LA and Chicago Autopsy Reports Confirm a Skilled Surgeon Performed “Hemicorpectomy” on Both LA Victim Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short and Chicago “Lipstick Murder” Victim Six-Year-Old, Suzanne Degnan
February 24, 2019
Los Angeles, California
As presented in my earlier investigative findings, it would appear that Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short actually signed her own death warrant by actively traveling to Chicago, Illinois in the summer of 1946 (while her “former suitor” Dr. George Hodel was temporarily doctoring in Hangkow, China for the UN. (See details in BDA I and II)
In today’s blog, I want to focus on and offer the proofs that not only, “A Doctor Did It” but that doctor in both cases (Degnan-Jan 1946 and Short Jan 1947) was a skilled surgeon who performed a specific and difficult procedure known as a “Hemicorpectomy.”
First the definition:
SKH Note- The procedure requires that the division be performed between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebra, which is the only way a body can be divided without having to cut through bone.
SKH Note- To be clear, in my previous writings I have quoted an expert surgeon who indicated, “this procedure was taught in U.S. medical schools in the 1930s.” By that, I do not mean to imply that Dr. George Hodel was performing this radical procedure on his living patients. He was not. Those skills (see photo below) would not be developed for another twenty years.
Rather, in those early years, the surgical procedure was performed on cadavers, human corpses, in order to divide the body in half without having to saw through bone—just as was done on the bodies of victims Suzanne Degnan (1946) and Elizabeth Short. (1947)
“A Doctor Did It”
From Black Dahlia Avenger (Harper Collins 2004) page 530:
“A Doctor Did It”
In previous chapters, I presented evidence from a number of authoritative sources (including LAPD’s own respected criminalist Ray Pinker, who conducted tissue studies in conjunction with Dr. Lemoyne Snyder) confirming that the bisection was performed by a medical doctor.
In October 2004, CBS’s 48 Hours television producers, in preparation for an hour-long special, decided to test the theory independently. The network went to Dr. Mark Wallack, chief of surgery at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, and asked him to examine the crime scene photos, as well as a summary of the Short autopsy, and render an opinion. Dr. Wallack confirmed my, and LAPD’s, previous findings. Here is his on-air statement from the special, Black Dahlia Confidential:
You don’t get this kind of training where you can invade a human body unless you’ve had some sort of medical training.
So you’re saying you think it must have been a doctor?
In my opinion—yes!
In early 2005, I was contacted by the son of a prominent Los Angeles physician, whom I shall refer to as Dr. G. The son, a surgeon and professor of anatomy, * informed me that his father had been the personal physician to legendary LAPD chief William H. Parker. He stated that I had incorrectly attributed Chief Parker’s death in 1966 to a heart attack and went on to inform me that “Parker died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm that ruptured as he was preparing to give a dinner speech.” According to the son, Dr. G. had previously referred Chief Parker to the Mayo Clinic for treatment, but the clinic’s doctors felt repair was too risky, though they did provide him with a pacemaker.
* The professor identified the medical bisection performed on Elizabeth Short as a “hemicorpectomy.” He informed me that the procedure was taught at medical school during my father’s years (the 1930s), and in his opinion, could be performed by any skilled and anatomically trained M.D.
SKH Note- Over the years no less than five separate surgeons have reviewed the photos and all are in agreement that the bisection “had to have been performed by a highly skilled surgeon.”
The Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short Autopsy
TRANSCRIPT OF INQUEST
HELD ON THE BODY OF ELIZABETH SHORT
AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
JANUARY 22, 1947 AT 10:30 A.M.
FREDERICK D. NEWBARR, being first duly
Sworn, testified as follows:
Q: BY THE CORONER; Please state your name.
A: Frederick D. Newbarr
Q: What is your occupation?
A: Physician and Surgeon.
Q: And you are the autopsy surgeon for the coroner?
A: Yes, sir. Chief autopsy surgeon, Los Angeles County.
Q: Did you perform an autopsy on the body of Elizabeth Short
Over whom we are holding the present inquest?
A: Yes sir.
Q: When did you perform the autopsy?
A: January 16, 1947 at 10:30 A.M.
(SKH Note- Dr. Newbarr begins reading from his autopsy protocol as to his findings and is interrupted.)
Q: Doctor, I don’t believe it will be necessary for you to read all this. It is rather long and I don’t think we need to read all of it here. … Then the next paragraph with regard to the severing of the body.
