As much as I love Los Angeles stories and true crime tales, I’ve long avoided reading about the murder of Elizabeth Short. I did read James Ellroy’s fictional take and watch I Am The Night but both of those were kind of pop pulpy examinations with little basis in reality geared for entertainment. The main reason I’ve avoided it is I don’t find the murder and brutality of white women as fascinating as others, particularly white men, seem to do. I know there are many psychological nuances to why people kill but in situations such as this, it often comes down to garden variety misogyny. I don’t find misogyny fascinating; I find it gross.
But this one came recommended because it was a level-headed, detailed account of what happened during the investigation with a solid hypothesis into who the actual killer was. So I gave it a shot…and it lived up to its billing. It helps that Piu Eatwel isn’t approaching this as many Angeleno-based writers do: from a perspective of sensationalism and conjecture (looking at you, Steve Hodel). Instead, she focuses her book on two men: Leslie Dillon and Mark Hansen. The former was a drifter with alleged psychosexual tendencies. The latter a gangster and a pimp with ties to the LAPD.
Eatwel makes an interesting case for the guilt of the two, as well as the inexplicable cover up of the scandal-ridden LAPD (what else is new?). Granted, a lot of what she suggests as evidence is circumstantial. But the circumstances are compelling enough to warrant a closer look. Since the LAPD refuses to release the case file on Elizabeth Short’s murder, she’s left with only scraps of evidence but she’s able to turn them into a compelling narrative. I’m not sure these two men did it but it’s as good of a guess as any.
My only real complaint is Eatwel relies too much on footnotes. I’d guess 80% of them were redundant and unnecessary. But otherwise, she presents a most interesting case. Even if you don’t agree with her hypothesis, you can at least appreciate it for a fully realized accounting of the Short investigation. The crime lingers on too long in the American consciousness for many of the wrong reasons. Credit to Eatwel for focusing on the right ones.