Elizabeth Short

A moment in time: Beth Short in the 1940 census

On April 10, 1940--seventy-two years ago today--a man named Edmund M. Hart walked the streets of Medford, Massachusetts in the county of Middlesex, knocking on doors and making inquiries about the people who lived behind them. He was the designated U.S. Census enumerator, and the personal information he gathered has just this month been placed online.

On Salem Street, at number 115, Hart recorded the particulars of three separate households.

The owner of the property (valued at $5000) was Myer Winer, aged 59. A widower, he lived with his sons Samuel (21) and Allen (19), his daughter Dorothy (29) and her husband Eli Reingold (30). The young people were all born in Massachusetts, Myer Winer in Russia. He was a tailor in a retail clothing store, earning $700 for the previous year (for only 18 weeks work).  Son-in-law Eli Reingold was employed as a clerk in a wholesale tea company, earning $1200 for the previous year (52 weeks). His wife, a stenographer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, earned the same wage for her 52 weeks of work. Although the census did not ask, we know from other sources that theirs was a Jewish family. 

Paying $35 in monthly rent was Edwin F. Jones, 58, and his wife Minnie, 56. He was from Maine, she from Massachusetts, and both had been living in the same house for at least five years. Jones was a newspaper printer, with wages of $2350 for the previous year (47 weeks work). 

Beth Short 1940 census (detail)

It is the third and final family which draws our attention, for reasons having nothing to do with their quiet life in Medford, Mass. The head of the household is Phoebe Short, 39, native of Maine. She tells Mr. Hart that her family of six has been living in this place for at least five years, and pays $28 rent--$7 less than Mr. and Mrs. Jones, perhaps a reflection of Myer Winer's charity. Although unemployed, she has an unspecified income of more than $50, not from wages. This is, we assume, money provided to her by her estranged husband Cleo.

Living with Phoebe are five unmarried daughters. Virginia M. (19), is the only one seeking work outside the home, claiming 34 weeks unemployment through the end of March 1940. Her occupation is given as New Worker, meaning she had left school but had not yet secured any position. The other Short sisters are all in school: Dorothea (17), Elizabeth (15), Elenora (14) and Muriel J. (11). 

medford high school pc

Although history records that Phoebe Short's husband Cleo was still living, she identifies herself to the census as a widow. Maybe at this time, Phoebe really thought her husband was dead. Maybe she claimed to be a widow instead of admitting to a stranger that she had been abandoned. We do not know if the story she told Edmund Hart was the same one that she told her landlord and her daughters. The bare facts of the census record cannot reveal the nuances of any family's tragedy.

Phoebe's pretty daughter Elizabeth (15) is frozen in time by the census keeper's ink. She is still safe with the women who know and love her, still free to walk out the front door on a balmy day and turn west on the Salem Road, which is will not for some years be bisected by I-93, a highway which seems to have obliterated 115 Salem Street. Half a mile from her home, past the movie theater and the city hall, is the old Salem Street Burying Ground, a neglected cemetery dating to the late 17th century. Maybe she wandered there, among the winged skull markers and crumbling walls, and thought about her own mortality and imagined the joys her life would contain before the grave.  

winged skull

She's still a couple of years away from her ill-considered escape from the limited opportunities available to a poor, fatherless girl in the Boston suburbs. When she runs, she will go to California, to be reunited with Cleo Short. Their relationship will quickly fracture, and she will become a vagabond, moving often and forming short-lived, intimate relationships with strangers. She will travel from California to Florida, to Chicago, then west again. She will lie to her mother, and she will not look for work. She will sink into depressive obsession over a promising relationship cut off when the man dies in a plane crash. She'll make some foolish choices, and some stupid ones. 

And at 22, they will find her body cut into two pieces, naked and brutalized, in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. She will find posthumous fame as the beautiful victim of one of the most heinous unsolved crimes in American history. They will call her The Black Dahlia, leer over the terrible photographs, and they'll never stop talking about her. 

But for this moment, she is still frozen in time. The census taker knocks on the door, and wants to know: who is the head of this household? What are the names of the children, and their ages? 

