The Black Dahlias

Who killed Ora Murray, Elizabeth Short, Georgette Bauerdorf, Evelyn Winters, and Jeanne French?

A series of cold case murders from 1940s Los Angeles get some clarity with a fresh look at victimology and criminal profiling.

Timeline and Victims

  1. Ora Murray, 42: July 26, 1943
  2. Georgette Bauerdorf, 20: October 12, 1944
  3. Elizabeth “Beth” Short, 22: January 15, 1947
  4. Jeanne French, 45: February 10, 1947
  5. Evelyn Winters, 42: March 12, 1947

Victim & Homicide Narratives

Ora Murray

Ora’s body was found the day after she was last seen, July 27, 1943, by the 15-year old son of a caretaker at the Fox Hills Golf Course in Los Angeles, CA. She was semi-nude and the clothing that was on or near her body had been ripped and was in tatters. Ora had been strangled to death and suffered massive blows to the face and head. Despite still recovering from 3 broken ribs from a prior injury, she fought her attacker ferociously. A torn credit card was discarded near her body and a crushed gardenia corsage wrapped in tinsel was found under her body, leading the press to dub her homicide “The Gardenia Murder.”

Ora was married at the time of her death to Army Sgt. William Murray who was stationed in Mississippi. She was last seen on the evening of July 26, 1943 in the company of a man who called himself Paul (later, it was determined that this man was likely Roger Lewis Gardner — a man who had been married at least nine times without divorcing any of his wives and was generally a swindler and con man — he was later put on trial for Ora’s murder but the jury was deadlocked and he was not found guilty of her murder). Ora had attended a dance with her sister and they left the dance with Paul to go for a drive. Ora’s sister requested that they stop by her home to pick up her husband who declined to join them. Paul then left with Ora, alone, in his car. It was the last time she was seen alive.

Ora was what we consider a “mixed-risk victim.” She typically engaged in safe behavior and led a stable life, was married, and her comings and goings were generally predictable and benign. However, at least on the evening of her murder, she engaged in high-risk behavior which may have made her a likely victim for Paul — whoever he was.

Georgette Bauerdorf

Born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles following the death of her mother when Georgette was 9-years old, Georgette was a young socialite and aspiring actress. She attended prestigious all-girls schools and later worked as a junior hostess at the Hollywood Canteen where it was her job (and honor) to dance with enlisted men. Georgette lived in a private apartment in West Hollywood.

Georgette was last seen on the evening of October 11, 1944. She left work at the Canteen around 11pm and went directly home, driving her sister’s 1936 Oldsmobile Coupe. The following morning, a maid and janitor went to clean Georgette’s apartment and found her front door unlocked — Georgette was floating, face-down and semi-nude, in an overflowing bathtub. It was later discovered that an automatic light outside the entrance to her apartment had been unscrewed by two turns and there were no signs of forced entry. It was theorized that the intruder would have needed to stand on a chair or other raised object in order to reach the lightbulb, which was 8-feet from the ground. There were fingerprints found on the light bulb but they were never matched to a suspect. Police suspected Georgette’s attacker had been lying in wait for her to return home as an empty can of string beans and some melon rinds were found in the trash; Georgette’s stomach contents included string beans. Georgette was known to give her apartment key out to various soldiers and frequently allowed soldiers to stay overnight on her couch.

It appeared Georgette put up a great struggle against her attacker. She had many bruises on her body, the knuckles on her right hand were bruised and broken, and had been raped. She had a large bruise, possibly from a hand , on the inside of her right thigh — so detailed, it was said, that nail prints could even be made out. The right side of her head and abdomen also had large bruises, possibly caused by a fist. Georgette had been strangled with a gauze-like bandage that was wrapped around her neck and shoved down her throat. A neighbor was awoken at 2:30am by the sound of screams and, later, by the sound of a woman screaming “Stop! Stop! You’re killing me!”

