A Summary of a Life
and a Degnan-Ditto Death
Betty Short was born on July
29, 1924. Her place of birth was Hyde Park, Massachusetts. She was the
third of Cleo and Phoebe's five girls. Cleo abandoned the family when
Betty was six. From then on, Phoebe parented solo. Betty grew up in Medford,
MA. She quit school during her sophomore year of high school.
Betty had asthma. In '40 and '41 she spent springs and summers in Medford,
and falls and winters in Miami, Florida. In Medford, Betty ushered in a theatre
and dated servicemen. In Miami, Betty waited tables in a restaurant and dated
In '42, Betty railed to Vallejo, CA to live with dad. Big clash. Bye, dad.
She floated to LA and settled within strolling range of the infamy-bound Degnan
Boulevard lovers' lane. She soon learned about and landed a job at Camp Cooke,
a large Army base north of LA. She once was "Camp Cooke Cutie of the Week."
In '43, Betty moved in with a GI, got in a tiff with him, quit her job. Underage
Betty then drifted to Santa Barbara, was busted for gracing a bar, was fatefully
printed She was counseled, put on a Medford-bound bus, and bade adieu. Be
a good girl. The 1947 LAPD would give Phoebe the sobering skinny on her
nipping nomad's California toodle-oo.
In '44 and '45, Betty endured sun seasons in and near Medford, and enjoyed snow
seasons in Miami. Near Medford, Betty worked in an eatery just outside the Harvard
campus and repeatedly dated a Harvard student. In Miami, Betty worked in an ex-showgirl's
cafe and dated servicemen. In '44, Betty met two Army Air Corps fliers who'd
be more than one-date stands: Major Matt Gorden; Lieutenant Joe G. Fickling.
Maybe Betty was Matt's fiancee. But the marriage was not to be. Matt was killed
in a '45 plane crash.
In '46, Betty became obsessed with the Suzanne Degnan slaying and Sue's slayer,
William Heirens. Time called the Degnan murder "the crime story of
the century." The '46 Degnan homicide was a double event. It was the blood-red
blueprint for the Black Dahlia murder. And Betty's Degnan obsession was a latent
In April '46, Betty left Medford and drifted through Miami and Indianapolis,
and into a gaggle of bright and noisy lounges that clustered around Chicago's
Loop. Patrons of a bar in the gaggle came under the mind-clouding spell of Betty's
obsession. Several of them mistook an obsessor for a newshawk. Betty was saying
she was a Boston reporter covering the trial of William Heirens. One of Betty's
captivated listeners later stated: "Elizabeth Short was one of the prettiest
girls I ever met, but she was terribly preoccupied with the details of the Degnan
murder." Right. But he wouldn't see much of the obsessive oddity. She'd
be in Windy City for just 10 days. Her obsessional spell would creep in and out
like the Shadow . . . And a latency timer was ticking . . .
The misnomer'd "werewolf" murder was less than six moons away
when Betty departed Chicago and headed west to join Joe Fickling in Long
Beach, CA. By the time Betty arrived, Fickling had found and paid for a cozy
hotel room for her . . . There Betty was, in LB's Hotel Washington, w' Degnan
fixation. Snuff 'n show sites on boulevards Washington and Degnan were but
a few miles north. But the catalytic timer hadn't ticked to 0. Betty would
survive balmy Long Beach. A galvanizing memento of her passage would be lifted
from Raymond Chandler, but no longer blue. Because of her beachtown oglers,
the world knows her as "the Black Dahlia."
But she wanted to be "Mrs. Joe Fickling." That
had fueled her '46 iron-horse ride to LA. Joe was stationed in Long Beach.
He'd asked Betty to come west and make him happy. She'd said she'd be happy
to. But Betty had hopes of "ever after," Joe had nopes of "never
ever," and they parted during the first week of August.
Why might a postpart-'em Dahlia drift to Hollywood?
WW II was over; her cornucopia of uniformed marriage material was drying
up fast. And she was a flaky kid with a starry-eyed mindset; she wasn't outdated
in this. But would the wanderlust Dahlia remain in Hollywoodland for
over four months? Yes. Curious. And it gets curiouser and curiouser, a la Alice
in Wonderland . . .
The Dahlia forthwith floated to Tinseltown as the Nevermore
Raven flies. She moved in with a friend and stayed put for a few days,
then resided in a succession of low-rents: an old hotel, a rooming house for
aspiring actresses, an apartment.
