Who Killed Elizabeth Short?- Black Dahlia Suspects

black dahlia suspects

This post is a follow up to my previous post The Gruesome Murder Of Elizabeth Short, this time focusing on some of the main Black Dahlia suspects. Since the murder of Elizabeth Short on January 15, 1947, many suspects have been suggested. Sadly, however, very few of these individuals were named by police investigating the case and those that were have habitually been cleared after thorough investigation. Various books have surfaced over the years based on the Black Dahlia Murders and as is so often the case nearly all were written with the intention of naming a suspect and thus solving the case. In the quest to prove their suspect responsible many of these books have helped turn misinformation into so-called facts or even worse have just flat out fabricated tales to fit their narratives of who killed Elizabeth Short.

Leslie Dillon

Of the numerous suspects, Leslie Dillon is one of a very short list of actual known police suspects. In fact, despite what you may read elsewhere Leslie Dillon is one of only three men to have ever been labelled as a prime suspect (the others were Robert Manley and Joseph Dumain, a self-confesser who was conclusively cleared). Dillon’s name was most recently brought back to attention when he was named as the killer in the 2017 book Black Dahlia, Red Rose.

The twenty-seven-year-old, a bellhop at the time of the murders, became a suspect in 1948, a year after Elizabeth Short’s murder. Leslie Dillon read a story on the case in the October issue of True Detective magazine and shortly after wrote to LAPD psychiatrist Dr Joseph Paul De River who featured in the article.

After continued correspondence between the two, Dillon declared he believed he knew who the killer was and named Jeff Connors as his suspect. However, De River himself began to believe that Connors didn’t exist and Dillon had a split personality. Under one of the personas Dillon had created he committed the murder and was actually the man police had been looking for, according to De River’s theory.

Along with undercover officers from the “Gangster Squad”, De River set up an unsanctioned meet with Leslie Dillon (behind the back of the LAPD officers actually investigating the case) under the ruse of going in search of Jeff Connors. During the search, Dillon allegedly revealed several details of the Black Dahlia case that had never been made public.

After what initially looked a promising lead problems arose when it was discovered Dillon was in San Francisco at the time of the murders. In another revelation, it turned out Jeff Connors wasn’t a figment of Dillon’s imagination as claimed by De River. Connors, whose real name was Arthur Lane, lived in LA at the time of the murder and had worked at one of Elizabeth Short’s known hangouts which led Dillon to genuinely believe him to be a possible suspect.

In a further embarrassment to the investigation, Dillon had been interrogated outside of official channels and kept in a room against his will, at one point he managed to eject a postcard through a window reading:

“Help, help, I’m being held prisoner!”.

His illegal detainment did not go down well. Basically, the investigation of Leslie Dillon was a massive cock-up and was a huge contributing factor in an inquiry into the handling of the entire Black Dahlia Murders been ordered before a Grand Jury in 1949. Furthermore, Dillon later sued the City Of Los Angeles for $100,000, it’s not entirely clear whether a payout was received with little evidence to prove it either way.

The more recent theory surrounding Leslie Dillon is that he was a part of a gang that would rob hotels. The modus operandi was that one of the gang would obtain a job as a bell boy, locate the safe, then quit. A few days later the gang would then rob the hotel. Elizabeth Short was close to a member of the gang and even lived at his home for a time. He was named Mark Hansen, a nightclub owner and it is he who is theorized to have ordered the murder as she knew too much about the robberies.

Hansen, according to the theory, had a number of corrupt officers in his pocket which allowed Dillon and Hansen to get away with murder. Despite being a suspect himself in the early investigation it should be said there was never any proof that Mark Hansen was anything but a law-abiding citizen, which included having no criminal record.

According to author Piu Eatwell, Elizabeth was murdered by Dillon at The Astor Motel were he often stayed. Eatwell also claims witnesses at the hotel saw a dark-haired woman matching Elizabeth Short’s description at the motel and that the owners found a room covered in blood and faecal matter on January 15, 1947, the day the body of Elizabeth was discovered.

