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Fifty-three years after her murder, Elizabeth Short continues to make headlines.

A book published earlier this year suggests that Orson Welles, the writer, director and star of Citizen Kane, butchered Short.

The allegation, denounced as a "a sick joke" by Welles's family, is central to Childhood Shadows, written by Mary Pacios, a childhood friend of Short from Medford, Mass.

Pacios, 66, portrays Short as a middle-class girl who would have known Welles when his marriage to Rita Hayworth was foundering amid allegations of sexual impropriety involving Yvonne De Carlo, another actress.

Welles was deeply depressed in the month of Short's death, Pacios said, after completing The Lady from Shanghai with Hayworth. Scenes shot in Shanghai but later cut from the film showed a grim clown house decorated with female body parts including a mannequin face mutilated like Short's and a woman's body cut in half.

Autopsy reports of the Short murder showed that she had been drained of blood. Her severed body was arranged in a grotesque sexual tableau.

Pacios claims Welles and Short would have met at a restaurant where he frequently picked up women and at a nearby nightclub. Welles was said to disappear for days with unknown women, but after January 1947 his behaviour became even more eccentric. On the day Short's clothes were sent to the newspaper, he applied for a pass to visit local mortuaries. A few weeks later he abruptly left Hollywood He did not return for 10 years.

"A lot of hurtful things have been written about Betty, who was a nice girl from a good family, not the tramp she has been often painted," Pacios told the London Times, criticising a semi-fictional account, The Black Dahlia (1987), by James Ellroy.

In 1998 Mike Alfreds adapted the novel for a stage production in England by Method and Madness, his touring company.

Also in 1998 Amok Press published John Gilmore's Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder.

And, of course, there is a Black Dahlia Web site. The site breaks down to a profile of the victim, the murder scene and the ensuing investigation that included more than 50 false confessions. One warning, though. Although the host doesn't flaunt this, visitors are apt to stumble across some very graphic autopsy photos. The address is . Staff

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