to our culture in the 1940s. The second world war had turned Americans into news junkies. Every day there were stories on three fronts. From Pearl Harbor to the Atomic bomb, from Adolph Hitler to Alger Hiss; the future of civilization had been at stake and the excitement of war news created a public that became addicted to reading the paper like never before. The American public is still thirsty for news after VJDay. The impact of news you can hold in your hands has the greater reach in media. Although It is peacetime, American newspapers are still at war with their rivals. In 1947, Newspapers are either a morning or evening publication. The Los Angeles Times was the more successful morning newspaper. The Los Angeles Herald Express was the primary evening paper. The Hearst morning paper was the Examiner. Morning papers were delivered to the homes and offices. Housewives and businessmen could read the paper at their leisure. The Los Angeles Times was a white collar publication, very much a cheerleader of business interests. The Los Angeles Times is a historically anti-union publication. In contrast, the evening papers are sold to the worker class readers by sound and sight. At the newsstand, a paper needs big headlines to jump out so it can be read from a distance. The afternoon papers gives the public the news the morning papers doesn’t have; up-to-date stock market news, horse racing results and night baseball scores. Citizens read the paper at home at dinnertime commonly just as we might watch the TV news. Bold dramatic headlines were key to evening newspaper sales. A headline needs to grab the attention of the public. Newsies, 10, 11 year-old boys screamed out lurid headlines to sell papers at trolly stops and train stations. HEAD IN TORSO MURDER STILL MISSING was shouted out-loud by young boys on street corners on Jan 28th 1946. That’s a headline that grabs. Jane Doe number one would become the number one story of 1947. The Hearst newspaper offered one of the most successful headlines in history and the paper sold the most copies of any issue in the post war period. It is an expressive, shocking and descriptive headline. GIRL TORTURED AND SLAIN; Hacked Nude Body Found in L A Lot. The Herald gets everything right on that front page; Note the sequence is correct. Beth Short is tortured then killed then cut in half and displayed in the vacant lot. Remarkable in contrast, the headline in the Times is less successful; beginning with the fact that it’s on page 2. GIRL VICTIM OF SEX FIEND FOUND SLAIN it is a two column headline. When I was a journalism student I was given an example on how not to write a headline. The story as an example, discussed was about the undeveloped areas of Siberia. The headline was “Russian Virgin Lands” semicolon, “Short of Goal Again”. The problem was with the way the headline translates is when its shrunk into a one column story. So the first line is racy, Russian Virgin, the second line Lands Short, the third line— of Goal Again. Russian Virgin Lands; Short of Goal Again Put together, it seems to be a call for help. The Los Angeles Times Black Dahlia headline fails when the words are crammed in to two columns. First line reads Girl Victim of Sex. Second line reads Fiend Found Slain. As if the Fiend is murdered and the crime committed against the woman was sex. The sub-headline is troublesome as well. Nude mutilated body indicates; first line. Orgy of torture before murder; second line. The first word in the sub-headline is “nude” and the first word in the second line is “orgy”; those words jump out at the reader. The way the sub-headline bonds with the use of sex in the primary headline that strikes me as distasteful and heavy handed. Another copy editor might have chosen to say. Frenzy of torture, for example. I recognize that the killer pleasure from the controlled torture, but for the rest of us, orgy doesn’t fit. The headline draws the reader, but it creates an uncomfortable connection as if we, the readers, are meant to feel what the killer feels. The language has a pulp quality to it. An orgy of torture sounds like an illustrated cover article in a post-war men’s racy pulp magazine, like “Hostages in Hitler’s Passion Cave; Orgy of Torture Before Murder.” The two main papers use very different pictures as well. The Herald airbrushes a blanket over the hacked and nude body without explanation. The Times shows that location from safe distance and a very low height, the photo taken level with car’s lug-nuts, so that the grass on Norton Ave lot is tall enough to obscure the dead body. The reporters and police are taller than the telephone poles on the next block and stand with backs to the camera and eyes down on the unseen body as if the are praying. The significance of the success of the Herald headline was not lost on the Hearst newspaper syndicate. Detective Finis Brown spoke about the placement of the victim on the grass and the press coverage during the Grand