A couple of problems arise with Leslie Dillon as a Black Dahlia suspect. Firstly there is no real evidence he knew either Mark Hansen or Elizabeth Short. Secondly, Leslie Dillon had absolutely no surgical or medical knowledge, something which has clearly been stated throughout the investigation was required to carry out the bisection as cleanly as it was. Thirdly, Dillon’s alibi was thoroughly checked and he had witnesses proving he was in San Francisco at the time of the murder.

On the third point, there are those who claim otherwise, stating it wasn’t proven Leslie Dillon was in San Francisco between January 8 and January 16 claiming the witnesses were unreliable. This has been debated but let us assume those who argue there is no proof he was in San Francisco until January the 17th, two days after the murder, are correct. The fact he was back in San Francisco after the murder still causes a problem. A package sent to the press containing Elizabeth Short’s belongings was posted from downtown Los Angeles when Leslie Dillon was definitely back at work in San Francisco, again giving him an alibi.

Jack Anderson Wilson

On the 40th anniversary of Elizabeth Short’s murder writer John Gilmore declared he had ultimately solved the Black Dahlia Murder case and would share all in an upcoming book, the first non-fiction book covering the case in detail. Although the declaration was made in 1987 it would be another seven years before Gilmore finally released his book Severed: The True Story Of The Black Dahlia on August 1st, 1994 (it was still the first book covering the case despite the delay).

The book was initially a huge success and earned glowing reviews. Gilmore claimed that Jack Anderson Wilson (also known as Arnold Smith) virtually admitted he had killed Elizabeth Short during interviews with the man in 1981. Jack Anderson Wilson, an alcoholic and petty criminal, died in a house fire the following year. Gilmore has claimed this was timely as Wilson was about to be thoroughly investigated for the crime any day by homicide detective “Jigsaw Jim” St John thanks to the information provided by Gilmore.

Unfortunately, the claims of John Gilmore didn’t stand the test of time, with much of his book now dismissed as pure invention and fiction. The most damming evidence has been the non-existence in any records anywhere of the homicide detective he claimed had helped him investigate the Black Dahlia case. Other claims, such as Elizabeth Short having infantile genitalia which was believed for years and still gets brought up today, were shown to be a complete fabrication. A great article by Larry Harnisch about the lies in the book can be found here.

Another author, Michael Newton, also disputed the claim that Detective St John backed up Gilmore’s theory of Jack Anderson Wilson being the killer. When interviewed by Newton, St John dismissed Wilson as a suspect and rubbished the claim.

Wilson has also been named as a possible suspect in the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf and The Cleveland Torso Murders. The link with Bauerdorf, according to Gilmore, was that she knew Elizabeth Short and the two girls knew each other. This has since been proven to be false, Georgette had already been murdered before Elizabeth Short even arrived in LA and the Hollywood Canteen were Gilmore claimed they worked together had closed down by Elizabeth’s arrival too.

A Jack Wilson was mentioned as a possible suspect in the murder of Florence Polillo, one of the early victims in the Cleveland Torso series. However, when the murder took place on January 26, 1936, Jack Anderson Wilson was only 15-years-old (and only 13-years-old at the start of the killings). I think it is safe to assume the Jack Wilson sought at the time was a completely different Jack Wilson.

George Knowlton

In 1996 George Knowlton became the latest to be named as the man responsible for the murder of Elizabeth Short in the book Daddy Was The Black Dahlia Killer. Janice Knowlton, as you may have figured from the book title, was the daughter of George and in 1989 she claimed that during therapy she began to recover repressed memories of her father’s violence. By years end she had remembered Elizabeth Short as a victim of his brutality.

Janice claimed her father George Knowlton and Elizabeth Short were having an affair and she was staying in the garage of the family home. Elizabeth was also a prostitute and would procure young girls to be sold in a child sex trafficking ring (Janice claims she was sold as a child prostitute when she was nine by her father).

