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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.