The Murder of Dorothy Moormeister— Utah’s ‘Black Dahlia’

The victim is the young wife of a prominent and wealthy physician. There are suitors, insinuated affairs, missing jewels and even a Persian prince. It sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, but it all happened in Salt Lake City. Just after midnight on February 22, 1930, the brutally disfigured body of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister, 32, was found on the western edge of Salt Lake City. She had been repeatedly run over with her own car. Dorothy’s husband was Dr. Frank Moormeister, a wealthy physician and abortionist for the local brothels. Dr. Moormeister was much older than his wife, who had a wild social life and actively solicited the attention of other men. 

One of these men, Charles Peter, was a prime suspect in her death. He had allegedly urged Dorothy to divorce her husband and fleece him in the settlement. Additionally, the doctor had once loaned Peter a large sum of money and, as partial payment, taken from Peter a valuable pendant. 

The pendant was among the jewelry missing from Dorothy’s body. Another suitor, Prince Farid XI, who had met the Moormeisters during an excursion to Paris, was rumored to have been in Salt Lake City at the time. There were letters discovered afterwards intimating that Dorothy had designs to run away with him. 

Utah Black Dahlia
A map of the murder scene, published by The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 23, 1930.

On the night of her murder, Dorothy was seen entering the Hotel Utah at around 6 p.m. She left a short time later with two men and another woman. Dr. Moormeister claimed to have gone out to see a movie alone during this time period. The autopsy revealed traces of absinthe in Dorothy’s stomach. A search of her letters also revealed that she had been hiding money in various safety deposit boxes around town and had drafted some recent changes in her will but had not signed them officially.

However, despite all the intrigue and a massive effort by county investigators who even brought in a private detective who was popularly considered the “Sherlock Holmes” of his time, the killer was never revealed and brought to justice.

EXTRA!

Author Andrew Hunt, a historian and novelist, made the Moormeister Murder the backdrop for the first book in his noir series about rookie Sheriff’s Deputy, Art Overman, a squeaky clean family man and devout Mormon. Hunt’s book, City of Saints, is the first in a series of mystery novels set in the 1930s and won the 2011 Hillerman Prize.

WHAT: The last known whereabouts of Dorothy Moormeister

WHERE: The Hotel Utah (Now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building), 15 E. S. Temple, SLC


Interested in learning more about Salt Lake’s past? See what our city used to look and feel like here!

Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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