Elizabeth Short, who would eventually become known across the globe as The Black Dahlia, was a 22-year-old American woman who was raped, murdered, dismembered, and thrown on a vacant lot in a Los Angeles suburb in Los Angeles County on January 15, 1947. No one knows exactly what happened leading up to Elizabeth Short’s last moments when she fought for her life. There was no murder confession, and there was a lack of evidence to lead investigators further (CITATION THE BRUTAL). The Los Angeles Police Department noted that Shorts body appeared to be posed by the offender, as she was found lying on her back with her arms raised over shoulders, and her legs were spread in what could be said to be a display of seductiveness. She was also found to have cuts and abrasions across her body, and her mouth had been sliced to extend her smile from ear to ear. Her naked body had been cleanly sliced in half, just above her waist (CITATION THE CRIME SCENE). This case unsolved and has been for over 70 years, however in trying to solve it, the best approach would be to look at the forensic victimology and the crime scene analysis.
During the early years of victimology, literature on crime victims remained relatively small when compared to that on criminology. today, it is fair to say that the study of crime victims has become an integral part of criminology. Although victimology has established itself as a major research area within criminology, its nature, importance and standing continue to generate a great deal of comment and controversy (CITATION PAST PRESENT). One of the issues that has come up regarding the issues within victimology is the lack of strong theoretical orientation. As a major part of criminology still stands on sociological theories, victimology also stands on those theories. It is not correct to claim theories, such as, routine activities theory and rational choice theory as victimological theories, as the proponents never had any idea to see their theories from a victimological perspective, though they have utilized victimological concepts to develop their theories. Another issue is that there is more focus on victim rights and assistance Victimology at the present is more application oriented and it deals more with the rights and assistance of victims. Some have felt that victimology has lost its scientific rigor. While victim rights are important, and victims should be given whatever assistance they need have the crime, there also needs to be a little bit more focus on victimology as a tool in determining who an offender is. A final issue with victimology is the need to expand the scope of it. Current victimology is seen only from an small perspective and not from a mass perspective (genocide victimization, state sponsored terrorism, riot victimization) (CITATION HUMAN RIGHTS).
In the last twenty-five years, victimology has undergone a major transformation. Early victimology was mainly theoretical, concerned almost exclusively with causal explanations of crime and the victim’s role in crime. It focused mainly on characteristics of victims, their relationships and interactions with their victimizers, and the analysis of victim behavior as a situational variable, as a triggering, actualizing or precipitating factor. One of the primary tasks of theoretical victimology is to collect empirical data on crime victims. Some of this data could include opportunities, which are closely linked to the characteristics of potential targets (persons, households, businesses) and to the activities and behavior of these targets. Another is risk factors, particularly those related to sociodemographic characteristics such as age and gender, area of residence, absence of guardianship, presence of alcohol and so forth. Motivated offenders are also something to look at. Offenders, even non-professional ones, do not choose their victim/targets at random but select their victims/targets according to specific criteria. Another example of data to be looked at is exposure. Exposure to potential offenders and to high-risk situations and environments enhances the risk of criminal victimization. High-risk activities also increase the potential for victimization. Among such activities is the pursuit of fun, which may include deviant and illegal activities. Short only had one run-in with the law a few years prior to her death. She had been out with a group of rowdy friends in a restaurant until the owners called the police. She was booked and fingerprinted but never charged (CITATION THE LIFE). Because she didn’t get in a lot of trouble in her young life, it is unlikely that any high-risk activities had anything to do with her death and would not prove very useful in trying to solve the case. It is also well known that certain occupations such as prostitution carry with them a higher than average potential for criminal victimization (CITATION PAST PRESENT). Although Elizabeth short was not a prostitute, she did frequently go out in the evenings looking for men on her quest for marriage (CITATION THE LIFE). It is of course possible that one of the many suitors she had over time was the one who committed the murder.
Crime scenes of violent sex offenders and sexual murderers could be divided into two general groups: those that are organized, reflecting a great deal of planning in which little evidence is left behind, and those that are disorganized, reflecting an impulsive, unplanned crime with a lot of evidence left. Individuals who leave highly organized crime scenes seem to have distinctly different personality characteristics and behavioral patterns than individuals who leave highly disorganized crime scenes. Organized and disorganized offenders display different approaches to crime as a result of their different personality make-ups. Organized crime scenes reflect a high level of control by the offender where restraints are used and the body is disposed of in a thought-out manner, usually transported to another location from where the murder took place (CITATION JPL). There was no blood present on the Elizabeth Shorts body, and there was none on the grass beneath her either. Investigators determined that she must have been killed elsewhere, cleaned of blood, and then dumped in the vacant lot overnight (CITATION THE CRIME). This should lead investigators to believe that whoever murdered Elizabeth Short fell under the category of an organized offender. Organized offenders are often socially competent, intelligent, live with a partner, follow the crime in the media, and change locations after the offense. They are apt to have psychopathic, manipulative or narcissistic personalities, and can be charming, neat in appearance, physically attractive, and able to speak with ease to members of the opposite sex. Disorganized crime scenes reflect impulsivity and lack of planning; the victim is often known to the offender, bodies are left in plain view (typically at the death scene), and a weapon of opportunity (rather than a specific weapon brought with) is used. Disorganized offenders often have poor work histories, live alone and near the crime scene, have little interest in the media’s coverage of the case, do not change their lifestyle following the crime, and are much more mentally unstable. They may be schizoid, schizotypal, borderline and sometimes schizophrenic. Such individuals may be unattractive physically, have little experience with members of the opposite sex, and live alone because others find it difficult to tolerate their eccentric behavior. After evaluating the crime scene as highly organized or disorganized, inferences regarding the personality and behavior patterns of the offender can be drawn (CITATION JPL).
General inconsistencies in the crime are part of the scene. The crime is classified as sex related, nonsexual, or unknown. Any crime with evidence, in any part of the crime scene, of some type of sexual component is classified as sex related. A sex-related crime can be determined from the victim’s attire; lack of clothing; exposure of genitalia; body positioning; sexual injury; or evidence of sexual activity on, in, or near the body. In additional, evidence of substitute sexual activity or sadistic fantasy can be evidence of sexual activity. Elizabeth Shorts murder would be considered as being sex related considering that there was evidence that she had been raped, as well as the fact that her body was found in what most would call a sexual position. The classification of the crime scene is a critical aspect in the development of every profile. The crime scene is classified by the amount of planning and predetermination by the offender and the degree of control that the offender exercised over the victim. The offender’s pattern of behavior is determined by the crime scene, particularly in sex-related offenses (CITATION 8CC).
Victimology and crime scene analysis are two extremely helpful tools when it comes to determining who a potential offender might be. The two methods would be the best options in trying to find the person who killed Elizabeth Short. Analysis of the crime scene, such as how the victims body was left, and what exactly was done to her could be helpful in terms of an offenders signature, because it is possible that connections could have been made between this crime and other crimes that have taken place before and after it. Victimology could also play a big part in solving the crime because knowledge of the kind of people Short was associated with, as well as what she did with her time could provide hints on who could have done this to her. Although it has been over 70 years since the murder, advances in the way we look at crime scene analysis and victimology might be able to shed some light on what happened all those years ago in Los Angeles County.