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

Elizabeth Short with her mother, Phoebe

We know, for instance, that Elizabeth Short, one of the women most associated with Hollywood, was actually born in Boston in 1924. She was raised in Medford, MA. Her father was a miniature golf-course builder until he lost his fortune in the stock market (the windmill holes are always the first luxury to go). In 1930 he abandoned his car by the side of the road. People assumed, as was fairly common during that time, that he’d committed suicide. He certainly disappeared.

But it turns out, while they might look approximately the same, a disappearance is very different than a suicide. Cleo Short wasn’t dead at all! He sent Elizabeth’s mother, Phoebe, a letter some years later begging  for forgiveness, and to come home. Phoebe did not forgive him.

That doesn’t mean it was easy for her being a single mother. She found work as a bookkeeper. Elizabeth was asthmatic and fairly sickly, and spent much of her time at the movies. She desperately wanted to be an actress. And so, unsurprisingly, she moved to LA. Her father was living there and was, at first happy to take her in.

For a while, anyway. The two quickly began quarreling, and Elizabeth set off to make her own way.

Elizabeth began work on a Naval Base when she was 18. She was arrested for drinking with sailors, and picked up by a policewoman named Mary Unkefer. Mary said that when she found Elizabeth “she was very good looking, with beautiful dark hair and fair skin. She dressed nicely and was a far way from being a barfly.”

Mary claimed she then took Elizabeth back to her own apartment, where Elizabeth lived with her for 9 days. Then Mary put her on a bus home. She later received a note from Elizabeth which read “I’ll never forget you – thank God you picked me up when you did.”

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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.