The Short Answer
We don’t know. The murder of Elizabeth Short remains a cold case. A cold case is an unsolved criminal investigation that will remain open for the discovery of new evidence. However, the decades that have passed since Elizabeth Short’s murder make the chances slim for finding the little forensic evidence that remains. It is doubtful that her murder will ever truly be solved.
What Probably Happened
While many suspects and multiple theories were addressed on this website, that does not mean that they were all plausible options for how Elizabeth Short’s murder truly played out. The three most likely suspects, based on the evidence presented here, are Ed Burns, Leslie Dillon, and George Hodel.
Ed Burns has only been identified and described by the author of The Black Dahlia Solution. However, the author claims to have been investigating the case for years and believes to have deciphered the cryptic letters received by The Examiner and The Herald-Express. The author also describes how the LAPD was only able to identify Ed Burns in the photograph with Elizabeth after the officers identified him from his suicide. The author claims that the LAPD would not have come out to say a dead man was the Black Dahlia killer when the case was so convoluted and infamous, as it could be considered “bad policing” and ruin the LAPD’s reputation. This possibility of police cover-up was addressed in the 1949 Grand Jury Report.
Leslie Dillon was considered to be the prime suspect in Elizabeth Short’s murder. He would have been brought before the Grand Jury in 1949; however, he could not be tried due to police errors. Dillon had been illegally detained and there had been a lack of concrete evidence tying him to the murder. Many believe Dillon committed the murder and would have been indicted for the act if the LAPD had followed proper protocol in his arrest.
George Hodel was one of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s original twenty-two suspects for the murder. George Hodel’s son, Steve Hodel, has come out with strong evidence to suggest that his father was the Black Dahlia killer. This is different from where Janice Knowlton came out believing her father, George Knowlton, was the killer. George Hodel was a prime suspect while George Knowlton had never been a suspect in the LAPD’s eyes.
The two theories that were addressed on this website were the possibility of a serial killer and the possibility of LAPD police corruption and cover-up.
In terms of a serial killer, Suzanne Degnan and Elizabeth Short likely were not killed by the same man. William Heirens confessed to Suzanne Degnan’s murder and was arrested before Elizabeth Short’s murder occurred. However, the Degnan and Short murders did share similarities, so it is possible that the man who murdered Elizabeth Short was aware of the Suzanne Degnan case. However, the other unsolved murders (see bottom of page) of women in Los Angeles around January 1947 could have easily been related.
The possibility of police cover-up in the Black Dahlia case is the most evident. The 1949 Grand Jury Report found that the LAPD had corrupt officers operating with jealousy and secrecy. This resulted in a complete shake-up of how the LAPD operated. It has never been publicized whether the LAPD knows who killed Elizabeth Short and is covering up that information, yet it certainly is a high possibility.
The Black Dahlia Today
The Black Dahlia case may be the most infamous unsolved crime for Los Angeles to date. The case has been featured in many books, films, documentaries, and video games. Aside from L.A. Noire, some of these works include The Black Dahlia (2006), The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, Severed by John Gilmore, Fallen Angel by Troy Taylor, and many others. These works attempt to explain who killed Elizabeth Short and why the case is still considered unsolved today. They address some of the suspects discussed on the suspects page of this website and also address suspects that were not mentioned in detail here. Many of these works also address the theories mentioned, the possibility of a serial killer and the possibility of police corruption surrounding the case.
The FBI has 211 public files concerning the Black Dahlia case, yet these files do not provide a review of the investigation into the case. The Los Angeles Police Department had jurisdiction in the Elizabeth Short case, but the LAPD records have not yet been made public. If these records were made public, perhaps someone would be able to analyze the files and bring Elizabeth to justice. Until then, many theories and speculations surround the convoluted case of the Black Dahlia.