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Who Killed the Black Dahlia?
A Psychic Investigation
by Marie Saint Claire

Mystic Echoes
An Underworld Tales Exclusive
© 2004 Underworldtales.com

Background information: On January 15, 1947,  the severed halves of a young woman's body were splayed out in the grass of an empty lot.  The victim had been horribly mutilated and crudely cut in two at the waist.  Even worse, most of the wounds had apparently been inflicted before death. 
A fingerprint check of the corpse revealed her identity as twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia.  Elizabeth was a black-haired beauty who had an innate sensuality that drove men wild.  She'd earned her name, not only because of her raven tresses, but also because she only wore black--black dresses, black shoes, black hose, and even black underwear. 

Fate had been unkind to Elizabeth from the beginning. Having grown up in an unhappy home, she struck out on her own at only 17.  She worked in Florida as a waitress and fell in love with a solider; however, he was killed in the line of duty on a distant battlefield.  Grieving terribly over his death, she took to drinking and dating other men, any other men, developing a  reputation for being "easy."

After she had recovered from her fiancée's death, she went to Santa Barbara where she met another serviceman, an Air Force Major.  The couple fell in love and planned to marry as soon as he returned from overseas.  But he was also killed in action. 

She never fully recovered from the second blow and began to drink heavily.  She headed for California, and ultimately, to Hollywood in search of fame.  And indeed, she joined the casting lines, getting many parts as extra, but her career never took off, and she'd ultimately find the greatest fame in death.

Working as a waitress again, she barely got by and was always borrowing money from friends.  She had a huge number of male friends and admirers many of which she drank with and stayed with. Whether she was  promiscuous is still under debate, but men definitely pursued her with a passion, and she supposedly discarded lovers the way most women discard a pair of snagged hose.

A man had been seen with her in a San Diego bus station a few days before her dismembered body was discovered.  He admitted that he had been with her, had in fact gone on a drunken binge with her.  But he told the police that afterwards, he'd taken her  to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles after she told him that she was going to "meet her sister," there.  The police checked him out and accepted his story.  And that's where the trail ended.  No one knew what Elizabeth did or who she met afterward.  She became lost in the city sprawl.  Somewhere, however she met the man who'd brutally murdered her. 

From the moment the story hit the news, the police were overwhelmed by "confessions," and reports of suspects.  A woman even confessed to the killing, walking into the station and saying: "The Black Dahlia stole my man. So I killed her and cut her up."

These confessions and reports were investigated and usually discarded, because the confessor didn't know some crucial details known only to the police. 

One person even sent the police a message composed of cut up paper, signing it "The Black Dahlia Avenger."  And then, in the midst of the investigative chaos, police received another baffling note, which read: "Here are Dahlia's belongings,  Letter will follow." Enclosed with the note were Elizabeth's birth certificate, address book, and social security number.  Some pages of the address book had been torn out--probably by the murderer, and the other names provided no leads.

Despite all of the time and energy the police put into the case, the crime was never officially solved, and, to this day, the case remains, one of the greatest crime mysteries.

Preliminary Thoughts: I've always found the Black Dahlia case interesting.  Elizabeth had a face that one could never forget.  Her spirit seemed to show through her gray eyes and leave one thinking that there was something special about her.  I didn't know much about this case at the time that I did the investigation--only the bare bones facts.  I had always thought that a solider had murdered her. To me that made perfect sense and would explain why he was never caught.  I always figured that he'd shipped off after the killing and was a casualty of the war, and thus, never murdered again.  I was wrong. In fact,  my psychic investigation would find that I was way off track.

I was hesitant to psychically connect to this case, because there could be danger involved in doing so. The Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short, was brutally murdered, and I certainly didn't want to call up the spirit of a psychotic killer; however, the case was so intriguing that I just had to give it a try, and it was the very first murder case that I tried to solve. I suggest to anyone who is a beginner medium not to connect to a potentially dangerous situation like this where there could be a negative entity. You just never know what you could bring upon yourself or open yourself to.