A: The trunk is completely severed by an incision which is almost straight through the abdomen severing the intestine at the duodenum and through the soft tissues of abdomen passing through the intervertebral disk between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebra. [emphasis mine]
(SKH Note- Here Dr. Newbarr confirms that the surgical procedure was, in fact, a -hemicorpectomy.)
The Suzanne Degnan Autopsy
On January 8, 1946, an autopsy was performed in Chicago at the Cook County Morgue on the body of Suzanne Degnan, age 6.
I am in possession of the complete Coroner’s Protocol, from the Cook County Coroner’s Office, but for the purposes of this reportage I am only going to provide the relevant confirmation that her body was divided identically to that of Elizabeth Short, by what medical experts consider to be a procedure known as –a hemicorpectomy.
CORONER’S PATHOLOGICAL REPORT
HELD ON THE BODY OF SUZANA [SIC] DEGNAN
AT THE COOK COUNTY MORGUE, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
JANUARY 8, 1946
The undersigned has this date 1/8/46 performed an autopsy on the dead body of Suzana [sic] Degan at Cook County Morgue. …
DESCRIPTION: Age 6 Race: White Sex: Female Color of eyes: blue Hair: light brown Weight: 78 Length: 4’ 2” Date of death: 1/7/46
Scan from actual Degnan Coroner Report (redacted)
From Most Evil (Dutton 2009) page 116:
Toxicologist Dr. William D. McNally reported that the victim [Degnan] had been strangled before her body was expertly dissected with a sharp knife. This conclusion was corroborated by Coroner Brodie, who told the press: “It was a very clean job with absolutely no signs of hacking as would be evident if a dull tool was used.” Dr. Jerry Kearns, the coroner’s expert added: “the killer had to be an expert…. Not even the average doctor could be so skillful.”
January 6, 1946- Killer poses Degnan body parts off Street named “Hollywood”
“Dr. Jerry Kerns, coroner’s physician, identified the arms as belonging to the Degnan child and said, “they bore additional evidence of the skill with which the dismemberment of her body was accomplished. “(Chicago Daily Tribune, January 20, 1946)
Excerpt from a PowerPoint presentation I gave to Law Students at Pepperdine College back in April, 2010. At the end of the talk, I received a question from criminal defense attorney, Anthony Salerno related to the Suzanne Degnan Chicago Lipstick Murder and how it related to the Elizabeth Short murder one year later.
DEGNAN CRIME SUMMARY VIDEO EXCERPT (5 minutes)
Elizabeth Short Crime Scene Photos
January 15, 1947 Killer poses Short body parts of street named Degnan
Driving north on Degnan Blvd. the street magically changes names mid-block just south of the divider and becomes Norton Avenue. If the driver bears right he remains on Degnan. If he bears left he is now on Norton.
At the time of the crime on January 15, 1947 no center divider was at the location. Consequently, it was a coin toss as to which street the driver was on. I am confident my father, while bearing left, still believed he was on Degnan therefore in posing the body he was making his taunting “clew” to the police and press. “Catch me if you can.”
In this Google photo, the 6th house from the left on the top side of the photo is where Degnan magically switches its name and becomes “Norton”. I’ve never seen this occur before. Have you? No wonder GHH bearing left still thought he was on Degnan Ave.
I was just thinking: Netflix recently released a 4-part documentary on serial killer Ted Bundy. Since your father’s murders span multiple cities and decades do you think something similar could be warranted – something that puts together everything you’ve documented in your books? Tying it all together for viewers as part of a multi-part docuseries would really do justice to your work. I know people have been inquiring a lot about if there’s a miniseries or documentary in the works., so sorry if I sound like a pest. Just wanted to run that by you.
Ryan: That is exactly what I/we are hoping to do. I am working with some top people with real vision and that “get it” and will be presenting to various studios in the immediate future. So, “stay tuned” will be trying to make that happen very shortly.
Very exciting! I’ve been wanting to see this since reading your first book a long time ago.
My comment is sort of unrelated to this specific post but I wanted to share something I noticed in today’s episode of your (half) niece’s books.
When addressing GHH’s involvement in Elizabeth Short’s murder, the actress who plays Tamar replies, “Everyone knew. We all knew it.” It was almost, if not exactly the same wording that Maddie Comfort used when she was told about your first book and your investigative findings.