If the Dahlia wanted to be in show biz, it never showed. She never acted
like she wanted to be an actor. If she had a plan or a long-range goal, she
had an odd follow through. She didn't have a job. She spent time around radio
and movie studios; she went to radio shows. But she spent more time in bars
and nightclubs along the Sunset Strip. She sponged money off man pals and
friends. She was too trusting of men she'd just met in dark dives. She was
too willing to get into an auto with a strange man. She mingled with shady
The Dahlia had a date almost every night. Her norm was seven different hombres
a week. Non-achievers ran rife; a part-owner of the Florentine Gardens nightclub
said most Dahlia dates he knew of were bums he wouldn't allow in his house.
In October the Dahlia met a non-bummer. He boasted USC Medical School credits.
He hosted psyche-scar-school debits. His rabbity mug had been a razz magnet.
His name was Ed Burns. Ed was an LA Basin gent, but a rara avis amid the barfly
Dahlia's run-of-the-watering-hole Basin men. He was a cut above Filmtown flimflammers
the Dahlia had tarried with. He'd entered the Dahlia whirl as an anomaly And
a Telltale latency timer ticked on . . .
The Dahlia was Ed's fairest-of-the-fair dream girl. She didn't jape him about
his goofy grin. She made him remember he was a guy and forget he was a rabbit.
Ed was her cash-and-car man. He made her forget she was a fly and remember she
was a fox. Two times in November, they went to places like Ocean Park and the
Long Beach Pike, and spent a night together in a cheap hotel on Washington Boulevard
in LA. Both moming-afters, Burns gave the Dahlia cash for necessities and chauffeured
her back to Cinemaville.
Ed faked "all ears" for her black Degnan obsession.
He'd be a rapt audience as she'd reiterate Degnan-murder horrifics. She got
Ed to wheel her to a Leimert Park haunt where Degnan forks into Degnan and
Norton. She spotlighted a dark irony. Degnan Boulevard went right by her
old lover's lane. But the dreary vacant lots in the area did not go right
by her lovesick bunny.
Mysterious "Maurice" was the Dahlia's main man when she lived in
Chancellor Apartments, her final Hollywood abode. The Dahlia was the only one
at the place who was hip to Maurice. The others knew him only by phone calls
he'd made to the Dahlia. Maurice was Ed Burns. Ed would motor the Dahlia away
from the apartments on her adios-to-Oscartown departure.
December 5, late-evening.
The eve before the Dahlia would leave the Chancellor, Burns gave her cash to
pay overdue rent. The next morning, he put her up in their hotel on Washington.
She had no other place to stay, and no money. She had led Ed to believe she
would move in with him. But . . .
Ed was giving her the creeps. He was too lovey-dovey. He made a big deal of
those photo-booth shots. He was too infatuated with her. She was torn between
losing Ed and using Ed. He phoned every day. She always needed help. A sticky
wicket. But one long day in the hotel room settled it. She had to lose Ed Burns.
She couldn't move in with him. OK. How to get out of it this time? She decided
to sleep on it.
She hit him with it early the next morning. She was going to San Diego. She
could get a job in the Balboa Naval Hospital.
The rabbit had been sucker punched. His fair lady was bugging out on him. She'd
made him feel like a he-man. Now he felt like a golem. What could lovelorn
Ed do? He helped Jilter get her stuff together, took her to the downtown-LA
Greyhound Bus Depot, bought her a ticket and put her on a San Diego-bound bus.
See ya . . .
The Dahlia usually got cash after a stay in the hotel, but she hadn't had the
gall to ask for it this time. She bused southward on old Hwy 101, as broke
and discombobulated as she'd been on her Cherokee Avenue "vamoose."
December 8, mid-afternoon.
The Dahlia checked her luggage into a locker at the San Diego Greyhound depot,
then left the depot and drifted to the Aztec, an all-night theatre. She'd intended
to see The Blue Dahlia and use the Aztec as a one-night flop. But she
and the cashier conversed, and the cashier took her home with her that night.
The plan was for the Dahlia to stay for a day or two.
The arena had moved. The action was the same. The Dahlia dated and partied
almost every night. Her first date was the manager of the Aztec Theatre. She
slept 'til noon on most days. Her daytime Hollywood hangout had been an Owl
drugstore. In San Diego it was Sheldon's Cafe. After a month of this, her hosts
told her it was time for her to drift on. And serendipity rolled in. One of
her repeat dates was a traveling hardware-supplies salesman. He just happened
to be going to LA the day she'd drift on.
January 8, 1947, 6:00 p.m.
The Dahlia made a telephone call to LA. She told Ed Burns she was returning
to LA and was in need of his help. She did not tell Ed that she'd recently
wired old-beau Joe Fickling for money, and that Joe Beau had sent one-hundred
dollars and she'd spent almost every penny of it.
