Los Angeles celebrates 65 years of dismemberment

Los Angeles is a macabre little hamlet. It’s ironic that a city of such glittery glamour and dazzling lights also has the deepest and darkest underbelly of nearly any major American city. This city is all parties and famous people and rich people and lavish restaurants and bars and skylights. But this town also acts as an electrical coil that darkens and converts even the most unlikely crimes into notorious and mysterious legends. The city’s history is filled with crimes that have populated our culture with their deviant quirks and sinister promises. Why Los Angeles? I’ve always suspected it’s owing in part to a combination of LA being the “last stop” for many dream seekers. It is where personal fantasies are crushed or enlivened and there is a tragic tone to this starry-eyed mecca. Secondly, I believe the sprawling layout of the city is largely responsible. Los Angeles is physically a large city pocked with all manner of geographical nuances, from hills to canyons to ravines, all co-existing smartly among the Angelenos who choose to settle in this layered city of dark landscapes interspersed with neon and billboards. Los Angeles’ geography is spooky and mysterious and hides lurking evil.

Los Angeles is the city of mayhem. Mayhem is its soul. Crime committed in Los Angeles is especially vulnerable to possessing an extra twinge of depravity and gruesomeness.

It all began with Elizabeth Short. The circumstances of her murder are renowned and the lore of her gruesome, evil death mystify to this day. She was another pretty out-of-town girl who found herself coasting the shady underbelly of Los Angeles, an aspiring movie actress like everyone else here, and though she never found her break in life, she did in death. She became known as the Black Dahlia because she frequently dressed in black and had jet black hair, and otherwise seemed a 1940’s precursor to modern Goths. Elizabeth Short’s body was found in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, about 6 miles southwest of downtown. She was discovered by a woman taking her daughter for a walk on January 15, 1947. Short’s body had been cut in half at the waist. Long incisions had been carved from the corners of her mouth to her ears. She had been drained of all blood and her wrists and ankles showed signs of having been tied wth rope. Her severed torso was laid out with her arms bent directly above her head at 90 degree angles, as if she were lifting a barbell.

Courtesy Black Dahlia Web Site (http://www.bethshort.com/about-beth.php)

Further adding to the mysterious legacy of Short’s murder was that the killer was never found. Many attention seekers confessed to the murder. Rumors abounded. But the killer was never found or tried.

Things have not changed in the City of Angels. A dark evil pall hovers over this metropolis. When you peer at the city from a lofty viewpoint, such as Griffith Park, you will see lights stretching into the distant horizon like an ocean of relentless cityscape. But if you allow yourself to “see,” you will note there are equals parts darkness and void. Interspersed with the comforting swath of light are arrows of enveloping darkness. This is where Los Angeles’ renowned noir sensibilities lurk. This is your peril.

The city of the macabre and unsettling coincidences and parallels.

Almost 65 years later to the day, last Tuesday, January 17, Lauren Kornberg, a professional dog walker (it’s Hollywood) was walking eight clients with her mom near Bronson Canyon Park in the Hollywood Hills when Ali, a Golden Retriever, sniffed out a human head wrapped in a plastic bag deep in a ravine which Lauren at first believed to be a movie prop. Obviously, it was not. Police were called in and subsequent investigation uncovered matching hands and feet, also dismembered, in the adjacent wilderness area not far from Brad Pitt’s hillside estate. But that’s all they could find. The remainder of the body (and parts) have not been found.

The victim was identified this weekend as Hervey Medellin, a 66-year-old former Mexicana Airlines employee who lived on De Longpre Avenue in Hollywood.

Reports have surfaced that he lived with his boyfriend but references to his ex-wife have also surfaced. Police have stressed that his live-in boyfriend is not a suspect or a person of interest, and in fact, he filed a missing persons report for Medellin on January 9. Police are still searching for the remainder of Medellin’s body and have not made any arrests. Some stories have claimed that Medellin frequently hiked in the hills near where his head was found, leading some to wonder if this was a random murder, but police are still interviewing people. Intriguingly, a human torso was found 500 miles away near the Tucson Mountains in Arizona on January 6, but police dismiss the connection, though law enforcement for both cities has been in touch. It is said that the torso belongs to a male and is missing the head, hands and feet.

Years ago I bought a book called Fallen Angels. It was a series of chronicles of notorious Los Angeles murders with a handy map reference to Thomas Brothers’ Los Angeles edition’s pages and grids showing the scenes of the crimes. I dig this stuff. This was before the internet and especially before Google Earth. Back then I was forced to rely on the 2-dimensional cartographic layout to illustrate where John Belushi died or where Sal Mineo was stabbed to death. Now there is Google Earth which is equally evil for the glimpse it gives us into the scene of the crime as seen by a roving camera from years previous.

This image from Google Earth shows a bird’s eye view of the approximate location Medellin’s head was found in the Hollywood Hills.

Note the contrasting rustic and mountainous anonymity conjoined with the bustle of Tinsel Town to the south. Los Angeles’ soul is dark and burrowed deeply into our geographical psyche. Dismemberment is our town’s civic pride.