Alleged murder flashbacks spur police investigation

June 22, 1991|By Matt Lait | Matt Lait,Los Angeles Times

WESTMINSTER, Calif. -- Horrifying memories, surfacing now after being repressed for more than 40 years, have persuaded Janice Knowlton that her father was a killer, possibly even the infamous Black Dahlia murderer.

Ms. Knowlton's apparent recollections have impressed detectives in Westminster, enough that today they will dig up the site of her former residence, now a vacant lot, in search of evidence of a crime -- possibly the Black Dahlia victim's belongings or the body of another woman.

"Repressed memories like these do check out. It's not unusual," said Westminster Police Lt. Larry Woessner, although he remained skeptical that evidence from the Black Dahlia case will be uncovered.

Ms. Knowlton, now 54, says that she believes her father killed a woman and buried her remains in the now-vacant lot.

Her father, George A. Knowlton, died in a car accident in 1962.

"She seems to think that we may find a purse or some other belongings of Elizabeth Short," Lt. Woessner said. "If we do, great."

The unsolved Black Dahlia murder was one of the most intriguing homicides ever committed in Southern California.

On Jan. 15, 1947, aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was found dead in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles.

The case drew headlines because of the gruesomeness of the crime: The victim was tortured apparently for two days and her body severed at the waistline.

Her internal organs had been removed and she had been drained of blood.

In a final psychopathic act, the killer carved an ear-to-ear grin on her face.

Part of the fascination of the murder had to do with Ms. Short, who lived on the fringes of Hollywood with dreams of stardom and a reputation for having had an array of sexual encounters.

The 22-year-old woman was called Black Dahlia because of her fondness for tight-fitting black dresses.

Los Angeles Police Detective John P. St. John, one of the investigators assigned to the case, is skeptical about the connection between Ms. Knowlton's father and the Black Dahlia murder.

"We have a lot of people offering up their fathers and various relatives as the Black Dahlia killer," Det. St. John said. "The things that she is saying are not consistent with the facts of the case."

About a year ago, shortly after her mother died, Ms. Knowlton began to recall during therapy sessions haunting images of hiding in the family's garage while her father sexually and physically tortured a woman, whom she called Aunt Betty.

She said that she remembers the woman sitting in a chair under a bright light, and her father hitting the woman in the face and head with a claw hammer. The father later cut the woman's limp body in two with a power saw, Ms. Knowlton said.

Finally, she says she recalls her father driving to Los Angeles and ditching the body somewhere downtown.

Ms. Knowlton said that she has also recalled two other murders committed by her father, and believes one of the victims was mutilated and buried in the family's yard in Westminster. She believes the other killing occurred in Massachusetts.

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