L.A. Noire is a noir detective action-adventure video game that was published by Rockstar Games in May 2011. The game is set in Los Angeles in 1947 and explores the darker side of Hollywood. The player controls a Los Angeles Police Department officer named Cole Phelps, who rises through the police department’s ranks. Cole Phelps starts out in the Patrol Division and is promoted to the Traffic Division, the Homicide Division, and then the Vice Division before suffering a demotion to the Arson Division. Each of these divisions allows the player to investigate different areas of crime through searching for clues, following leads, interrogating suspects, and charging a suspect with the crime.
Six Murdered Women
When Cole Phelps first reached the Homicide Division, he was told to report to a murder scene of a young woman. The captain of the department, James Donnelly, told Cole Phelps and his partner, Rusty Galloway, that the murder showed “signs of the Werewolf.” During the drive to the crime scene, Phelps asked Galloway what Donnelly meant by the “Werewolf.” Galloway proceeded to explain that the Werewolf was the title given to the Black Dahlia’s killer and that even six months after Elizabeth Short’s death, the LAPD was making little progress in the case. Phelps immediately became skeptical that the crime scene the two of them were driving to could have some sort of connection, yet Galloway quickly shut him down.
The detectives proceeded to investigate the murder of a naked, mutilated, and badly beaten woman named Celine Henry. She had a footprint on her chest, had significant head injuries, and had “Fuck you, B.D.” written her torso in lipstick. These injuries were similar to those on Elizabeth Short when she was found in a vacant lot, causing Phelps to be further convinced that the Black Dahlia’s murderer could still be active. However, after discovering a box of bloody clothes, a bloody tire iron, and lipstick at a local man’s apartment, the LAPD was sure they had the right man and charged him with Celine’s murder.
Over the following months, Phelps and Galloway investigated the murders of Deidre Moller, Antonia Maldonado, Theresa Taraldsen, and Evelyn Summers. The majority of these women were strangled, beaten, and left naked for the LAPD to find. Many of them also had lipstick messages on their torsos. For instance, Antonia Maldonado had “Kiss the Blood, B.D.” written on her. While Phelps and Galloway were able to convict someone with reasonable evidence in every case, there was one major issue.
Phelps and Galloway were called into technical services to have a confidential meeting with the captain, forensic examiner, and Finnis Brown (one of the real life detectives on the Black Dahlia case). The forensic examiner showed Phelps a letter the department had received. Its message was formulated from clippings from magazine headlines and read, “Have changed my mind, you would not give a square deal. Fuck you BD. Tex.” These letters were based on the true letters that the LAPD received while investigating the Black Dahlia case.
In L.A. Noire, the department had also received a hand-typed poem, which Phelps looked over and identified as Prometheus Unbound by Percy B. Shelley. Phelps explained that Prometheus Unbound was about a titan “who defied the Gods to bring fire to humanity.” Phelps concluded that the murders were likely linked by a serial killer who was taunting the LAPD and that the LAPD had wrongly-convicted men in jail. However, Galloway believed that they had the right men in jail and that each murderer was acting as a copycat for the Black Dahlia case.
It was not long before the LAPD received another letter, which was also formulated from magazine clippings. Phelps and Galloway were called back to technical services to discuss the issue. The letter read, “Cunt BD find me where I hid myself.” The department had also received a notebook of Shelley’s writings and a poem excerpt referring to a fountain in the public square. Phelps determined that the killer was taunting them and decided to check out the fountain in Pershing Square to see where the investigation would lead them.
At the fountain, he discovered Elizabeth Short’s social security card and another excerpt from the poem. The investigation continued from location to location determined by clues in the poem excerpts. Along the way Phelps found Deidre Moller’s missing watch, Antonia Maldonado’s religious medallion, Theresa Taraldsen’s missing shoe, Celine Henry’s missing ring, and Evelyn Summer’s typewriter ring. This confirmed to Phelps and Galloway that the same man had been behind all the murders they had investigated and had been the same man who killed the Black Dahlia. Upon finding Evelyn Summer’s typewriter ring, Phelps found the last excerpt of the poem, which led the detectives to an abandoned church. There they encountered an intelligent man named Garrett Mason. He told the detectives that he had wanted to challenge them because he wanted to see if any of them were smart enough to find him. He also asked the detectives if they had remembered him, and Phelps instantly recalled him as being a temporary bartender that filled in at bars across Los Angeles.
