It’s a bit afield from our usual reporting, but a dead body in Los Angeles’ landmark Millennium Biltmore Hotel, dozens of cops and hundreds of singing and dancing would-be celebs swirled through my life last weekend. But so far, nothing I’ve seen has mentioned a historical piece of the mystery at the Biltmore.
Along with nearly two dozen other reporters, I was fortunate to be selected for a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship. We met over the weekend and the sessions were superb, filled with the kind of substance that causes you to leave filled with energy and excitement.
But not long after breakfast Saturday, we noticed that the LAPD seemed to be everywhere, including stationed at the entrance to stairwells. Checking news websites didn’t turn up anything, and the cops and hotel staff refused to say what was going on. Through it all, lines formed outside the hotel as contestants for the TV show “America’s Got Talent” waited to audition. Inside, more contestants demonstrated their routines to anyone who seemed interested.
And the rumor mill running through it all turned out to be a source.
“They found a body in the stairwell,” one of my fellow Fellows reported. Almost all of us worked for news organizations outside Los Angeles that wouldn’t cover a distant death.
But that didn’t still the Fellows’ curiosity.
“The cops interviewed me,” one colleague said. “They wanted to know if I heard a scream sometime after midnight.”
Constructed in the 1920s, the Biltmore is a gracious old place, with open stairwells that descend straight from the hallways. You can look over the handrail and down 11 floors, if your stomach will allow it. Mine won’t.
As pieced together by my colleagues, a woman’s body was found near the bottom of one stairwell. Whether it was suicide, homicide or accident, we didn’t know, and police still haven’t made that determination.
It wasn’t until Monday that news stories began to unravel part of the mystery. The dead woman, according to the Los Angeles Times, was the wife of one of the “America’s Got Talent” contestants.
Laura Finley was 48, and she and her husband, Joseph, were staying at the hotel. According to the Times, Radar Online and even Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, her husband reported her missing to hotel staff and then went to his audition.
But none of the reports touched on the Biltmore’s history of mystery: The hotel is tied to one of L.A.’s most famous crimes, the Black Dahlia murder.
In 1947, beautiful actress Elizabeth Short disappeared. She was last seen at the Biltmore. Her body, cut in half, was later found in Leimert Park. Her murder is unsolved.
— TRACY WOOD