Cleo Short, Elizabeth Short’s father, was a selfish and rigid man, who had little time for anyone who wasn’t of some value to him.
In 1941, when Beth Short was 19 years old, she believed that her father had committed suicide 11 years earlier, but the truth would turn out to be worse. While the family struggled and barely made ends meet, Beth’s father, Cleo, was alive, doing well, and simply wanted to be rid of of them and the financial responsibility of maintaining them. He brazenly contacted Phoebe in 1942, apologized for faking his own suicide in 1929, and, to her astonishment, Cleo asked if he could come back home.
Beth’s mother, Phoebe, was appalled and wanted nothing to do with him, but Beth was young, and her friends in Massachusetts described her as; “movie struck,” so she packed her things into a steamer trunk, and headed for Vallejo, CA., to live with Cleo.
Imagine believing that your father had committed suicide, because the financial pressure of raising a family, during the Great Depression, had been too much for him to handle. Then years later, you discover that he ran like a coward, deserted you and left you all to fend for yourselves, while he lived the good life in California.
The relationship was doomed from the start.
Narcissistic Cleo didn’t want Beth to pursue an acting career at all, and would do nothing to help his daughter in that regard, in spite of the fact that his suicide-charade, had likely permanently damaged Beth’s self-esteem.
Cleo was only interested in Beth, as she benefited Cleo.
He insisted she stay at home and keep his house clean for him, as if a 19-year-old girl would embrace such an arrangement.
Beth was young and vibrant, a real head-turner, and one can imagine that she had little, if any, respect for Cleo, considering what he had done to the family. She might have even imagined that the invitation was an attempt, on Cleo’s part, to make amends for abandoning them the way he did.
If she expected any regret or guilt from Cleo, she was bitterly disappointed.
Naturally the sailors stationed at the shipyard, where Cleo worked at the time, were clamoring to ask Beth out on a date. Cleo hated the fact that his daughter garnered so much attention and her popularity angered him. He insisted that she stay at home and clean house.
I doubt if a beautiful, well-traveled young woman in her prime, would want to play housekeeper, to the arrogant old fool who ruined her life.
There is little doubt that Cleo’s act of cowardice, which forced the women to struggle considerably for years, was the subject of many a shouting match.
It makes you wonder what Cleo used as an excuse for his behavior, and where he got the nerve to ask Beth to stay home and clean his house for him.
Beth left her father’s home and hitched a ride with a friend to Camp Cooke, an armored training base near Santa Barbara, where she took a civilian job, at the Army PX, as a cashier. This qualified her to live on the base, but the army base was new and still under construction, so she was forced to move around until more units were ready.
At one point during her stay at Camp Cooke, a concerned soldier offered to share his quarters with her until she got a unit of her own, however, once she moved in, the Sergeant made unwanted advances. When Beth resisted those advances, he gave her a black eye.
Beth reported the beating, and was immediately moved in with a female, WAC (Women’s Army Corp.) Beth shared her problems with the WAC and talked about her father…men…Hollywood…fame…and all of her desires, dreams, problems and goals, but the female officer was worried about Beth. She didn’t feel Beth was “tough enough” to handle the back-stabbing, rat-race, that was Hollywood.
That is why, when Beth was later named “The Camp Cutie of Camp Cooke,” her WAC roommate advised her to be very careful of the men she may run across.
Civilian cutbacks forced Beth off the base and on August 25, 1943, she moved in with some acquaintances at a ranch, located nearby. Beth was later arrested in a restaurant, sitting at a table full of friends, having drinks.
Unfortunately, she was still a juvenile.
It would be this mug shot, and the accompanying arrest record, that the police would later use to identify her body.
After the arrest, Cleo characteristically refused to take custody of Beth, who now had no legal guardian, until Mary Unkefer, a kindly Santa Barbara policewoman, offered her a place to stay.
The policewoman put Beth on a bus to Boston, but it wasn’t long before Beth hit the road again, traveling to Miami Beach, where she got a job at Rosedale Delicatessen.
In March of 1944, on New Year’s Eve, Beth was staying with a Mrs. Devaul, when she met a soldier who was about to go overseas, named Matt Gordon. Gordon quickly became Beth’s fiancé and by mid-January 1945, she was back in Massachusetts, happily awaiting Matt ‘s return, and working at St. Claire’s Restaurant, in Boston.
At the end of the war, in August, Beth received a telegram, telling her that Matt Gordon had been killed in combat.
After Gordon’s death, Beth left her job at St. Claire’s in despair, and by December 1944, she was living in Jacksonville Florida.
For the next year, Beth roamed aimlessly around the country, and lived with anyone who would allow her to stay. She struck up a relationship with another soldier named Gordon Fickling, and things looked promising, but after leaving Chicago and moving to Long Beach to live with Fickling, Beth realized that Gordon couldn’t offer her any stability, and the two went their separate ways.
The movie “The Blue Dahlia” came out in July, while Beth and Fickling were still an item. It was at this time, Beth’s friends nicknamed her; “The Black Dahlia.”
On August 20, Beth Short’s tenuous life began to unravel.
Sadly, the interviews with her friends and family, indicate a heartbroken young woman, completely unaware that she is recklessly careening towards disaster.
Much of the information was unflattering towards Beth, and even the police reports contained disparaging comments about her, calling her a “a leech,” a “mooch,” and in some instances a “prostitute,” seemingly because they could find no sources of income for her during this time.
