Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Missing Week

It remains an unsolved mystery after more than 60 years.

On this day in 1947, a young woman named Elizabeth Short was last seen alive in southern California. That was the beginning of her "missing week." On Jan. 15, her body was found in a vacant lot in south Los Angeles. She had been mutilated, cut in two and drained of blood. Her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears, apparently giving her face the appearance of a grotesque, "Joker"–like grin, and she had been posed with her hands over her head, her elbows bent at right angles.

History remembers her as the "Black Dahlia," but it is unclear whether she acquired that moniker before or after her death. Newspaper reports at the time of her murder suggested that she had been given the nickname the summer before. It was a word play, the report said, on the title of a popular movie, "The Blue Dahlia," a film noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. But other accounts suggested she was given the name after she died.

That last week is shrouded in mystery, but that's kind of the sad and brief story of her life. Short was only 22 when she was killed, but she had moved around a lot. She had been back in the L.A. area for about six months, but she was always on the move, bouncing from hotels to rooming houses to apartments. She seems to have had an active social life — after she was killed, more than 20 men she was known to have dated were interviewed by investigators. Did one of them kill her sometime between Jan. 9 and Jan. 15 in 1947?

The case has been the source of endless speculation. It has inspired movies, books, evaluations by criminal profilers. It seems to be among the coldest of cold cases.

But, like any mystery that goes unsolved, it has the power to intrigue, to captivate.

I guess it always will.

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