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Yet Another Killer Dad in the Black Dahlia Case

November 8, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Examiner Front Page
The front page of the Los Angeles Examiner, Jan.  25, 1947.

Black Dahlia Envelope
The only message ever confirmed to be from the Black Dahlia’s killer.

With the publication of Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” and “Most Evil,” I assumed that the market for “Daddy did it” claims about the Black Dahlia case was exhausted, particularly after the tragic suicide of Janice Knowlton, who began this bizarre publishing genre with “Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer.”  

But no.

Throw onto the pile of claims about conveniently dead “killer Dads” the one being offered by Dennis Kaufman, a Sacramento man who says his stepfather, Jack Tarrance, (you guessed it) killed Elizabeth Short and committed the Zodiac murders. And yes, there is a movie in the works.

Unlike some crime writers, I am a specialist rather than a generalist. The Black Dahlia case is one I know well, but I’m only familiar with the outlines of Zodiac, so I’ll skip anything involving Tarrance and the Zodiac killings. Here’s a brief explanation of what’s wrong with the claim (it’s not even good enough to call a “theory”) linking him to the Black Dahlia case.

Crackpot Letter My information on Tarrance comes from online reporting by Kris Pickel and posted by KOVR, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento.  According to Pickel’s reports, Kaufman and “forensic document examiner Nanette Barto” say that Tarrance’s handwriting matches the Zodiac letters and the mail received in the Black Dahlia case.
The problem with these claims (and it’s the same mistake made by “Black Dahlia Avenger” and “Most Evil”) is that they are based on the wrong assumption that Elizabeth Short’s killer sent a flood of postcards and letters to newspapers.

There were no letters from the killer. There were no postcards from the killer. There is no handwriting to compare.  Zero.

crackpot_letter03Let me repeat: The only confirmed message from the killer of Elizabeth Short is the “Here! is Dahlia’s belongings” envelope shown above, which used letters clipped from newspapers. Notice that there’s no handwriting on the envelope.


All the rest of the mail was the work of anonymous crackpots. The fact is that in the weeks after the killer sent some of Short’s belongings to the newspapers, there was a deluge of mail from pranksters. Every bit of it was a joke. That anyone is taking this mail seriously 60 years later is a sad reflection of the  pitiful lack of skepticism among amateur researchers, writers and book publishers.
The issue of whether Tarrance was the Zodiac killer is one I will leave to somebody else. But here’s the first question I have for the folks claiming he killed the Black Dahlia: “Can you show that Jack Tarrance was in Los Angeles at the time of the murder?” Not, “Could he have been in Los Angeles? “ or “Do you think he was in Los Angeles?”  The next question is: “If you don’t know, what are you doing to find out?”

image You’ll notice from the KOVR videos that the purported “evidence” is long on the nebulous art of handwriting comparison and very short on facts. All that’s said is that Tarrance was in the Navy and might have been in San Diego in 1945 – two years before the killing – and was discharged a few months after the Black Dahlia murder. In fact, a shot of his discharge papers shows he was in the service until October 1947, nine months after the murder.  

It is not impossible to answer the question of where Tarrance was in January 1947 at the time of the Black Dahlia killing – but it’s a fair amount of work. The test will be whether these folks will even attempt to fill in the blanks or content themselves with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about penmanship in hopes of a book/movie deal.

Note: The two images of crackpot mail are from the Herald-Express/Herald Examiner photo archives. Some of the Herald’s Black Dahlia material, including these images, is at the Los Angeles Public Library and has been posted online, and many photos are in the John Gilmore archives at UCLA Special Collections. The screen grab of Tarrance’s honorable discharge is from KOVR.