Elizabeth Short is 15 years old, and it is springtime. The possibilities are limitless. And we are far away, and remembering a girl we never knew. 

Thank you, Joe Cianciarulo, for the detective work.

Medford, 1880

Downtown Los Angeles, 1946: Beth Short's last walk

Here's another amazing discovery from the good folks at the Internet Archive. This May 1946 night time process shot through Downtown Los Angeles was filmed by Columbia for the Rita Hayworth vehicle Down to Earth. In the picture, the actress portrays the ancient Greek Muse Terpsichore, who visits 20th century America to torment the Broadway producer who dares put on a show portraying the muses as man-crazy sluts, and Terpsichore herself as "just an ordinary dame." Sacrilege! 

It's a fitting theme for us here at 1947project. For while perturbed Terpsichore was no human female, we think she'd sympathize with the posthumous plight of Beth Short, Black Dahlia murder victim, brutalized before death by unknown assailants, and ever after subject to vile, false rumors. (No, she wasn't a prostitute. Our offshoot Esotouric offers a bus tour explaining who she really was.) 

Now thanks to Down to Earth, we have this gorgeous footage of the heart of Beth Short's post-war city, a bright, populated and thriving Downtown that is as lost to us as the cultures of the Inca or the Toltec. Click "play" and enter a place that positively thrums with energy. Marvel at the neon lights, the late-night coffee houses, the fur shops, the airline offices, the swimsuit-clad manikins, the drug stores, the theaters of Broadway (some open all night), the street life. Gasp at Clifton's Pacific Seas (demolished 1960, now a parking lot) and Clifton's Brookdale (still with us, but indefinitely closed for renovations), boggle at Alexander & Oviatt's bright-lit windows packed with the hautest of gentleman's couture, and laugh when you spy unmistakeable evidence of just how huge a star Miss Rita Hayworth was in the spring of 1946.

Beth Short spent the last half of 1946 living in Los Angeles, bouncing from cheap hotel to friends' couch and back again. Her social life centered on the nightspots of Hollywood and Downtown. This process footage contains a near-exact recreation of her final steps on the night she vanished: south along Olive Street away from the Biltmore Hotel, then left on Eighth Street, where we are rewarded with two astonishingly rare views of the Crown Grill, the last place she was seen alive. 

Knowing what we do, the stylized crown above the bar's entrance looks an awful lot like a death's head, doesn't it?

Screen grab, 1946 "Down To Earth" process shot

As a time travel portal, this clip rates among the finest. Blow it up big on your screen, sit back with a cup of something soothing, and be transported.

The Black Dahlia and the News of the World

After 168 years of publication, today’s edition of the News of the World is that scandal-plagued English tabloid’s last.

The collapse of a major newspaper is fascinating to watch unfold, but any suggestion that this is an unprecedented media scandal the likes of which has never before been seen is, simply, balderdash. Take away the trapping of modern media tools, and the situation in the News of the World newsroom is revealed to have been nearly identical to what was happening in 1947 Los Angeles, during the investigation of the murder of Elizabeth Short, AKA The Black Dahlia.

The News of the World folded, not because it lacked readers, but in a desperate effort by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to deflect political fallout from an escalating newsroom phone hacking scandal that included interfering in the investigation of the murders of children and spying on the families of dead soldiers and victims of terrorism.

Top British politicians appear to have had knowledge of these crimes and to have been intimately involved with some perpetrators. Further, editors have confessed to paying large sums to the Metropolitan Police for scoops on celebrities and crime victims. The scandal is an evolving thing, with fresh revelations coming by the hour.

Popular opinion holds that the entire working staff of the paper has been sacrificed to save the skin of former editor, current News Corporation chief executive, Rebekah Wade, an intimate of Murdoch and of Prime Minister David Cameron. Meanwhile, the entire affair is subject to passionate commentary by rival journalists, stalked celebrities and the scandalized public via Twitter and other social media.

But how does this relate to the Black Dahlia and 1940s yellow journalism?

