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

In 1947, housewife Betty Bersinger was walking down a residential block in LA with her 3 year old daughter. She was on her way to pick up a pair of shoes at the shoe repair man’s. She saw something in the street that she assumed was a discarded mannequin.

I know this seems like a crazy notion now – how could you see that body in the street and not realize it was a body immediately? – but honestly. If you saw a body in the street carved in two, you would not think that it was a body either. At least I wouldn’t. I don’t even recognize people I know when I run into them in situations where I don’t expect to see them.

So, yes, no one would expect that.

Especially since the body was meticulously cleaned and sawed apart to look, well, not human. However, a 3 inch long cut was made across her face to make it look as though she was bleeding. That kind of cut is called a “Glasgow smile”. The police report claimed her death was due to “hemorrhage and shock due to concussions of the brain and lacerations of the face.” However, her body also appeared tortured (grass was shoved into her vagina, the killer may have taken the rose tattoo as a trophy, and she was likely sodomized after death. I’m putting these facts in parentheses as though the parentheses will somehow keep us safe from them.)

Mostly, I worry about what happened to the three year old who saw this. Do you think they remembered it? I think if they remembered it it’s possible they were really sincerely troubled afterwards. Every time I hear this story I try to think about how much I can remember from when I was three. The answer is “nothing” so that’s pretty reassuring.

Weirdly, the details of the murder are not what horrifies me most.

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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.