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5 Famous Unsolved Murders of Old Hollywood and Beyond

Nurse with lifetime passion for true crime. Have read numerous books & written at least 100 articles on Hollywood and historical crimes

Elizabeth Short Modeling

Elizabeth Short Modeling

Unsolved murders always arouse intrigue because of the fact that we will never know the facts, and the very thought of a killer never coming to justice drives most Americans to obsess over who the killer may have actually been.

The Black Dahlia and the William Desmond Taylor case are among the top infamous unsolved murders, while other well-publicized murders, such as the Manson murder and the Betty Broderick story, intrigue us due to the fact that we know who committed the murder. We are perplexed by what drove that person to kill and how grisly the murders were. The case of Joan Robinson and Dr. John Hill poses a little of both, for it is a case that could be considered unsolved and yet the general public believes that they know who the killers were, which makes the case all the more notorious.

Famous Unsolved Murders

  • Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia
  • William Desmond Taylor
  • Betty Broderick
  • Sharon Tate
  • Joan Robinson

The Disturbing Case of the Black Dahlia

One of the most famous and intriguing unsolved murders is the notorious slaying of "The Black Dahlia," whose real name was Elizabeth Short.

On January 15th, 1947, a young mother was walking down the streets of Los Angeles with her three-year-old daughter as she always did, but this day was to be different from her typical routine walk. As she passed through the Leimert Park district her daughter said, "what's that?" It appeared to be a department store mannequin that some pranksters had thrown in a vacant lot. But, as the woman approached closer to the figure she realized that this was no mannequin, it was a human body that had been cut in half, drained of blood and cruelly displayed for passers-by to view. Soon the police and investigators clamored the scene. Murders were not common in Los Angeles in the 1940s, and such a brutal crime was not heard of in the media since Jack the Ripper of London fifty years earlier.

The body was severely mutilated, with a gruesome set of cuts on either side of the face, creating it a prop-like smile, and one of the breasts had been mutilated, giving the investigators evidence of torture.

The entire body had been sawed in half at the waist. The torso was a few feet away from the legs. Police knew immediately that the body had been completely washed clean and posed. The case was sensationalized immediately by the Los Angeles Times and the corpse was named The Black Dahlia. When such detail of mutilation and torture are found on a body police know that the person who committed the crime was likely to be someone the victim knew very well, perhaps a lover, or more to the point a spurned lover. Random acts of violence are usually simple and unemotional.

The body was soon identified to be that of Elizabeth Short, a beautiful 22-year old woman who wanted to become a movie star.

Rare Color Photo of the Black Dahlia

Rare Color Photo of the Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Heads for Hollywood

Elizabeth Short was born July 24th 1924 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. When she was still an infant her father abandoned the family, leaving Elizabeth and her four older sisters to be taken care of solely by her mother. Beth was a sickly child who had severe asthma, influencing her mother to send her to Florida during the winter months. Beth's mind began to wonder about the movies and how she could become a movie star to escape her feeling of neglect and loneliness. Beth was blessed with striking good looks, having stunning high cheekbones, intensely white flawless skin, and raven black hair, paired with blue eyes. Her coloring was a sight to behold. With her looks alone Beth knew that she had a fighting chance to escape a humdrum existence and gain acceptance and respectability.

Hollywood in Elizabeth Short's vision of Hollywood was 100% different from the Hollywood of today. It was a wonderland of beauty, creativity and status. Modern actors of today make outrageously large sums of money and take their clothes off in front of the camera, which puts them in a spoiled and out of touch status. Their common behavior does not put them on a higher moral or educational plane either. Audiences realize that they have outrageous amounts of plastic surgery while spewing out politically liberal propaganda, which leads to resentment in the average person who works for a living. Once upon a time, there were actual movie stars in the 1920s–1950s who had incredible poise, class and glamor. They were ideal role models for young people to listen to in an effort to have meticulous grammar, and to study in an effort to know the proper way to behave like ideal ladies and gentlemen. Even children who grew up in the 1970s with bad parents actually learned about social graces by watching the old movies that were on television all the time during that era. So, for Elizabeth Short, she could solve her financial problems, her feelings of being unloved, and actually better herself at the same time by becoming a movie star.