For Rupert Murdoch, powerful and much-despised king of the yellow media, read William Randolph Hearst, whose Examiner was the best capitalized paper in post-war Los Angeles, and whose reporters did much more to further the Black Dahlia murder investigation than anyone else, including the detectives of the LAPD. For ruthless Murdoch editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade, read Hearst’s top execs James Richardson and Aggie Underwood.

For the Metropolitan Police, implicated in the current privileged-information-for-cash scandal, read the Los Angeles Police Department, who were so deep in Hearst’s pocket that they didn’t balk when Examiner city editor James Richardson invited detectives to join reporters in the newsroom for the opening of murder victim Elizabeth Short’s missing luggage, which a reporter had located at the downtown Greyhound station and illegally purchased from the bag check desk. The evidence inside was promptly photographed for publication in the paper, and only then was handed off to detectives.

For Milly Dowler’s long-suffering parents, newly victimized by the news that their kidnapped daughter was not alive and deleting her own mobile phone messages in 2002, but rather her phone was being checked by News of the World hacks, read Phoebe Short, Elizabeth’s mother, tricked into telling a telephoning reporter all about her 22-year-old daughter with the ruse that Elizabeth had won a beauty contest. Only when she had nothing left to say did the reporter confess that in truth her daughter had been found naked and hacked in two in a vacant lot.

In both instances, 1947 Los Angeles and 2011 London, the motivation was the same: to sell newspapers, and advertising, by appealing to the most base instincts of the general public. Then as now, people are fascinated by stories of sex and violence, and willing to pay for the publication that gives them seemingly factual information they can’t get elsewhere. Reporters have always been able to justify their intrusions by laying their work on the altar of Truth. And unscrupulous publishers have always been willing to pay whatever it takes to hack into private lives of public people, to feed the information hunger.

As the dust settles in England over this latest manifestation of a very old story, the real question is why gossip is so powerful a thing, alluring enough to make fortunes and bring down empires. Why are we so interested in other peoples’ private lives?

To Do: Prune Your Roses in Memory of Beth Short

Gentle reader,

Today is a terrible day in Los Angeles history, the 61st anniversary of the morning when Elizabeth Short, soon to be infamous as the Black Dahlia, was discovered dead and cut in two in a vacant lot in Leimert Park. Each January 15, our friend and Dahlia-ologist Larry Harnisch likes to prune his roses and think of Beth. Richard already pruned our roses this morning, and as they come back to lovely life we will remember this little lost girl. She would have been 83 years old, had she lived.

On Sunday, the Esotouric bus rolled south from Vroman's Bookstore with a full bus of charming people for the debut of Richard's new manifestation of our flagship tour THE REAL BLACK DAHLIA. We were seen off by the delightful Queen Mickie, taking a break from her Doodah Parade preparations to christen the bus with champagne... bubblebath! Then we headed downtown, to explore the psychology and deep mysteries of Beth Short's last hours, visiting the places she frequented, examining the characters who touched her, in life and in death and coming to some understanding of who this strange girl was and what brought her to Los Angeles and her early death.

See photos from this tour here:
http://blackdahliavromans1-13-08.notlong.com/

And see Queen Mickie in the Doodah Parade next Sunday:
http://www.pasadenadoodahparade.info/

This Saturday, 1/19, we offer my personal favorite of our true crime tours, BLOOD AND DUMPLINGS, a criminal and gastronomical excursion into the deeply bizarre criminal and cultural history of the San Gabriel Valley. Meet lions and nazis and hypodermic-jabbing lesbians, religious zealots obsessed with pyramid power, a lesser-known Manson Family victim, James Ellroy's iconic murdered mother Geneva, Phil Spector and his hillside castle, deadly trailer parks and actual sea monsters, who will keep you company as you gobble down a dumpling feast from 101 Noodle Express, one of Jonathan Gold's top LA restaurants. Join us do, and reserve your spot today by emailing me or buying online at http://www.esotouric.com/bnd-1-19-08

As always, we offer 15% off for KCRW members, and a $30 discount when you purchase a 4-tour Season Pass, which can be applied retroactively for folks who have ridden a recent tour. Email for more info or visit the website to reserve your spot on the unpredictable floating LA think tank that is the Esotouric bus.  

