Special Case File
The Black Dahlia Suspect
"Supposin' I did kill the Black Dahlia..."
The Life of George Hodel
A successful doctor living in an affluent area of 1940’s Los Angeles, George Hodel became heavily involved with the emerging Hollywood scene, and would go on to develop a fascination for the darker side of Surrealism. He was known to enjoy the decadence surrounding that art scene, sharing a fondness for drinking, partying and womanising with others of the L.A social elite. Sinister rumours of corruption soon began to emerge, and Hodel was suspected of involvement in the death of his secretary, Ruth Spaulding, who was found dead in May 1945. With little evidence, he was never charged and her death would be one of many left unsolved in the City of Sin.
In 1949, he was accused of incestuous sexual abuse by his daughter Tamar, but after a widely publicized trial Hodel was acquitted of the charges. But the well-to-do doctor would gain lasting infamy for his suspected involvement in one of the most disturbing and high profile unsolved murders in American history, that of Elizabeth Short, who became known after her gruesome death in 1947, as the Black Dahlia. The brutal series of murders of numerous young women around the same time are strongly believed to have been linked in some way to the Black Dahlia slaying, which could point to George Hodel’s involvement as one of the most prolific and elusive of serial murderers.
George Hodel - Black Dahlia Suspect
One of the chief suspects in the Black Dahlia murder case, George Hodel’s candidature has been put forward by his own son, who believes him responsible for the death’s of numerous people. Although he was strongly suspected of involvement in several murders during the 1940’s, the Los Angeles Police Department had no evidence linking him to any of the many unsolved murders of women during that time. Steven Hodel believes his father responsible for many crimes and murders, including that of the Black Dahlia, the Lipstick Murders of Chicago, as well as being the infamous Zodiac Killer of San Francisco.
While there is mostly circumstantial evidence that connects him with some crimes, there is little that proves his guilt. In the sinister world of Los Angeles corruption, Dr. Hodel had many friends and acquaintances amongst the officers of the police department, local authority and Hollywood celebrities, who were both his friends and clients. Although he exuded an air of respectability, he undoubtedly harboured a dark side that was hinted at through his many alleged misdeeds.
Born on October 10, 1907, George Hill Hodel Jr. was raised in Los Angeles, California by his parents, George Sr. and Esther Hodel, who were of Russian Jewish ancestry. An only child, George was well educated and highly intelligent, becoming a musical prodigy and playing solo piano concerts at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. He was an exceptional pianist, and Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff traveled to his parents’ house to hear the boy play.
As a child he attended South Pasadena High School, where he graduated at age 15 and entered the prestigious California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. However, he was forced to leave the Caltech university after one year, owing to a sex scandal involving a professor’s wife, though this is not the only account. It was revealed he had impregnated the woman and wanted to raise their child together, but she steadfastly refused. The woman’s marriage collapsed as a result of her affair with Hodel.
He entered into a common-law marriage with a woman named Emilia around 1928, and together they had a son, Duncan. This marriage did not last, and by the 1930’s, he was legally married to Dorothy Anthony, a model from San Francisco, and had a daughter by her, named Tamar. In June 1932, Hodel graduated from Berkeley pre-med and immediately afterward enrolled in medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, from where he received his medical degree in June 1936. Once he established his medical practice, and garnered some success with his new business, Hodel became head of the county’s Social Hygiene Bureau, and was soon moving in the more affluent circles of Los Angeles society during the 1940’s.
He soon developed a fascination for the darker side of Surrealism and the decadence surrounding that art scene. He became friends with artists such as photographer Man Ray and film director John Huston, along with those who associated with them. With Ray and the other Surrealists, Hodel began to share an interest and explore aspects of sadomasochism, as well as the darker side of philosophy and art. Ray’s photography had previously appeared in the Surrealist art magazine Documents, published in Paris from 1929 to 1930.
These photographs had been sent to Michel Leiris who published them in Documents along with an essay article entitled ‘Caput Mortuum’ or the Alchemist’s Wife. They depicted women in various scenarios involving bondage, with one wearing a leather mask and another of the American photographer Lee Miller, wearing a metal collar alongside another man. This was William Buehler Seabrook, an Occultist, explorer and journalist who sent the material to Leiris, and was known to engage with his wives and lovers in sadistic sexual practices. Along with Man Ray, Seabrook photographed these models in bondage predicaments in line with him sadomasochistic fantasies. This influence was later shared by Man Ray with his friends in Los Angeles, notably George Hodel and the artist Fred Sexton.
