Analyzing the Killer

The investigators in the Black Dahlia case had two main theories on Elizabeth Short’s killer. One was that Elizabeth had never met her killer before her death, and the other theory was that she knew him beforehand. The police were convinced by the latter option due to the mutilations present on Elizabeth’s corpse, which were signs of a personal vendetta.

FBI criminal profiler and author John Douglas believed the killer must have known Elizabeth well and had some emotional attachment to her. The horrific violence inflicted upon the body and leaving the body on public display would indicate that the killer wanted the world to see Elizabeth Short and the wrongdoings that he believed she had done to him.

In another attempt to analyze the killer’s mind, The Herald-Express sought out Dr. Paul De River’s expert opinion on the case. De River wrote a series of articles for the paper suggesting that the killer was a sadist who wanted to dominate Elizabeth Short. He suggested that, “During the killing episode, he had an opportunity to pump up affect from two sources — from his own sense of power and in overcoming the resistance of another. He was the master and the victim was the slave”.

De River also hinted that the killer might have been a necrophiliac. He said, “It must also be remembered that sadists of this type have a super-abundance of curiosity and are liable to spend much time with their victims after the spark of life has flickered and died”.

Incoming Evidence

On January 23, 1947 The Examiner received a call from a man claiming to be Elizabeth Short’s killer. He told the editor, J. H. Richardson, that he was upset with the way the story was being told in the papers. He offered to mail Elizabeth Short’s belongings to the paper to prove his claim. The Examiner received a package and letter formulated from magazine clippings from an anonymous sender the following day. This package included Elizabeth Short’s birth certificate, business cards, photographs, and an address book with the name “Mark Hansen” on the cover. Mark Hansen, who had allowed Elizabeth Short to stay with him in the past, became a prime suspect in her murder.

Elizabeth Short’s handbag and shoe were found in a trash can the same day that The Examiner received this package. These items were found only a few miles away from the vacant lot where Elizabeth’s body had been dumped. The items were identified by Robert M. “Red” Manley before the LAPD no longer saw him as a suspect. This could have been a major mistake on the killer’s part. He likely did not assume the items would be linked to Elizabeth Short’s murder, yet they were. The location of the items revealed that the killer was most likely within walking distance of both the vacant lot and the area where the belongings had been dropped.

Soon enough, more letters began pouring into the various newspaper offices in Los Angeles, including The Herald-Express and The Examiner. These letters had messages formulated from newspaper and magazine clippings, which were consistent with the appearance of the first letter that the police received with Elizabeth Short’s belongings. One of these letters to The Herald-Express read, “I will give up in Dahlia killing if I get 10 years. Don’t try to find me.”

The LAPD received many anonymous tips, mainly in the form of calls, for Elizabeth Short’s case. However, most of them seemed to be hoaxes. The incoming letters were handed from the newspaper offices to the LAPD. Some of these letters were also received by the Los Angeles District Attorney, who then directed the letters to the LAPD. These letters seemed to be from the murderer, and it seemed as if he were trying to taunt the LAPD detectives. His messages were often convoluted and confusing, causing the detectives to spend much time trying to decipher them. Everything sent to the LAPD (including the letters, Elizabeth Short’s security card, and photographs) had been rinsed with gasoline, so the forensic examiners were unable to lift any fingerprints off the evidence. Many of the letters also seemed to give false information, based on the way the investigators deciphered them, and were not very helpful in solving the Black Dahlia case.