Ed was surprised by this call. He hadn't heard from the Dahlia since they'd
bade sayonaras, at the depot. He'd pined, he'd rerun the she-dun-me-dirty drama,
and he might've run a brain-movie of a murder-to-be . . . And a ticking Telltale
timer was nearing 0.
The itinerant two should've rolled north on Jan. 8, but they rolled late. They
danced early night away, then slept the late of it in a motel. The manly man
sold hardware, but couldn't sell his hard ware on the Dahlia this night.
The lady and the salesman wheeled into downtown LA late in the afternoon of
the 9th. She navigated to the Main Street area, then to the Greyhound Bus Depot.
He waited as she checked her luggage into a locker . . . Why's the Dahlia
leaving her suitcases in the depot? She knows she'll likely be walking a mile-and-a-half
south to that hotel on Washington. And she thinks the luggage will soon be
on a train bound for Chicago, and the Greyhound depot is near the Union Pacific
railroad station . . .
The Dahlia now was shaky about "where next," but steady about "what
next": she had to shed a chauffeur in a big hurry. Ed Burns thought she'd
be arriving by bus. Her timeline had been rubbed out by a first-night motel
stop and salesman stops on the trip up 101. She did not want Ed to be in the
depot area and see her with a tall, handsome escort. Any reasonable ruse to
shake her chauff' or flee the area would have been cool. It didn't have to
be, "I'm meeting my sister at the Biltmore Hotel."
Minutes later they were in the Biltmore lobby, and she quickly lost her luckless
lover man . . . Good-bye, my interim-last link to the outside world . .
January 9, 6:30 p.m.
So there she was in the Biltmore lobby, with a problem. Where was her contact,
Ed Burns? And he must have been wondering where she was. Cell-phone
commonality was 50 years in the future. They hadn't spoken to each other
since yesterday. Their timeline had been fouled up every which way and up.
The Dahlia tried to reach Ed by phone. No success. Should she walk back to
the Greyhound depot to see if Ed is looking for her there? . . . No. She'd
wait awhile. If necessary, she'd use the "backup": meet him at their
hotel after he gets off work.
The Dahlia exited the Biltmore and went to the Gay Way Bar at 514 Main. She
sat in the Gay from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. Biltmore info came from a salesman,
sit info came from a Gay partier. The Biltmore was the Dahlia's ruse, the Gay
was her style. Maybe she walked south on Main. Maybe she hitched a car ride
down Main. The maybes are moot. There's no maybe about it.
The Dahlia and Ed checked into the hotel on Washington on the night of the
9th: the operators would snitch on them. The Dahlia murder became a certainty
that wintery night. Ed was angry about the San Diego juke, which had been heralded
in their hotel. When the Dahlia tried to sweet-talk Burns for Chicago train-trip
fare, she was a goner-to-be. Sick-puppy Burns saw her Degnan obsession as heroization
of William Heirens. And now she would jilt him and at the same time sponge
off him to return to his nemesis' base of dismemberment operations? Over her
Planning of her murder began that night. First part of plan: make sure she
wouldn't bug out again. Ed said that going halfway across the USA was a big
move. She should think it over. If after two days she still wanted to go to
Chicago, he'd "loan" her the money. And maybe he had her give him
her claim stub. He'd pick up her luggage for her. He'd have luggage plus train
fare ready for her on Sunday morning. What a guy. He relieved her of her gnawing
After setting the Dahlia murder in motion, they
dozed the rest of Thursday night away in the hotel room. The next morning,
they agreed to meet at the hotel on Sunday, then bade adieus.
The Dahlia would want to rail to Chicago. She probably killed Friday and Saturday
with girl pals from the San Fernando Valley. They likely dropped her off in
downtown LA on Sunday morning.
Ed knew the Dahlia would want to drift to Chicago. He'd spend Friday and Saturday
plotting the Black Dahlia murder. He'd twist the Dahlia's Degnan obsession
into a perpetuation of something that never existed: a coupling of Ed Burns
and the Dahlia. He'd mock the Degnan murder by converting the Dahlia into a
Suzanne Degnan doll. He'd display the doll in a Degnan Boulevard lovers' lane.
He'd document the Burns-Dahlia "itemization" with encrypted messages
he'd send to newspapers and maybe the LAPD. The messages would be part of the
Degnan-murder mimicry: William Heirens left messages. And they'd be a trilogy:
the intro, body, and ending to a murder story. The third entry in Ed's trilogy
would reveal the where of the killing: the hotel on Washington Boulevard.
Ed would use arcane encryption to ensure publication of his Black Dahlia Story.
