Chapter 23 ~ The District Attorney Investigates

There have  been “over 300” suspects – Finis Brown

The LAPD investigation into the murder of Elizabeth Short began after the discovery of her body on January 15, 1947. Detectives Harry Hansen and Finis Brown were assigned to the case from the beginning and remained the primary investigators through the years. Although the case was never solved and was never closed, the investigation slowed down after the first year.

In 1949, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office began their own investigation for the 1949 grand jury. While the investigation by the LAPD was widely covered by newspapers at the time, the DA’s investigation was more muted, due to the lapse in time since the murder and due to the secrecy imposed by the grand jury.

Los Angeles District Attorney Investigator, Lt. Frank Jemison became involved in October, 1949. The grand jury was dissolved at the end of December that year. In a short period of time, Jemison and his assistant, Walter Morgan accumulated an immense amount of material that still exists in the DA files.

Among the first jobs was organizing the voluminous documents.

The gangster squad supplied about seven hundred documents. Approximately 2,200 pages of material were made available, “being records, reports and statements and correspondence of the Homicide Division which had been filed in order and indexed.” Finis Brown supplied 528 documents, which still had to be indexed. It was a daunting task for secretaries and clerks to prepare for the new investigation.

It was noted that, “It seems that hundreds of police offers have worked on this case and as a result some of these officers did not bring to a conclusion some of the loose ends of their investigations.”

It was also reported that, “Captain Harry Elliott in charge of the Homicide Division stated that there has been more work done on this case than any other murder case in the history of the LAPD. Sgt. F. A. Brown and Sgt. Harry Hansen have done most of the work on this investigation having been assigned ever since the case of the murder and in spite of their being handicapped by the lack of clerical assistance and lack of expense money with which to travel they have kept their records in fair order and have made a comprehensive investigation and as indicated by their reports they brought most of their check-outs on suspect and investigations to a conclusion as nearly as possible. However, due to the lack of coordination of effort and the lack of proper correlation of records, reports statements and correspondence on the part of the Administrative Division of the LAPD it appears that there is much work yet to be done on this case and at least fifty persons remain that should be interviewed and there are at least twenty-five more persons that should be requestioned. There have been three hundred and sixteen suspects fifty of whom have been arrested, (Not always charged with murder.) and later released. On the date of this report there are one hundred and seven remaining possible suspects after a definite elimination of two hundred and nine suspects. There have been nineteen suspects who have confessed to the murder of Elizabeth Short.”

The grand jury was presented with the material from the investigation and began their probe following the Brenda Allen prostitution case. Under jury foreman Harry Lawson, witnesses, detectives, investigators and others were interviewed. At the conclusion of the grand jury findings, a statement, shown in part below, was published:

Testimony given by certain investigation officers working this case was clear and well defined, while other officers showed apparent evasiveness. There was no sufficient time left to the jury to complete this investigation, and the Grand Jury recommends that the 1950 Grand Jury continue the probe.

The 1950 grand jury did not continue the probe.

The 1949 grand jury summary stated, “In the original part of the investigation it was found that due to the wide publicity given to this case, many acquaintances and friends of the victim were reluctant to tell all they knew about her.” “The LAPD records and reports indicate some stupidity and carelessness on the part of the more inexperienced officers who were working on the case from time to time, but as of this report dated October 28, 1949 there has not been found any indication of payoff, misconduct or concealment of facts on the part of any officers. ….It is the consensus of Officers Ed Barrett, Jack Smyre, F. A. Brown and the undersigned that there is insufficient evidence as of this date, October 28, 1949, upon which any suspect could now be brought to trial for the murder of Elizabeth Short.” – Frank B. Jemison, District Attorney files.

Many of the original findings from the LAPD investigation have since been taken as fact and have been expanded upon by theorists. The District Attorney’s investigation uncovered new information, which at times, disputed the LAPD conclusions. While the trail was growing cold by 1949, witnesses were still alive and available to investigators.

Though not all of the DA’s investigation has been published, the files remain in the custody at the District Attorney’s office. Included in these files are statements, interviews, photographs, and other documents that shed further light of the murder of Elizabeth Short.

Suspects and confessors seemed to multiply in number in the months and years after Elizabeth Short was killed. By December, 1948, according to the 1949 grand jury transcripts, 192 suspects had been eliminated from the investigation. In a November, 1951 newspaper interview, Detective Harry Hansen said there had been 33 confessions to the murder. The grand jury documents stated that Elizabeth Short knew at least 50 men at the time of her death. Testimony also indicated that her belongings included about 200 photographs of different men. There have been many leads through the years, most of which were investigated, but not all trails were followed to their end. Some suspects, or persons with information, as indicated by Frank Jemison in the 1949 grand jury, were never fully investigated. Time passed and a new crop of suspects, mostly introduced by amateur sleuths and writers, popped up. The Los Angeles Police Department still keeps track of the case and follows up on new leads, but not nearly as thoroughly as they did in 1947.

One Response to “Chapter 23 ~ The District Attorney Investigates”

  1. Andrea Says:

    Love the advice. Thank you.

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