Assessing The Black Dahlia in the Annals of Crime

The name evokes the exotic. I have said it represents the epitome of Crime Noir. But it really represents so much more.

There is no secret that I have a person of interest in the case of Jack the Ripper. A few of my English fans (and I only have a few) have awaited my arrival in London, which I had promised long ago, to finally do my archival research for my second tome. In some casual discussion it was put forward, as one might expect, that the person who solves the Ripper crimes is automatically the greatest detective of all time.  Noir

I disagree.

A serial killer leaves so many clues and evidence behind with each installment that they cannot really be considered the greatest mysteries. More clues = less gray cells needed. It is the single, exotic murder that truly tests the mettle of the detective mind. Few clues = lots of gray cells needed.

I do not speak of a spontaneous gang crime or brutal murder for burglary. I speak of the single, intended, premeditated murder, one where the killer is using the victim in a game of intellect. The murder of The Black Dahlia represents this.

The murder of Elizabeth Short was not an end in itself. It was a challenge to the entire police force. As far as I am concerned it was part copycat and part original act. The haughty mind had long wished to mesmerize the Los Angles Police with an unfathomable crime. Elizabeth Short was his guinea pig. Her murder was not revenge. It was the act of pure arrogance and expedience. She was an ante in a game that would not become a series. There would be no evolution of clues. It was one hand, and the killer intended himself to be the master dealer. 1bd1

To capture the public sensation only a serial killing spree can achieve, the killer knew this crime had to be public. It had to be the worst thing imaginable and then displayed so it could not be buried under the carpet. To make this the worst crime, and hence a crime worthy of the most lurid press sensationalism, it had to be exotic. The torture inflicted on Short was stupefying. The torture mocked her, mocked her beauty and ambition. Hers was not an original ambition. She was one of thousands bitten by the desire to make it in Hollywood. Some way or another she had to attract attention to her “glamour.” This was the era of “glamour girls.” Not sex symbols. Glamour gals. Sex symbols came in with Marilyn Monroe. Liz Short was of the era were the glamourous femme fatale was prized. As beautiful as dolls, gentle, dainty, sophisticated,  something for a rich man to wear on his sleeve. A rich old man. Until a glamour gal made it in the magazines, this was one step in her ascent to the top.Noir2

Elizabeth Short was an easy target, in other words. Her killer didn’t hate call girls or professional dates. He needed a means to an end. Those are the most available. It worked. The killer took a woman who most likely didn’t have the stuff to make it in Hollywood– like thousands of others– but he promised it to her.  The end result was, to him anyway, her greatest performance. She became the most famous victim of murder. His performance was to make it look like a Simon Pure with a macabre sense of hypocrisy had killed her.

In truth, he was a petty egotist who needed to feed off the satisfaction each morning in the mirror, when his evil grin curled on his face, that he was baffling the police. He had no other reason. It was his own private thrill. He intended it to go no further than this one victim. Clearly, he succeeded.

To solve such a savage crime as this is to solve the ultimate murder. Not a serial killing. The detective– police, private, or independent– who can solve this murder would be the greatest. Not just because of the complexities. Next year it will be 70 years. A lifetime. To be able to part the ether of time is a rare talent. It takes a lot of gray cells. Noir3

There can be no hot tip for Black Dahlia anymore. It doesn’t take a great detective to follow a tip and find the guilty. Something this old requires sheer investigative genius. Perfect inference from each set of facts. Pure, distilled logic. Pure investigative method– Observe, classify, infer, interpret, measure, predict, questions, hypotheses, experiment, model building. Perfect use of the process of elimination. Perfect processing of the rules of circumstantial evidence.

I refused to take up the challenge after I rediscovered Black Dahlia’s body dump location. (The false one is still referred to on the web).  I had too much in front of me, and still do. But I have started to search here and there. It cannot be intense yet. There is still too much before me. It is a daunting task. But there is an eagerness now, something I have not had in a long time. I had it when I started on ZODIAC, then EAR, then D.B. Cooper. After years of hammering away, it becomes drudgery.

There appears to be no really good book on the subject. I could write something like that, something objective like I did in Scarlet Autumn. But I really want to take up the challenge. I may flame out like all others, but still better to have tried and failed than not at all. There is always a lot of learning along the way of any quest.

Hopefully, I can take up Black Dahlia soon. As a man who loved Crime Noir in cinema, I look forward to delving into the past, into tonal Plus X Negative stock (old B&W photography)  and into a past Los Angeles that is slowly disappearing to time.

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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.


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