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The LAPD - Interview with Det. Brian Carr

By PAMELA HAZELTON - The Black Dahlia Web Site

Finding your way to the Homicide Division of the LAPD is not a simple task. The 3rd Floor of the police department in downtown Los Angeles carries the aura of decades past. Old lockers are crammed against a wall in the winding corridors; black speckled floors and orange walls depict the divisions housed on this floor haven't had a major overhaul in years.

It's a classic looking division, with old desks, stabilizing telephones, files and calendars, lodged against one another, creating small aisles for which to move from one detectives "space" to another. It looks much like a newsroom.

Det. Brian Carr was ready for our 10:30 a.m. appointment, and immediately led myself and Bernie Wrightson (an artist who was the focus of my business trip to California in June 1999), to a small room, containing nothing but a table and chairs. A quick handshake, and the offer of coffee or water was the ice breaker for our one-hour discussion about the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short.

How Carr Got The Case

Carr was handed the Black Dahlia murder case in 1996, continuing the investigation of Det. John St. John, and Det. Paul Tippen (who had handled the case from 1994). Carr describes the case as a classic one of "the small-town girl from back East comes to Hollywood and wants to be a star." It was a case, nonetheless, he wasn't eager to take on, for various reasons.

Foremost, after 52 years, how motivated is the LAPD in solving the case? Carr believes the case will never be solved, but explained that "any case that is not solved is an open case." With several current cases, the detective said he has to weigh the factors of which cases are investigated regularly, and when. Passing up seeking suspects for most recent murders in exchange for seeking potential killers in the Black Dahlia murder is not an option.

Another issue is the emotional involvement. Without having the experience of getting to know the victim's family, it's not as easy for Carr to slot unlimited time to devote to the case. "When I get emotionally involved in a case, that's a really huge motivating factor," the detective said.

"The only familiarity I had with the case was what I had seen on TV," Carr said about when he was originally handed the files.

Facts vs. Fiction - unanswered

All the rumors and speculations about the murder - henna in Beth Short's hair, a tattoo, a "BD" carving in her leg - can't be answered, Carr said, because these are issues in which the answers have been "sealed" in the files since January 15, 1947, when the 22-year-old's body was found severed.

Carr had warned me a week before our interview that he wouldn't discuss any of the methods of operation (MO) of the killer, because doing so could damage the investigation. The "sealing" of particular facts, which are used to determine if a confessed killer or someone claiming to know who killed Beth Short, are still enclosed in a vacuum deep within the case files, to which only Carr has unlimited access. He may, from time to time, share some information with his partner, but Carr is careful about not letting vital case info leak to the press or public.

While most "gotta-know" questions carried the response, "I can't answer that," Carr was open to discuss very general topics about the case itself, which has existed for more than 52 years.

A Most Unique Case

While Los Angeles has since experienced hundreds of other brutal murders, some also unsolved, Carr said the Black Dahlia murder is very unique.

"It's a lot different," Carr said. "It's got signs of serial murder all over it, but again, they never found another (murder) linked to it."

Probably the most emotional factor for the thousands of civilians holding interest in this case is that Beth Short wanted to be a star. She is depicted as the girl next door who had such dreams. This, along with the brutality of the murder itself, is reason why the Black Dahlia murder was as prominent the day it was discovered as it is now.

"The case itself took a life of it's own," Carr explained. "It was front page news every day for almost two months. People were interested."

Carr said the LAPD continues to receive various letters and phone calls about the murder. People will write, saying they have information about the murder. These letters and inquiries are usually checked against "sealed" information, which can help the detective immediately rule out hoaxes.

The Case File

The Black Dahlia case takes up an entire 5-drawer filing cabinet, plus indexed files. Carr estimates there are more than 5,000 pages of documents relating to the case.

The detective said an autopsy report for Beth Short does exist, but that anyone requesting it "can't get a copy." In fact, the LAPD doesn't possess the report, which is instead kept at the coroner's office "under lock and key."

As well, an envelope that was supposedly mailed to the LA Times also exists. Carr would not say if the envelope was thought to be mailed from the real killer or if it was fabricated.

Carr said it's likely the killer had some sort of medical-type knowledge, in respect to the way the victim was cut in half. This does not mean, however, the person was probably a doctor, just that the killer knew something about the act of severing the body.

Carr also said the killer probably knew Beth Short. He would not say if the killer was thought to be just an acquaintance, or someone who knew the victim well.

Other "confidential topics" Carr would not address include:

  • Was Beth Short cut in half while she was still alive?
  • Was she ever tied?
  • Was she unable to have "normal" intercourse?
  • Was she pregnant?
  • Was there grass forced into her vaginal area?

Finding The Killer

Carr isn't holding his breath in finding out just who killed Beth Short. He believes the killer is probably dead.

Psychological profiling isn't a great issue, because Carr has found that such profiling isn't exact by any means.

"Psychological profiling is not a science," Carr said. As many times as it has been successful it has been wrong. And Carr attests that while professional profilers may be respected by certain communities, he has found that he and other detectives can be more successful in such profiling because LAPD officials work "on the streets," and around the criminals, opposed to using technical knowledge in order to make a conclusion on what type of person could have committed such a crime.

Carr said there have been more than 50 "confessing sams" who say they killed Beth Short, and all were ruled out. As well, the occasional professed psychic attempts to lend information, but again, nothing pans out.

What Next?

So, what exact stand does the LAPD hold on the half-century prod into the case file of Beth Short? In short, the general public need not hold its breath. While Carr is open to solving the case, he's not expecting that to happen. And he said that the possibility of any portion of the case files being released while he's on the case is nonexistent.

Carr did say there has, in the past, been many cases where a deceased person has been named as a killer, and the relative cases closed.

A few other notes...

  1. Det. Carr has not read any Black Dahlia book in its entirety, but he has skimmed the pages of Severed and Daddy Was The Black Dahlia Killer, among other publications.

  2. Det. Carr said George Knowlton's name does appear in the case file, but only because of Janice Knowlton's correspondence with the LAPD. The detective said George Knowlton was never named as a suspect.

  3. Det. Carr will not validate or rule out any images that are posted at The Black Dahlia Web Site, nor will he confirm any additional photos presented as being either authentic or fake. His reason given was that any confirmation or deletion may affect the investigation.

This story derived from an interview with Det. Brian Carr. The interview was conducted by Pamela Hazelton - The Black Dahlia Web Site - on June 24, 1999, at the LAPD Detective/Homicide Division in Los Angeles, Calif. This article is 1999 Pamela Hazelton. All Rights Reserved.

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The Black Dahlia Web Site is Pamela Hazelton. All Rights Reserved. Last update: February 13, 2009.