Chapter 25 ~ The Aster Motel

On August 2, 1949, the Crime Lab went to the Aster Motel at 2901 South Flower Street and conducted chemical tests of all 10 cabins. Officers removed baseboards and thresholds from all the cabins in the search for blood residue. The tests were conducted by Chief Forensic Specialist, Ray Pinker. No blood was found, with the exception of one room where the manager said a woman had menstruated on a sheet and a few drops of blood were found on the floor.

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By 1949, the investigation into the murder of Elizabeth Short turned to the possibility that she was murdered at the New Aster Motel on South Flower Street in Los Angeles. Both Homicide and the Gangster Squad worked on the case. Assistant Chief of Police Joe Reed was in charge. Lt. William Burns directed the Gangster Squad investigation, while Sgt. Finis Brown ran the homicide investigation. Sgt. John Ahern, Sgt. Archie Case, and L. K. Waggoner reported directly to Lt. William Burns of the Gangster Squad. Homicide detectives reported to Sgt. Brown. It was recognized by all officers that this case ultimately belonged to Homicide.

Leslie Dillon and Mark Hansen were the suspects.

Ahern was working with Sgt. Case when Case had an appendicitis attack and went to the hospital, not returning back to duty for almost two months. Ahern and Waggoner teamed up and researched Dillon’s background. They learned through a witness, James Hurst, who lived across the street from the motel, that Dillon had once lived at the Aster. Hurst also identified a photograph of Elizabeth Short as looking like a girl who lived at the Aster. He had seen her on at least two occasions and talked to her once when she asked him for a quarter for fare to Long Beach. He noted that she looked like she had been crying for a week. He asked her why she didn’t ask her friends at the motel for money and he said  she answered that they wouldn’t give her any. He ended up giving her fifty cents.

We were checking into the point where Dillon had lived; and in doing this, his mother-in-law told us he lived in a motel on Flower; and previously Tommy Harlow had said that he had built a motel on Flower Street for a friend of his named Hansen,” Ahern said. Early in the investigation, Dillon was said to have stayed at the Aster Motel in January, 1947, by witness Harlow. Later, the correct date was found to be in April, 1947.

Some also claimed that a guest known as the “man from Batavia” might have been Mark Hansen. A man, whose name they could not recall, took Burt and Betty Jo Moorman and their baby to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Betty Moorman identified the man they dined with as an oil man. Burt Moorman confused the oil man and the man from Batavia. Moorman was the brother of Clora Hoffman, who owned and operated the Aster with Henry Hoffman. According to witnesses, the man from Batavia identified himself as the representative of the Dutch Republic of Batavia and was in the United States for the purpose of purchasing heavy machinery for his country.

Ahern and Case brought Burt Moorman and Betty Moorman to Hollywood to watch Mark Hansen unobserved. Mr. Moorman was driven to Hollywood Boulevard first. He watched Hansen from an unmarked car for a few minutes. Later, Mrs. Moorman was taken to a restaurant near the Florentine Gardens where Hansen was known to dine. She observed him in the restaurant, noting that he used his left hand and ate in a wolfish manner, as had the man from the Aster.

At a later date, the Moormans and the Hoffmans were brought to Mark Hansen’s office at 6021 Hollywood Boulevard, where they were interviewed by Lt. Frank Jemison. Hansen was brought in for witnesses to observe from different angles, with and without a hat. The two men and two women gave conflicting testimony. At one point, Jemison asked Burt Moorman, “And even though it might mean the gas chamber for Mark Hansen for murder, you will still go into court and testify he was the man who took you to dinner?  Moorman answered, “Yes, I will.”

Eventually, the four were unable to positively identify Mark Hansen as the man from the Aster Motel.

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Clora Hoffman told the officers that the police had been to the Aster soon after the murder of Elizabeth Short. After Mrs. Hoffman was interviewed, the report read, “Clora Hoffman stated that officers did come to the Aster Motel, 2901 South Flower Street, and inquire about a sergeant in the Army, and made inquiry about the Elizabeth Short deal a few days after the murder was committed.”

Ahern discovered that Mrs. Hoffman had found bloody clothes in one of the cabins at the motel, but had not mentioned it to the officers during the original investigation. Different witnesses were interviewed about the blood in the cabin, including the maid:  “Lila Durante stated there was a good sized spot of blood on the blouse front – a spot of blood on the tail end of the skirt, and the shorts like they have been used to wipe blood off the floor. The blood was located on the front part of the shorts.”

Clora Hoffman, since married, and using the name Clora Sartain, “Stated that the men’s shorts had blood over the front on the fly. Doesn’t remember blood being on the blouse. Described the skirt size: ‘I remember the skirt because it was so small. That is the reason I couldn’t figure out why it should have blood on it like that. The front of the shorts were covered with blood.’ Doesn’t remember how much was on the skirt.  It was all wrapped together in a bundle.”

Mrs. Sartain said Mr. Hoffman told her to burn the clothing, which she says she did. Ahern said, “She said there was blood on the mattress. She said that Hoffman found the room all messed up, and there was human feces all over the blood, that she came by to look in and Hoffman told her to go away, that there was too bad a mess there, and if she came in, she might be sick.  She said she looked in – there was fecal matter –  human feces.” She also said there were male foot prints and shoe prints in the feces.

Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the Chief County Autopsy Surgeon, said that Elizabeth Short’s stomach was full and that there was fecal matter in her lower intestine at the time of death. There was no indication that there was a loss of fecal matter.

The Moormans lived at the Aster from January 10 until January 17, 1947. Burt Moorman said that his wife told him about a big mess in one of the rooms. Mr. Moorman, who said he had worked in a mortuary and had drained blood from bodies, said there were two army blankets in the room, covered with caked blood.  Ahern remembered Moorman saying, “I thought the blood on this mattress would be what a human body would probably contain. It was that much.”

Ahern said, “He’s a very precise witness – this fellow Moorman. You can’t shake him on anything.  He is very determined about what he saw. He states he saw the blood covered on the blankets.” Later, “Moorman came home after the cabin had been cleaned and only knew about it from his wife telling him. He then went over and looked into the cabin. He said the smell there at that time was enough to drive you out, even though the cabin had been cleaned up.”

According to Ahern, Mr. Hoffman decided that he be the one to clean up the room. Normally, he did not clean the rooms. He also denied seeing any bloody blankets, but Carl Moorman insisted there were blankets. There was also disagreement over which cabin was in question. Mrs. Moorman said, “it was Cabin number 3.” There was also speculation that it could have been cabin 4, 5, or 6.

Some witnesses remembered a girl in cabin number 10 that fit the description of Elizabeth Short, but no one would make positive identification. They said the girl had black hair, was seen laying in her bed and sometimes she was seen outside begging for money from people at the motel.

Ahern said, “No one has identified her as knowing her previously.  I knew her as Betty Short. I know where she was. I know she was there.  We have lots of people saying here was a black-haired girl answering her description and her habits, but no one that puts her there by name, which was what we were trying to establish, if possible.” Investigators looked through the registration cards, but Mrs. Hoffman had destroyed many of them.

When a member of the grand jury asked Ahern if he thought Elizabeth Short was murdered at the Aster Motel, he replied, “I think it is very possible that she was. Yes, sir.  If you could just find one witness that could identify her – put her in that court – we could have something.  We just couldn’t seem to find somebody that could identify her and put her there.”

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