Del Norte County’s Black Dahlia Case

The name written on the cover page of this address book was Lucille Blair, 4981 N. Jersey, Portland, Oregon. It was that of an unknown woman whose badly decomposed and mutilated was was found north of Crescent City on March 1, 1957.

Ten-years earlier Elizabeth Short was found murdered, her naked body sliced in two pieces, earning her gruesome death the infamous moniker, “The Black Dahlia.” The 22-years old’s murder is one of the oldest cold-cases in Los Angeles’ history.

The Del Norte County victim, without hands or feet, and cut in two, was discovered clad only in lingerie by a 15-year-old boy. Coroner Norman Wier said the woman had been dead for about a month before being found.

Among other items found in the swampy undergrowth were a woman’s purse and shoes found near the spot where the unidentified brunette was discovered. Also found were a pair of glass frames with without the lenses, believed to have been worn by the woman.

Del Norte County Sheriff Deputy James Smallwood was assigned the task of tracing the serial number on the frames to a possible manufacturer. Meanwhile, Sheriff Harold E. Scott inspected the purse while deputy William Mooney looked through the address book which contained the names of five women and one man from Denver, Seattle, Portland, Stockton, and San Francisco who may have been friends of the dead woman.

Using the address book Scott left or Portland, Oregon to interview Rhoda Nolestine, who had befriended the victim during a bus ride. Scott took Mooney along and Crescent City school art teacher Robert Harper went to the Rose City to to investigate and draw composite picture of the dead woman from a description furnished by Nolestine.

Nolestine was the mother of Ella Collyer, one of the names listed in the address book. When originally questioned, Collyer could offer no explanation about how her name came to be in the dead woman’s booth.

Then she received a phone call from her mother. That’s when it was learned that Collyer had given her daughter’s name to the then unidentified woman because she wished to order a purse she admired that the daughter had made.

The new lead was expected to set off a chain reaction, revealing the dead woman’s movement prior to the bus ride, who her friends were, and eventually lead to a solution of her murder.

“This is really a good lead, “Mooney stated, “Because bus passengers usually talk a lot during a long trip we’re sure to get many tips which will help tremendously.”

Unfortunately, Nolestine, was unable to recall anything concrete during the five-hour bus ride she shared the dead woman. The 73-year-old was able provide a reason as to why her daughter’s name came to be in the dead woman’s address book.

“I told her my daughter made them and sold them for $2.50”, Nolestine told deputies who were at her Seaside, Oregon home. She added that the woman told her, “I’m going to Crescent City but I’ll be back in a few months. I should like to help her market them. I think she can get more than $2.50.”

She then gave the murder victim gave her daughter’s address. Collyer’s name was the only one in the book which had the correct address.

Even the address of Lucille Blair found in the book and on the Surf Hotel register, where she stayed the night of January 2, proved to be false. Both the hotel clerk and manager stated they remembered the woman.

The hotel manager, Douglas Hepburn told investigators that he was certain the woman who registered at the hotel and the dead woman were the same. Douglas said he remembered chatting with her at check-in, adding she didn’t go out or have any visitors while she stayed the one night in the hotel and had a small suitcase with her.

R. C. Erickson, who was the clerk on duty when the woman checked out about 1:30 the morning of January 3, described her as between 35 and 40 years old, a neat dresser, about five-foot seven-inches tall, and 140 pounds. He said she was wearing a dark skirt with a while high-necked blouse and a dark a gray short coat.

A dark gray short coat and dark skirt were found in the area a few days after her remains were discovered. The items were later identified by the Erickson as those the woman was wearing when he last saw her.

Attempting to trace the her movements after she checked out of the hotel, Erickson recalled she had breakfast and left for the Greyhound depot presumably to catch a bus.

“She did not say what her destination was, but about 7:30 she inquired if she had sufficient time to eat since she had to catch an early bus,” Erickson said.

A part of a bus ticket was found inside a purse believer o have belonged to Blair.

During a Grand Jury probe a year later, it was learned that an Arcata couple were also questioned. The couple, only identified as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Albright were asked about an old letter addressed to Harvey which had similar hand writing qualities as were as found in the address book.

It was later learned that letter was written seven-years before and that the woman who wrote it and was using the alias “Lucille Brown” not “Blair.” It remains a mystery how the letter ended up in the possession of the dead woman.

There was also evidence provided that showed the address book may not have belonged to the murder victim as the hand writing in a letter was written by the woman found to be alive elsewhere. Handwriting experts in Sacramento said there was a 98-percent chance both the address book and the letter were written by the same person.

Albright later alleged that during questioning, an attempt was made to pressure him into admitting he had more than “a passing knowledge of the murder.” He accused Arcata Police Chief Arthur Larson; William Bowen; a Del Norte Brand inspector and former deputy under Scott; Daniel Nations, a Crescent City policeman; and Colan Henninger, a former deputy under Scott of coercion.

No charges were brought against four men.

The Grand Jury’s investigation also uncovered the fact that the dismembered body at one point believed that of Yvonne Conley, the “sweetheart” of George Cole. This came after San Francisco Police tracked a Cole to the Del Norte area during the preliminary days of the murder investigation of SFPD Sgt. Joseph Lacey on December 18, 1956.

Authorities believed that Cole, who had grown up lived in Orick, California had killed Conley rather than risk having her divulge his whereabouts to detectives. Furthermore, investigators learned that the address book, which gave a fake San Francisco address, also provided a name that was “genuine.”

Cole was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List on February 25, 1957. He was eventually captured two years later in Des Moines, Iowa after some identified Conley from seeing a wanted poster.

Lucille Blair was born June 11, 1916 in Cowlitz County, Washington and is believed to have died around February 10, 1957. She was buried as “Jane Doe” by the county in the West Lawn of the IOOF Cemetery, Crescent City, Del Norte County, California.

Like Barbara Short’s murder, Lucille Blair’s murder has never been solved.


One thought on “Del Norte County’s Black Dahlia Case

  1. I knew it was unsolved, I never knew it was so complicated – local lore had it she was working in a house of ill repute located in the Howland Hill Road area. The young man who found her is a friend of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

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