Possible Serial Killer
Six-year-old Suzanne Degnan was kidnapped from her home in Chicago January of 1946. Based on an anonymous tip a few days later, the police found portions of her dismembered body in the sewers nearby. Hector Verburgh, a janitor in the building where the Degnans lived, was originally arrested for her murder. Chicago police claimed that they had solved her case; however, Verburgh was released several days later with no charges. He was later awarded $20,000 for false arrest and police brutality in 1948.
William Heirens was arrested in the summer of 1946 for committing a burglary in the Degnan’s neighborhood. Heirens was interrogated for Degnan’s murder before eventually confessing to killing her. He was linked to two additional murders from 1945 during trial and was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life terms in the Illinois Penitentiary.
It is theorized that Elizabeth Short’s murder could have ties to this 1946 murder and dissection of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan. LAPD Captain Donahoe openly expressed that he believed the two murders could have been connected. Elizabeth Short’s body was found on Norton Avenue, three squares west of Degnan Boulevard. Degnan was the last name of the young girl Suzanne. There also seemed to be similarities between the written work for the Degnan payoff note and the letters received in the Black Dahlia case. Both of these works used a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters. For instance, the Degnan note included the sentence: “Blaze This FoR heR SAfTY.” They also both contained a comparative, deformed letter “P” and had a word formed from magazine clippings in the exact same way. Both Suzanne Degnan and Elizabeth Short had been dismembered and drained of blood.
While William Heirens served life in jail for Degnan’s murder, some suspect that he could have also killed Elizabeth Short. However, this is impossible, as Heirens was serving jail-time when January 15, 1947 rolled around. Others theorize that Heirens was innocent in both murders and that the true serial killer was never convicted.
Possible Police Cover-up
Agness Underwood had been with The Herald-Express for twelve years when the Black Dahlia case struck. Ray Giese, an LAPD homicide detective-lieutenant, prodded Agness in the direction of Elizabeth Short’s case while the LAPD continued to search down leads. Agness covered the interview for the first suspect arrested in Elizabeth Short’s murder, Robert M. “Red” Manley. The story “‘Red’ Tells Own Story of Romance with ‘Dahlia'” ran in The Herald-Express, and Agness got the byline.
The morning following the interview with Manley, Agness was suddenly taken off the case. It would take two days for her to be reassigned to the case; however, she was almost immediately pulled off the case again. This time was permanent. Agness was shocked as she was assigned to work at a city desk instead. After all, she had been one of the first women to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily in the United States.
One theory behind why Agness had been removed from the Black Dahlia case is that she was getting too close to finding out the truth behind Elizabeth Short’s murder. If the LAPD had been trying to protect the killer, they could have had her promoted to keep her away from closing the case.
The theory of a police cover-up was also addressed in 1949 when the Black Dahlia case was still open. The Grand Jury was convened in early 1949 to both investigate Elizabeth Short’s murder and evaluate the possibility of police corruption or cover-up. The twenty-one jurors did not have a suspect to indict for Elizabeth Short’s murder. With the evidence presented, they named Leslie Dillon as the prime suspect. However, Dillon was never indicted. While there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to deem him as Elizabeth’s murderer, there were two reasons he was not brought to trial.
The first reason was that Dillon had been illegally detained, and the second reason was that there had been a lack of concrete evidence. In the event of a trial actually occurring, a few witnesses were willing to come forward and say Dillon was in San Francisco during the time of the murder. The LAPD believed these witnesses lacked credibility and did not want them to convince the jury that Dillon was innocent.
The 1949 Grand Jury Report found the following concerning police corruption.
“Deplorable conditions indicating corrupt practices and misconduct by some members of the law enforcement agencies in the county… alarming increase in the number of unsolved murders… jurisdictional disputes and jealousies among law enforcement agencies.”
To this day, the Grand Jury has never indicted a suspect for the murder of Elizabeth Short. However, the Grand Jury findings did bring light to an avalanche of police corruption at the highest ranks. Jealousy and secrecy were common among members of the LAPD, causing case information often to not be passed on properly. The LAPD received a shake-up throughout the entire system, including the dismissal of Police Chief Clemence Horrall from the LAPD.