A Tinsletown Murder

A little more than two years before Elizabeth Short, better known as “The Black Dahlia,” was found dismembered in a Hollywood field, an equally mysterious Tinseltown murder occurred that, like the Dahlia slaying, remains unsolved to this day.
Beyond the coincidence that the murders occurred in Hollywood in the 1940s and both victims were young, attractive women in their 20s, there is little in common between the brutal killing of the Dahlia and the death of Georgette Bauerdorf. Elizabeth’s naked body was found hacked into pieces and reassembled in a vacant lot. She had been sexually assaulted before and after death.
Georgette’s partially dressed body was found face down in the bathtub of her upscale Hollywood apartment. She had not drowned: a cloth had been shoved four inches down her throat, and she had asphyxiated. Georgette had been sexually intimate prior to her death. The medical examiner did not report that the activity was non-consensual, but other signs at the crime scene indicated the sex was at least rather rough.
Both women left clues behind that they had dates or appointments with mysterious men. Just who Elizabeth Short was going to meet is unknown, while Georgette, a compulsive diarist, recorded that she had an appointment on October 11, 1944 — the evening before she was discovered dead — with a man known only as “Mr. Wade.”
Much has been written about the Black Dahlia’s life while she tried to realize her dream of becoming an actress, and separating fact from fiction as far as a legend like the Dahlia is concerned is difficult at best. Suffice to say that like many young women caught up in the big city lifestyle, the Dahlia probably was at least exposed to a bit of sordid behavior. It is an established fact that she came from a broken home and “grew up fast.”
Conversely, 20-year-old Georgette, who called herself the “doll with shoe button eyes,” was the beloved daughter of a well-to-do family that made its money from oil and mining. She was living in a duplex in West Hollywood while she worked as a junior hostess at the U.S.O. Hollywood Canteen.
It was Georgette’s charity to servicemen that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies said contributed to her death. She was accustomed to giving rides to soldiers and sailors (and maybe a Marine or two) and even loaned them money, friends said. Although Georgette adhered to the Canteen’s rules against leaving the nightclub with servicemen, she did occasionally date soldiers that she met at work.
“She had the means to do it and was interested in servicemen,” said her father’s secretary, Rose Gilbert. “She used to show them the sights and foot the bills.” Gilbert said Georgette refused to let the soldiers squander their meager $50 monthly pay on her.
Some of the soldiers, apparently, were welcome in her apartment, based on the myriad fingerprints found in the place after her death. Although Georgette had been intimate with someone before her death, there friends said she was not promiscuous.
“She had lots of dates, but I know for a fact that she made it a practice never to admit a man to her apartment unless there were others present,” said her best friend, June Zeigler.
June recalled that Georgette was an outgoing, yet flighty, young lady who was frequently misplacing her keys and other valuables, and who didn’t think twice about leaving her purse in her car parked at the curb outside her apartment.
On Wednesday, October 11, 1944, Georgette was planning to head to El Paso to watch the graduation of a friend from airman training at Fort Bliss on October 13. She purchased a $175 round-trip plane ticket that morning, did some shopping and got her hair done. She recorded in her diary that she was going to meet June at the Canteen that night.
Georgette and June arrived at the nightclub at 6:30 p.m. It is possible that shortly before meeting June, Georgette gave a ride along Sunset Boulevard to Army Air Corps Sgt. Gordon Aadland, who was in town from his base at Boeing Field in Seattle.
“That girl was nervous,” Aadland told police after he learned of Georgette’s murder.
June agreed that Georgette was acting strangely that night.
“Georgette said she was nervous, but she didn’t say why,” June told police. “She asked me to spend the night, but I couldn’t do it.”
At the Canteen, Georgette was pestered by Cosmo Volpe, a cheerful Army sergeant who liked to jitterbug. He continually asked Georgette to dance, not realizing that she did not like that particular dance.
“He kept cutting in on her all the time and forcing her to dance the jitterbug,” June told police. “But she danced with him so as not to make trouble.”
The women left the club around 10:30 p.m., with June heading for her home in Eagle Rock. As far as June knew, Georgette planned to drive home to her apartment on Fountain Avenue.
Sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 4 a.m., Georgette had a snack of cantaloupe and green beans. The rind of the fruit was found in the trash of her apartment and dirty dishes were in the sink, indicating that she ate the snack at home.
The maintenance man, who lived in a basement apartment below Georgette, told police that he was awakened by a noise at midnight.
“It sounded like a woman’s high heels clicking back and forth on the kitchen floor upstairs,” Fred Atwood told police. “A little later there was a crash as if somebody dropped a tray or something. Then everything was quiet.”
Another neighbor told authorities that he heard Georgette shriek, “Stop! Stop! You’re killing me!” around 2:30 a.m. “I heard a woman let out a scream that made me sit right up in bed,” he said.
Such screams were highly unusual in the apartments, but the man, at the time unsure if he had simply dreamed the cries, rolled over and went back to sleep.
At 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 12, Lulu Atwood, wife of the maintenance man, noticed that the door to Georgette’s apartment was open. Along with her husband, she went inside to investigate.
There, lying face down in the half-filled bathtub, was Georgette Bauerdorf. She was only wearing her pajama tops, and had a cloth clutched in her teeth. At first, investigating officers wondered if she wasn’t an epileptic who bit on the towel in the course of a seizure and then fallen into the tub and drowned.
The examination, however, revealed that Georgette was not epileptic, and that the carefully folded towel had been jammed down her throat to strangle her. The killer had scratched her face in the process.
The only clues were the notation in her diary about an appointment on October 12 with “Mr. Wade,” and the fact that the cloth in her throat was part of a bandage that was manufactured overseas before World War II. Although that type of bandage was not American, police wondered if an American GI hadn’t brought one home from abroad.
Neither clue ever panned out, however.
Georgette’s bedroom was mussed, but showed little signs of any struggle. Her pink pajama bottoms lay at the foot of the bed, and were badly torn. Some investigators believed that the pants were torn when her assailant pulled them from Georgette’s body, while others believed that the tears were old.
In the vestibule outside her apartment, police discovered that the light bulb had been loosened from its socket. The bulb was not burned out, but it would not light when the switch was thrown. A single fingerprint was found on the light bulb.
Georgette’s car was also missing. It was discovered later more than 10 miles away, its gas tank empty and the keys dangling in the ignition. Fingerprints on the light bulb and in the car did not match any known criminal or serviceman, authorities said.
When news of Georgette’s murder became known, Volpe, the jitterbugging sergeant, quickly and voluntarily appeared at police headquarters. He admitted monopolizing Georgette’s time that night, but was found to have been back on base long before Georgette was killed.
The case went cold and was filed away until 1947 when Elizabeth Short turned up dead in that Hollywood field. But none of the clues from Georgette’s killing helped investigators looking at the Black Dahlia murder, and nothing in that investigation ever led to any developments in Georgette’s murder.
The case remains open.