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BLACK DAHLIA: CAN A BRUTAL CASE OF MURDER REMAIN UNSOLVED DUE TO MEDIA INTERRUPTION?

Hollywood, Los Angeles, January 15, 1947. The body of a young woman, torn in two at the stomach and disfigured on the face, is found by a mother in a public park. The body in question was of Elizabeth Short, the victim of the Black Dahlia murder. The case, after over seventy years, remains unsolved. Fault of the journalists?

A woman, holding her little son by the hand, walks in a public park in a southern part of Los Angeles. It is January 15, 1947. Walking near the grass, the mother sees a strange white figure lying on the lawn. “It’s a mannequin,” thinks the woman. However, approaching the mysterious figure, covering the child’s eyes in a motion of horror, she can only acknowledge the reality: it is a corpse. As you can see from the image above, the body of the young woman, who died at 23, shows various signs of violence, in addition to the obvious mutilation of the legs and part of the abdomen: there are several wounds on the skull, on the throat and on the breasts. In addition, the famous Glasgow Smile has been engraved on her face, that is a deep cut that starts from the lips up to pierce the cheeks. The autopsy will then reveal that the cause of death lies precisely in the latter, cruel mutilation, which would have led to the bleeding of the young Elizabeth. Later, the killer would cut the girl in two, at stomach level, then extracting part of the bowels. Therefore, the hair, for reasons still unknown, would have been dyed red, the body washed with care and finally placed on the grass of a public park, with the legs apart and the guts hidden under the buttocks. These were the conditions in which the body was at the time of its discovery. Or at least, so it is believed. Unfortunately, despite the timely phone call from the woman who found the body to the police, the scene is quickly contaminated by a crowd of onlookers and journalists, who photograph and touch the girl’s naked body. Such a heinous murder could never fail to arouse the attention of the population and the media, which gave Elizabeth the iconic nickname, “The Black Dahlia”.

THE (MEDIA) CASE OF THE BLACK DALIA

Reporters gave Elizabeth this name after some news about her private life. It seems that the young woman, originally from Massachusetts, often wore black and that she really liked films, especially “The blue dahlia”. Nothing, therefore, is hidden behind the enigmatic and fascinating name Black Dahlia. It was simply a perfect way to intrigue readers, giving the case a striking name. But were journalists simply responsible for the media coverage of the murder or did they have a much more decisive role? According to the statements made by detectives at the time, it seems so. From the beginning, the investigators’ work was made extremely difficult: the myriad of footprints left imprinted following the gathering of the crowd of onlookers and journalists around the corpse, irremediably compromised the scene of the crime, making it impossible to take valid footprints of shoes or traces. of tires. The detectives therefore had to rely mostly on witnesses, on anyone who had known Elizabeth and had seen her in the days preceding the discovery of the body. What emerged from the testimonies was the classic image of the girl who dreams of becoming a star, typical of the Hollywood of those years. Elizabeth wanted to become an actress and break into the world of cinema. She had moved to Los Angeles for that very purpose. However, according to investigators, it was precisely his ambition that ended his life in such a brutal way. In fact, the most accredited hypothesis consists in the probability that the young woman has annoyed and placed the wrong people in uncomfortable positions. In fact, Short was focusing precisely on her beauty and strong character, according to the testimonies, to “impress” different personalities who could then guarantee her an opportunity. The newspapers, however, came to speak of real prostitution, tarnishing the name of the young woman without there being any evidence of her actual conduct. In addition, the reporters did not limit themselves to defamation of a deceased 23-year-old but committed real crimes in order to put even more meat on the fire for the readers, going so far as to steal reports and documents on the case from the desks of detectives in various police stations. The material to be searched was, in fact, a lot, given that there were sixty suspects, of which twenty-two main suspects. However, no evidence was ever found, nothing that could nail a hypothetical murderer.

THE AVENGER’S LETTERS

One of several letters attributed to Elizabeth Short’s killer.

Shedding light on why the reporters’ actions may have been the killer himself. Numerous letters were, in fact, sent by the alleged killer and some of these were considered original, as they were accompanied by very precise details and personal items of the victim, including his shoes. The killer, however, wrote his first letter to a newspaper, the Examiner of Los Angeles, inviting the recipients not to lose interest in the case, promising the return, as already mentioned, of some of Elizabeth’s personal effects. It is curious to see how the killer did not turn to the police, perhaps providing clues about his identity or location, as we see in the films in which the serial killer on duty involves the police in a perverse game of “cops and robbers”. All he wanted was attention, media coverage, something that only newspapers could give him. Then, signing himself as the “avenger of the Black Dahlia”, the murderer wrote numerous letters, often changing his mind about whether he intended to be captured or not. By doing so he showed, if it wasn’t already clear enough, that the purpose of THAT journalism was not the search for truth, but the scoop. The intention of the media was to keep the public’s attention nailed to a case that took on more and more fictional contours and shades and far from the search for truth, so much so that many, between men and women, pleaded guilty to murder, then revealing all megalomaniacs in search of attention. And perhaps Elizabeth herself, dreaming of Hollywood, was looking for that same attention. A fame that, after all, she certainly obtained, not only at the time of the facts but appearing many years later in numerous works: films such as “The Black Dahlia” by Brian De Palma, television series such as “American Horror Story” and in video games like “LA Noire “. A pity that that fame was bestowed on her by the same hand that, mercilessly for a young blue-eyed woman dazzled by the lights of Hollywood, snatched her life.

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