Psychic Connection: The first time that I connected to Elizabeth Short was horrifying to say the least, part of which was my fault, because I tried to channel her at the time of the murder, hoping that I could clearly see the murderer. Yet, when I connected, I could see nothing but blackness, and suddenly, I felt myself bound.   I was so terrified that I could barely breathe. It was the worst horror that I've ever felt in my life. The fear alone seemed to be suffocating me. It came from deep within and seemed to be all around me, wrapping around my body tight and preventing any kind of movement. At first, I was confused, and then I realized what was happening. I was channeling Elizabeth at the time of her torture. I was feeling what she was feeling--her mental pain and torment. Fortunately, I didn't feel her physical pain.

As soon as I connected, I wanted to escape--not an easy thing to do in the state that I was in. I literally couldn't move. Though I tried to break free repeatedly, I was firmly stuck.

In fact, it took me several minutes to sever the connection.

When I could move my arms at last, I breathed a sigh of relief, and yet I came away from it so shaken that I had to sit quietly for several minutes to get a grasp on myself.

Still, I wasn't ready to give up--though it would be several days before I'd try to connect to this case again. And I decided that the next time I did, I'd direct myself to Elizabeth's spirit after the killing and ask her directly who'd killed her.

I did just that and came upon her as she strolled the cold, gray LA streets. Her spirit is not at rest due to the brutality and senselessness of her murder, and she spends the days and nights on this purposeless jaunt, locked in despair.

When I first arrived on the scene, she was scared of me and tried to flee. I asked her to wait, but she shook her head. I had to run to catch up with her, and she still tried to flee. This is not the first time that this strange reaction has occurred when I've connected to another soul. I don't know why this is and can only imagine that I must appear as a ghost, since I'm without my physical body. Could a ghost scare another ghost? Or, is it scary to a lost spirit when another being makes contact with them after so many years? I simply don't know.

But she was indeed terrified of me, and it took me quite a while to convince her that I was not a threat but was only there to help her, to try to solve her case. I asked her if she was aware that she'd been murdered and she nodded. I could still see fear in her eyes. And so I told her my name and some information about myself. I reassured her that I'm not a ghost but a psychic who is contacting her from the other side and that I intended to share whatever information she gave me about her murder with the world.

She relaxed a bit, but was still apprehensive, and so I kept talking, wanting her to be comfortable with me. I told her that I'm a wife and a mother, and I spent some time telling her about my children. That information seemed to earn her trust; for she warmed up to me then, and took my hand, and for some time, we strolled together like children, hand-in-hand, laughing, dancing and smiling. We'd truly connected as childhood friends would.  At last, she welcomed me and was glad that I was there, glad that she wasn't alone. She never said this, but I could see it and feel it. 

Her personality struck me as juvenile, but I went with the flow and became a carefree child again myself, wanting to make sure that she was comfortable with me. Beneath her smile, I felt there was a tremendous amount of pain and loneliness.  I'm not surprised. Not only had she been horribly and atrociously murdered, but she'd had a bad life.  Her father hadn't wanted her, her mother hadn't wanted her, and she'd left home at an early age, seeking the love that she'd never got at home.  She'd fallen in love but her fiancée was killed in the war.  She'd survived that heartache to fall in love again a few years later, only to lose another love to the war.  She was never the same after that and went from love affair to love affair, never finding another worth giving her heart to. 

Still, she was so warm, and so friendly, and appeared so carefree that looking at her now, it was almost easy to forget that the atrocious murder had happened at all, and we were just two friends out on a beautiful day.

Interestingly, there was no one else on the normally busy LA streets--not a single soul, not a car, not even a bird. And as I explored her old time haunts with her, I realized that I was in Elizabeth's LA, an isolated world into which her soul had been dispatched and was apparently locked in.

We ended up down by the beach, and I explained that sometimes the psychic connection could be temporarily severed by things going on in my environment, such as my dogs barking, the phone ringing, the clock striking, etc. and if that happened she shouldn't be alarmed, that I would return to her. She nodded and smiled.

I realized that she'd not communicated to me except with a smile or a nod, and so I explained that she didn't have to use her lips to talk to me, but could think to me. I asked her to give it a try, and she did, saying "Okay." The connection was so strong that it resounded in my mind, clear and loud, like a speaker turned up high, and I told her that I'd heard her.

Nevertheless, she was still uncomfortable with this mode of communication, and so she remained silent. I sensed that though she was glad I was there, she was reluctant to talk about the murder. Still, I told her that I wanted to know more about her murder and asked her to show me what had happened.

