The Real Black Dahlia Tour pix

Courtesy of David Markland, here are some photos from Sunday’s sold out Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour.

Above, hosts Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak pose for a candid snap with gelato master Tai Kim, who created a dozen Black Dahlia-inspired flavors to honor murder victim Elizabeth Short. (The previous day, Brad Pitt came in to sample the Black Dahlia flavors while his lady friend waited in the car.  Brad’s picks? Vanilla and Whiskey for him, White Chocolate Cranberry Swirl for her. Miss Short would have been delighted.)

The Real Black Dahlia Tour Rolls on 9/23 with the American Cinematheque

Saturday, September 23 – 11 AM – 4 PM

Wheels of misfortune: Bus tours Dahlia haunts

By Norma Meyer

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

“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.”


Twelve Gelatos to Honor the Black Dahlia

The following is from our latest 1947project press release… even if you don’t ride the Crime Bus, you can still enjoy these treats at Scoops at 712 N. Heliotrope Dr., just north of Melrose, on Friday 9/15 and Saturday 9/16 from 12pm-9pm.

LOS ANGELES- All Elizabeth Short wanted in life was to be someone. Now, nearly 60 years after her death, the victim of L.A.’s most notorious unsolved murder is honored with a new film, a citywide tour, and twelve unique gelato concoctions from distinguished ice cream artisan Tai Kim. Short joins the ranks of celebrated people with foods named for them, like opera star Nellie Melba (Peach Melba), chef Alfredo de Lelio (Fettucine Alfredo), Brown Derby owner Robert Cobb (Cobb Salad), Jerry Garcia (Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia) and Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon pastries).

To coincide with the September 15 release of Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia,” the 1947project Crime Bus offers a guided luxury tour to dozens of sites that played a part in the real life and death of Elizabeth Short, as well as locations figuring in her posthumous myth.

On The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour, Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak guide their passengers to more than two dozen scenes from the real and imaginary history of the Black Dahlia case. Along the way, they’ll explore the social history of postwar Los Angeles, several Black Dahlia killer theories will be debunked and a little known but likely suspect will be introduced. The tour will bring to life the real Elizabeth Short and some of the peculiar characters who knew her in life or become obsessed with her in death.

As the Crime Bus winds it way towards its downtown conclusion, the passengers will coming closer to a very special treat. The 1947project asked avant-garde gelato maker Tai Kim of Scoops in East Hollywood to create a new flavor, named after the Black Dahlia, to honor her memory and provide sustenance to the brave Crime Bus passengers. Tai responded by developing not one but twelve unique flavors, each of which reflects Elizabeth Short and her time and city: 1947 Los Angeles. These special gelatos will only be available on Friday 9/15 and Saturday 9/16, and on Sunday 9/17 for Crime Bus passengers exclusively.

So what does the Black Dahlia gelato taste like? According to Tai, like White Licorice (an anise and lemon blend), Black Tea and Rosewater, Blackberry and Orange Blossom, Pomegranate and Poppy Seed, Blood Orange Sorbet, Black Currant with Blueberry and Anise Sorbet, Dark Chocolate and Raspberry, White Chocolate and Black Sea Salt Mousse, White Chocolate and Cranberry Syrup, Vanilla and Whiskey and Jasmine Tea and Raisin. An additional offering is Chunky Apple Rum, a flavor that was popular in the 1940s and which Elizabeth Short may have enjoyed in life.

Tai Kim of Scoops creating flavor to honor the Black Dahlia

I spoke with master gelato artiste Tai Kim today and confirmed that he will be making a special Black Dahlia gelato to honor the memory of murder victim Elizabeth Short and the mystery of her unsolved slaying. This flavor will debut on Friday 9/15, the day the movie of the same name is released, and will be available on a limited basis through Saturday 9/16.

Tai is still weighing the right ingredients for the flavor–we talked about squid ink, black sesame, tea, jasmine, tomato (Bloody Mary sorbet) and basil all being options. The flavor’s specifics will be nailed down in the next week or so, and I’m very curious to see what he does with it.

Scoops flavors sampled today: Chocolate Wasabi (great texture and color, very intense flavor), Olive Oil and Salt (sweet, savory and weirdly greasy, interesting but a sample spoon was the perfect size) and Arnold Palmer (soooo lemony, very refreshing).

The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour will stop at Scoops for a taste of the Black Dahlia as part of its route, at no additional charge. I’m excited Tai was so open to collaborating, and happy to be able to introduce our passengers to his amazing shop.

Scoops is at 712 N. Heliotrope Dr., just north of Melrose, and is open Monday-Saturday, 12pm-9pm.

Seats now available on The Halloween Horrors Crime Bus Tour

Join us, gentle rider, on the Crime Bus!

NEW TOUR: Saturday 10/21, 1pm-6pm, Hallowe’en Horrors, a five hour guided luxury coach tour to the most grisly, weird, horrific and unintentionally hilarious crime scenes of old Los Angeles. This tour is not recommended for children, and we suggest you BYOBB (bring your own barf bag). More info here.

UPDATE: The October 21 tour has nearly sold out, so we have added a second bus on Sunday October 22, 1pm-6pm. If interested in tickets for Sunday or Saturday , please contact us to reserve, then you may either send a check or pay with Paypal here. Seats are $47/person, which includes Halloween-flavored Scoops gelato. Departure location – a metro station near downtown LA, provided to all passengers close to tour time.

AND YES: Passengers are welcome to wear costumes!   

Accepting pre-reservations on next two crime bus tours

Gentle rider,

The Crime Bus Tour will ride again in September and October, and while final details are still being worked out before we can begin selling tickets, we are accepting pre-reservations to make it easier for interested passengers to fit us into their schedules.

Note that our regular 5 hour Crime Bus tours cost $47, but it is possible that the Dahlia tour will be both shorter and less expensive.

The upcoming tours are as follows:

1) The Real Black Dahlia, Saturday 9/16 and perhaps also Sunday 9/17 (to coincide with opening weekend of the Black Dahlia film), in which we will visit many of the places Elizabeth Short actually frequented during her time in Los Angeles, including the spot where her body was found. The tour also includes scenes familiar from many of the weird theories surrounding her death, and a presentation by myself and Nathan on Dr. Walter Bayley, the only viable suspect ever proposed by a crime researcher, our 1947project colleague Larry Harnisch.

2) Halloween Horrors, Saturday 10/21, our darkest tour yet, featuring the most horrible, weird and disturbing stories uncovered in our researches. This tour is not recommended for children or the faint of heart, and you might want to bring your own barf bag.

If interested in either tour, please email me with your name, phone number, and number of tickets desired. For the Dahlia tour, note if you can attend Saturday, Sunday or either. This does not obligate you to buy tickets, but you’ll get first crack at them when they are available. If it’s the Pasadena Confidential tour you wish to ride, let me know, as it will give us an idea of the demand and help determine when to schedule the next run.