There was no sign of robbery being the primary motive. Georgette’s jewelry and other valuables remained in the apartment and thousands of dollars worth of silver was visible in an open trunk. $100 was missing from her purse. Georgette would be considered a moderate- to high-risk victim due to the fact that she frequently brought unfamiliar soldiers home to stay with overnight and gave several men the key to her apartment. She was exceedingly trusting and naive and her privileged upbringing may have, unfortunately, been a primary factor in her murder.

Elizabeth “Beth” Short

Beth’s body was discovered in a vacant lot on January 15, 1947 by a mother walking her baby in a pram. Her body was severed in two at the waist, drained of blood, and posed in an intentionally gruesome and sexual manner with the legs spread apart and her arms raised above her head. The upper half of the body was set a foot above the lower half and her intestines were tucked neatly under her buttocks. Beth’s body had been washed by her murdered and her mouth was slashed to her ears. Several pieces of her flesh had been removed with a sharp implement and there were cuts along her body. A cement sack that was found near Beth’s body contained watery blood.

An autopsy revealed that Beth had ligature marks on her wrists, ankles, and neck. Although she had several bruises on the front and right sides of her scalp, her skull was not fractured. Cause of death was hemorrhage from the lacerations to her mouth and shock from blood loss and the blows to the head and face.

On January 23, 1947, a  someone claiming to be Beth’s killer called the Los Angeles Examiner and expressed concern that the investigation was stalling. The caller offered to mail a package to the editor containing Beth’s belongings. The next day, a package arrived containing her birth certificate, photographs, business cards,  names written on a piece of paper, and an address book. Although many people have confessed to the murder, no one has ever been charged.

At the time of her murder, Beth was an aspiring actress and worked periodically as a waitress. She struggled to make ends meet and lived as a transient, moving between discount hotels and acquaintances’ residences for prolonged periods of time — sometimes sharing a room or sleeping on a friend’s couch for a month or longer. Beth had difficulty pulling together enough money to make rent. Beth was last seen on January 8, 1947 and many reports refer to her “missing week” in which there are no verified reports of anyone sighting her. Any eyewitness claims of seeing Beth in the weeklong interim between January 8th and the day her body was found on January 15th are typically considered a case of mistaken identity. It is possible her murderer held her for days and tortured her during this time. Beth would be considered a high-risk victim due to her transient lifestyle. Did her killer somehow know that no one would be missing her and was, therefore, able to spend a substantial amount of time with her prior to her murder?

Jeanne French

On February 10, 1947, the battered body of Jeanne French was discovered by a bulldozer operator in an area rumored to be a “lover’s lane.” She was laying in the open and had been stomped to death — so viciously, in fact, that her death was caused by a fractured rib that punctured her heart causing internal hemorrhage. Jeanne’s body was nude. Scrawled across her torso, in red lipstick, were the words “Fuck You B.D.” and “TEX.” Some people, including the original coroner, believed the words read “Fuck You P.D.” and “TEX.” But, I believe (as do other criminologists), that the murder of Jeanne French was committed by the same person who murdered Elizabeth Short and that this was his message about the woman who stole his limelight — The Black Dahlia.

Prior to her death, Jeanne was semi-famous for being one of the first flying nurses during World War II. She was an aspiring actress with a few small-bit parts to her name. She married a rich oil tycoon when she was quite young and the marriage produced one child before it dissolved in divorce. In 1945, Jeanne met her fourth husband, war veteran Frank French. The union quickly soured and Jeanne began drinking heavily. She was known to be a ‘mean drunk’ and sometimes verbally and physically assaulted her husband when under the influence. Shortly before the murder, Jeanne and Frank agreed to a 6-month separation and Frank agreed to admit himself to a mental institution. Nine days prior to Jeanne’s death, she and Frank were in an altercation that resulted in him giving her a black eye. Jeanne had Frank arrested for domestic violence and Frank moved into his own apartment. On the night before her death, Jeanne was seen visiting Frank’s new apartment and the two argued on the front porch. Jeanne reportedly left on her own and went to The Picadilly Drive where she was seen dining with an unknown man around 12-1:00am. Jeanne later left the premises, leaving her car behind, presumably with the man who would shortly thereafter stomp her to death.