One night Elizabeth suffered a miscarriage in the garage and was then murdered by George Knowlton. The body was cut up in the sink then when disposing of the body he took his then ten-year-old daughter along for the ride to act as cover. According to Janice he first tried dumping the body in the ocean but when it failed to sink he instead dumped the body in the vacant lot where it was found.

When Janice Knowlton approached the police they were dismissive of her claims. None more so that Detective St John who stated details she gave had no relation to the facts.

“The things that she is saying are not consistent with the facts of the case,”

Detective St John in 1991

Investigators at the time where clear in their belief that Elizabeth wasn’t a prostitute and the coroner also stated she wasn’t pregnant or ever had been. However, the claims were investigated and in 1991 grounds around her former home were excavated in search of remains of another victim Janice claimed her father had buried there. Nothing was found.

Janice Knowlton continued to campaign her story that her father was the Black Dahlia killer even making appearances on TV shows such as Sally Jessy Raphael and Larry King Live. Her book was finally released some six years after her initial claims with a graphic tale.

After the book released she continued to push her story on message boards and websites, often resulting in abusive rants at those who didn’t believe her tale. Janice Knowlton died on March 6, 2004, of an overdose which was deemed a suicide, although family members stated their belief it was accidental.

A series of messages posted by Janice Knowlton

Little is known about George Knowlton himself. He died in an automobile accident in 1962 along with his young son Kevin. Other relatives have stated he could certainly be aggressive and abusive though Janice’s step-sister told the LA Times her book was trash and simply wasn’t true adding her father could be mean but he wasn’t a killer.

George Knowlton’s name so far has never materialised in any reports seen by researchers or released by police in relation to the Black Dahlia case. What little evidence there seems to be is purely circumstantial.

George Hodel

Somewhat surprisingly George Knowlton isn’t the only “My daddy did it” suspect named as the Black Dahlia killer. Dr George Hodel was named as the man who murdered Elizabeth Short, and others, by his son Steve Hodel in the 2003 book Black Dahlia Avenger.

George Hodel died in 1999. Amongst his father’s belongings Steve Hodel, a former LAPD homicide detective spotted two pictures. On closer look Steve Hodel identified the woman in both pictures as Elizabeth Short and began to investigate George Hodel’s link to Elizabeth, eventually concluding his father was the young woman’s killer.

George Hodel was certainly known to police. In October of 1949, a little over a year and a half after Elizabeth Short’s murder, he was arrested on suspicion of molesting his daughter Tamar. Two months later he was acquitted of the crime against the 14-year-old by a jury. According to Steve Hodel he was also suspected of playing a role in the suspicious death of his secretary Ruth Spaulding in 1945.

During the 1949 inquiry into the handling into the Black Dahlia case, a list containing twenty potential persons of interest was revealed. As someone who had been accused of a sex crime and had a medical background, Dr George Hodel was among the persons of interest list and had a bug placed on his premises whilst under surveillance.

Amongst the recordings, taken from February 18 to March 27, 1950, one transcript made of the recordings cited the murder of Elizabeth Short. In a telephone discussion with an unknown German man George Hodel said:

“Supposin’ I did kill the Black Daliah. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead”

Little else of use was gathered from the transcripts (in truth they are mind-numbingly dull) but the mention of the Black Dahlia and his secretary are often shown as damming pieces of evidence for those who believe George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer.

This doesn’t seem to tally with an inquest report before the Grand Jury on February 20, 1951. The District Attorney’s office had completed an investigation into over twenty persons of interest in the murder. Of Dr George Hodel the report stated:

“Two microphones were placed in the suspects home (see the log and recordings made over approximately three weeks time which tend to prove his innocence)”

Of course to counter the claims of the investigation findings the usual call of police corruption comes into the case (it seems whenever evidence goes against an author’s chief suspect then some sort of cover-up is always behind it). The claims George Hodel had power over anyone in the police force are totally unproven and in fact, beg two questions. If George Hodel was so powerful how come he was put on trial accused of molesting his daughter in the first place? and secondly, why was he put on the persons of interest list and then placed under surveillance with all this power?