Elizabeth's mother had told her daughter that her father was probably dead, but one day he came back and wanted to be part of the family. Beth's scorned mother told him to take a hike, which he did; to California. Now that her father was living in California, that was all Elizabeth needed to know before she was off to California herself. As soon as she turned 19, Elizabeth was off to join her father.

Beth lead a tumultuous life in California, getting into fights with her father, being arrested for underage drinking, and leaning on men who were willing to help her out. Beth traveled from California, to Oregon, back to Florida and so on. But while in Los Angeles it is clear that Beth did in fact make attempts at a career in the movies. She had several headshots taken, along with some full modeling photos, in which she closely resembles Linda Darnell.

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It was difficult to narrow down a murderer after Beth was killed because she led a very unstable life, moving often, and dating a lot of men. Never before seen photos of Elizabeth Short are still turning up on the internet of Beth standing next to an unknown young hunk. There were numerous men investigated after the murder, and to cause even more chaos to the nailing down the killer, as the case became more and more famous, every crackpot in Los Angeles was claiming to be the now-famous Black Dahlia murderer. Lt. Gordon Fickling was a man Elizabeth sent a letter to the day before she was killed. In the letter, Beth states that she would like to move to Chicago and become a fashion model.

Was he angry because Beth was leaving him?

Elizabeth Short and a friend on the beach

Elizabeth Short and a friend on the beach

Black Dahlia Suspects

The case of the Black Dahlia has continued to grow over the 60+ years since the body was originally discovered, and while her killer was never officially brought to justice, like the case of Jack The Ripper, there have always been a few men strongly suspected of committing the crime.

One of the prime suspects in the Black Dahlia murder is George Hill Hodel. He was never charged with the murder, but his son wrote a book called The Black Dahlia Avenger, in which he accused his father of the murder. Hodel's son, Steve Hodel concluded that his father killed Elizabeth Short due to jealousy after his relationship with the striking brunette ended suddenly.

Robert Manley has remained one of the top suspects because he was the last known person to see Elizabeth Short alive. He had been on a date with Beth and told investigators that he left her at the Baltimore Hotel. Manley was booked for the murder of The Black Dahlia shortly after the body was discovered, but after passing a polygraph test he was released. In the early 1950s Manley and his wife separated and Manley was committed to an institution after his wife felt unsafe because Robert was hearing voices. Police stepped in once again to conspire with psychologists to see if Manley was hiding anything. He was given a lie detector test in which "truth serum" was used. Once again, Robert Manley was exonerated.

Jack Anderson Wilson has been a long standing suspect of the Black Dahlia Murder. Writer John Gilmore pointed the finger at this man when he published his best selling book about the Black Dahlia murder, Severed. Gilmore had interviewed Jack Anderson Wilson in the 1980s and discovered that Jack knew details about the murder that were never divulged to the press.

A suspect of some of the Los Angeles Times writers was Walter Alonzo Bayley, who was a surgeon and lived approximately one block away from the location of where Elizabeth Short's body was found. Bayley fits the profile of the killer due to the fact that the body was so neatly dismembered, and police instantly suspected that the killer was someone who knew how to cut up a body. This could be a surgeon, a butcher, a hunter or farmer. Also, the fact that he lived so close by fits the profile of the killer who enjoys watching people discover his slayings and be dangerously close to the action. Another curious fact is that his daughter happened to be friendly with Elizabeth Short's sister, Virginia.

The first Black Dahlia movie was made in 1975, with Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame playing the Black Dahlia. In 2006, The Black Dahlia was again released in modern film noir style, and the story was taken from James Ellroy's novel of the same title.

The William Desmond Taylor Mystery

William Desmond Taylor was born on April 26, 1872, and arrived in Hollywood at its most exciting time, during its infancy. He began acting in silent films and by 1914 he was a well-respected director. William Desmond was a man of distinction, education, class and elegance. Those who knew Taylor spoke very highly of him as a man who put his work first, making him a great director. The perfect figure of a gentleman who strove for success and integrity was discovered dead in his home in Feb. 1922, it was to become one of the first big Hollywood scandals along with the Fatty Arbuckle trial, and one of the most intriguing unsolved murders of all time. Taylor had no known enemies, was not involved in drugs, and was never seen running around with women.

