Elizabeth Short was born in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, the third of five daughters of Cleo Short and Phoebe Mae Sawyer. Her father built miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash, in which he lost much of the family's assets. In 1930, he parked his car on a bridge and vanished, leading some to believe he had committed suicide. Short's mother moved the family to a small apartment in Medford, and found work as a bookkeeper. It was not until later that Short would discover her father was alive and was living in California.
Troubled by asthma and bronchitis, Short was sent to live for the winter in Miami, Florida, at the age of 16. She spent the next three years living there during the cold months and in Medford the remainder of the year. At age 19, Short travelled to Vallejo, California, to live with her father, who was working nearby at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, located on San Francisco Bay. The two moved to Los Angeles in early 1943, but an altercation resulted in her leaving there and finding work in the post exchange at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base), near Lompoc, California. Short next moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested on September 23, 1943, for underage drinking. Following her arrest, she was sent back to Medford by the juvenile authorities in Santa Barbara. Short then returned to Florida to live, with occasional visits back to Massachusetts.
In Florida, Short met Major Matthew Michael Gordon Jr., a decorated United States Air Force officer who was assigned to the 2nd Air Commando Group and in training for deployment to China Burma India Theater of Operations. Short told friends that Gordon wrote her a letter from India proposing marriage while he was recovering from injuries he sustained from an airplane crash. She accepted his proposal, but Gordon died in an airplane crash on August 10, 1945, before he could return to the United States. She later exaggerated this story, saying that they were married and had a child who died. Although Gordon's friends in the air commandos confirmed that Gordon and Short were engaged, his family denied any connection after Short's murder.
Elizabeth Short returned to Los Angeles in July 1946 to visit Air Force Lieutenant Joseph Gordon Fickling, an old boyfriend she had met in Florida during the war. At the time Short returned to Los Angeles, Fickling was stationed at NARB, Long Beach. For the six months prior to her death, Short remained in southern California, mainly in the Los Angeles area. During this time, she lived in several hotels, apartment buildings, rooming houses, and private homes, never staying anywhere for more than two weeks.
The grave of Elizabeth Short The body of Elizabeth Short was found on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot located in theLeimert Park area of Los Angeles near 39th Street and Norton Avenue. The body was discovered by housewife Betty Bersinger, who was walking with her three-year-old daughter. Her severely mutilated body had been severed at the waist and drained of blood and her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears. She had been "posed" with her hands over her head and elbows bent at right angles. The autopsy stated Short was 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m), weighed 115 pounds (52 kg), and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth.
Short was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. After her other sisters had grown and married, Short's mother moved to Oakland to be near her daughter's grave. Phoebe Short finally returned to the East Coast in the 1970s and lived into her nineties.
According to newspaper reports shortly after the murder, Elizabeth Short received the nickname "Black Dahlia" at a Long Beach drugstore in the summer of 1946, as a word play on the then-current movie The Blue Dahlia. Los Angeles County district attorney investigators' reports state, however, that the nickname was invented by newspaper reporters covering the murder. Los Angeles Herald-Expressreporter Bevo Means, who interviewed Short's acquaintances at the drug store, is credited with first using the "Black Dahlia" name.
A number of people, none of whom knew Short, contacted police and the newspapers claiming to have seen her during her so-called "missing week"—a time period between the time of her January 9 disappearance and the time her body was found on January 15. Police and district attorney investigators ruled out each of these alleged sightings, wherein, in some cases, those interviewed were identifying other women they had mistaken for Short.
Many "true crime" books claim that Short lived in or visited Los Angeles at various times in the mid 1940s; these claims have never been substantiated and are refuted by the findings of law enforcement officers who investigated the case. A document in the Los Angeles County district attorney's files titled "Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946" states that Short was in Florida and Massachusetts from September 1943 through the early months of 1946 and gives a detailed account of her living and working arrangements during this period. Although a popular portrayal amongst her acquaintances and many true crime authors was of Short as acall girl, the Los Angeles district attorney's grand jury proved there was no existing evidence that she was ever a prostitute. Another widely circulated rumor holds that Short was unable to have sexual intercourse because of a congenital defect that left her with "infantile genitalia." Los Angeles County district attorney's files state that the investigators had questioned three men with whom Short had sex,including a Chicago police officer who was a suspect in the case. The FBI files on the case also contain a statement from one of Short's alleged lovers. Found in the Los Angeles district attorney's files and in the Los Angeles Police Department's summary of the case, Short's autopsy describes her reproductive organs as anatomically normal. The autopsy also states that Short was not and had never been pregnant, contrary to what had been claimed prior to and following her death.
Main article: Black Dahlia suspects At the time, the Black Dahlia murder investigation was the largest LAPD investigation since the murder of Marion Parker in 1927. Because of the size of the investigation, the case also enlisted the help of hundreds of officers borrowed from otherlaw enforcement agencies. Because of the complexity of the case, the original investigators treated every person who knew Short with suspicion until eliminated as a suspect. Hundreds of people were considered suspects and thousands were interviewed by police. Owing to the nature of the crime, sensational and sometimes inaccurate press coverage focused intense public attention on the case. Most of the approximately 50 people who confessed to the murder were men.
Some crime authors have speculated on a link between the Short murder and the Cleveland Torso Murders, which took place in Clevelandbetween 1934 and 1938. As with a large number of killings that took place before and after the Short murder, the original LAPD investigators looked into the Cleveland murders in 1947 and discounted any relationship between the two cases. The LAPD continued to look for similarities in other murder cases for possible connections well into the 1950s.
Crime authors such as Steve Hodel have suggested a link between the Short murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago. Among the evidence cited is the fact that Elizabeth Short's body was found on Norton Avenue three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard, Degnan being the last name of the girl from Chicago. Currently, convicted serial killer William Heirens is serving time for Degnan's murder. Initially arrested at age 17 for breaking into a residence close to that of Suzanne Degnan, Heirens claims he was tortured by police, forced to confess, and made a scapegoat in the Degnan murder.