Jury inquest in 1949. “the two halves were about a foot apart, but the legs were spread and the type of mutilation that was done would indicate a person – to my estimation who had a mania for publicity. The newspapers up until the 23rd when things began to slack off and we only had one page in the newspaper – one column, the 23rd and the 24th – that night we received the belongings of the Short girl. The next day it was full. The papers was full of it then. It continued that way until altogether about 33 days. To my estimation, the person sent that in because they wanted publicity to gloat over the fact that they had been successful in their crime and got a kick out of it.” The reason to quote Detective Brown is to point out how important the press is to the killer and how important an ongoing crime story is to the afternoon papers in particular. The Killer sought anonymous notoriety, the papers needed everybody’s nickel; the relationship of the killer and the press is a courtship made in hell. One subscripted to the morning papers, they came automatically. The afternoon papers were bought on a whim. So competition is fierce. The Herald wrote better headlines or they went broke. This press coverage Detective Brown speaks of when he says 33 days, is referring to the Hearst newspapers. Not the Los Angeles Times. I mentioned that the murder story is on page two on January 16th 1947, the front page of the Los Angeles Times is concerned with the request of the Mayor for issuing 40 million dollars in bonds. London Strikers are creating the worst labor crisis in 40 years. Ford Motor Co is cutting the prices of new cars by $15 to $50. Quadruplets were born in France and Elenor Roosevelt driver’s license is being revoked. During this post war decade, the Black Dahlia story was NEVER front page news in the Los Angeles Times. Once again, A strike in London, Ford drops prices and Eleanor can’t drive. Front page news in the Times. For the Herald; Girl Tortured and Slain; Hacked Nude Body Found in L A Lot. The police canvas the Norton Avenue neighborhood and locate witness Bob Meyer who lived one street west of Norton Ave at 3900 South Bronson. Meyer told the police and the press that he saw an older Ford sedan, black in color, 1936 or 1937 park near the place where the body was found between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Sunrise is at 6:59 so not surprisingly Bob Meyer is not able to describe the driver from a block away. Mr Meyer observes the parked car on the street for four minutes then sees the driver speed away. Could this be the killer? Four minutes is not much time and Meyer doesn’t say he saw the man do anything. The coroner suggest ES has been dead for 10 hours she was discovered. Is the killer returning to crime scene? How suspicious is it that a car would speed away as the sun rises? Most likely, the driver of the older Black Ford saw something white in the grass from the road as the morning light struck the body and drove near enough to realize he should peel out. Given the isolation of the lot, it is understandable that no one else comes forward to say they saw the body placed or the killer drive away. Janice Knowlton in her book “Daddy was the Black Dahlia Killer relates the tale of 38 year old LAFD captain Bill Nash test driving his tuned up Plymouth on Norton Ave accompanied by neighbor Roy Preston and comes upon what Nash thinks is a statue in the weeds. Could Nash’s Plymouth be the car that Bob Meyer saw drive away? Can Bob Meyer tells a black ford from a black Plymouth from a block away at the crack of dawn? Nash called the police when he got back home according to Knowlton, however, Nash’s account is not mentioned in any major newspaper. Interviews in the door to door Leimert Park neighborhood What are we to make of this story? It’s logical and fits many of the pieces as we know them, It is common for people to be curious about a large item others throw out. How similar is a Plymouth sedan to a Ford sedan? Rather similar. Is Nash’s story true? I’m not bothered by it not being in a major newspaper. † Knowlton tells a very detailed story, Nash has changed his spark plugs and is road testing his car. Preston vomits after they get back to Grayburn Ave. This is a fine example of the challenges one finds in telling the Black Dahlia story. How do I categorize the event? How do I decide to accept or reject? This is my hierarchy; Fact, Conjecture, Supposition, Assumption and Theory Fact would be well documented. Example— the autopsy Conjecture is highly probable unproven but accepted as all facts point in direction. Example— the body is displayed because killer seeks attention Supposition is a solid possibility, interpretation logical event. Example- Beth Short had a destination in mind when she headed south on Olive Street on January 7th. Assumption is interpretation makes sense; often presents emotional closure. Example Elizabeth she got her name because she often wears