These aren’t the only problems with Dr George Hodel as a suspect. The claims he was suspected of murdering his secretary seem largely unfounded. From what I can find at the time of her death it was pretty much ruled an open and shut case of suicide by the coroner.

The most damming problem, however, are the photographs which Steve Hodel claims led him to look into the Black Dahlia murder and his father in the first place. One woman came forward after the book was published and identified herself as the woman in one of the photos. The other woman, although never identified, quite clearly isn’t Elizabeth Short, experts, family members and virtually anyone with half-decent eyesight have concluded as much.

A final point of interest in the story of George Hodel comes from the accuser of another suspect. Janice Knowlton, who had already named her father the killer, just happened to know Tamar Hodel. Knowlton also just happened to mention George Hodel in relation to Elizabeth Short a year prior to Steve Hodel suddenly gaining an interest in the case. Coincidence?

A message mentioning George Hodel by Janice Knowlton on August 8, 1998, a full year before Steve Hodel says he first saw a link with his father to Elizabeth Short.

The case against Dr George Hodel does contain a few intriguing theories if taken at face value but in all likelihood, he wasn’t the killer of Elizabeth Short or anyone else for that matter. The fact Steve Hodel has since gone on to name his father as the Zodiac Killer and the person behind the Lipstick Murders in Chicago, as well as other murders, means a lot of his work and claims have started to lose any credibility they may have had amongst experts and crime historians.

Walter Bayley

LA surgeon Walter Bayley was named as the possible killer of Elizabeth Short by former copy editor and writer at the Los Angeles Times Larry Harnisch. Harnisch, who had little prior knowledge of the case, was asked to write an article to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth Short’s murder. He became say enthralled with the case his research never ended and he has arguably gone on to become probably the most authoritative voice on the case, uncovering many of the myths and lies that have persisted over the years.

An interview with legendary FBI profiler John Douglas led Larry Harnisch to look deeper into the area where Elizabeth’s body was discovered. Douglas was of the belief the killer had a personal connection to the location. His initial research turned up little but this soon changed. Amongst some items sent to Harnisch by an enthusiast of the case was the marriage certificate of Elizabeth’s sister Virginia. It was here Harnisch found his first link to the crime scene. One of the witnesses had put there address as Norton Avenue, the address was just a block away from where Elizabeth was found. The guest name was Barbara Lindgren.

Harnisch discovered the address was the home of Ruth and Walter Bayley, the parent’s Barbara Lindgren. Walter Bayley soon became of interest to Harnisch when he discovered he was a surgeon, certainly skilled enough to carry out the bisection performed on Elizabeth Short. Furthermore, Harnisch discovered that Bayley’s office was in the same area as the Biltmore Hotel, the last place Elizabeth was seen alive.

Walter Bayley died in 1948, a year after the Black Dahlia murder. Bayley’s autopsy revealed that he had been suffering from Enchephalomalacia, a very serious brain disorder, at the time of his death. The disorder can lead to a drastic change in behaviour including violence.

Bayley had certainly shown changes before his death. He left the family home after many years of marriage after beginning an affair with a work colleague. A change in personality was also confirmed by several people who knew Walter Bayley and Harnisch had managed to speak to, including colleagues, his secretary and his daughter Barbara.

Harnisch theorises that Elizabeth Short may have called on Barbara at the advice of her sister or her sister’s husband but was only able to trace Walter Bayley. Elizabeth may have then used the guise of a sob story to garner sympathy from Walter which then backfired.