Hodel started to engage with these other young men of the Hollywood scene, and developed a taste for partying, drinking and womanising. In 1940, he married his second legal wife, Dorothy Harvey, who was John Huston’s ex-wife. Within their circle of friends, he would often refer to her a “Dorero”, to avoid confusion with his other wife, Dorothy Anthony, but she would be better known to the press as Dorothy Huston-Hodel. The couple purchased the Snowden House in 1945, where they lived until 1950. The Hollywood property was known as the “Franklin House”, because it was located at 5121 Franklin Avenue, as well as “Jaws House”, because the use of ornamental textile blocks that gave it such a striking facade that resembled, depending on personal opinion, either a Mayan Temple, or the gaping jaws of a Great White shark.
There Hodel oversaw a large household, effectively living his life as a polygamist, together with “Dorero” and their three children, including his son Steven, along with his first legal wife Dorothy Anthony and their daughter Tamar, also at times with his original common-law wife Emilia, the mother of his eldest child. He would also engage in several temporary love affairs, one of which numerous witnesses would later suggest was a relationship between Hodel and Elizabeth Short. During this time Dr. Hodel employed a secretary at his medical practice, 27-year-old Ruth Frances Spaulding. On May 9, 1945, Spaulding was found at her home on 1206 West Second street, having swallowed sleeping tablets in what appeared to be a suicide attempt. Transported to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, the city’s main trauma hospital, she died two hours later.
It was determined by doctors she had died by “ingestion of a lethal dose of barbiturates”. Her death was investigated by the Los Angeles county coroner, who determined the cause to be suicide. Shortly after Spaulding’s death, Dr. Hodel travelled to China where he worked with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Although he was not suspected of having caused Spauldings death, Hodel would soon come to the attention of the LAPD for his suspected involvement in one of Los Angeles most notorious murders.
On January 15, 1947, the naked body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was discovered in an empty lot in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. She had suffered ghastly mutilations, was anal raped and tortured over an extended period of time, and finallly her body was neatly cut in half at the waist. Her killer had inflicted further mutilation to her face, slashing her mouth from ear to ear in what is known as a Glasgow smile. This high profile crime garnered sensational publicity, and prompted one of the largest investigations in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Despite many suspects, some confessing to the crime, Short’s murder was never solved. Hundreds of people were interviewed, and around twenty-five became the primary focus of the investiation. This list of prime suspects contained the name of George Hill Hodel Jr., but he was never arrested or charged with Short’s death, which was one of several unsolved murders of young women that occurred during the 1940’s in L.A. Another one of these “Lone Women Murders”, as Steve Hodel refers to the series of murders against attractive young women in L.A. at that time, was the disappearance and suspected murder of actress Jean Spangler.
On October 6, 1949, Hodel was arrested by the LAPD on suspicion of incest, and the next day was bailed out of custody. Jean Spangler was last seen in public at a Hollywood restaurant, arguing with a man who’s description matched that of George Hodel. This incident occurred on October 7, 1949, just one week before Hodel was formally arraigned on felony charges that could see him serve decades in prison.
It is the theory of Steve Hodel that his father was with Spangler on the night of her disappearance, and believes she made the mistake of threatening to reveal what she knew or suspected of him to the police. He recalls how his half-brother Duncan once said “… I remember one of the girl’s Dad was dating back then was a drop-dead gorgeous actress by the name of Jean.” Hodel’s arrest resulted from the accusation he had molested and impregnated his 14-year-old daughter, Tamar Hodel, after which she claimed she was given a back-alley abortion.
Three witnesses would come forward, the artist Fred Sexton, a woman by the name of Corrine Tarin and 22-year-old Barbara Sherman, only two of whom admitted to participating in the sex acts. At the widely publicised three-week jury trial in early December 1949, during which Hodel obtained the services of criminal defence attorney Jerry Gielser, two of the witnesses agreed to testify but the third, Barbara Sherman refused. She was reportedly intimate with George Hodel and recanted her earlier testimony, refusing to take the stand. Some suspected that Hodel had threatened the woman into silence.
