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Why one Hollywood crime still captivates us

Delving into the Dahlia 

Elizabeth Short and me

If you're a true noir fan, if Chandler is your Shakespeare, if visions, of guns, gams, dolls, pimps, pachucos, roustabouts, hop-heads, hustlers, switchblades, gin-joints, and jive-talkers dance in your head, then you know about the Black Dahlia.

The Black Dahlia was the name the press gave Elizabeth Short; an unfortunate wanna-be starlet-to-be from back east who was found cut in half, gutted, and disfigured in 1947 Los Angeles. The fervor around her murder, the way it was carried out, and the way the murderer taunted the police, was perhaps the first big leap into 20th century tabloid culture. This sensationalism and the sleaze that created it, the sleaze it was, and the sleaze it attracted still gets crime buffs off to this day.

There have been various theories, confessions, and exposés written over the years about the Dahlia, including the just-released big-screen version. But the crime is officially unsolved, the answers and conclusions fading further and further into obscurity. Despite all the buffs that pour over yellowed clips and clues, Short will never see justice.

Most compelling, I believe, is the context the crime scene photography creates: stark, graphic, black-and-white studies of immense brutality in an era of renewal and prosperity (this was post-WWII L.A., after all). Black-and-white photography usually illustrates "the good ol' days." The Black Dahlia murder proves there really weren't any. In black and white blood is black and a lot more foreboding. I've always felt red blood still has the hint of promise found in its color.

It would probably be in poor taste to refer to myself as a fan of this event. But I do have a morbid curiosity, a fascination with sex when it's completely out of control, and a certain degree of pity for a young girl who just wanted to be loved, to be famous. Instead she wound up cruelly chewed up in a killer's mania and forever infamous, with the tabloids devouring what little dignity she might have ever had.

So you can chalk my Black Dahlia proclivities to a twisted appetite for lust, rage, murder, and mayhem all from a safe distance the years afford me. I mean, murders like that don't still happen, do they?

  • Why one Hollywood crime still captivates us

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