I've spent far too much time today going over police reports on various murders and looking at crime scene photos. Research. I do that when I'm working on a manuscript, and since I don't write about pleasant things, I have to delve into stuff that some people would describe as "fairly sick shit." At a certain point I started to wonder if I was doing research or just proving my thesis on humanity. I think it's fair to say that it started out as research, but as photo after photo exposed new and amazing ways the body could be turned into art, it was my thesis at work.
Humanity, it seems, isn't worth crying over.
If you want to get a good look at what man (labeled in the most generic of ways) is capable of doing to his fellow humans, you don't have to look at the photos of body piles courtesy of Nazi Germany. We all know that was bad. War and genocide are by necessity ugly, mean-spirited affairs, and those who feign shock at what they see have not really looked into what war and genocide really mean. The bodies stacked like winder wood aren't surprising. What is surprising is that it doesn't happen more often. We only think we are more civilized than that.
No. If you want a shock, steer clear of tired old WWII photos and turn your gaze onto the two halves of Elizabeth Short. The Black Dahlia. (I won't reprint the pictures here. Most of you have seen them.) My research began with her, and hours later ended with her. Full circle. Fitting tribute. You see, what was left in a vacant lot on 1/15/47 drained of all blood (except for one stray drop on the sidewalk), cut in two and mutilated something fierce was, by its nature, an act of passion gone awry. The body wasn't hacked in two. It was surgically sliced. A tattoo taken. A mouth cut wider in an insane grimace. Breasts barely left. Body put on display in a vacant lot, the two halves separated by a few feet, legs spread open as an invite.
This wasn't a robbery gone wrong. This wasn't some rough sex that got out of control. This was an act of passion. Someone knew her. She pissed someone off. She was left to be found. Larry Harnisch has an excellent and thoroughly plausible theory as to who did it and why. It remains, however, one of America's most infamous unsolved crimes, and even by today's high standards of transgression it is brutal to behold.
You definitely didn't want to be the one to stumble upon her pieces on that Wednesday morning. The woman who did was out with her child. She found Short around 10 a.m.. I guarantee you that at 10 a.m. on any given morning you aren't expecting to find a body where the killer has cut out a tattoo. You aren't thinking you'd stumble across a corpse where just above the vagina is an incision that looks like the killer was trying to make yet another vagina. And you definitely wouldn't be expecting to find the tattoo and grass inside the body's vagina. And if you delved deep enough, you'd find feces in her stomach. Most people never expect to come across such a thing, but Betty Bersinger did, and I can only imagine her reaction.
The absolute insanity that was Short's murder, torture and display is a perfect example of what man is capable of doing. It wasn't an act of war, genocide or terrorism. If, in fact, you believe Harnisch's theory, the killer was a man who walked out on his family, had lost a son, and spent his free time with his girlfriend eating dinner and listing to classical music while watching autopsy movies. Fairly mundane in the grand scheme of things.
Hours of pouring over police reports, death certificates, crime scene photos and more. Watching a documentary. Looking for links. Research, I called it. It was something more, though. Man's inhumanity towards his fellow man.
In the box of Short's stuff that was sent to the media after the discovery of her body was an ad with the phrase "Heaven is here." Yes, I suppose it is.