Secret SLC: Utah’s ‘Black Dahlia’

Salt Lake is a city built on secrets. Its origin tale is wrapped up with the “Bible 2.0” Exodus of Brigham Young and his followers, the Latter-day Saints, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (officially) or the Mormons (colloquially and historically). The Mormons first arrived here in the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, after a long and insanely dangerous trek from Nauvoo, Ill. Technically it was Mexican territory, but the Mexican-American War was about to get underway and much bigger dogs than Brigham and his rag-tag band of Mormons were squaring off for a fight. Brigham wanted his followers to be left alone to practice the LDS faith and, yep it gets weird, to establish a short-lived autonomous nation called the Kingdom of Deseret (which got as far as developing its own language and currency, BTW). It is, as we say around here, a heck of a story.

In the late 1800s, federal troops, sent here to put the kibosh on this whole Kingdom thing, discovered rich veins of copper and silver and paved the way for the age of the silver barons and more outside influence. The east-west railroad brought an influx of laborers who would add diversity to the mix, and Utah’s admission to the United States, in 1896, brought even more changes. Still, Utah remained apart with a dominant religion, which often dictated politics and individual conscience. The point is: this whole delicious frontier mix of history made an atmosphere perfect for the cultivation of mushroom-like secrets.

DORTHY MOORMEISTER: UTAH’S ‘BLACK DAHLIA’

  • What: The last known whereabouts of Dorothy Moormeister
  • Where: The Hotel Utah (Now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building), 15 E. South Temple, SLC

The victim is the young wife of a prominent and wealthy physician. The story has suitors, insinuated affairs, missing jewels and even an Arabian 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 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 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 the prime suspect in her death. He had allegedly urged Dorothy to divorce her husband and fleece him in the settlement. Additionally, the doctor had loaned Peter a large sum of money and had, 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. Afterward, there were letters discovered intimating that Dorothy had designs to run away with him. 

On the night of her murder, Dorothy was seen entering the Hotel Utah (now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building) 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 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 she had not signed them officially.

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

Secret Salt Lake City

ABOUT THE BOOK: Secret Salt Lake opens a window into the weird, the bizarre, and obscure secrets of Salt Lake, that are often hiding in plain sight. The guidebook, written by Salt Lake magazine editors Jeremy Pugh and Mary Brown Malouf is a collection of odd tales, urban myths, legends and historical strangeness here in the Beehive State. Get your copy from Reedy Press today and read more about the secrets and oddities of Utah.


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Jeremy Pugh and Mary Brown Malouf
Jeremy Pugh and Mary Brown Maloufhttp://www.saltlakemagazine.com
Jeremy Pugh and Mary Brown Malouf are the co-authors of Secret Salt Lake City: A guide to the weird, obscure and strange secrets of SLC. Availalble from Reedy Press and wherever books are sold. Jeremy is currently the editor of Salt Lake Magazine. Mary sadly passed away in 2019 but her work and words live on here at saltlakemagazine.com.

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