The other witnesses would go on to describe for the court the events that transpired. Hodel and Sherman were naked in the Franklin house bedroom, along with Sexton and Tarin, who was dressed. When Tamar entered, Sherman helped her disrobe and Sexton and Tamar began kissing. Tamar told the court, “then Fred and I had normal intimate relations on the bed, nude.” Dr. Hodel then later “arranged an abnormal act between her (Tamar) and Barbara.” Tamar’s testimony was supported by both Fred Sexton and Corrine Tarin, and she said she came to live with her father in June 1949, claiming the sex acts occurred on “Father’s Day” of that year.
When questioned by defense attorney Robert Neeb, Tamar admitted “being intimate with other boys and becoming pregnant.” She also admitted to staying out numerous times with boys after midnight. Her mother Dorothy Barbe claimed her daughter was a “pathological liar”, and Hodel called Lillian Lenorak Hamilton as a defence witness. She testified to having been present when Tamar was examined by a Dr. Ballard, and that no abortion took place. The most damning piece of evidence was Tamar’s admission to attorney Neeb’s questions.
Neeb: “Isn’t it a fact that you told your father you had intercourse with 40 boys in the month you had been in Hollywood. Didn’t you tell him you were pregnant and that you didn’t know who would be the father of your child?”
Tamar: “When I found out I was pregnant I wanted to call my mother and she didn’t want me to.”
Neeb: “Had you ever had intercourse before?”
Tamar: “Yes, with a roomer. I fancied myself in love with him”
This roomer was most likely Joseph Barrett, a young artist who stayed at the Hodel home on Franklin Street at the age of 25. Barrett would later become an important witness in the Black Dahlia case with the DA’s office in 1950. He would later admit to Steve Hodel that he had indeed been intimate with the 14-year-old Tamar. These revelations about her promiscuity resulted in George Hodel’s acquittal of the sexual assault charges on December 23, 1949, and many believed his daughter had made up the abuse allegations for attention. According to Barrett, Hodel believed he would be convicted, telling him “It won’t be so bad. Ill be able to read and perhaps work in the hospital.”
A further trial took place in January 1950, that charged Dr. Francis C. Ballard and his associate Charles Smith with performing the underage abortion on Tamar Hodel. Once again Lillian Lenorak Hamilton served as a defence witness, denying the act ever happened. As a result Dr. Ballard was acquitted of the charges based on Lillian’s testimony. It was strongly believed that she provided her testimony under duress from Dr. Hodel.
Barbara Sherman would later recant her earlier statements to police, confirming that she witnessed the sex act between Hodel and his daughter. She would received a sentence of ‘probation’ after Hodel’s acquittal. Around this same time, another witness attempted to come forward and change her previous perjured testimony. Lillian Lenorak Hamilton wanted to “tell the truth” about being present during Tamar’s abortion.
In late January 1950, shortly after the abortion trial, Lillian went to the Snowden Franklin home of Dr. Hodel and there obtained his rifle from the bedroom closet and waited his return, with the stated intention of “shooting him because she knew he had killed Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short, and he had to pay for it.” She also threatened Hodel that she was going to “recant her testimony and tell the DA investigators the truth that she lied” Once George Hodel returned home that afternoon, Lillian was diarmed, beaten, drugged and while unconscious, Hodel superficially cut both her wrists and then bandaged them, staging what he would later describe as “her attempted suicide.”
Santa Babara County policewoman Mary Unkefer was summoned to the Franklin residence at the request of Lillian’s mother and she transported Lillian to Santa Barbara, where due to her “emotionally distraught condition”, she was admitted to the Camarillo State Hospital. Officer Unkefer would later write a detailed report on the incident to the LAPD describing the events and statements made by Lillian that connected Hodel to the Black Dahlia slaying.
This information became part of the secret “George Hodel/Black Dahlia files” that were finally discovered in 2003. Lillian Lenorak would later herself be murdered in November 1959, in completely unrelated circumstances to Dr. Hodel, while she was on a weekend date with her then boyfriend in Palm Springs. During an argument in his car, she demanded he pull over and she got out. After walking away, she was confronted by a stranger who abducted and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. 21-year-old Tord Zeppenfield was arrested, tried and convicted for her murder.
After the sexual abuse trial, Hodel came to the attention of LAPD detectives investigating the Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short in January 1947. Because of the belief that a doctor had committed the gruesome crime, Hodel was now considered a potential suspect. In October 1949, his name was one of five mentioned in a formal written report to the grand jury as the prime suspects in the Short murder, but none of those named as suspects were submitted for consideration for indictment, owing to the investigation’s ongoing status.