We went to the Biltmore Hotel, and she showed me her room, nothing spectacular, a simple room, only a few of her personal things in it and the next thing I knew, we were at the beach again. I realized that she was being evasive about the murder. It was a subject that she was uncomfortable with. A part of her wanted to pretend that it didn't happen.

I asked her if the beach had anything to do with her murder, and she nodded. Please know that I'm not familiar with Los Angeles, have never been there "physically" myself. I might have been able to give greater insight into the various locations if I had--but to me the environment was just a jumble of buildings in a maze of gray concrete and shadows.   

It wasn't clear to me how the beach was involved, (and it still isn't) and she wasn't real interested in conveying that information to me. Yet, she was still glad to have my company, and I realized how very alone she felt. Right then I decided that I would visit her from time to time in the future.

At that moment, however, since I felt that I wasn't getting anywhere in my investigation, the reason I'd come in the first place, I turned toward her and looked directly in her eyes and said: "Elizabeth, please show me the person who murdered you. Think to me. Let me see him in your eyes."

A terrified expression filled her face, but after a couple of minutes, she nodded and took my hand.

I closed my eyes and saw him clearly. He was a large man with sandy brown hair, not an attractive man by any means. I saw a name tag on his shirt. I'm not sure what kind of name tag it was.  Please note that the tag itself could be irrelevant and not indicate a specific job.  Sometimes psychic messages appear in seemingly strange images like this. In addition, the name tag was blurred.  This happens too, a resistance of some sort. Again, I don't know why. And I had to look very closely to see his name. It was "Morgan," "Morris," or "Morrison."

"Morrison?" I asked Elizabeth.

She nodded.

Seeing the name tag and the water, and knowing that she'd hung out with a lot of soldiers, I thought that maybe he was a marine, and I asked her if that was so, and she shook her head and said "No!"

There blows my earlier hypothesis.  "Okay," I said, "then this man, Morrison, was your killer?"

"Yes!" she said, her face taking on strong emotion.   "I met him, and he took me somewhere to rape me, and he tortured and murdered me. He cut me.  After he did, he took my body somewhere else and left it."

Wow! I was suddenly getting a lot for her.  She wanted to tell someone her story after all.

"Is he dead now?" I asked.


"Tell me more," I said, "about this man. About the murder..."

The connection broke suddenly, and I came out of it. I couldn't reconnect.

But I'd gotten a name and that was a lot. It was time to do some research and see if I could put the case together, and I had to start with suspects and see if any of them had a name similar to "Morris" or "Morrison."

I looked through some books at the library, but only one of  them mentioned the names of a few suspects. None of them were my man. The names and faces were too different.

Frustrated, I decided to research the case online and see what I could come up with. I came across a pretty convincing website that claimed a man whom Elizabeth had been involved with named Ed Burns was the killer. The site lists a lot of reasons why he could have been the killer, including a complicated code breaking from the letters that were sent to police, but, in my opinion, the site owner's theory was far-fetched, and stretching things quite a bit. Besides, from what I'd gathered of Ed Burns on the site, he was just too far off bat from the man Elizabeth had shown me.

More research brought me to crimelibrary.com. And at last I found my man.

One of the top suspects in the case was in fact named "Morrison."

The suspect first came to the attention of highly respected LAPD officer, John St. John. He'd, been in charge of the Dahlia case for about a year when an informant came to him with a tape recording of a man named Arnold Smith.

On the tape, Smith gave highly detailed information about the Dahlia murder, saying that she'd been murdered by a man named Al Morrison, who, according to Smith, was a violent sex pervert. The minute I saw the name, I knew that this had to be the killer, but I needed more details in order to put the case together, and come together, it did.

The rest of the information that emerged in Smith's account only convinced me further.

Smith claimed that he's taken Elizabeth to Morrison's room at the Hollywood Hotel when she didn't have anywhere else to go (this was typical of Elizabeth who was always short of money and always staying with various friends). He said that Elizabeth was surprised that he was planning to stay in the room with her and that she'd refused the liquor he'd offered her. He might have made a pass at her, but she put him off; according to Smith's statement, she showed no signs of being interested in a romantic relationship with him (Her rebuttal could have inspired the man's psychotic fury).

Morrison, according to Smith's account, was apparently not there at the outset, but Smith left and when he returned to the hotel room, Morrison was apparently there.  Smith said they took Elizabeth to a house on East 31st Street near San Pedro and Trinity Streets, which belonged to a friend of his. This is supposedly where Morrison assaulted and killed Elizabeth. Smith went into detail about the killing on the tape.