Jeanne was high-risk victim. Not only was she an alcoholic which likely put her in more risky situations, she was by all reports a “mean drunk.” Even her son once stated “she was mean when she had been drinking. She made a lot of her own trouble.” It seems plausible that her killer used the alcohol and her inebriated state to gain control and then, when things sideways (perhaps she threw a punch or was otherwise belligerent), became enraged and literally stomped out his frustrations on her.

One of the best clues we have in the murder of Jeanne French is the word “TEX” scrawled in red lipstick on her body. No one disputes that these are the letters written — even if there is dispute about “Fuck You B.D./P.D.” Jeanne was originally from Texas, as was her first husband, the wealthy oil tycoon. Further, their son was born in Texas. Perhaps Jeanne’s killer knew she was from Texas. Perhaps her killer, himself, was from Texas. Perhaps “TEX” means something else entirely. After all, why wouldn’t a Texan simply write TX? Additionally, some claim that the letter “O” also appears near the letter “TEX.” If true, what could this mean?

Evelyn Winters

On March 12, 1947, the nude body of Evelyn was found in a vacant lot of an abandoned rail yard. She had been bludgeoned and strangled to death. Her body had been dragged some distance before being deposited in the lot. Her clothes, nearby, were in disarray and an autopsy found she had a potentially-fatal blood alcohol level of .38 at the time of her death.

Evelyn was a bright woman with a promising future ahead of her. She graduated from Vassar College and was known to be intelligent and scholarly. Unfortunately, alcohol got the better of her and her life began to go off the rails. In the months prior to her death, Evelyn was a transient, living out of various beer parlors and hotel rooms, storing her belongings in at a local liquor store.

Evelyn was last seen with a man 12 years her junior, James Joseph Tiernan. Tiernan stated that he knew Evelyn for two years and, after a day of drinking together at the Albany Hotel, Evelyn left his company around 7:30 or 8pm. Her body was discovered just hours later, at 12:10am. It was George Franklin Wicklifee who happened upon Evelyn’s body and reported the crime to the police. George later admitted he thought Evelyn was passed out drunk and went to kiss her, realizing only afterwards that he had kissed a corpse. Evelyn’s lipstick was on his face when he reported the crime. George was initially arrested for Evelyn’s murder but later released.

Evelyn would be considered a high-risk victim. Her indigent, transient lifestyle and copious consumption of alcohol made her incredibly vulnerable to all sorts of perpetrators.

Commonalities

  • 3 murders in 3 months: all women frequented bars, struck on the head with lethal force, bodies were displayed nude or nearly nude, there was no effort made to conceal the bodies, the bodies were displayed with intent to be found, all traces of victims’ identities removed (they had to be identified through fingerprints)
  • 4 victims mutiliated
  • 4 victims left outside where bodies were sure to be found (Ora, Beth, Jeanne, Evelyn)
  • 5 had clothing removed
  • 5 were beaten
  • The ritualistic similarities (not the MO similarities) indicate that these crimes were likely committed by the same perpetrator.
  • Victimology, especially of the 4 victims, is strikingly similar and the offender’s behavior with these 4 women was also strikingly similar (excluding Georgette).
  • Georgette was found in a bathtub; Beth’s body had been washed by her killer.

Differences

  • Amount of time perpetrator spent with the victims varies.
  • I do not believe Georgette’s case to be related. If it is related, there are significant differences. Most blatant difference is that Georgette likely knew the killer more than the other women knew him. Interior crime scene. Was raped. “Stop! Stop! You’re killing me” indicates she knew her attacker. That’s not something you say to a stranger. More like something you say to a man who is taking a sexual encounter too far. Small robbery. Killer went through several “undoing” behaviors after the murder: cleaned the blood-stained bedroom rug, placed body in the bathtub, ran hot water over her body, attempted to remove the bandage gag in her throat. Some dispute about whether or not the contents of her purse had been scattered. If yes, this falls more in line with the behavioral profile in some of the other murders. If no (some reports say the purse was merely open with the contents exposed), then it is a detail that does not bind it to the other cases. Killer took her sister’s Oldsmobile Coupe that was sitting outside — the other murders suggest that killer had access to a vehicle. Left front door unlocked and ajar — indicates he was not too worried about being seen leaving her apartment and/or may have wanted her body found sooner thus inviting others’ suspicion about why the door was ajar (if so, this would further indicate that he knew her); may have known she frequently allowed men to stay over. High-risk victim. Drove car until ran out of gas. Killer may have been familiar with the area as it required multiple turns to end up where the car was found from Georgette’s apartment. Key to this case may be the gauze-like bandage. Was that from her apartment or did the killer bring it?