It is alleged Elizabeth had claimed to have had a son who died before in such situations when she was looking for a place to stay or a drink to be bought, Walter Bayley, however, actually had endured such a tragic event. His son was killed when hit by a truck on January 13, 1920. Harnisch theorizes that at some point he realised Elizabeth’s lie, snapped and killed her, on the anniversary of his own son’s death. Bayley then bisected the body before leaving it in area close to where his son had lost his life seventeen years earlier.

After Walter Bayley’s death, his wife Ruth challenged the will of her husband. Part of her claim was that her husband’s mistress had threatened to reveal a terrible secret if he was to return to his wife. Could this secret have been related to the Black Dahlia case? Sadly we’ll never know for sure.

Walter Bayley certainly makes for an interesting suspect, however, there are also several problems. Bayley never had any history of violence, even after his personality change and was sixty-seven-years-old at the time of Elizabeth Short’s death. There is also no actual evidence that he ever met or even knew who Elizabeth Short was, and he was certainly never linked by the police at the time. Finally, the “secret” that Bayley’s mistress seemingly had over him could have been anything, some have speculated (again with no proof whatsoever) that he was performing illegal abortions and this was his secret, but honestly who knows all we do know is it will never be revealed now.

As of yet Larry Harnisch has still yet to release his book on Elizabeth Short and the Black Dahlia case. Until he does the jury is still out on Walter Bayley, but without anything more concrete he’s yet another interesting hypothesis and nothing more.

Elizabeth Short had a family who loved her and who suffered a tragic loss. Maybe the authors who squabble over who killed her should bear that in mind from time to time, especially those who feel the need to fabricate tales. In death, Elizabeth Short deserves so much better than having her name trashed with no proof of some of the things reported about her. The same may even be said of some of the suspects for whom there is no hard proof they ever did anything so abhorrent, and who are not alive to defend themselves

The simple truth of the matter is that no matter how many books are written, no matter how many Black Dahlia suspects are eventually named, we will likely never know who killed Elizabeth Short, despite what an author may claim. One thing I’ve learned time and time again is if a book is written with the main aim being to name a suspect then take everything that is written with a pinch of salt.

Sources And Further Reading

The Gruesome Murder Of Elizabeth Short

Black Dahlia, Red Rose

Newspaper Article On Leslie Dillon And Jeff Connors

Severed: The True Story Of The Black Dahlia

http://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/john-gilmore-1935-2016-black-dahlia-bunco-artist/

Daddy Was The Black Dahlia Killer

https://groups.google.com/g/alt.true-crime/c/hpeYXYn5zw0

https://groups.google.com/g/alt.news-media/c/QXL1dQ2Tudc/m/MS34sagMDVIJ

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-dec-19-me-knowlton19-story.html

Black Dahlia Avenger

http://www.lmharnisch.com/intro.html

https://delacortereview.org/2020/09/10/the-black-dahlia-the-long-strange-history-of-los-angeles-coldest-cold-case/

Jeanne French And The Red Lipstick Murder

jeanne french in 1932

On the 10th February 1947, the body of 44-year-old Jeanne French was discovered. Brutally stomped to death, her killer was never caught. Was this just a horrific murder? Or was it a part of a series of killings that took place in 1940’s Los Angeles at the hands of just one man? Here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at what became known as the Red Lipstick Murder.

The Life Of Jeanne French

Jeanne French (born Jeanne “Nettie” Axford) was born in 1902 on October 6th in Texas. Very little is known about her early life. Records indicate the family moved to Oklahoma and that “Nettie” had four younger siblings. Tragically two of her siblings appear to have died at young ages, Charles Axford was just 11 when he passed away and Frances was even younger, aged just 6 years old. At 18 years of age, we do know she would marry for the first time.

Jeanne’s first husband was a wealthy oilman named David Yandell Wrather, from Amarillo, Texas. In 1920 the couple welcomed their first, and only, child. The couple named the boy after his father, David.

Jeanne worked at St. Anthony’s Hospital as a nurse. However, by 1924 the couple’s marriage had hit the rocks and the pair were soon separated. After her divorce, French took her 4-year-old son and the two moved to Los Angeles.