While he worked behind the bar, Mason would observe and target several women. The women he targeted all shared emotional problems, difficult relationships or marriages, and varying degrees of alcohol abuse. These women would often drink away their emotional pain and would talk to Mason about all their struggles. He would pick up on information about them such as how their husbands behaved, where they lived, what make of car they drove, etc. and would then use this information to frame other men for his murders.
Mason shot at the detectives to make his getaway for the catacombs beneath the church. Phelps and Galloway went to a nearby house to search for an alternate entrance to the catacombs, where they found a murder room containing a bathtub filled with blood, blunt weapons, dissection tools, and a statue of Prometheus. They knew that house must have been where he took the six women to murder them before putting them on display at the crime scenes. Phelps followed Mason through the catacombs before executing him and returning to the surface to reunite with the LAPD.
Phelps and Galloway were ecstatic when Captain Donnelly arrived, telling him that they had finally killed the Werewolf. Donnelly told them, “You got no one. Mason was a ghost.” Phelps became angry with Donnelly and asked why they could not proclaim the news. Donnelly told them that Mason had been the half-brother of one of the most highly-elected officials in the United States, so they would never mention him or the case again. He also reassured Phelps that the five suspects they had in jail would be quietly released by claiming procedural errors or missing evidence. The LAPD would come forward and publicly say that the murders of Elizabeth Short, Celine Henry, Deidre Moller, Antonia Maldonado, Theresa Taraldsen, and Evelyn Summers were all unsolved. Only a handful of officers would know the truth behind the Black Dahlia and would never be able to disclose her true killer to the public.
What’s the Significance?
While the murders of Celine Henry, Deidre Moller, Antonia Maldonado, Theresa Taraldsen, and Evelyn Summers are works of fiction, they do add to a few theories behind the Black Dahlia’s death.
One theory is that Elizabeth Short’s murder was linked to other murders at the time, possibly hinting that a repeat offender was on the loose. This is the driving theory for the Homicide Division in L.A. Noire. Most of the women murdered in L.A. Noire, aside from Deidre Moller, were based on women that were actually murdered in 1947.
Celine Henry’s murder was highly influenced by the murder of Jeanne French. Jeanne French was an army nurse who had been found naked and stomped to death in February 1947. French’s case was never officially solved, but many believe her murder was linked to the Black Dahlia because the initials “B.D.” were written on her body in lipstick. Her murder also occurred just a few weeks after Elizabeth Short’s murder.
Antonia Maldonado’s murder was influenced by the murder of Rosenda Mondragon. Rosenda Mondragon was found naked in a gutter with a silk stocking tied around her throat in July 1947. She had been trying to serve divorce papers to her husband, Antonio Mondragon, while having a drunk argument with him. Antonio told police that she left and he followed her, only to see her get into a car. Antonio was arrested on suspicion of murder, yet many people believed the Werewolf could have killed Rosenda.
Theresa Taraldsen’s murder was loosely based on the May 1947 murder of Laura Trelstad. When Laura was found dead, she wore one open-toed white shoe, a three-quarter length black coat, and a cotton garrote around her neck. Laura’s body had been identified by her laundry label, just as Theresa’s body had been. Theresa’s story was heavily influenced on Laura’s too, as she had been out with her husband at a neighbor’s party. She had left the party alone to go dancing and never returned home. Laura’s murder is still considered unsolved.
Evelyn Summers’s murder was loosely based on the March 1947 murder of Evelyn Winters. Both Evelyns were alcoholics who lived in liquor stores before their untimely deaths. Winters was found nude and beaten near the Ducommun Street railroad. The L.A. Noire James Tiernan (who was a suspect in Evelyn Summers’s murder) is loosely based on the real-life James Tiernan, who did work at a bowling alley and was eventually charged with the murder of Evelyn Winters.
Another theory behind the Black Dahlia is that the Los Angeles Police Department actually knows who murdered Elizabeth Short. In L.A. Noire, the theory is based on the idea that Elizabeth’s murderer had ties with one of the country’s elites. It is believed that to avoid political and economic drama, the LAPD covered up the true murderer by claiming that the case still remains unsolved.