Chapter 5 ~ The Black Dahlia

Jack Carson & Elizabeth Short

Live radio programs drew audiences from all over the country to see their favorite stars in person.  Among those who queued up to see the shows was a pretty, 22 year year old girl from Medford, Massachusetts, who arrived in Hollywood in July of 1946.  Elizabeth Short, who never seemed to settle long at any one address,  moved from hotel to hotel and stayed with friends at their homes.  For awhile, she lived at the home of Mark Hansen on Carlos Avenue in Hollywood. Hansen owned the Marcal Theatre and the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. He lived behind the theater in his house.

Elizabeth didn’t own a car, but it was a short walk to Gower Street at the end of the block and another few blocks to Sunset Boulevard and the CBS studios.  Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant was located close by in Columbia Square and was a popular hangout for Elizabeth and her friends and the radio crowd.

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In 1946, in Chicago, a gruesome murder was discovered when the body parts of a little girl were found in sewers around the mean streets of the Windy City.  The death of little Suzanne Degnan, a six year old girl from a good home in Chicago, startled the city and brought about the arrest of William Heirens, a 17 year old University of Chicago student, for murder.

Elizabeth Short was obsessed with the murder of Suzanne that summer. On her way to the west coast, she spent ten days in Chicago in July, 1946 and talked incessantly about the child’s death.

The Los Angeles Examiner reported that Freddie Woods, a 23 year old man who claimed to be friends with Elizabeth, revealed that she was fascinated with the brutal slaying of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan.  Woods said he met her in Chicago during her brief stay. According to the newspaper article, she told him that she was a Massachusetts reporter covering the Heirens story. He was quoted as saying, “Elizabeth Short was one of the prettiest girls I ever met.” “But she was terribly preoccupied with the details of the Degnan murder.”

Jack Egger remembered the day when Elizabeth, accompanied by an unidentified man, came to see a Jack Carson radio program at CBS.  He remembered being sick in bed on New Years Eve, and seeing her soon afterwards. He narrowed the dates down to January 2 or January 8, 1947.

Eggers was employed as head usher by the Columbia Broadcasting Network in Hollywood from 1941 until June, 1948, with time off for military service beginning in June, 1945.  He remembered Elizabeth as a frequent guest in the radio audiences. He said he saw her at least 20 times, usually alone, but once with a man who showed a Chicago Police Badge and was given the courtesy of early seating at the Jack Carson show shortly after New Years day, 1947. Egger remembered the occasion, because, he had never seen her with anyone before.

Six months after the murder and dismemberment of Suzanne Degnan, Elizabeth Short’s naked body was found in a lot on a side street in Los Angeles, brutally tortured and severed in half at the waist. Her killer was never found and her murder remains unsolved.

William Heirnes, confessed to the Degnan murder and two others in 1946 and died in custody in 2012.

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By the end of 1947 there were 1,962 radio stations on the air in the United States.  1947 would be the last year that radio reigned supreme over the airwaves. Television, the new medium, was already finding it’s way into American homes and would change the entertainment habits almost overnight in a few short years.