I’m wondering if you at all know if your books were read and used as part of research for the making of this show?
Lynelle (formerly of the Whittier Museum)
Good to hear from you. Been a long time. I think our last “hello” was at the Whittier Library during my PowerPoint presentation many years ago. Again, my sincere thanks for hooking me up with George, Mady Comfort’s boyfriend that opened the door to so many revelations.
As to your question. I haven’t watched the “I Am the Night” miniseries and of course do not support it and had no part in the production. In fact, didn’t know it was coming out until seeing the trailer a few months ago.
My niece, Fauna Hodel in fact never met my father in life, and was never at the Franklin/Sowden House until after my book published in 2003. The miniseries is probably 95% fiction.
Yes, I expect the writer and Fauna did take a lot of material from my books.
In talking with my sister Tamar back right after my father’s death (1999) and her making the disclosure to me her exact words were, “You know our father was a suspect in the Black Dahlia Murder. Oh, he didn’t do it, but the police suspected him. They (police) told me that they did when they took me to the court during the incest trial.” That was the TOTAL sum and substance of her knowledge and what she would have/could have told her children. Nothing more.
Yes, I’m sure those are Mady Comfort’s words which they took directly from BDA. I and II.
I’m not at all pleased with the TNT fictionalized version, IATN. The viewing public cannot distinguish truth from fiction and assume what they are seeing is all true. That is exactly why I have never watched the Brian DePalma/James Ellroy film, “Black Dahlia.” Other than using her name and the crime scene location, the story and film is all fiction. They trashed the victim’s name and reputation which as you know, I had to spend an entire chapter trying to rehabilitate her. None of what they presented is true. I fear that TNT has done the same with my mother? At least that’s what I’m hearing.
On the “upside” I did involve myself in agreeing to do interviews for what TNT is calling “their companion piece”. The podcast, “Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia.” It is well done and I put my trust in the exec-producer, Zak Levitt and in hearing seven of the eight episodes, sounds like he keep his word and presented it as truthful as possible with interviews with many of our family members along with my being able to tell the true investigation, at least in part. You might want to check it out. It’s just started and I think episode 3 airs on Wed. Here’s a link.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/root-evil-true-story-hodel-family-black-dahlia/id1450277129?mt=2 Best to you and yours, Steve
Thanks! I’ve been listening to the podcast and I really like it. I agree there are a lot of fictionalized parts in the show that are clearly for the entertainment factor. I have friends who know I’ve ready your books and Fauna’s book and they constantly ask me if certain parts are true and which parts really happened (or didn’t). I agree that most people don’t know how to separate fact and fiction. One of my pet peeves when reading and/or listening to podcasts on the subject of Elizabeth Short’s Murder is that they fail to humanize her, they run with the misconceptions of who she was and they don’t double check information that is not true. Pretty much everything in the chapter you mentioned. Thanks for the response. It’s been a while but ever since our meeting at the museum and your talk at the library, I have enjoyed following your blog and the release of your other books over the years. Take care.
Hi Steve, I have found the Root of Evil podcast absolutely stunning! The revelations that you have been able to uncover have made me buy your 1st & 2nd book with a thirst for more knowledge. I understand you being upset with TNT on the miniseries. So many people are not able to separate what is fact from fiction. I just want to thank you & your family for sharing your lives with us.
Amanda B: Thank you for your kind words. Much appreciated. Suggested reading order on books would be: BDA I (Skyhorse/Arcade 2015) Most Evil (Dutton 2009) BDA II (2014 ed.), Most Evil II (Rare Bird Books 2015) and finally BDA III (Rare Bird Books 2018). Yes, you’re correct, many do not distinguish fact from fiction, so, fortunately, the Root of Evil podcast helps to at least partially, “set the record straight.” I will have more to say on this subject, “down the line a bit” once RofE has finished airing the remaining episodes. Best, Steve
I wonder if George Hodel chose to bisect the child first to practice before he did the same horrific surgery on Elizabeth.
Jaynie: He didn’t need “practice.” He’d been performing bisections/autopsies since his days in Medical School (1932-1936) then as the sole surgeon at a logging camp in Arizona in the late Thirties. So, by 1946 he had fourteen years of “practice.”
