The Black Dahlia and My Mother's Killer

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Background on Jack Webb


  • John Randolph Webb was born April 2, 1920 in Santa Monica, CA. He died Dec. 22, 1982 in West Hollywood, CA.
  • He was an actor, producer, director and screenwriter
  • Most known for his role as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet
  • Released a book titled "The Badge" which chronicled crime stories that couldn't be told on TV.
    • The Black Dahlia was a case featured in this book
    • James Ellroy got a copy of this book from his father on his 11th birthday

The Black Dahlia

  • Elizabeth Short


    • Born July 29, 1924 in Hyde Park, Mass.
    • Called Betty as a child and then went by Beth
    • She moved to California to be with her dad in Vallejo then quickly left to live in Santa Barbara to pursue modeling and acting
    • At 19 she was arrested for underage drinking, the cops told her to go back home to Massachusetts but she stayed in California
  • The Murder
    • She was last seen alive leaving a hotel lobby mid January 1947
    • Her body was found January 15, 1947 in an abandoned lot by a woman and her 5 year old
    • She was cut in half, covered in bruises, she had been sodomized, her body was drained of blood, ligature marks on her ankles and wrists implying torturous pulling of limbs, and her face was cut ear to ear in what they call the "Glasgow smile effect". Her body had also been scrubbed clean to rid her of any evidence.
    • C.O.D. they believed was blunt force trauma to the head
    • They believe she suffered 2-3 days of torture before being killed
  • The Investigation
    • Detective on the case was Sgt. Finis Arthur Brown
    • She was identified through fingerprints on file from her arrest in 1943
    • There are many hypotheses as to how she got the name the Black Dahlia
      • Some say she already had it when she was alive because she liked to wear black, had black hair, and wore a dahlia in her hair
      • Some say she was given it after death by journalists as a play on the Veronica Lake film "The Blue Dahlia"
    • It is still unsolved, but many people were investigated and many people came forward (men and women) saying they committed the crime
    • Janice Knowlton wrote a book saying as a child she remembers her father killing "Aunt Betty" but this has not been proven to be true
  • Jack Webb's Account of the Case
    • She is portrayed negatively
      • Called a drifter and a lazy and irresponsible girl
      • It is implied at one point she prostituted herself for money on 6th Street
    • He establishes what happened (who found her, how she looked, etc.)
    • He says it was the biggest crime hunt in modern LA history
      • Police investigated thoroughly by going to many houses to question people to see if they saw or heard anything
        • No leads were found
    • Her purse was mailed to the cops a while after the murder as a taunt from the murderer they believe.
    • It is still an unsolved case

Background on James Ellroy


  • Born Lee Earl Ellroy March 4, 1948 in LA, California
  • He is a crime fiction writer and essayist
    • His books include, The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), White Jazz (1992), American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood's a Rover (2009).
  • In 1958, his mother Jean Ellroy was murdered.
    • The crime is still unsolved
    • This along with Jack Webb's book "The Badge" were important to how Ellroy grew up as a child
  • "Ellroy's inability to come to terms with the emotions surrounding his mother's murder led him to transfer them onto another murder victim, Elizabeth Short, the "Black Dahlia"; throughout his youth, Ellroy used Short as a surrogate for his conflicting emotions and desires."
  • He dropped out of school and joined the army
  • As a teen and in his twenties he started drinking heavily and abused Benzedrex inhalers (they are a stimulant and can give you hallucinations). He also engaged in minor crimes and was arrested.

"My Mother's Killer"

ellroyclip.jpg GQfeature5v.jpg mur_jean_ellroy3.jpg

  • Written in 1994 for GQ magazine
  • Ellroy talks of his mother's murder and his goal to find out more about it (his journey to find answers)
  • He was 10 when she was killed
  • He says how he hated his mother at the time of the murder and didn't want to go to the funeral
  • As a child his mom said she saw John Dillinger get gunned down by FBI, his father said he had an affair with Rita Hayworth
  • As a child he would catch his mother in bed with random men
  • He spent weekdays with his mother and three weekends a month with his father
  • In 1956 he and his mother moved to Santa Monica where he attended Children's Paradise, which was a cut-rate private school
  • Then in 1956 they moved to El Monte, a "downscaled suburb populated by white shitkickers and pachucos with duck's-ass haircuts"
  • After an argument with his mother he went to his fathers house for the weekend, on his return the police told him his mother was killed
  • The Crime
    • Saturday night Jean Ellroy goes to a bar where she hangs out with a 40-year old man, another man, and a woman.
    • At 10pm she leaves with the 40-year old man
    • She was strangled and dragged to the dump site (Arroyo High School athletic field)
    • Their neighbor Mrs. Kryzcki identified Jean
    • A waitress at the bar tells police of the people Jean was with:
      • A regular patron who hung out with them, Michael Whitaker, was brought in for questioning
    • Stan's Drive In waitress was interviewed and said Jean and the 40-year old man were in Saturday night and Sunday at 2am.
  • Ellroy's book "Clandestine" is a fictional account of his mother's murder
  • Ellroy compares his mother's case to the Black Dahlia
    • Jean Ellroy
      • Ignored case
      • Quick death
      • Dumped at Arroyo High School
    • The Black Dahlia
      • Celebrated case
      • Immature and promiscuous girl
      • Prolonged death
      • Dumped in vacant lot 20 miles from Arroyo High School
  • Sgt. Stoner is the one to help Ellroy look at the case file
  • After viewing the file, Ellroy went to the locations of where Jean was that night
    • Stan's Drive In is gone, there are weeds growing where she was found, the house they lived in had been renovated
  • He was told one of the two detectives on the case, Sgt. Lawton was dead and the other, Sgt. Hallinen was 82 and he said he didn't remember the case.

From the Blogs


  • What did you think of the reading?
  • Why do you think the Black Dahlia crime became so famous?
  • Its been hypothesized that the Cleveland Torso Killer killed Short, do you think this is possible or true based on the similar M.O. of the crime?
  • Do you think it will be solved?
  • How would you react if you found out that a close family member was murdered?