In January 1947, the nude, bloodless, and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short was found in a Los Angeles park. It was one of the most shocking crimes of the mid-twentieth century and one of the first to capture national media attention. Decades later, it remains unsolved with most of the evidence still sequestered unseen in the files of the Los Angeles police department, though rumors and theories continue to thrive as to the facts of Short’s life and death.
“Over the years,” Rick Geary writes, “the story of Elizabeth Short continues to fascinate, horrify, and inspire. A young woman of many facets: An ambitious striver, set on a career in show business…and a submissive innocent, who only wanted to marry a soldier and settle down and raise a family. An open and friendly social butterfly…and a morose loner, full of secrets. A hard-nosed, streetwise seductress…and the perfect victim” (p. 80). Few things capture the interest and imagination of our society like the unsolved murder of a beautiful young woman, and the enduring interest in the Black Dahlia case is an example that proves the adage. In Black Dahlia Geary explores the mystery of the case, what is known about Elizabeth Short, and what questions remain unanswered, likely forever.
Geary tells the story of the Dahlia case with a deft hand, from the initial discovery of Short’s body in January 1947, through the investigations into Short’s life and relationships that continued to hit dead ends and frustrate detectives, to the 1982 death of Jack Anderson Wilson, the last lead in the Dahlia case. Along the way, he exposes the layers of corruption, including ties to organized crime that hindered the investigation and eventually resulted in the resignation of LA Police Chief Clemence Horrall and a revamping of the city’s law enforcement agencies.
While his story is well-told, it is in the artwork that Geary demonstrates his mastery of his subject and its genre; understated black and white line drawings capture the stark brutality and sadness of Short’s death and the pathos of her life without slipping into melodrama or cheap titillation. Geary offers his subject a sober and thoughtful treatment, respectful of Short’s humanity and person-hood, even as he uses her story to illustrate the dark side of the side of glamour and the rottenness at the core of the city’s law enforcement bodies.
Part of Geary’s A Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, Black Dahlia is a quick and engaging read, one that is likely appropriate for teen or adult graphic novel collections. True crime enthusiasts looking for new information might be disappointed here as Geary doesn’t offer any new details on the Dahlia case. What he offers instead is a concise overview of the crime, one that provides the curious reader with an introduction to this famous case and a subtle commentary on the sociocultural impacts of the Dahlia murder on the LAPD, on modern policing, and on the emergence of “crime of the century” media spectacles that have become all too common in America.
Black Dahlia (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)
by Rick Geary