yrs,
Kim

Upcoming Esotouric bus tour schedule (new tours starred):
Sat Jan 19- Blood & Dumplings San Gabriel Valley Crime Bus Tour
San Jan 26- Weird West Adams Crime Bus Tour
Sat Feb 2- Where the Action Was Hollywood Rock and Roll Tour
*Sat Feb 16- Wild Wild West Side Crime Bus Tour
*Sat Feb 23- Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles: The Many Downtowns
*Sat Mar 1- Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles: Route 66 (on Banham's birthday weekend)
*Sat Mar 8- Raymond Chandler's Bay City (West Los Angeles Chandler tour)
Sun Mar 9- Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's Los Angeles (on the anniversary of his death)
Sat Mar 15- Vroman's Bookstore presents Pasadena Confidential

In-Cred-I-Ble


A large (20x30) reproduction of Elizabeth Short’s mug shot has appeared on EBay at a starting price of $250, or $400 under “buy it now” in an auction by mermaidfx. The word “rare” is ridiculously common on EBay, surpassed only by “MIB” and “L@@K.” This is not a rare image, but is widely copied. And folks, the asking price is absurd.

Lmharnisch.com
Lmharnisch.blogspot.com

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

Kim and Nathan on the radio Friday, candlelit vigil Thursday night

Early risers can hear 1947project's Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak talking about the 60th anniversary of the Black Dahlia case on Joe Escalante's show around 7am Friday on Indie 103.1-FM. That's on your radio dial in old Los Angeles, or on the interwebs at http://www.indie1031.fm/

And don't forget, tonight at 9pm, we lead a candlelit vigil in memory of Elizabeth Short. It begins at the Regent Galleries at 446-450 S. Main, where the "Her Name Was Elizabeth" exhibition is opening, continuing on to the Biltmore Hotel. Along the way we'll provide information about the crime and its connection with the downtown L.A. neighborhood, sort of a mini, walking Crime Bus tour as a preview to the Real Black Dahlia tours this weekend and Tuesday. Seats are still available for all three tours, so please click over/
to reserve if interested.

Find The Dahlia, Win A Crime Bus Ticket

The 60th Anniversary Lost Weekend of the Black Dahlia is nearly upon us, and we have two new events to announce.

On Friday, January 12, from 6-9pm, a woman dressed as the Black Dahlia will glide eerily along Hollywood Boulevard between Argyle and Cherokee, the old stomping grounds of Elizabeth Short. Perhaps she will be found in the Frolic Room or Pig and Whistle, or just cruising the boulevard. This spectral figure carries a basket of flowers, and will give one to anyone who calls her by her true name, Elizabeth. One of these lucky flowers is valid as one free ticket on the Sunday morning January 14 Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour, or for half off one seat on the VIP midnight tour and film premiere on Tuesday January 16.

And on Thursday, January 11 at 9pm, a candlelit vigil will leave Regent Galleries, 446-450 South Main Street downtown, site of the Black Dahlia-inspired art exhibition "Her Name Was Elizabeth." Those wishing to show their respect for Elizabeth Short and other souls lost to violence will walk from Main Street to the Biltmore Hotel, the last place she was seen alive, then continue south for a few blocks along the route that police believe she took before being abducted. The vigil will be led by Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak, hosts of 1947project's Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour, and true facts and myths of the case will be shared along the way. The group
will then return to Regent Galleries for a 10:30pm screening of Ramzi Abed's "Black Dahlia Movie."

The Lost Weekend is six days of art exhibitions, readings, film screenings, live cabaret and Crime Bus tours celebrating the life, myth and legend of Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia. For a full schedule, visit http://myspace.com/thelostweekendlosangeles

We have some openings on the Saturday 1/13 Real Black Dahlia tour. To reserve your seat on Saturday, Sunday 1/14 or the Tuesday 1/16 VIP night, please visit http://www.dumplinglab.com/crimebus

For Sale on EBay


And in Black Dahlia news...