He was also interviewed as a suspect in the June 1949 murder of Louise Springer, known as the “Green Twig Murder”. But due to a lack of evidence linking him to the crime, charges were never brought against him. In an effort to gather more evidence to build a case against Hodel, the LAPD placed him under surveillance from, February 18, 1950 to March 27, 1950, by installing two microphones in his private Hollywood residence on Franklin Avenue, one in the West Office Library and another in the Master Bedroom, which were monitored by a team of up to eighteen detectives.
The purpose of this surveillance was to ascertain if Hodel talked privately about the crimes, in the hope that he might make insinuating comments about his involvement in the Elizabeth Short murder. The majority of the transcript involves dull conversation, but does include Hodel engaging in sex, talking about money problems and berating his secretary. Hodel can be heard in conversation with someone known as “The Baron”, and makes admissions that implicate both of them in various criminal activities.
The Baron or the German was he was called by the LAPD was first heard on the tapes in conversation with Dr. Hodel at the Franklin House on February 18, 1950; 07:35pm, (Hodel to the German) “This is the best pay off I’ve seen between Law Enforcement Agencies. You do not have the right connection made.” Hodel then states “I’d like to get a connection made in the D.A.’s office.” The conversation continues, “Any imperfections will be found. They will have to be made perfect. Don’t confess ever. Two and two is not four.” (much laughter). “We’re just a couple of smart boys” (more laughter).
Hodel then goes on to describe for the German how his wife was stopped on the steps of their home by McGrath and Morgan of the District Attorney’s Office and questioned. Hodel was able to repeat every question asked of Mrs. Hodel ver-batum to the German. He then goes on to explain to the German about his recent incest trial, saying “Their out to get me. Two me in the D.A.’s office were transferred and demoted because of my trial.” He then explains his recent visit to the DA’s office and goes into great detail about the questions asked of him there. As the routine recording continued, Hodel was caught making a highly incriminating statement. He said “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary any more because she’s dead.”
Later that same day Hodel was overheard talking to a man with an accent, possibly the German. Hodel:“Realise there was nothing I could do, put a pillow over her head and cover her with a blanket. Gat a taxi. Expired at 12:39. They thought there was something fishy. Anyways, now they may have figured it out. Killed her. Maybe I did kill my Secretary.”
The secretary referred to in the transcript was believed to be Ruth Spaulding, who’s death had been deemed as suicide. The February 18th tapes go on to document a series of undetermined events at the Franklin House that involve George Hodel, “The Baron”, and an unidentified woman, who may possibly have been the victim of a murder. This woman is first heard crying, and later she is heard dialing the operator.
Then something sinister was recorded; “8:25pm; Woman screamed. Woman screamed again, (It should be noted the woman was not heard before the screams) George Hodel and the Baron are overheard digging in the basement. The woman screams again, then there’s the sound of a pipe hitting something solid, then the woman is silent.”” Despite the events being recorded, no action was taken by the LAPD officers who were overseeing the operation, and it is unknown if they ever identified the Baron who associated with Hodel.
It would only later be revealed that the individual referred to in the written police reports as ‘Baron Herringer’, was actually Ernst von Harringa, who had emigrated from Germany via Chungking, China to the United States. He was known as “Baron” by many people, who believed he was of noble heritage, but was born Ernst Franz Meyer. Harringa was a writer and art dealer who married a socialite by the name of Alene, and moved in the same Surrealist circles as Hodel, Man Ray and Fred Sexton.
None of the 41 wire recordings have survived, and all that remains are the notes taken by the officers who oversaw the bugging operation. Because of these incriminating comments, Dr. Hodel was then investigated for the murder of his secretary Ruth Spaulding. It was discovered he was present when Spaulding had taken the pills, and had burnt some of her belongings before the police were called, which meant her death was never deemed suspicious.
These documents were later found to have proved that Spaulding had been planning to blackmail Hodel, and she was threatening to come forward with information about Hodel’s intentional misdiagnosis of patients, and his billing them for bogus medical treatments and unnecessary prescriptions. These transcripts of his conversations revealed that Hodel had some possible involvement in the death of his secretary in order to cover up his own financial fraud. He also spoke of the invaluable secrets he had learned about politicians and police from his clients who used his services for illegal abortions, and it was clear he was giving payoffs to law enforcement officials.