Time is almost 4 in the evening here in Denmark, and I just finished the latest episode of ‘Root Of Evil’ on Spotify. Actually it’s only one of two podcasts I have ever followed (the second being the ‘Score’ podcast, from the creators of 2016s Score: A Film Music Documentary).
Kind of strange sitting several thousand kilometres away listing back to this very personal family story of yours. Even though I have been following your Black Dahlia case for a few years already.
I most certainly do hope that you, in collab with some of your movie contacts, will be able to create a mini series that will stay absolutely true to the story, and to who Miss Short really was. And that DNA evidence finally will support this truth. History deserves that.
All The Best from Denmark
Ps. Thanks for the links to the new edition of BDA you sent me by mail.
Marius E: Thanks. I hope so too. As you say “History deserves it” and I could not agree more. Trying to make it happen. Best, Steve.
Is there any surviving DNA evidence from the Elizabeth Short crime scene? After reading what was done to her, I feel desperate to know there might be justice–or at least closure–some day.
Audrey: In BDA II (2014 ed.) I present evidence that there very likely IS untested DNA available and could be compared to my father’s DNA, but LAPD’s position is “We are too busy with current crimes to work on it.”
Like some of your past readers, I too have now fallen into the rabbit hole of your material…Just beginning to dive into the real story and your findings after having finished IATN…I think it’s awesome that you’re so interactive here with your followers.
This may already be obvious but a netflix/true-crime series like someone suggested is probably the perfect way to get LAPD to look into ES DNA and any other pieces of evidence – just consider the what happened to Steven Avery as a result of Making A Murderer and the appeal he’s gotten…
Anyway, looking forward to diving deeper into your material. All the best.
Ryan: Thnks for the kind words. Much appeciated. Yes, would love to make a 8-10 part documentary and am working to that end with some top people so may happen? Best, Steve
Were fingernail scrapings collected? I couldn’t find any mention of it.
I doubt it. Don’t recall any documentation, but dark hair follicles were recovered from both victims bodies believed to belong to the suspect. The hair follicle removed from Degnan’s body was taken and booked into the FBI lab as evidence, but my request if it still exists continues to be unanswered. The autopsy report and Dahlia evidence have “disappeared.”
Do you know how long Elizabeth Short was captive and tortured by Dr. Hodel? How long did she suffer? Was she conscious throughout the ordeal? Was there a special room in his house where the torture/killing took place? Do you think some of the mutilation occurred after her death? And how long after Elizabeth Short was murdered were her remains placed on the lot on Degnan?
Alf Y. W. Martin:
Sorry, not able to answer all of your questions here. Suggest you go through the five books which should provide you most answers to your questions. Best, Steve
I absolutely will
Steve: So if GHH was going North on Degnan before he placed the body, would it be correct that his most likely route from the Sowden House was via Normandie and Santa Barbara Avenue (as Martin Luther King Jr Blvd was then known)? Another OCD thing, perhaps? -LW
LW: Yes, that’s my guess. Out the garage 200′ to Normandie, right turn all the way to Santa Barbara right turn then north on Degnan. OCD?
On whether the vehicle came up via Degnan from Santa Barbara Ave, according to the LAT of 1/16/47, the killer “…drove south on Norton Ave. to the deserted spot and slid hurriedly to a stop, as indicated by tire marks in the gutter.” However, a retrospective article by Ruth Reynolds in the Sundary Press, 2/12/50, supports the Degnan scenario: “Tire marks on South Norton Ave. indicated the killer–or an emissary–came from the south and swung hastily to the curb… Tire marks showed the car continued north.”
Steve: Running here with the idea that GHH and ES could have met in Santa Barbara, based on the ’43 date of L’Equivoque, the fact Man Ray’s one-man show in downtown SB coincided with ES’s brief stay there before her return to MA, and the fact ES mostly lived in the boonies the rest of her time in CA in ’43. As regards OCD, we also have the coincidence of the Zodiac crime spree starting in Vallejo, where ES first stayed in CA in ’42. The business with the writing inside GHH’s shoe and the obsessive memorializing of banalities in his letter to Juliet Man Ray — never mind the Zodiac letters themselves — suggest that these odd links might be more than coincidence. Reminiscent of Hecht’s description of the madness of Fantazius Mallare. -LW
LW: Yes, I think that they could well have met in Santa Barbara in ’43. I don’t see the Vallejo connection to GHH 27 years later. More likely it was familiar territory for GHH from his Berkeley College days in the Bay Area.
