Shelved Dolls – Elizabeth “The Black Dahlia” Short – It’s Not The Murder Story You Think You Know (But It Is Terrifying And NSFW)

Adaptations of the story go back to the 1950′s – you can see one magazine clip from 1953 where Mara Corday was signed to play the Black Dahlia. Hell. Let’s all read it:

I don’t think Mara looks as much like Elizabeth Short as she thinks she does – I think Elizabeth’s sexy, sexy, sex appeal is actually blown somewhat out of proportion – but never mind that.

What’s interesting – at least to me, is the fact that this story has been being adapted essentially since it happened in 1947. Elizabeth Short was beautiful, but she wasn’t famous (yet). She was not, for instance, Sharon Tate. She wasn’t married to someone particularly notable. And yes, her murder was horrible, but all murders are horrible.

This story is old enough to be your grandmother, but we’re still not over it.


What people say is horrifying about the Black Dahlia is the extremely graphic nature of the pictures of the body. They’re right. The pictures are graphic, and awful, awful in such a way that the woman who first saw Short’s body lying on the sidewalk thought that she was a discarded mannequin. No matter what the Nip/Tuck intro (remember Nip/Tuck?) would lead you to believe, people who are not Kim Catrall are rarely actually mistaken for mannequins. I’ll show you those pictures, but not just yet. It’s not because you’re not ready or I’m trying to build suspense or anything. It’s that I’m not googling them until I have a bourbon.

But the thing that really bothers me about the Black Dahlia, more than the pictures, more than the kind of trashy highly successful novel based on it, is that I can never seem to find a definitive account of what happened. I can’t even really tell you if the murder is any closer to being solved. There are accounts that claim that the culprit has been revealed (one woman implicated her own father and – maybe?) and others that claim that it will never be  solved. That, at least, is what keeps drawing me back, fascinated, into this one particular story. So. Because some of the facts are so uncertain, maybe it’s best to begin with what we do know.

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    • Chelsea

      Have you seen the Sissi movies? They are the opposite of her life. But the costumes were nice! LOL

    • Maggie

      Oh dear god, your ending gave me goosebumps!

    • Sarah!

      Steve Hodel wrote a couple of books about his dad maybe doing this. They are extremely interesting but you have to kind of suspend your disbelief in order to get into them. Especially the second one where he implicates his father in like, 45 of the most famous murder cases of the last 60 years.

    • BeccaTheCyborg

      My suspect of choice is Frank Sweeney, a former doctor who almost certainly committed the Cleveland Torso Murders, and was in LA at the time.

    • Sabrina

      This was fascinating! So basically, do they not even have an idea of why someone would have wanted to murder her? No secret lovers, no super bad something with her dad? Her life seems pretty unextraordinary for a murder this brutal.

    • Laura

      I love, love, love the Shelved Dolls feature! I’ve already obsessively read about all the women you’ve profiled, yet I still learn something new every time. Can’t WAIT for the Sisi article!

    • Em

      You should do Sisi, definitely. I’m in the middle of her (poorly translated) biography, and she’s really interesting. Also, bought Mitford’s Pompadour bio after reading your take on her. I really like this series of yours!

    • Matzukado

      I absolutely did NOT click on the page with the picture (my psyche is far too fragile) but I just wanted to say that as someone who has had a passing interest in this case, this article added an extra dimension that I never knew about. I’m realling enjoying this series, thanks for writing it.