However, his mention of the Black Dahlia was the most sensational aspect of the recordings, and by April 1950, Lt. Frank Jemison of the Los Angeles County DA’s office had gathered enough evidence to charge Hodel, and was about to arrest him for the Short murder, when he suddenly left the country again in late March 1950. Hodel had obtained a degree in psychiatry and counseled prisoners in the Territorial prison in Hawaii for three years, then moved on to the Philippines, where he started a new family, and appears to have remained there until 1990.
At some undetermined time he did return to the U.S., finally dying on May 16, 1999 in his 39th-floor penthouse suite in San Francisco, without charges ever being filed. The full details of the Hodel investigation were only revealed in 2003, when a “George Hodel/Black Dahlia File” was discovered in the vault at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which revealed Hodel as the prime suspect during the 1950’s in the Black Dahlia murder case.
Upon Hodel’s death, his son Steve Hodel, a former LAPD homicide detective began learning more about his father, and claimed to have uncovered information that led him to his own realisation that his father was responsible for Elizabeth Short’s murder. Steve Hodel came across a photo album owned by his father, that contained a photograph of a dark-haired young woman, whom he believes was Elizabeth Short. He strongly suspects his father had a relationship with Short, and some six months prior to her own murder in June 1949, she travelled to Chicago where she began her own investigation into the Lipstick murders which occurred there from 1945 to 1946.
This was during Dr. Hodel’s temporary position as a doctor for the UN in China. The district attorney’s “George Hodel/Black Dahlia files”, released in 2003, seem to indicate that the coroner who examined the body of one of the victims, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan, was believed her killer would have “had to have been a skilled surgeon as a hemicorporectomy was performed on the child’s body by cutting between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae;…. This was a fine piece of surgery.”
Steven Hodel believes his father discovered that Short was investigating the Chicago murders, and so quit his job and returned to the U.S. in order to put a stop to it. Just two months later, Elizabeth Short was found murdered. Steve Hodel believes this was the reason his father murdered Short, because he suspects George was also the Chicago “Lipstick Killer”, and the surgery performed by the killer was too closely comparable to that in the Degnan child case to be coincidental.
He also claims his father tortured, murdered and dissected Short in the basement of the Snowden House on Franklin Avenue, then left a red-herring, leaving her body off a street named Degnan, the same surname as the Chicago child victim. Hodel describes his theories in his first book, Black Dahlia Avenger, published in 2003, the conclusions of which come from his research of the LAPD and district attorney files. Although he presents a convincing argument for his father’s guilt, some have disputed his assertions, and claim he based much of his theories on unsubstantiated supposition.
The family of Elizabeth Short have denied the photograph in Hodel’s ablum is of the murdered young woman, and Detective Brian Carr, the LAPD officer then in charge of the Black Dahlia case which was still officially open, has said that if he ever took a case as weak as Steve Hodel’s to a prosecutor he would be “laughed out of the office”.
In the years following George Hodel leaving the country, investigators from both the LAPD and the District Attorney office privately stated their belief that the Black Dahlia case was “solved” and that Hodel was the killer, despite there being enough evidence to charge him with the crime. LAPD Chief of Police William H. Parker said, “We identified the Black Dahlia suspect. He was a doctor.”, while Chief of Detectives Thad Brown claimed “The Black Dahlia Case was solved. He was a doctor who lived on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.”
Other police officials have expressed similar sentiments, such as LASD undersheriff James Downey, who said “The Black Dahlia Case was solved, but it will never come out. It was a doctor they all knew in Hollywood involved in abortions.” DA Lt. Frank Jemison said “We know who the Black Dahlia killer was. He was a doctor but we didn’t have enough to put him away.” The DA files confirmed that the doctor referred to was George Hill Hodel, and head deputy DA Steve Kay conducted a review of the case, providing his legal opinion that “the case was solved”, which was presented to then active LAPD Chief of Detectives James McMurray in 2004.
Steve Hodel published his book ‘Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel’, which was a follow-up work that examined his theory that his father had committed crimes outside of Los Angeles, and suspected him of being the Lipstick Murderer in Chicago, the 1967 Manila “Jigsaw Murderer”, and even the San Francisco “Zodiac Killer“. Steven Hodel presented numerous pieces of evidence, such as thirty-one unique MOs and criminal “signatures” in the San Francisco cases, as well as a questioned document expert (QDE) testimony that claimed “the George Hodel and Zodiac handwriting samples were written by one and the same person.”
