Saturday, May 25, 2024

‘Black Dahlia’ victim dined in the Inland Empire weeks before her death 

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A wall inside the famed Sycamore Inn restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga has rows of photos noting the well-known celebrities who have dined there, such as Jerry Lewis and Marilyn Monroe.

But on that wall is a photograph of Elizabeth Short, better known as the “Black Dahlia,” victim of Los Angeles’ best-known unsolved murder case. Her tortured and mutilated body was uncovered 76 years ago in Los Angeles this past Sunday.

Short’s photo at the restaurant was noticed by reader John Atwater. The restaurant was mentioned in the investigation that filled the columns of local newspapers for weeks in early 1947.

An address book with the names of Short’s many male acquaintances was mailed to police a few days after her body was discovered. The book included the name of Jimmy Harrigan, a Navy veteran and civilian aircraft mechanic at the San Bernardino Army Air Base. He was among those questioned by police.

He admitted seeing Short twice the month before her death. On Dec. 2, after drinks at a local bar, they went to the Sycamore Inn for dinner and dancing. He said he never saw her again, and police apparently never considered him a serious suspect.

There was one other Inland Empire aspect of the Black Dahlia investigation that could have grown from an idle boast into something possibly dangerous.

At a Barstow cafe several days after news of Short’s death, Caral Marshall of Tulare was overheard saying, “I know who killed Beth Short, and if the reward is big enough I’ll talk.” The proprietor reported the comment to police, and she was taken in for questioning, reported the Sun newspaper, Jan. 26, 1947.

She was soon considered just a publicity-seeker by police. But shortly after her name appeared in local papers, police received an anonymous letter saying that Marshall would next be killed. Police later discounted that threat as one of dozens of people sending them useless tips.

Marshall did pay a bit of price, at least to her ego, in the nationwide publicity she attracted, mostly because she was blonde and 6-foot-1.

Reporters of the day were not hesitant to add their own bits of color in the way they described people. About 10 days into the investigation, one writer described her as an “amazon,” apparently due to her height. In all subsequent mentions in all papers and wire stories, Marshall was called an “amazon,” and some even added her weight, 160 pounds.

The Jan. 26 article in the Sun about Marshall and her bogus role in the investigation put an end to it all with the headline: “Police Dismiss Blonde Amazon.”

San Antonio lived

Our last column about the unsuccessful change of the city name of Ontario to San Antonio solicited some interesting related information.

In 1894, a few Ontario folks, apparently tired of being thought of as a colony of Canada, proposed the change, an idea that was soundly defeated.

Reader Brent Basinger, a long-time former resident of Rancho Cucamonga, sent me a copy of an 1894 government topographic map showing “San Antonio” was already a location here.

The map placed it in the unincorporated area of San Antonio Heights that exists today, at the point where Euclid Avenue ends at 24th Street. For a time it was the terminus of the mule-powered trolley from downtown Ontario to the base of the mountains.

As there was then no San Antonio Heights or Upland, a name change if it had been approved would have probably described the whole area from the mountains to downtown.

Admittedly, it would have helped all those geographically challenged airline travelers who think a ticket to Ontario International Airport today lands them in Toronto. On the other hand, a name change to San Antonio would have created new problems for those people trying to fly to Texas.

Lots of history events going on in the near future:

• The Historical Society of the Pomona Valley is in need of volunteers to give school tours to fourth-grade students at the historic Palomares Adobe in Pomona.

Tours are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students are split into small groups which will hear volunteers at the six stations discussing the adobe itself, brick-making, blacksmithing, throwing lassos, the adobe garden or an historical overview.

The tours are already underway. Volunteers interested in participating should contact the society at or calling 909-623-2198.

• The California Historic Route 66 Association will present a Zoom talk on Jan. 28 called “Miles to Go” about a family from Africa searching for an authentic America while traveling along Route 66.

Brennen Matthews, editor of the Route magazine, will speak from 9 to 10 a.m. discussing the family’s experiences viewing landmarks and quirky roadside attractions and meeting a few colorful characters.

To hear the talk; dial 669-444-9171 and use the Zoom login: 961 194 5998. The password is 629166.

• Kaiser Steel founder Henry J. Kaiser will be the subject of a Zoom talk on Jan. 29 at the Ontario Museum of History & Art, 225 S. Euclid Ave.

Author and historian Ric A. Dias will speak from 1 to 2 p.m. about the “Miracle Man Kaiser” whose Fontana plant turned out a million tons of steel for shipbuilding and other military products during World War II.

The free talk will be on Zoom via the link:

The museum will also stream the talk to visitors in its historic council chambers.  The first 10 people who attend in person will receive a free signed copy of Dias’ book.


• The Etiwanda Historical Society will hold its annual Valentine’s gourmet dinner Feb. 11 and 13 at the Chaffey-Garcia House, 7150 Etiwanda Ave., Rancho Cucamonga,.

The event is limited to 24 guests each night and costs $125, which includes choice of filet mignon or salmon, a champagne greeting, hors d’oeuvres, Valentines salad, wine, choice of desserts, and an after-dinner cordial.

The meals will be served on 100-year-old china amid period furnishings and antique chandeliers of the 1874 home. Details:

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Empire history.  He can be reached at or Twitter @JoeBlackstock.  Check out some of our columns of the past at Inland Empire Stories on Facebook at

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