I was shocked when I read the nasty words used in the police reports, to describe a victim, and felt that law enforcement was attempting to blame Beth for her own murder, while at the same time, cover up for a sloppy investigation, that was out of control from the beginning. The barbs, digs and innuendo continued in the press:
“…the victim had ‘many boyfriends,’” the word “boyfriends” often in quotes.
One newspaper described Beth, calling her:
“…a man-crazy adventurous, who came to California for her health in 1943, and spent the next 3 years as a ‘Hollywood Party Girl,’”
These types of negative, suggestive descriptions, depict Beth as someone who was “asking for it,” in so many words.
It’s also false, that she came to California for her “health,” but then so many things you read in the press about Beth were false.
Another paper described Elizabeth Short as a:
“pleasure-loving, raven-tressed victim,”
while another article stated that her picture albums:
“…were filled with photographs of boyfriends, from coast to coast.”
There was a lot of conflicting information at the time, 30-plus false confessions, a police force in chaos, over 120 suspects, missing evidence, and a constant stream of detectives, being removed and replaced .
Clues were ignored, simply because one set of investigators didn’t want to share their information with the “new guys.” Each team was afraid that the “new team” would get all of the credit for solving the crime, and make the original detectives look like a bunch of rubes.
Beth’s roommates told the investigators “… Beth wanted to get a good job to prove to her mother that she could look out after herself, but she never did get a job.” These same girls reported that her part time jobs included “nude modeling,” and being a “Hollywood extra.”
Those words, which were Beth’s own words, leave a lot to the imagination, as it became evident, the further I dug into her life, that Beth lied a lot.
The girls went on to say, that she always seemed to come up with the funds for groceries and rent.
In another interview, 44-year-old Hollywood Hairdresser, Alex Constance, who styled Beth’s hair occasionally and also took her out to eat once and a while, remembered that; “She sometimes played her many men against each other, making dates and then breaking them. I warned her that this could get her into trouble.”
By this time, Leo had put Beth on notice. He felt no remorse what so ever for leaving the family, that he only wanted her there to do his dishes, that he disliked her as a person, that her goals were meaningless and comical to him, that he wasn’t going to help her in any way, that he owed her nothing, and had no feelings for her as a daughter. If Beth did play tricks on men, who could blame her?
She told many people that she was close friends with actress Ann Todd, however, after her murder, when Ms. Todd was interviewed, she told the police that she never met Beth.
After Cleo threw her out onto the streets, and a soldier, who offered to help her, gave her a black eye instead, it’s no wonder that Beth, seemingly, had a bad attitude towards men.
Beth was also lying, about her life in Los Angeles, to her mother Phoebe.
Phoebe believed that Beth had a good job at the Naval Hospital, and was shocked to find out that Beth was basically homeless. “Her letters were always so cheerful,” she told reporters.
Marjory Graham and Lynn Martin, Beth’s roommates at the time she was murdered, asked their boyfriends if Beth could come along with them, whenever they went to dinner:
“The kid is broke and hungry, and she’s starting to get behind in her rent,” they implored.
An ominous story emerges, as one good friend describes Beth the way he remembered her:
“She was very good looking, with beautiful dark hair and fair skin,” the young man told a reporter, “She dressed nicely and was a long way from a barfly. She had a rose tattoo on her left leg, and she loved to sit with her leg crossed over, so her tattoo would show.”
The killer gouged the tattoo out of her leg, with a knife, and it was found in Beth’s vaginal cavity, at autopsy.
When Mrs. Keeling, Beth’s former boss at the Camp Cooke commissary, was questioned, she described Beth as a “model employee in all respects…” but went on to tell detectives that after a month, Beth began to change.
The French family, who invited Beth to stay at their house for one night, but after a month had to ask her leave, told police that Beth had told them; she was the widow of an Air Corps Major killed in a plane crash, and that she had born him a child, who later died.
There was conflicting evidence of the supposed marriage, in two other trunks that the victim owned, not to mention the fact that her own mother, Phoebe, knew nothing of a marriage and a child.
Who could blame Beth Short for rewriting her dismal life, to include a few enhancements, such as a wedding and a child?
There was also the matter of her laughing at men. On the one hand, you understand her distain for men, but on the other hand, you can see where this might incite a dangerous psychotic, into a murdering narcissistic rage.
In one story told to a reporter, by a young man who was present at the time, Beth was traveling up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles with a group of friends, when she began mocking a young man, who she claimed was hopelessly in love with her. Beth continued to make fun of her love-struck admirer, ridiculing him and devising a cruel joke, where the group could all join in together, and compose a post card to the unfortunate man, informing him that Beth had married someone else.
Laughing all the way to Los Angeles, the group of friends stopped at a post box and mailed the postcard, then carried on towards LA, laughing about it the entire time.
Then again, at this point in her life, one can hardly blame Beth for having a cruel side either.
That being said…when the autopsy report was released, it appeared that Beth’s ego was a cover-up. It was noted that many of Beth’s teeth were rotten and, not having the funds to get them fixed, she had been using wax to plug up the decay. Perhaps her vanity was a defense mechanism? Perhaps she didn’t want people to get too close?
There’s no doubt that whoever did this to Beth Short was extremely enraged, and that rage was aimed directly at her.
It’s more likely that whoever did this knew her.
Beth loved to show her ankle tattoo off. It was something her friends noticed. The tattoo was viciously carved out of her leg and crammed into an orifice.
Beth also had a habit of laughing at men, using them for money and favors, and playing them for fools. Beth’s killer brutally slashed a permanent smile into her face.
Could the understandable chip on Beth Short’s shoulder, and her occasional poor treatment of men, have been one of the things that triggered a killer into a murderous rage?
PART 3 >>> The Letters