flowers in her hair emotional closure. Theory is solid guess requires weavings of assumptions and supposition. Example -my father is a serial killer. What should we believe when there are so many suppositions and assumptions in this case? The story of Bill Nash is illustrative of the difficulty one has when seeking a path to the truth. Did Janice Knowlton make the entire thing up? In her book she states she interviewed 84 year old Bill Nash on November 4th 1992. Nash speaks with clarity and remembers with many details. That seems truthful and believable. Knowlton says she read about Nash in the Hollywood Citizen News dated Jan 15th 1947. My initial search lead me to believe the Hollywood Citizen News ceased publication in 1944. But no, according to the Library of Congress the name changes to the Citizen News in 1944 then reverts back to Hollywood Citizen News in 1945. A lot of digging for on minor detail, but it showcases how far one has to go to reach the facts and how frustrating that the result is often more questions. The newspapers will remember Bob Meyer because of there is short dark man who paid Miss Shorts rent when she lived previously at a Hollywood hotel. He lived in Beverly Hills in an apartment on Crescent Drive and drove an old black Ford sedan similar to the one observed by the vacant lot a few hours before the body was discovered. The police make the first arrest. With the encouragement of Los Angeles Police psychologist Dr. J Paul DeRiver, the early investigative focus is on repeat offenders of sex crimes. The Headline in the Express is YOUTH GRILLED AS ‘WEREWOLF’ SUSPECT. The article in part reads: The modern counterpart of a medieval torture chamber in which a slim attractive young girl writhed for hours before her brutal murder by a “werewolf killer was sought by detectives today. … like the victims of predatory killers assuming the form of a wolf in ancient folklore, the body was gashed and mutilated almost beyond recognition.” That is quite a leap that Aggie Underwood takes to go from the Iron Maiden to Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Werewolf. This very much the pulp style of writing of this period. Arrested is ‘Cecil French, 23 year old man from Bakersfield, accused of molesting two girls at the bus depot. His car is examined for blood stains but results are negative and Cecil is released. The Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News states over 100 men are rounded up and questioned overnight then released before the locating Cecil French. These 100 men are not suspects based on day one clues, but J Paul DeRiver’s files, his catalog of sexual deviants. He was the first psychologist hired by an American police department and he created the first American sex offender registry. This is a time when the category of sex deviants extends to homosexuality; oral sex and sodomy are CRIMES that are prosecuted; Harassment of the gay community is common procedure for police. This becomes important as a few of the drinking establishments that Elizabeth Short frequents are gay bars, and the resistance to talk to the police inquisitors is expected. Reporters have better luck than the threatening cops. DeRiver receives credit for the first actionable profile of a killer in 1937. Let me tell you a bit more. In 1934 Dr. DeRiver volunteers to assist the Los Angeles the City Probation Department. as a consultant psychiatrist.DeRiver is working gratis because QUOTE “I was devoting my whole time to that because I was pioneering a new field, criminal psychiatry and …I was interested in it… There was nobody interested in the sex degenerate…. There was very little written in textbooks by anyone of authority so I went after it in a practical way.” In response to the murder of the three babes of Inglewood, June 1937. DeRiver viewed the bodies of the three little girls and the physical evidence at the crime scene, and wrote the following ” Look for one man, probably in his twenties, a pedophile who might have been arrested before for annoying children. He is a sadist with a superabundance of curiosity. He is very meticulous and probably now remorseful, as most sadists are very apt to be masochistic after expressing sadism. The slayer may have a religious streak and even become prayerful. Moreover, he is a spectacular type and has done this thing, not on sudden impulse, but as a deliberately planned affair. I am of the opinion that he had obtained the confidence of these little girls. I believe they knew the man and trusted him. This idea of forensic “profiling,” was well received. And indeed, with the exception of the age, it describes the likely killer fairly well. Two assumptions that may not apply to certain types of criminals, DeRiver deals with criminals who confess and feel remorse. Serial killers and psychopaths don’t have feelings for victims. There is no regret or desire to confess because psychopaths think victims were born to be victims. Returning to the