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The Black Dahlia Murder

The Black Dahlia Murder
Read About It in FBI Records


Elizabeth Short’s Mug Shot and FingerprintInterested in the infamous unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the “Black Dahlia,” the 22-year-old Hollywood starlet who was brutally murdered in Los Angeles 60 years ago this January?

Then we invite you to take a look at the case files posted on our Freedom of Information Act website.

If you don’t know the story, Short—dubbed “Black Dahlia” by the press for her rumored penchant for sheer black clothes and for a movie at that time—was found sliced clean in half at the waist by a mother walking her child in an L.A. neighborhood just before 11 a.m. on January 15, 1947. The body was just a few feet from the sidewalk and posed in the grass in such a way that the woman reportedly thought it was a mannequin at first. Despite the extensive mutilation and cuts on the body, there wasn’t a drop of blood at the scene, indicating Short had been killed elsewhere. An extensive manhunt followed, but the killer has never been identified.

Our files don’t provide a comprehensive review of the ensuing investigation, of course, since the L.A. Police Department had jurisdiction. But you will find some interesting information, including insights into our supporting role in the case.

For example: You’ll learn how we identified the victim as Elizabeth Short in Washington just 56 minutes after getting her blurred fingerprints via “Soundphoto” (a primitive fax machine used by news services) from Los Angeles.

Short’s prints actually appeared twice in our massive collection (104 million at the time)—first, because she had applied for a job as a clerk at the commissary of the Army’s Camp Cooke in California in January 1943; second, because she had been arrested by the Santa Barbara police for underage drinking seven months later. We also had her “mug shot” in our files (see the above the graphic, which includes one of Short’s actual fingerprints) and provided it to the press. We did not have a photo from her Army application as some accounts have claimed.

What else you will find in our online records:

  • A variety of news clippings from the early days of the case;
  • Copies of Short’s birth and death certificates (see Section 4);
  • Various physical descriptions of Short at her death, including one that describes her as “white, female, twentytwo (sic), five ft. six, one eighteen lbs., hair light brown, died (sic) black, green eyes, bad teeth.”
  • Results of our records checks on potential subjects and our interviews across the nation (although names are often blacked out);
  • A request for us to search for a match to fingerprints found on an anonymous letter that may have been sent to authorities by the killer (in a tantalizing near-miss break in the case, the prints weren’t in our records);
  • References to the extensive interference of the press in the case (they had arrived at the scene and taken pictures even before the police), including a comment by our Special Agent in Charge that “it is not possible for the investigators to have a confidential telephone conversation or even read mail without some news reporter looking it over to see if it relates to this case.”
  • Based on early suspicions that the murderer may have had skills in dissection because the body was so cleanly cut and mutilated, a memo asking us to check out a group of students at the University of Southern California Medical School;
  • Letters we received from private citizens claiming to know the culprit, including one who fingered a “Spanish fellow” with a tattoo and ended his missive with the confident “A word to the wise…”

We’re also providing, for the first time, a copy of a LAPD bulletin dated January 21, 1947 seeking information in the case.

While you’re at it, feel free to browse through our records on other historic cases in our Freedom of Information Act electronic reading room.

Resources: FBI History | Byte Out of History stories