"And he went to her and grabbed her arm like this, and started to pull her back but she hauled off and let him have it with the purse. Just swung it out and caught him across the side of the face. He slugged her once and her knees got weak. He pulls her back into the room, and he leans her against the door while he locks the door with the key. She just stayed there as though she was unsure exactly what would follow. He said he then grabbed her and pushed her and she fell down... on the floor with her dress up on her body. He said he stood over her and said something about he was going to screw her ass. She started to yell so he bent down and slugged her again. He said he put his hand on her neck and holds her head still while he hit her a couple of times. She didn't move. Now he didn't know what he was going to do, except he went out of the room, through the door he had locked and went downstairs..."

Afterward, according to Smith, Morrison got a paring knife, a large butcher knife and some clothesline and went back upstairs. Elizabeth was frightened and tried to escape, but he held her bound, "stuffing her underpants into her mouth and tying her up." By this time he had apparently already beaten her and mutilated her with the knife, but the terror would continue.

Smith continues: "She was naked, only he'd tied her hands and these were up over her head like this, and he stabbed her with a knife a lot, not enough that would kill you, but jabbing and sticking her a lot and then slitting around one tit, and then he'd cut her face across it. Across the mouth. After that, she was dead. He laid some boards across the bathtub and cut her in half with the large butcher knife, letting the blood drain out through the tub. When the body was sectioned and washed clean of blood, he wrapped her in an oilskin tablecloth and shower curtain and put into the trunk of the car. From there, he drove to the vacant lot and lay her body, piece at a time, on the ground."

St. John suspected that Al Morrison and Arnold Smith were one and the same person, and indeed, I believe they were as well. How else could Arnold Smith have been privy to such information? In addition, he learned that "Arnold Smith" was one of many aliases for Jack Anderson Wilson. Wilson was an alcoholic with a history of sex offenses and robbery. Unsurprisingly, an investigation found no proof that Al Morrison existed, confirming the detective's belief that Arnold Smith (Jack Anderson Wilson) was "Morrison," the killer.

St. John intended to pick the suspect up for questioning, when Smith passed out in an alcoholic stupor in bed in a nearby hotel and set the place on fire from a burning cigarette. He was burned to death in the flames, which also probably consumed any personal possessions of the Dahlia's (according to the records, he'd earlier shown some of Elizabeth's things to the informant).

This same suspect had also come to the attention of Detective Joel Lesnick of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in connection with the unsolved murder a few years previously of socialite Georgette Bauerdorf.

Bauerdorf had known the Black Dahlia through the Hollywood Canteen. She too was a dark haired beauty who'd been brutally murdered, tortured, strangled, and raped before she was dumped in her bathtub face down. A piece of towel had been wedged in her throat to keep her from crying out (the same way "Smith" had reportedly gagged Elizabeth).

Like St. John, Detective Lesnick also thought Arnold Smith was the Dahlia killer and was the mysterious "Al Morrison." He theorized that "As the years went on, Smith's ego drew him closer, not to confessing, but wanting to tell someone in a roundabout way what he got away with primarily through luck."

The District Attorney's office thought that Smith was the murderer as well, as is apparent in their assessment of the suspect and his connection to the Dahlia murder: "The case can not be officially closed due to the death of the individual considered a suspect. While the documentation appears to link this individual with the homicide of Elizabeth Short, his death, however, precludes the opportunity of an interview to obtain from him the corroboration. Therefore, any conclusion as to his criminal involvement is circumstantial, and unfortunately, the suspect cannot be charged or tried, due to his demise...it is conceivable that Jack Wilson might have been charged as a suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short "

Conclusion: I think it's not only conceivable, but highly likely that Arnold Smith, AKA "Al Morrison," was Elizabeth's murderer.

As for the details, I believe that Mr. Smith fills in the gaps with his description of the murder.  Quite simply, Miss Short took up with the wrong guy--one of the worst imaginable.  Under the guise of the name "Morrison," he took her to his hotel room, and later took her to a house where he tied her up, mutilated her, and then cut her in two.  Afterward, he dumped the remains on an empty lot, and drove away.

And I believe that he would have gone to jail for the crime if not for his untimely death.


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