Black Dahlia (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)
The latest Treasury of XXth Century Murder (following Madison Square Tragedy) by Rick Geary tackles what’s perhaps the most famous unsolved Hollywood mystery: who killed Elizabeth Short, the 22-year-old wannabe actress nicknamed the Black Dahlia?
In January 1947, Short’s bisected body was found in a vacant lot. As with all the other stories in this series, her killer was never conclusively identified. That means the source of satisfaction isn’t knowing the answer to the mystery of her murder; instead, there’s a dawning sense of realization that some motives and drives haven’t changed all that much between then and now. Plus, sympathy for someone who never seemed to find the partner she wanted, and that no one deserved to end as she did.
Given Short’s attempts to get into the movies, her fate is something of a precursor to our current fame-obsessed culture. The press arrived at the scene before the police responded to the call. Passersby swarmed to gawk. And the way she was portrayed in the media, fascinated by her dramatic look of black hair and pale skin, may not have been at all accurate.
I appreciate Geary’s thoughtful presentation — he provides clear maps of the area, but he restrains himself when showing the corpse. The specifics are given in text, but they’re suggested in the art. I knew the basics of Short’s death, but Geary points out all kinds of interesting, lesser-known details, such as the way her father faked his death.
Before she came to California, she waitressed in Florida, modeled, and dated a lot of soldiers during World War II. The post-War timeframe is key to events, as there’s a new sense of possibility dawning, but it has a dark side. Short was engaged to a flier who never made it back from combat, and as portrayed by Geary, her desire to get married became increasingly desperate. She was popular with men, although never going “too far” with them, but didn’t seem to have any real, close friends.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the case has several other points of interest, including mobsters, anonymous letters from the killer, and the police corruption so prevalent at the time. Geary lays it all out concisely and well. (The publisher provided a review copy.)