On February 1922 at approximately 7 a.m., William Desmond was found dead in his Alvarado Court home of Los Angeles which was then an upscale and affluent neighborhood. Taylor had a good deal of cash on his person, eliminating robbery as the motive. He also had a photograph locket of the actress, Mabel Normand in his pocket along with his watch and a penknife. Mabel Normand admitted to visiting Taylor the night before his body was found and was soon discovered to be the last person to see Taylor alive.

She had been getting very close to Taylor over the past several months due to the fact that Taylor was well-read and distinguished, and Normand wanted to better herself, for she had been a model and actress since the age of 12 and had little education. Taylor was advising Normand on good books to read so that she may improve her vocabulary and creativity. On Feb 1, 1922, Normand returned some books that she had borrowed and had a new set of books in had when Taylor walked her to her car and waved goodbye.

Among Taylor's belongings was a love letter from another actress, Mary Miles Minter. A stunning young girl who was being groomed to follow in the same footsteps as Mary Pickford. On further searching of Taylor's home there were many more love letters from Mary Miles Minter that revealed the desperate young love of a girl head over heels in love. The love letters became famous all over the country as the newspapers printed every little girlish word that Mary had written to her man; Dearest- I love You, I love you, I love you, with large X's all over the page.

One of Taylor's neighbors saw a figure leaving the Taylor bungalow after hearing what sounded like shots being fired. She thought it was a man and then suggested that it could have been a woman dressed as a man. She said the figure walked like a woman, taking fast, short steps.

Could Mary have gone to visit her lover and been rejected by him? There was clear evidence that Mary was in love with Taylor but there was absolutely no evidence that Taylor loved Mary.

Could Normand have gone back to Taylor's to find Mary there with him?

One of the most popular theories that has plenty of evidence to back it up is the theory that Mary's obsessed stage mother had designs on Taylor herself and was upset with Mary, her meal ticket, taking such an avid interest in the director. It is believed that Mary's mother Charlotte Shelby went to Taylor's home to tell the director to lay off of Mary and to take her on. When things did not go exactly her way she shot him dead.

Taylor appeared to have been shot at close range, in fact, when examining Taylor's coat it appears that the killer was hugging him when he was shot. Sydney Kirkpatrick wrote a well-documented book called, A Cast of Killers which uncovers the details of the murder.

Betty Broderick in Court

Betty Broderick in Court

Betty Broderick's Fury

The Betty Broderick Story is one of San Diego's most notorious murder cases ever. When Betty married her sweetheart, Dan Broderick, she thought her fairy tale life was well underway. She planned to do whatever it took to support her family and keep pressure off of Dan while he worked hard in school. She spent years babysitting and doing odd jobs while raising their four children knowing that some day all her hard work would pay off. By all accounts, Betty Broderick was the ultimate super mom.

In the late 1970s, things were finally easing up for Betty. Her husband had left school behind him and was committed to working. Dan was a smart and levelheaded guy who now had a medical degree and a law degree under his belt, and was now starting up his own law practice.

Just as Betty began to plan her new life as a wealthy housewife who could spend a little money on herself, Dan was carrying on an affair with his legal assistant.

Linda Kolkena was a girl who had no real focus in life and had been fired as an airline stewardess after becoming intoxicated on the job and flirting with male passengers by sitting on their laps. When Daniel Broderick hired Linda, she could not even type, and had no legal background to speak of. It would soon become clear that Linda was having an affair with Dan and reaping all of the rewards in life that Betty Broderick had worked for.

The affair between Dan and Linda lasted years, which wavered from Dan breaking it off and telling Linda to date someone else, to Dan telling Betty she was crazy and that he and Linda were not having an affair. It was an emotional roller coaster for all involved, but after more than five years of the yo-yo triangle, Dan moved out of his home with Betty and moved into another home that Linda quickly moved into.

The divorce was on, and Betty was so furious with what was happening to her that she became unglued. She ranted about Dan, and the injustice that the very liberal legal system of California where the wife basically has no rights. Dan was off and running with a younger version of herself and planning to start a new family while she was left broken and neglected.

When Dan married his former mistress he had basically signed his death certificate. Betty had found the keys to his house, not hard to do because her four children had a set, and crept into her former husband's home and shot both he and Linda while lying in bed.

Her four children were displaced, and the remainder of her life will be spent behind bars.

Dan & Linda

Dan & Linda