Black Dahlia Red Rose, by Piu Eatwell, is a re-examination of a brutal murder that occured seventy years ago in America which has never been officially solved. Told as a true crime story it offers a snapshot of Los Angeles, its police department and citizens, in an era that will be familiar from film. As the author writes in her preface:
“This era is commonly visualized through the movies, as the era of film noir: a time of corrupt cops and gun-toting gangsters, cynical heroes, and bottle blondes doling out deadpan one-liners. But the slick film noir repartee belied the brutal inequalities of reality. In truth, it was a tough time after a tough war in a tough world.”
This tough world was being navigated by beautiful young women with stars in their eyes who descended on Los Angeles looking for fame. What they found instead were predatory men who viewed the aspiring starlets as expendable game.
The Black Dahlia was twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, whose body was found dumped on waste ground in an LA suburb. She had been beaten, slashed, bled out and cut in two. The newspapers of the time were allowed access to evidence and potential suspects that would be unthinkable today. Often it was the journalists who moved the case forward. As evidence mounted it seemed that key figures within the police wished to stifle the investigation.
Unusually for the time, the LAPD employed a forensic psychologist, Dr Paul De River. He produced a profile of the killer and was subsequently contacted by a man who appeared a potential fit. There were other suspects but the most likely had powerful contacts who routinely paid the police for their cooperation. Corruption ran deep throughout the city and the Black Dahlia was one of many murders in a society that regarded its young women as objects whose purpose was to provide pleasure for others.
The story is structured in narrative form but is written using facts gleaned from documents produced throughout the original investigation. The LAPD continue to refuse to release key evidence, some of which has mysteriously disappeared. The book provides a detailed account of the crime and those tasked with apprehending a murderer. It is a search for the truth, suppressed on the remit of powerful individuals, now dead.
From the discovery of the body through to the case being finaly shelved, the reader is offered insights, fully cross-referenced and explained in footnotes, a bibliography and detailed endnotes. The story told is a lesson in the sham of 1950s supposed values, and in the lack of value placed on certain lives. The photographs at the end, drawn from evidence, are chilling.
The author has studied this evidence, consulted with experts, and drawn a conclusion as to the likely killer. As a lawyer she is well placed to undertake this task. She offers a cinematic retelling of the case that is evocative and compelling. An example of fact being even more shocking than fiction.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Coronet.