Steve: In regards ES’s 1943 connections to LA and possibly to Vallejo, I see that a memo in the DA file entitled “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946” states ES spent three weeks in Los Angeles around the beginning of 1943. It reports that ES accompanied her father, Cleo Short, to the West LA apartment of a Mrs. Yanke, with whom Cleo stayed in Vallejo, after residing with him in Vallejo only a few days in December ’42. The Boston Globe of 1/18/47 tells a different version of what is apparently the same story. According to the paper, the apartment in Los Angeles belonged to Mrs. Yanke’s mother-in-law, a Mrs. Mary E. Booth, who recalled that she first met father and daughter in April ’43 (in Vallejo, from the sound of it) and that she let them stay in her LA apartment for a few weeks while she herself visited Vallejo “several months later.” The memo version seems a bit neater, and it’s even possible both versions are correct. If we credit the Globe’s account, ES’s estrangement from Cleo was less abrupt and total than usually described. -LW
CORRECTION: Mary Booth was Mrs. Yanke’s mother, per the Boston Globe. Cleo Short was a friend of Mr. Yanke at the Mare Island Navy Yard and it sounds like he roomed with the couple in Vallejo. -LW
Steve: Maybe Santa Barbara Avenue was the original plan, and Degnan came to mind from his cab-driving days and he couldn’t resist a last-minute embellishment. If GHH really did the Chicago crimes and it wasn’t just a “fake clew,” it’s probably as well for him that he messed it up. Surely the link would have been obvious and the question of his travels would have come up. -LW
LW: Don’t agree on the “fake clue being obvious.” 1947 LAPD would never have suspected him as the “Chicago Lipstick Murderer”. And doubt they were ever aware of the “Degnan” connection. At least it was never mentioned in later reports or the DA Files except about ES going there in ’46, but only a few high-ranking officers knew that. I doubt they even knew that DEGNAN was a victim, just that she was checking out the “Lipstick Murderer” and had a “friend on the Chicago police department working the Lipstick Murders.” Can’t give to much credit to the assigned detectives, one of the biggest failures was and likely still is, coordination and communication. Each section, division has their own little fiefdom and guards their information as if it is “top secret” even and especially within the ranks of their Department.
Steve: So, if I’m understanding correctly — after reviewing ME and some contemporary news stories — the unusual hemicorpectomy aspect of the Degnan dismemberment was not publicized. Therefore, the idea of linking the crimes would not have been obvious. Again, if I’m understanding it right, you connected the crimes initially because of the evidence in the DA files that ES was digging into the Degnan case during her stay in Chicago in the summer of 1946 — which is pretty amazing — and only later discovered the additional link of the surgical MO after researching the coroner’s findings. That makes the linkage more impressive than I had previously realized. Perhaps others have missed that point, too. -LW
Steve: First leg down Normandie to Santa Barbara is very “A L’Heure de l’Observatoire,” with the Griffith Park Observatory at exactly 12 o’clock. Final site more than likely opportunistic since he could not know in advance who would be about in the early hours. -LW
LW: Not to mention the “Hollywoodland” Sign too. They changed the name of the sign two years later, in 1949 to “HOLLYWOOD”.
Steve: Interesting that the spelling and modern meaning of the word “clew” has its origins in poetry (Chaucer’s THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN and Michael Drayton’s THE LEGEND OF PIERS GAVESTON) referencing the myth of the Labyrinth, the clew being the thread that leads to the Minotaur. Quite likely GHH was aware of that. Perhaps the street names were intended as “fake clews for the police to run all over town with.” -LW
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I have looked into the Suzanne Degnan case. It was suspected that it was done by more than one person. Police found a letter to William Heirens signed by a “George M”. Cops passed it off that “George” was an alter ego but there is no possible way that Heirens would be able to have the medical knowledge.
I have already thought the coincidences in the Short case and this were frightening.. but the suspect named an accomplice by the name of GEORGE!? IS IT POSSIBLE?
KJ: Yes, more than possible with the subsequent connections to the posing of the Eliz Short “Black Dahlia” body off Degnan St, as explained in my investigation. Possible link to GHH taking Chinese language courses at Univ of Chicago. No way Heirens could perform a hemicorporectomy, especially as he describes “cutting the body up in the dark.” Impossible.