You may think you're up on your Black Dahlia lore, but you might have missed two recent books that take very different approaches to the case. First, there's the memoir from Jacque Daniel, "The Curse of the Black Dahlia." Daniel was daughter and secretary to police psychiatrist Paul de River, whose involvement in the case was tinged with controversy. See her site for ordering info and her rebuttal of the claims in Donald Wolfe's recent, worthless contribution to the genre.

Then there's "Exquisite Corpse" by Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss, which takes as gospel the Steve Hodel theory of mutilation murder as homage a l'art moderne, and digs into the notion of the posing and abuses of Beth Short's body as a Surrealist art piece. While not quite as loopy as Gareth Penn's "Times 17" (Zodiac Killer as earthworks artist), it does sound rather outré.

Medium Image

And in Black Dahlia news...

You may think you're up on your Black Dahlia lore, but you might have missed two recent books that take very different approaches to the case. First, there's the memoir from Jacque Daniel, "The Curse of the Black Dahlia." Daniel was daughter and secretary to police psychiatrist Paul de River, whose involvement in the case was tinged with controversy. See her site for ordering info and her rebuttal of the claims in Donald Wolfe's recent, worthless contribution to the genre.

Then there's "Exquisite Corpse" by Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss, which takes as gospel the Steve Hodel theory of mutilation murder as homage a l'art moderne, and digs into the notion of the posing and abuses of Beth Short's body as a Surrealist art piece. While not quite as loopy as Gareth Penn's "Times 17" (Zodiac Killer as earthworks artist), it does sound rather outré.

Medium Image

Wheels of misfortune: Bus tours Dahlia haunts

By Norma Meyer
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

September 15, 2006

LOS ANGELES – The most notorious body dumpsite in L.A. history is now the manicured front lawn of a post-World War II home on a quiet street lined with similar one-story stucco houses.

There's no memorial plaque or hint this is it – the macabre magnet where, nearly 60 years ago, the Black Dahlia's naked corpse was discarded in two cleanly cut hunks in a weed-choked vacant lot.

“She was very deliberately posed to be seen,” says crime connoisseur Kim Cooper.

The 39-year-old Angeleno lingers on the same Norton Avenue sidewalk where a stroller-pushing young mom discovered the blood-drained Dahlia, her mouth sliced on each side to form a deranged clown grin.

In Brian De Palma's “The Black Dahlia,” this horror landmark, along with most of 1940s Los Angeles, is actually Bulgaria, where the movie was mainly shot. Noir hipsters Cooper and Nathan Marsak bring luxury buses to the real thing: This weekend they will launch the expanded Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour, a doomed heebie-jeebies journey that includes Hollywood flophouses and hangouts frequented by 22-year-old cash-strapped Elizabeth Short.

It's a cold, cold case. In that vein, bus-traveling groupies will gorge at a Hollywood gelato shop debuting 12 unique Black Dahlia flavors. One is Vanilla and Whiskey.

As it's been said before: The Dahlia is to Los Angeles what Jack the Ripper is to London.

Massachusetts-bred Betty Short was a transient unemployed ex-waitress who hit town in mid-1946, left for a while to live in San Diego, and returned here six days before her mutilated body turned up in the Leimert Park neighborhood on the clear morning of Jan. 15, 1947.

An aspiring starlet, she was among the wannabes who flocked to a Hollywood still in its heyday. Around the time, a homegrown ingénue named Norma Jeane changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. “The Big Sleep” star Humphrey Bogart immortalized his handprints and footprints in the famous forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater. The poignant classic about WWII vets, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” was about to sweep the Oscars.

And singing cowboy Gene Autry rode Champion in a parade down Hollywood Boulevard, the nightclub-dotted street that a roommate said Short often prowled.

But the social climate was changing in the City of Angels.

“A lot of women who had worked and been independent during the war were in the process of being pushed out by servicemen returning home,” says Cooper, who with Marsak and Dahlia expert Larry Harnisch deftly blog the city's bygone murders and mayhem on the Web site project1947.com.

“There was a lot of conflict. There was also a huge housing crisis and people were forced to move in with their family and rent rooms.”