It was in Los Angeles she would meet and marry her second husband. In 1925 Jeanne French was married to David Thomas. Again the marriage was short lived

Jeanne French continued to work as a nurse and was soon part of a team of nurses working with a Columbian oil company. During the time flying with the company, Jeanne became fascinated by the skies.

Jeanne decided to quit nursing and to study aviation. After passing her pilots exam she became a member of the Women’s Air Reserve. Jeanne also became a member of the International Organization of Women Pilots or the 99 Club as they are also known.

Jeanne French "The Flying Nurse"
Jeanne French (Jeanne Axford Thomas at the time) in her aviation gear.

By 1931 and using the name Jeanne Axford Thomas, she had gained a small level of fame and attention as a pilot, even earning the moniker of “The Flying Nurse” in some of the media. During 1931 Jeanne would marry for the third time. Her new husband was pilot Curtis Bower. The third time wasn’t a charm however and the couple separated after just five weeks of marriage.

The next few years of Jeanne French’s life are not as well documented. It is known she was a friend of the oil heiress Millicent Rodgers and so some have speculated Jeanne spent time travelling and living the socialite lifestyle with her friend. I was unable to find any evidence that this was true but it is certainly what most believe to be the case. It was also reported that Jeanne had also had several small acting roles under the name Jeanne Axford Thomas, though again I was unable to find any actual proof of this.

What we do know is that by 1945 Jeanne was married for the fourth time. Her fourth husband was serviceman Frank French. During her marriage to Frank, Jeanne started to turn to drink frequently (it isn’t clear what turned her to drink). Whilst under the influence Jeanne would often become aggressive and abusive with her husband Frank bearing the brunt of it. Two years later, in 1947, the pair would separate. Jeanne would not see 1948.

The Murder

The Discovery and Cause

At around 8 o’ clock in the morning on February 10, 1947 construction worker H. C. Shelby was making his way to work. On his route, he noticed what appeared to be a pile of women’s clothing amongst some weeds not far from the nearby sidewalk. Shelby decided to investigate the items closer, upon lifting up a coat with a fur trim Shelby uncovered the brutally beaten naked body of Jeanne French.

Jeanne French crime scene
The crime scene were Jeanne French was discovered.

Jeanne French had been the victim of a brutal and savage beating. The tragic victim had initially been smashed in the skull several times with a blunt metal weapon, a socket wrench most likely, however, this didn’t deliver the fatal blow. Instead, the murderer inflicted the killer blows by violently and sadistically repeatedly stomping upon the poor, unconscious victims body. With her body covered in wounds and bruising, Jeanne French would slowly bleed to death.

The Message

Whilst bleeding to death the killer took the time to mark his/her heinous crime. The killer took Jeanne’s red lipstick from her purse and proceeded to write a message across his dying victim’s torso:

Fuck You, P.D

Beneath this the name “Tex” was also written.

The message left was misreported at the time by several of the press (and is still to this day). Despite the coroner stating that the words written in red lipstick included the words “P. D” many of the press instead reported this as “B. D”. This immediately led many in the media to link the murder of Jeanne French to that of Elizabeth Short a.k.a the Black Dahlia murder.

red lipstick murder
The message “P.D” left on Jeanne French’s body.

Elizabeth Short was murdered just three weeks prior. However, investigators weren’t high on the presses theory that the murders were of the same hand and instead believed that they were looking for two separate individuals. Investigators instead turned their attention to the latest victims ex-husband, Frank French.

Frank French

Frank and Jeanne had a volatile relationship, with violence on both sides. Shortly before Jeanne’s murder, Frank himself had been arrested after he had punched Jeanne in the face during one particularly bad argument.

jeanne french and husband frank

Police inquiries revealed that Jeanne had visited her husband’s apartment just hours before her murder. Jeanne had been drinking and the couple, as had become the norm, argued on the front porch. The encounter reportedly ended with Jeanne hitting Frank with her purse before leaving still seemingly seething.