Offender Profile

  • Caucasian male. Most serial killers choose victims of the same race/ethnicity as themselves. Given that all victims were Caucasian there is a strong likelihood the killer was as well.
  • Age: 30s to early 40s. According to Jim Clemente, former FBI profiler: “There’s a certain calm in terms of actually executing the crime and getting away with it. Being thorough with cleaning the body, and then delivering the body, and then placing it in a particular way and staging it in certain instances that it doesn’t happen when you’re in your 20s. It speaks of age and experience.”
  • “Of the victim selection criterion: availability, vulnerability, and desirability — I believe vulnerability was the number one criterion. Availability was number two (it had to be someone who was vulnerably and available and the desirability criterion was minimal at best. All he wanted was someone who was vulnerable and available).
  • No attempt to conceal the 4 bodies of Ora, Beth, Jeanne, and Evelyn indicates that there was no obvious or known connection (at best an acquaintance who likely met the victims in the minutes or hours before they disappeared and were killed — this is excluding Beth as she was likely gone for days before her death so it is more unclear her relationship to her perpetrator) between the victims and offender. If the perpetrator knew he was the last person seen with the victim, he would make efforts to conceal the body in order to better his chances of evading authorities. He might also conceal the body depending on how close his relationship to the victim was (out of shame, guilt, or a sense of ‘undoing’ the crime). The opposite was done in these 4 cases.
  • Astute social skills with moderate intellectual abilities — this perpetrator was skilled at talking with women and manipulating them into situations that they might not otherwise find themselves in.
  • Used a ruse to trick the women into being close with, and then, alone with him.
  • Low sexual functioning which caused extreme frustration for the perpetrator (and led to the brutal beatings inflicted on the women)
  • Prone to rage outbursts; low impulse control
  • Has very strong hands, may have engaged in manual labor or some other hobby or employment that built the strength in his hands
  • Had access to a vehicle for disposing of the bodies and “the freedom to roam at night.”
  • Was not in a committed relationship or married — was able to go out to bars alone and other places at night without being missed. If he was in a relationship or married, this was somehow allowed or overlooked.
  • Sexual sadist
  • Driven by hatred towards women
  • There were likely other victims (probably overseas) between Ora and Georgette and Beth. “Or, he was able to sublimate his desire to kill by killing legitimately as an act of way. I believe there is a high likelihood this person was in military or a related field and I think he was away during those time periods and when he came back that’s why you have those three murders right in a row. He may have been locked up for something else at that time, completely unrelated and that’s why he stoped, or he could have been the victim of a car accident or some other untimely death. Or, he may have been injured.”
  • Indications of very strong hands but does not carry the victims. He drags them. Brings Beth cut in half. Back or leg/s may have been injured. This may have also aided him in tricking his victims if he were able to appear unassuming or, even, request their aid and sympathy. Ted Bundy was known to do something similar.
  • May have blamed women for his injuries that left him unable to have the trunk strength to lift and carry his victims. It is possible his low sexual functioning may also have been related this same injury.
  • May have become frustrated with his victims for not perceiving him as a “whole man” and taken this rage out on them when he was unable to perform sexually as he wanted to.
  • Moderate intellectual ability. Was not a genius, was not of superior intellectual ability. Needed, for whatever reason, a victim who was engaging in high-risk behaviors.
  • Became “proud of his work” as the killings went on. Perhaps started more understated and, as he refined his rituals and signatures, wanted to flaunt his “masterpieces” in the public eye. May have been more ashamed in the early killings while still experiencing deep-seated rage toward women which propelled the initial killings.

