Probably the most infamous unsolved crime in Los Angeles History was the mutilation-murder of Elizabeth Short, the "Black Dahlia." Her severed body was discovered in the Crenshaw District on January 15, 1947. She wore black as a gimmick to foster an acting career in Hollywood in the 1940s, thusly earning the nickname "Black Dahlia." No murder case in U.S. history produced more confessions--38 fully written, more than 200 in telephone calls (police stopped counting). One person mailed a package to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner containing the victim’s social security card, birth certificate, photographs of the victim with various servicemen, business cards and claim checks for luggage she had left at the bus depot. Also in the package was her address book with several pages torn out. A letter would follow, wrote the sender. It never did. The sender had cleverly treated the contents so that Police could not lift prints from the material. The case remains unsolved. LAPD Detective Harry L. Hansen worked on the case for decades. Most recently, in his 2003 book Black Dahlia Avenger, Steve Hodel, a retired LAPD homicide detective turned private investigator, alleged that his own father, the late Dr. George Hodel, was the killer of Elizabeth Short and a number of other women.
The second most notorious unsolved crime in Los Angeles history was the murder of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922. No sign of a robbery or forced entry to Taylor’s home was found; suggesting that someone he knew murdered him. The press went wild with stories of foot-dragging by police, cover-ups by studio employees, wild sexual promiscuity by Taylor, drug use, and even a possible settling of scores by former Canadian soldiers with whom Taylor had served. Much of this was later discounted, however, and indeed, the studio publicity machine was believed to have planted some of it. Though an actress close to Taylor and her "studio mom" mother were seen as the prime suspects, no one had ever been charged in the crime. Interest in the murder continued at least through the 1960’s.
Thelma Todd was a successful film actress and restaurateur who was found dead in her car on the morning of December 16, 1935, in the garage of a home on the hill above her Pacific Coast Highway restaurant. The home was owned by film director Roland West and his wife Jewel Carmen (a former silent film actress) who were business partners with Todd. West was also Todd's occasional lover. No suicide note was found and people who had seen Todd prior to her death noted nothing to indicate that she might have been inclined to harm herself. The coroner ruled that Todd had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The circumstances of her death were investigated by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury and ruled as either a suicide or an accident with an explanation that she may have passed out while her car was running and died from asphyxiation. Rumors that Todd was actually murdered were many. Among those under suspicion were West, Carmen, ex-husband Pasquale "Pat" DiCicco (the two had an argument at a party the night of Todd's death), mobster and abusive lover Lucky Luciano, and even her mother, Alice Todd. Friends further disclosed that Todd spoke of a new romance with an unidentified San Francisco man. Statements that Todd had expressed fear of mobsters the night of her death also fed into these suspicions. Todd’s death, however, remains officially an accident or suicide.
Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were brutally murdered sometime during the evening of June 12, 1994, outside Simpson’s Brentwood condominium. On June 17, Simpson's ex-husband, retired football star Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson, was charged with the double murder. A mostly black jury later acquitted him after a lengthy, highly publicized trial (the jury was sequestered for 266 days). In 1997, families of the murder victims filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson in Santa Monica Superior Court. The mostly white jury found Simpson liable in the deaths and awarded the families $33.5 million in damages. The murder case officially remains unsolved.
The Black Dahlia: 5 Things to Know About the Notorious Murder
Here are five things to know about one of the most famous unsolved murders of all time.