Upon Frank’s arrest, he admitted to the visit Jeanne had made to his apartment but said that was the last time he had seen her. Frank also stated that his landlady would be able to confirm his alibi that he didn’t leave his flat that evening.

Police also brought in Jeanne’s son David for questioning. After being questioned David was leaving the station when he encountered his stepfather. The 25-year-old son of the victim confronted the man who had potentially murdered his mother and said:

Well,I’ve told them the truth. If you are guilty, there is a God in heaven who will take care of you

Frank looked straight back at David and without any hesitation gave his reply:

I swear to God I didn’t kill her

Despite their initial belief police could find no evidence with which to tie the murder of Jeanne French to her ex-husband Frank. Furthermore, Frank’s landlady did indeed confirm his alibi that he hadn’t left his flat that evening. Finally, investigators couldn’t match the shoe prints found at the murder scene to Frank.

Despite no evidence against Frank French police still believed Frank could be the man they were looking for and so had Frank partake in a lie detector test. Frank passed the lie detector test and police finally moved on to other possible suspects.

Continued Investigation

Detectives next tried to find the man that was seen with Jeanne in the hours before her death. Jeanne was seen with a small man with a dark complexion in the Pan American Bar in West Washington Place. The bartender working on the night said that the pair had left together. Unfortunately, police were unable to trace the individual in question.

Detectives were getting nowhere fast and they had very few leads to go on. They traced the car Jeanne French owned to a parking lot. Witnesses said that the vehicle had been there since around 3 a.m on the morning of the murder. One of the witnesses spoken to, a night watchman, claimed that it was a male who had left the car at the location and not Jeanne. This man was never traced.

Whilst the murder of Elizabeth Short was constantly in the press and under investigation, it appears the brutal murder of Jeanne French was quickly forgotten and the Red Lipstick Murder case soon went cold.

Suspects and Theories

The Lover

Some three years after the murder of Jeanne French an investigation by the Grand Jury was ordered. They gave a scathing report on the standard of investigations into a number of unsolved murders of women throughout the 1940s in Los Angeles.

This led to many of them been looked into again, including that of Jeanne French. Walter Morgan and Frank Jemison of the District Attorney’s office were assigned the French case and they soon discovered a prime suspect.

Four months before the brutal killing of Jeanne French, and whilst still with husband Frank, the pair hired a painter named George Whitt to work on the couple’s home. The investigators discovered that Jeanne and the man soon started seeing one another, with Whitt admitting to going on several dates with Jeanne.

Morgan and Jemison found the man’s behaviour during their investigation into him questionable. The pair also uncovered during there investigation that the painter had burned some clothing and several pairs of shoes around the time of the murder. Whitt reportedly said he did this as he feared he would have the murder of Jeanne French pinned on him once police found out about the affair. Contradicting reports make it hard to decipher whether those shoes would even have been the same size as those wore by the person who savagely stomped Jeanne French to death (Jon Lewis claims in his book Hard Boiled Hollywood they weren’t a match).

Despite the initial interest, George Whitt was seemingly able to provide a solid alibi and prove he wasn’t the killer. The man was soon cleared of any involvement.

It also seems police believed there may have been another man in Jeanne’s life. During my trawl through the newspapers of the day I came across the headline:

jeanne french post box

Police had discovered that Jeanne French had been sharing a post office box with an unknown male whilst using a name from a previous marriage, Jeanne Thomas.

Jeanne French had been receiving letters at the Palms postal station in West Los Angeles. Despite the appeal for the man to come forward, as far as I can find no one did. Could the man have refused to come forward due to having something to hide?

A Hidden Message

Several who have looked into the crime have tried to use the message left in Red Lipstick on French’s body as a clue (which makes perfect sense: it must have been left for a reason). Some of those have taken the changing “P.D” to “B.D” path to link French to Elizabeth Short, however, others have used the actual message left by the killer.

