75 years ago today, a 22-year-old homeless woman named Beth Short went missing in Downtown Los Angeles. She would become famous in death as the Black Dahlia, a nickname she’d briefly worn in life.
In 2005, we launched a true crime blog called the 1947project, featuring a crime a day culled from vintage newspapers. Very few of those crimes were famous like the Black Dahlia murder that began the year or the slaying of Benjamin Siegel in June, but every one of them offered a haunting new lens through which to view the city. We started giving true crime bus tours because the blog readers asked for them, and we found that guiding people through L.A.’s back streets and forgotten lore, and advocating for preserving the places where the past is present, was our life’s work. We owe a lot of this to Beth Short.
Because the pandemic continues, this is the second year since 2007 that we’ve been unable to share the story of the very real young woman at the heart of the crime in the places that still reflect the world she knew. Our traditional first tour of the year is always The Real Black Dahlia. Until that can happen again, we’ve made a webinar about the case available on-demand.
What we miss most in not being able to host Black Dahlia tours is talking with people who have come from all over California and beyond, who feel a connection with Beth Short and want to pay their respects to her memory in places she would have recognized. We’ve met older people who personally viewed the crime scene, who knew individuals who figured in the investigation, who recognized elements of themselves in Beth Short’s life choices, as well as people born years after the crime who feel deeply connected to the case. This unsolved (and probably unsolvable) murder case has drawn strangers in and touched their hearts for three quarters of a century.
75 years ago tonight, a 22-year-old homeless woman with no place to sleep turned south out of the old Biltmore Hotel lobby opposite Pershing Square looking for help. Trusting that the universe would protect her, relying on her strange ability to craft artificial intimacy with strangers, she found only darkness and pain. No matter how many times we tell the story, there’s no way to intervene, to urge her to go another way. She will always walk south to find her death. Her family will always be left to grieve. A killer will always know they’ve succeeded in terrorizing one vulnerable girl, and a whole city.
All we can do is keep her memory alive and be kind to the vulnerable people who we meet along the way. We hope that you will do the same. And stay safe out there. Los Angeles can be a tough town.