10 Historically Pivotal Murders

The Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, smiles at the camera for a picture that may have been taken in a photography booth in the mid-1940s. The man on the right is unidentified. Could he have known anything about her murder? International News Photo/AFP/Getty Images

On Jan. 15, 1947, a woman's body was found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. Not only had the body been completely drained of blood, the woman's cheeks had been sliced open, and the corpse had been cut in half. Wherever she had died, someone had carefully washed her, moved her in pieces to the vacant lot and then deliberately posed her body. The murder was never solved.

The body was quickly identified as Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress. The press began to interfere almost immediately, going so far as to tell her mother that Short had won a beauty contest in order to get personal details before she found out about her daughter's murder. Short had indeed been a beauty, enhancing public fascination with her macabre death.

Because of the heavy press coverage, dozens of pranksters came forward to confess, but all were a waste of time. Over the next few weeks there were dozens of clues and leads. Short's purse and one of her shoes were found in a dumpster miles from the crime scene, and a week after the body was found one newspaper received a package full of her belongings. Gasoline had been used to wipe the package clean of fingerprints, and its sender remained unidentified.

The ensuing decades have shed no light on the circumstances surrounding Short's death. Although there are dozens of theories about who her killer actually was (Orson Welles is one of the more far-out suspects), no one was ever charged. Historically, Short's murder remains an early counterpoint to the golden age of Hollywood. The gruesome nature of the crime remains a testament to the fact that even amid the glitz and glamour, there are always monsters to be found.