crime, Other children in the park, remember a a man who would show children rope tricks, who drove a beat up truck and told little girls he could catch a rabbit for them if they would go with him. Fred Godsey was named the suspect. Quoting the front page of the Los Angeles Times of Saturday July 3rd 1937, Indian Hunted as Child Slayer Suspect Identified in Inglewood — Search Opened Throughout West for ex-Convict Fred Godsey, 34-year-old quarter blood Cherokee Indian and convicted felon, last night was the wanted suspect in the murder a week ago today of Madeline and Melba Everett and Jeanette Stephens in the Baldwin Hills near Inglewood. Godsey, who fits perfectly the composite description of "Eddie the Sailor," who was seen by several witnesses luring the three schoolgirls from Centinela Park to their horrible death, was being hunted by every law enforcement agency In the Rocky Mountain States and the Pacific Coast. ENDQUOTE By Monday the headlines are on the front page, a 34 year old school crosswalk guard Albert Dyer has confessed. Not only does Dyer not fit the profile, the mentally challenged man has been coerced into confessing, Dyer recants and then is pressured again. Dyer has the mental comprehension level of the children he walks across the street. His IQ is judged to be 60. In the language of 1937, a moron. When asked what country was south of the United States, Dyer says "Alaska," He has the process of a nine years old, can’t drive, doesn’t know rope tricks or know north from west. Because he is a crossing guard, he is at a loss that children he watches over have been kidnapped and killed. Dyer, sadly has no comprehension of the danger he is in, ”I hope I get probation so that I can go back to my wife and get a good job and buy her some pretty things." There is no physical evidence to link Dyer to the crime. But the police have a confession and that is the end of the search for Fred Godsey. The Everett Family is concerned, the children in Centinela Park knew Dyer and would have stated that he was the one who they saw with the children. Of course Dyer doesn’t drive so the police convince a jury that Dyer is a kind of Pied Piper that has three children walk behind him for miles thru thick brush and over steep ravines. Merle Everett said “My daughters didn’t walk from the park where they disappeared to the place they were killed, they were carried away in an automobile.” The Everett family and others are alarmed that a child killer is on the loose and will kill again and they petition to have Dyer released. Their insight and pleas have no effect. Albert Dyer is hanged at San Quentin September 16th 1938. Dr J Paul DeRiver assisted the police in attaining Dyer’s confession and testified that Dyer was capable to stand trial because he knew right from wrong. To read more on the Dyer case I recommend, Pamela Everett’s book; Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family's Secret.] DeRiver shapes the Black Dahlia investigation from day one. The focus on DeRiver is of importance for this reason, as opposed to than Man Ray theories or background antidotes like Elizabeth Short’s one date with Matt Gordon in Miami because we are following the evolution of the investigation in Los Angeles. When DeRiver says, There was nobody interested in the sex degenerate…. so I went after it in a practical way.” DeRiver literally means it on the simplest level, before the interview he measures everyone with a tape. Well-endowed Peter Hernandez kills because he thinks he can get away with it. Leslie Dillon is less well equipped and he kills to prove he is a man. However, sincere DeRiver’s intent, ultimately his ambition exceeds his Victorian skill set and innocent men are sent to death row as the direct result of his misguided sense of duty to his police masters. This is the day of the autopsy. Doctor Frederick Newbarr speaks QUOTE I performed an autopsy on Elizabeth Short on January 16th 1947, at the Los Angeles county Coroner’s mortuary and found the immediate cause of death; hemorrhage and shock due to concussion of the brain and lacerations of the face. There are multiple lacerations to the mid-forehead, in the right forehead and at the top of the head in the midline. There are multiple tiny abrasions, linear in shape, on the right face and forehead. There are two small laceration ¼” in length, on each side of the nose hear the bridge. Multiple blows to the head, however, no fracture of the skull. These tiny lacerations on each side of the nose are located where every person who wears glasses would know about, as the nose piece can leave a mark; in combination with the location of other abrasions to the head seems to indicate a type of restraint whose purpose would be to forcibly restrict movement of the the head, why else press against the bridge of the nose on both sides. Newbar continues There is a deep laceration on the face 3 inches long which extends laterally from the right corner of the