One theory is that “P.D” stands for police department and it was some sort of message to the police. A more interesting theory is that the message refers to someone with the initials P. D and “Tex” is short for Texas.

Jeanne French, of course, spent much of her early life in Texas, not leaving until after her first divorce. Could something or someone from Jeanne French’s past have caught up with her and led to her murder?

Dr. George Hodel

george hodel
Dr George Hodel

In the book Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius For Murder the author of the book, Steve Hodel, names his own father as the killer of Elizabeth Short. Hodel also believes his father killed several other women including Georgette Bauerdorf and Jeanne French.

Hodel claims that the murder of French was a message to the police after it was reported in the press that they had arrested a suspect for the murder of Elizabeth Short. Dr George Hodel, therefore, murdered Jeanne French and left the initials “B.D” on her body.

This, of course, does ignore the fact that the coroner clearly stated the initials written were “P.D” and not “B.D”. It also doesn’t explain the writing of the word “Tex” underneath. Hodel also makes several other mistakes such as writing that French died of blunt trauma due to the blows she suffered to the head when in fact she was still alive after those blows and she died due to injuries incurred from being stomped on so viciously.

Hodel’s book does make for an interesting read. However, it has to be questioned whether in his desperation to name his father as the killer Hodel opts to pick and chose which evidence to believe and incorporate in his book.

One final point to be made against George Hodel as the killer is pointed out by Larry Harnisch. Much like Frank French the shoe simply didn’t fit, in other words, George Hodel didn’t wear a size 6 or 7 shoe but a larger size. Surely this fact makes it highly unlikely that George Hodel was the person who stomped Jeanne French to death.

Racists Attack

zoot suit riots
The Zoot Suit Riots occurred in 1943.

The description of the last person seen with Jeanne French was that it was a small man with a dark complexion. The man was undeniably a suspect, as mentioned he was the last person seen with the victim and the fact he was small also stands out due to the killer only been a size 6 or 7 shoe. However, could he have been the cause of Jeanne’s death in a totally different way?

1940s Los Angeles had its fair share of problems with racism, in particular between white men and the Latino community. Just a few years before Jeanne French’s murder the Zoot Suit riots had taken place in the city.

Is it possible that someone took offense in seeing a white woman with a man of dark complexion? If they did and chose to confront French it isn’t hard to imagine the confrontation getting completely out of hand and leading to her brutal attack.

As with most theories, this one is interesting but there is one big downside: What about the man she was with? Was he too scared to come forward? Did the killer wait for the man to leave before confronting Jeanne? Was he perhaps murdered too but dumped somewhere else?

Final Thoughts

As is often the case in these really old unsolved murders I find it highly unlikely we will ever know who killed Jeanne French in the early hours of February 10, 1947.

Of all the known theories or possibilities I would suggest that the man she was last seen with was her most likely killer. My thinking is that it is possible the pair got into a drunken argument, things escalated all too quickly and ultimately led to French’s death that night. The only real problem with this answer is it doesn’t explain the message left in red lipstick on the body.

The sad reality though is that in all likelihood we just won’t ever know the truth about what happened on that day that led to Jeanne’s death.

I do find it strange how little Jeanne’s murder has been remembered. Jeanne French lived quite the life and yet her horrifically brutal murder seems pretty much forgotten and lost in the realms of time. Whilst searching for information on Jeanne French it was astounding how little information there was in comparison to that of Elizabeth Short, despite both terrible murders taking place just weeks apart.

Tragically, over time, it seems as if it was decided that Jeanne French was worthy of being nothing more than a footnote, worth mentioning only when talking about The Black Dahlia or trying to link her to other unsolved murders. Jeanne French wasn’t just a footnote, she was a victim just like Short and deserved to have her story known.

With that said the murder wasn’t totally forgotten. If like me you love your video games, then the murder of Jeanne French actually inspires a story in the Rockstar game L.A Noire.