Theory

  • We can rule out robbery as a motive. His motive was “hatred towards women. He wants women to fear him. He wants to cause and witness their suffering and he became proud of his work. That is something that developed over time and that’s why you saw him being more bold about not only displaying his victims but, basically, going overboard on how he degraded them.” From Jim Clemente.
  • Joan believes it was not the same killer. Ora’s suspect claimed to be falsely identified and was later acquitted. He was a low-life but not a killer. Gardner. Did not have it in him to kill. Not confrontational in general. He stole and vanished. Mutilation doesn’t fit his MO. She may have been dropped off somewhere else by him and then picked up by the actual killer. She had been drinking that evening. Georgette, handed out keys to her apartment, was naive, young, product of exclusive girls schools, insulated, no street smarts. No evidence of break-in, was likely one of the guys whom she gave a key to, misread the signals, panicked when she declined his advances, freaked out, and killed her. Not planned. Beth — George Hodel is nonsense, Jack Anderson Wilson, no. An alcoholic in a bar is going to tell you what you want to hear if you buy him a drink. Jeanne was drinking and easy prey and a mean drunk so she likely angered someone and he cut her mouth to shut her up (I disagree — he would have punched her. This is a signature.) Evelyn, pretty much living on the street and an alcoholic when she died. Probably met someone while drinking and things went sideways. Only link is the rage.
  • Jim believes they were all the same killer (Beth, Jeanne, Evelyn) — proximity of time, geography, and behavior all indicate the same person or, possibly, a talented copycat. 3 month period indicates one person. Georgette stands out most dramatically because the crime scene was interior. Could be related because of the mouth fixation and strewn jewelry from the purse, blunt force trauma to the head. Those are behavioral similarities but it’s a “stark departure” from committing the crimes in some unknown place and disposing of the bodies in an outside, public place. “If Georgette is related, it is because the offender knew and met her and planned to be with her. She planned to have him over, invited him in, perhaps as a soldier who needed a place to stay.”
  • Beth Short may have been his “masterpiece” and he may have not paraded the last two victims as similar “masterpieces” for the following reasons: 1) Beth became a sort of celebrity in the news after her murder and this may have angered him. He may have wanted the focus on him and his work and here, a woman, was taking the limelight from him. This may have been interpreted by him as a “slight.” So, he made a point with Jeanne. Fuck her. Look at me. Look at my work. He may not have had the time with Jeanne, and the freedom, since it likely happened at the scene she was found. He may have run out of time and been enraged by this — literally stomping her death by breaking a rib into her heart. It did not go the way he had planned. Perhaps he was attempting to get her to a secondary location. He may not have had the time with the last two victims that he did with Beth because she wasn’t expected anywhere, wasn’t known to be living anywhere in particular, no one was missing her. Did he find this out after he abducted her or did he already know this? “He had the freedom of time with her.”
  • I do not believe the murder of Georgette Bauerdorf is related to the other 4 murders. I strongly believe the final 3 murders were committed by the same person with a possibility that the first murder was as well. There is some possibility that Ora Murray was killed by Gardner but I doubt it. The behavioral similarities in the crimes are just too alike. Ora, Beth, Jeanne, and Evelyn were likely killed by the same person and I would put money on Beth, Jeanne, and Evelyn certainly being the victims of a serial killer.

These are cold cases — they are not closed. Someone may have information on these murders. Witnesses may not longer be afraid to come forward. Small details that seemed irrelevant at the time may be the key to cracking open the case. Perhaps someone had an affair with one of these victims and their grandchild now knows. Perhaps a diary or journal is found with tertiary information. Perhaps Beth’s missing shoes and purse will be found in a thrift store or pages of her address book may be found in a flea market book — the chances of these being anywhere in the world are heightened by the fact that this perpetrator may have served overseas. If you have any information, please contact: hollywoodandcrimepodcast@gmail.com or 1-877-ASK-LAPD.

Credit to Jim Clemente (former FBI profiler), Joan Renner (of Deranged LA Crimes), and Tracy Patin (of the Hollywood and Crime Podcast) for thoughts that contributed to this crime profile.

 

 

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