New Light for Black Dahlia

Upcoming James Ellroy exhibit features never-before-seen files from the notorious cold case


Sixty-five years after the gruesome murder of "The Black Dahlia," the notorious case is still far-and-away the most frequent topic of callers' inquires to the Los Angeles Police Museum.

Photos of murder victim Elizabeth Short captivated Angelenos in 1947 when her body was found sliced in half at the waist in Leimert Park.

A dozen years later, they also captivated crime fiction writer James Ellroy, as a young boy coping with his own mother's mysterious murder -- the impetus behind a lifetime's worth of true-crime novels.

So when Ellroy, a long-time supporter of the LAPD, proposed the museum open up and exhibit the LAPD's deep "Black Dahlia" file, the department agreed to share case materials never before seen in public, hoping to shed light on the real nature of the decades-long investigation.

"There's nothing gruesome. It's not a ghoul show," said Glynn Martin, the museum's executive director. "We want to restore integrity to a record that has drifted off track."

The exhibit, "James Ellroy Presents: Elizabeth -- LAPD's 65-year crusade to capture Beth Short's killer," opens Friday with a sold-out evening of conversation and hors d'oeuvres with Ellroy himself, who will take ticketed guests for a personal tour of the exhibition.

Throughout the day Saturday, Ellroy -- whose novel about the case elevated his reputation from that of a typical genre fiction writer -- will host conversational tours for small groups before the exhibit opens to the public on Monday.

A limited number of tickets for the Saturday tours are still available for $100 each.

The cold case is still hot on the Internet. Countless blogs and websites are full of vivid speculation and conspiracy theories of both the crime itself and the subsequent investigation, Martin said.

"It runs the gamut," Martin said. "Everything from 'the LAPD didn't do anything' to 'they covered it up because the mob was involved.'"

But the LAPD's "Black Dahlia" file is so voluminous that the comprised documents fill an entire file cabinet; the corresponding index file fills four index-card boxes.

One included file is a 529-page document listing the tens of thousands of addresses canvassed by officers in the days following the murder.

Another file on display is the half-page, crudely written letter sent to the sheriff's office years after the murder from one of the many imposters who came forward as Short's murderer.

Like those who spread their ideas online today, the myriad of pseudo-suspects who turned themselves in detracted from the LAPD's undertaking, Martin said.

"The time [police] spent tracking down the imposters ultimately inhibited their ability to reach a conclusion," Martin said.

Other items on display are period pieces from the LAPD, such as a hat, badge and the nameplate from the desk of Captain Jack Donahoe, who worked for the LAPD at the time of the murder.

The exhibit will run through June 16 at the Highland Park museum. Adult general museum is $8.

For more information or to purchase tickets for Saturday's event, call 323-344-9445.

Follow NBCLA for the latest LA news, events and entertainment: Twitter: @NBCLA // Facebook: NBCLA

Contact Us