mouth and a deep laceration 2 1/2 inches long extending lateral from the left corner of the mouth. The surrounding tissues are ecchymotic and blush purple in color. The discoloration indicates victim received these deep straight cuts on both sides of the mouth when she was alive. …There is no evidence of trauma to the ..thyroid …or tracheal rings. …There is a double ridge around her left wrist close to the hand. There is a double ridge depressed around the right wrist. The fingernails are very short, the thumbnail measuring 5/16th in length and the fingernails measuring 3/16th in length. Jane Doe #1 was not strangled. There is no conclusion as to the type of restraint on her wrists and legs; wire or rope. Dr Newbarr stats Elizabeth Short bit her fingernails to the quick during her lifetime. That has little to do with the crime. Of course the coroner hopes for evidence of her attacker under her nails. Newbarr states, The teeth are in a state of advanced decay. The two upper central incisors are loose and one lower incisor is loose. The rest of the teeth show cavities. Unrelated to her death, but this a significant because that is a dramatic amount of decay for a person of her age. This neglect, does it speak to self esteem issues? There is no polite way to say this but bad teeth means bad breath. Ignoring personal hygiene is a surprising choice for someone who was attempting to break into show business as a pretty face. Why not work as a waitress and take care of your smile? Newbarr continues. The trunk of the body is completely severed by an incision which is straight through the abdomen severing the intestine at the duodenum and through the soft tissue … passing through the intervertebral disk between the second and third lumbar vertebrae. There is very little ecchymosis along the track of the incision. The use of the word “incision” is instructive. The blade must slice between the 2nd and 3rd vertebra to allow for a clean cut that strikes no bones. This is not a common procedure nor it is common knowledge. The nature of the cut implies a significant level of skill. Returning to the autopsy, there is an irregular opening in the skin on the anterior surface of the left thigh with tissue loss. The opening measure 3 ½ inches transversely at the base and 4 inches from the base longitudinally… : This is the location of Elizabeth Short’s tattoo. One pound of flesh removed from the thigh and inserted in her vagina. Newbarr mentions during the inquest that the flesh was found and leaves it at that. The organs of the abdomen are entirely exposed there are lacerations of the intestine and both kidneys. The uterus is small and no pregnancy is apparent, the tubes, ovaries and cul-de-sac are intact... The stomach is filled with greenish brown granular matter, mostly feces and other particles which could not be identified. All smears for spermatozoa were negative. Frederick Newbarr MD chief autopsy surgeon This is an imperfect arena for Internet detectives. What are we to make of statements like, “particles that could not be identified”? There is no official autopsy report for us to read. Indeed why would there be? We are not officials; just curious folks. We can only know what was stated at the inquest. The body was washed and scrubbed before it was placed in the vacant lot. Coconut fibers were found on the body and the FBI investigated and concluded them to be common to cheap scrub brush bristles. Only a few drops of blood were recovered from the body. Type A/B. Police did request the vital organs be tested for chemical traces of narcotics. However this testing never happened. It is stated that there was a small amount of alcohol present,* Beth Short commonly did not drink. I wonder if a she had been given a Mickey Finn or sedative narcotic. It is difficult to read the mutilation done to Elizabeth Short. It is not a pleasant to think about her torture. Let’s move on to our Watson and Holmes observations. Watson is a Doctor, so we have to give him the autopsy. I think Watson would have expressed the similarities to the savage action of a London madman, Jack the Ripper. In doing so Watson would align himself with the 1947 police and the press do . Agnes Underwood calls the killer a werewolf it must have been committed by a monster. While the shock of the mutilation of the Ripper victims is equal to the shock present on Norton Ave, the significant connection to the Ripper case is fame not M.O. as the Black Dahlia case reaches back to Jack the Ripper murders and telescopes forward to the Zodiac Killer because of the taunting of the Police through the press. The Ripper mailed a kidney The Avenger mailed the contents of the Elizabeth Short’s purse. The Zodiac gave us his coded messages to solve. The Sherlock observation would focus on what is not present. Blood. Evidence. Motive. The autopsy reveals much of the damage below the neck happens after the victim is dead. In criminal profiling terms, a serial killer