Back then, a pimento cheese sandwich cost 20 cents. A top sirloin steak dinner was $1.65. A glass of port, 17 cents. Short didn't have much money for any of it: Friends told police she sponged off men for meals.

The flower-fond brunette – she dyed her brown hair jet-black – was last seen alive Jan. 9, 1947, in the marbled and chandeliered lobby of the downtown Biltmore Hotel. She had been dropped off by Robert Manley, a married traveling salesman who drove her up from San Diego and, along with hundreds of suspects and crazed confessors, would be cleared in the case.

Detectives, after finding two votive candles in Short's checked bags at a nearby bus station, questioned Biltmore bathroom attendants to see if she was seen fixing her bad teeth. The Dahlia used candle wax to plug cavities.

No one knows for sure what happened to Short after she left the Biltmore. “She may have gone to the Crown Grill. Some people said they saw her there,” Marsak says. The long-gone downtown bar is now Club Galaxy – “100 Beautiful Girls,” the sign outside beckons.

Short did stay at the nearby Figueroa Hotel in September 1946, when she met a uniformed Army soldier on a street corner, according to FBI files. The serviceman said he took the “very friendly” and “very well-dressed” Short to see Tony Martin's broadcast at the CBS studios in Hollywood, and to dinner at Tom Breneman's restaurant, the home of a popular morning radio show. At Breneman's, the headwaiter recognized Short and waved her through a line of waiting patrons.

The soldier said he spent the night at the hotel with Short and she mentioned “Los Angeles was a tough city and that it was dangerous for a girl to be alone on the streets at night.”

In Hollywood, Short bunked at several places until she landed at the still-standing, then $1-a-night Chancellor Apartments, where she shared a room with five women. The manager once held Short's suitcase as collateral when she tried to skip on the rent.

In early December 1946, Short left for San Diego. Dorothy French, an usher at the downtown Aztec Theater, took pity on the sad soul she saw hanging around and invited her to stay with her family at the Bayview Terrace housing project in Pacific Beach, according to news reports. The Frenches were about to boot the jobless, partying Short when on Jan. 8 she checked into a Pacific Beach motel with Manley, whom she'd met a few weeks before. He told police they spent a platonic night together and then he drove her up to the Biltmore, ostensibly to meet her sister.

When Manley left her that evening, she was a pretty black-clad drifter who got her nickname from a Veronica Lake movie of the time, “The Blue Dahlia.” Today, the morbid icon is a cottage industry: There are Internet sites, a TV movie, a coffee-table book that connects her killing to surrealist art, and a tome that implicates Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler and mobster Bugsy Siegel in her sadistic slaying.

The 1947 Project online offers Dahlia T-shirts and beer steins and a baby bib for snookums that reads, “Elizabeth Short Got A Ride to 39th & Norton – and all I got is this dumb bib.”

The Dahlia bus will drive by the site of the trash dump – several miles from the crime scene – where Short's black shoe and patent leather purse that smelled of her perfume were found (it's now a parking lot next to a commercial building).

And it'll ferry by homes of men fingered as the murderer in some of the umpteen Black Dahlia books and essays. There's the Mayan-like Hollywood mansion of venereal disease physician George Hodel, who was posthumously branded the butcherer by his former cop son; the house a block away from where the body was found that was inhabited by Walter Bayley, a now-dead surgeon whom Dahlia-whiz Harnisch theorizes did it; and the south Los Angeles 'hood where alcoholic lowlife Jack Anderson Wilson may have drained his prey's blood in a bathtub, according to John Gilmore, who authored “Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.”

Gilmore says Wilson provided details to him only the killer would know shortly before he died in a 1982 hotel room fire. But now the true-crime writer isn't convinced the case is solved.

“It will always be one of L.A.'s darkest mysteries,” Gilmore says. Then he compares the Dahlia's haunting legacy to the movie-star handprints and footprints she surely ogled on Hollywood Boulevard.

“It's like Grauman's Chinese. Her name is carved in the concrete of L.A.”

Link 

Heaven Is HERE! The Black Dahlia

Click on the envelope to watch the Black Dahlia video.


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