“Well, I have a little pet theory of my own, I think that a medical man committed that murder, a very fine surgeon. I base that conclusion on the way the body was bisected.”
~ Harry Hansen
* * *
Sergeant Harry Hansen, one of the original homicide detectives assigned to the Elizabeth Short murder, began his career with the LAPD in the 1920 ‘s. He joined the Homicide Division on May 1, 1943. Prior to homicide, he worked in Central Division as a uniformed Sergeant.
During the course of the investigation, Hansen and his partner Finis Brown interviewed Beth’s father, Cleo Short, at his home. “We went up there and first time we ever saw him, we knocked and knocked and knocked on the door, and finally aroused him, and we found him to be in a drunken stupor. Found wine bottles all over the place, he was very uncooperative, especially in view of the fact that after all, his daughter had been murdered.”
Later, he and Brown played “good cop-bad cop” with Mark Hansen. “As part of our investigative technique, we decided that one of us should rough him. In other words, make yourself hated by him, that was me, that’s the part I took.” Sgt. Hansen remembered Mark Hansen’s comments about Beth: “- I think in his own words, ‘she’s a little tramp. I didn’t want her there, and I told her to leave.'”
* * *
After Detective Harry Hansen retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1970 he moved to Palm Springs with his wife Norma and started a new life. He wrapped up a 43 year career, but the unsolved mystery of the Black Dahlia murder wouldn’t set him free. In interviews, he discussed the one that got away.
“The killing seemed to be based on unbelievable anger. I suppose sex was the motive, or at least the fact that the killer was denied sex. From all accounts, Elizabeth Short liked to tease men. She probably went too far this time, and just set some guy off into a blind, berserk rage. There was no evidence of forcible entry.
“I suppose I allowed myself to lean slightly towards the theory of a male murderer, someone with medical training. I based that merely on the physical aspects of the case. Still, you have to have an open mind to anything, can’t close your eyes to any evidence. In other words, it may have been somehow possible that the killer didn’t have any medical background. We had to keep that in mind despite all the evdence. All you have are facts and evidence; all you can do is fit them and see if they dovetail. Nothing we ever had did.”
* * *
“She didn’t seem to have any goals or standards… she never had a job all the time she lived in Los Angeles. She had an obviously low IQ, lived hand to mouth, day to day. They found out during the autopsy that her teeth were full of cavities. She had filled them up with candle wax. She was a man-crazy tramp, but she wasn’t a prostitute. There were all kinds of men in her life, but we were able to find three who’d had any sexual experience with her. She was a tease; she gave a bad time to quite a few guys. She just asked for trouble. There wasn’t much to like about her.”
* * *
“There were crimes that same year that were at least as heinous and victims at least as pretty and not one of them got anywhere near the same attention. It was that name, ‘Black Dahlia,’ that set this one off… just those words strung together in that order turned Elizabeth Short’s murder into a coast-to-coast sensation. ‘Black’ is night, mysterious, forbidding even; the dahlia is an exotic and mysterious flower. There could not have been a more intriguing title. Any other name and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the same.”
* * *
“It’s fairly realistic to figure the killer is no longer alive. By now, he would have attracted attention. If he is still alive, he’s got it made unless he just completely slips up and blows it. That’s a lot of years that’ve gone by; it would be hard now to go back and dig up new witnesses, new evidence. I know for certain that I never met the killer face to face. I know he didn’t manage to slip through with the other suspects. We considered the possibility of his coming right in, making a confession, then cleverly side-stepping the ‘key question.’ We watched for that, had taken measures to expose him in that event. You’d never believe the amount of checking we did on this case; we followed everything as far as it would go and then we’d turn right around and walk through it again.”