is categorized as Organized or Disorganized. The Black Dahlia is the act of an organized killer. The Ripper is disorganized. Time for our play along at home quiz. On this day the Herald leads with the headline; tortured hacked nude. The Times tells the citizens of Los Angeles Eleanor Roosevelt can’t drive, if you think this is front page news, raise your hand. More than one writer invests considerable paragraphs explaining Leimert Park. This only makes sense if the neighborhood plays a role in her death. There is no indication that is does. Why would a vacant lot have anything to do with the developer’s vision of a suburb and connecting shopping center? The thing to know about Leimert Park in 1947 was this. It was unknown to the the vast majority of Los Angeles citizens. Leimert Park is an isolated suburb at the outskirts of the city. If you are Downtown or Hollywood or Pasadena and going to the Veterans Hospital. Take Centinela. Going to the beach? Take Venice. Catching a flight at Mines Field? take Sepulveda. There was basically nothing on Sepulveda at but oil fields. Significant areas of Los Angeles were not developed in 1947. At this time, Los Angeles County was the largest agricultural producing county in America. That is so hard to get one’s head around that if you happen to be on the 405 right now as you listen to the podcast. The other side of the coin is that Los Angeles County was the #1 county in California for manufacturing at this time as well, The war had an exponential impact on population during the war, Even to this day there are more manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County that in the state of Michigan. As these workers needed homes, the developers were buying up orange groves and bean fields to plant suburbs for the workers and families that the war industry has brought to Los Angeles. Still to anyone living in the city today, the amount of undeveloped land is something that jumps out when to see photos of the time period. There is a map on the black dahlia blue dahlia web page that illustrates how isolated the Leimert Park in 1947 is from the daily lives of the vast majority of the citizens Los Angeles. There is very little reason under any circumstances that most folks would be aware of a vacant lot at Norton Ave and 39th. At the end of the Los Angeles Times article, it states the body is not that of Diana Jean Heaney of Lynwood, reported missing Oct 16th 1946. The important thing to realize, the police are not looking for Elizabeth Short because no one reported her missing. After all Ms Short has no address, there is only one person who knows she is missing, her killer. There are other girls missing and police field many frantic phone calls from worried relatives. Police follow up on any leads given with no result. ONE MORE THING …. January in Los Angeles is most often a happy time. Very few things have the effect on those who grew up back east as January in Los Angeles. While most of America suffering with the cold twins of winter; snow and ice. Angelenos start the year with the watching the Rose Bowl in shirt sleeves. The year 1947 begins quietly on the news front. So when the Black Dahlia story breaks, there is no competition for column space. Armed bandits robbed the Mocambo Club on Sunset Blvd. reported on Jan 7th. The suspects are arrested 8 days later. Phyllis Ayers known as the Blond Venus, failed at love and at death the first week as the seductive Burlesque Queen attempts to overdose on sleeping pills after her break up with B movie actor Jack LaRue. Ayers is hospitalized. LaRue denies everything but will be arrested in the valley a week later for drunk driving. Ruth Dunty, 29, takes the stand in her divorce proceedings, and denies that she danced the “hootchy kootchy” at party as claimed by her husband Robert Dunty, 31. 14 year old Loraine Collins handed her father’s pistol to 15 year old Edward Eiesnhart at a teenage party. The pistol misfired and 15 year old Alan Gordon is struck in the chest, his dying words, “I’m shot in the heart.” The Los Angeles Times reporter refers to the pistol to as the “death gun”. And Paul Kittrelle, the nude burglar of Beverly Hills is caught. Go on ask me how they knew it was him! Jane Doe #1 is the first front page murder of 1947. The newspapers have been hungry for a big headline when Elizabeth Short suffers an Orgy of torture before murder. Thanks for listening. The next podcast will focus on the big news of January 17th: the FBI identifies the fingerprints of Elizabeth Short. The police interview hanger-ons at a drug store lunch counter in Long Beach and in crime news, a white man kills a black woman in Japantown. Until then.
† The Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News scooped the big papers with an edition published on the afternoon of the15th. It refers to a unnamed motorist seeing the body.
Could Nash’s Plymouth be the 1937 Ford that Bob Meyer saw drive away from a block away at dawn?