And he'd make sure that local Grand Guignol fans could view a live(?)
performance of his story on BD Day: he'd slip a murder kit into the hotel in
one suitcase and sneak a halved Dahlia out in two suitcases...
Sunday, January 12, 10:00 a.m.
Ed showed up at the hotel and went to the office. The manager asked him to
sign in. Burns told the manager to put down, "Barnes and wife." The
manager glanced at two big suitcases Ed had with him. Ed explained them away: "We
just moved out of Hollywood."
The Dahlia arrived at 11:00 a.m. She joined Ed in the room and in no time at
all told him she was sorry, but . . .
Fate was put on wait. Ed had left himself an escape route, to ease into the
horror, or to opt out. And he used it . . . "Gosh, I ran out of checks
yesterday, and it's Sunday. I don't have cash for train fare, so I didn't get
your luggage. Let's spend another night in the hotel . . . When banks open
tomorrow, I'll get cash for train fare and we'll get your luggage and go to
the railroad station and get you on your way to Chicago." So they talked,
and he stalled, and . . . He almost chickened out. But they talked about Chicago,
and Burns heated up and went into a white-hot rage and whacked her on the head
and "it" was
Burns surely told a roped-n-gagged Dahlia how he'd carve his Suzanne doll.
He likely read essentials of the cryptic trilogy to her. And, with explanatory
prelusion out of the way, Ed began his mutilation-oriented mimicry. Several
mocks of the '46 Degnan murder had been scalpel'ed into a 1947 LA murder by
the early-morning hours of the 14th. This is when a major glitch occurred.
The managers got antsy; they let Ed know it by rapping on his door. They'd
felt black vibes coming from the Barnes' room. The Dahlia was in a suitcase-friendly
format. So diabolic Dr. Demento put Liz and Beth in two suitcases and motored
south. He would search the Harbor District for a motel room with bathtub
for a clear-cut cause. None would be found. Ed likely returned to 300 East
Washington to complete his artwork noir.
January 15, 6:15 a.m.
Ed rolled into the vicinity of the lover's lane with a dab of dusk to spare.
The furtive Ford moved with the stealth of a night raven as it rounded the
comer at Coliseum and Norton and coasted to a stop by the curbing. Ed sat for
a few seconds, in a state of hyper-alert. He then raced sunrise as he got out
of the car, set up his doll show, and got back in . . . And he'd been an illusory
intruder. A local early bird peered into pre-dawn twilight and saw only a spooky
silhouette when the death car slipped into shadows and vanished . . .
So there it was, a riddle in the weeds, awaiting LAPD's best efforts.
She was Jane Doe for a day. Her '43 teen-tippler arrest led
to an ID. Sans the FBI kickback ID, would Ed Burns have told us who she was?
. . . It was a news frenzy. The Dahlia's Degnan obsession cast a mind-clouding
spell: Angelenos mistook a murder-mocking rabbit for a sadistic werewolf. The
Dahlia's trunk was found in the LA REA. It contained many love letters and
photos; it provided lead-nowhere leads. The Dahlia's living-in-LA dad Cleo
was questioned; he was of no help. The Dahlia's luggage was found in a Greyhound-depot
locker. It contained much no-help stuff. But one did-help item was found in
her luggage: a strip of photos which showed Ed Burns' grinning mug beside the
Dahlia's "What am I doing here?" countenance. The Dahlia's SD-to-LA "chauffeur" was
a suspect; he was polygraphed and cleared. Ex-beau Joe Fickling was questioned;
he didn't help. Washington Boulevard hoteliers surfaced and told what they
knew; they said that Ed Burns and the Dahlia had stayed in their hotel many
times; LAPD stayed mum about this info. LAPD conducted an extensive house-to-house
hunt for murder clues. The Dahlia's purse and shoes allegedly showed up in
an LA dump. Burns mailed his first message. LAPD didn't seem to "get it." LAPD
got Confessing Sams. Ed sent his second message. Nobody seemed to get it. Kooks
sent a barrage of nutty notes to LA newspapers. Ed sent his third message.
LAPD didn't seem to get it. Some crime writers offered their theories on the
Black Dahlia case. They definitely didn't get it. A loony confessor made big-print
headlines; but he couldn't make it with the inside details; only Ed Burns could've
done that. But Ed couldn't make it without "her." So, exactly two
months after he'd murdered the Dahlia, Ed went to their special place and suicided.
That was the clandestine conclusion of the 1900s Black Dahlia story. LAPD "knew" that
Ed Burns was their Dahlia-killer man. But LAPD would not be able to close the
Dahlia case; and the public would never come close to fathoming what the Dahlia
murder was all about 'til very early in the 21st century.