The California Department of Justice (DoJ) subsequently conducted their own independent handwriting examination, and although the results were not 100% positive, their QDE expert stated: “I am unable to eliminate George Hodel as Zodiac. I would request additional samples of his lowercase handwriting.” In response to this request, no lowercase handwriting samples of Dr. Hodel have been found. In the case of DNA evidence, law enforcement did obtain DNA samples with the intention of comparing them, however, currently there are no confirmed Zodiac DNA samples in existence that can be compared with Hodel’s known DNA.
In the case of the Chicago Lipstick murders, Hodel was never considered a suspect until his son put forward his name as the potential murderer. Another suspect, William Heirens, confessed and was convicted of the “Lipstick Murders” in Chicago in 1946, but went on to profess his innocence, and many believe his incarceration to be a miscarriage of justice.
When Hodel left the United States in March 1950, he travelled to Hawaii, then a U.S. territory, where he married an upper-class Filipino woman, Hortensia Laguda. The couple had four children together, before they divorced in the 1960’s. Steve Hodel suspects his father was the perpetrator of a similar crime to the Black Dahlia case, that of a 1967 slaying that became known as the Manila Jigsaw Murder.
On May 28, 1967, police discovered the dismembered body of Lucila Lulu, a 28-year-old business owner from Manila. On that day the victims legs were discovered, cut into four pieces and wrapped with newspaper. The next day, a torso with arms was found near Guadalupe Bridge, also wrapped in newspaper. The victim was identified through fingerprints, and it appeared the body parts had been frozen before being scattered in different parts of the city.
Some experts believed the killer was someone skilled with a knife, who had some sort of medical knowledge because the parts were expertly cut. Although there were several suspects, most of them Lucila’s lovers, the police believed the case closed when another man confessed to the killing. But no-one was ever charged due to the suspect retracting his earlier statement, and with little evidence to implicate him, the case went cold.
The murder of Lucila Lulu was the first in what became known as “The Chop-Chop Lady Cases”, and her death was one of many dismemberment murders in the Philippines. Steve Hodel would cite the similarities between this crime and the murder of Elizabeth Short, specifically the dismemberment of the victim, believing his father continued his serial murders when he left the U.S for Manila.
George Hodel used Manila as his home country for the next forty years, but when he became a market research expert, he opened up offices in over twenty countries throughout Asia. He allegedly travelled the world, and regularly, multiple times each year he would return to the United States for short trips of a week or two. His main clients were Airlines and Hotels, and he would usually visit San Francisco, L.A. and New York, then travel back to Manila or Tokyo while travelling first class and staying in the best hotels.
Steve Hodel goes so far as to claim that his father re-entered the United States multiple times each year from 1958 through to 1988, and specifically in 1966-1969 in order to commit further murders, before returning to the Philippines. He cites Zodiac investigators who suspected the Zodiac Killer might have been a “military man”, who came and went, but did not actually reside in the Bay Area.
Steve Hodel published a third book in September 2015, titled ‘Most Evil II’. In this latest volume, he offered additional allegations that linked his father George Hodel to the San Francisco Bay Area “Zodiac” murders. The evidence he presents supports his suspicions that his father was the author of the legitimate April 20, 1970 Zodiac coded cipher that was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle and then turned over to SFPD.
The solution to this “cracked cipher“, that had remained undeciphered for 45 years, was made by M. Yves Person, a high-school teacher in Paris. He said the killer had used Ogham, an ancient Celtic alphabet to develop the cipher. Both Steve Hodel and Person believe the killer signed his real name, HODEL, as both a signatory inside the greeting card which reads, “You Ache to Know My Name…I’ll Clue you in…”, as well as the return address on the envelope.
Hodel claims his father discovered the alphabet tree of the ancient 4th century Ogham language from a modern Surrealist artist’s works, with his inspiration taken from “Murder as a Fine Art”. This was an 1827 essay by Thomas De Quincy, and details a fictional, satirical account of an address made to a gentleman’s club concerning the aesthetic appreciation of murder.
Steve Hodel claims his father was an aficionado and scholar of the works of the Maquis de Sade, and in relation to the Zodiac taking his victims as his “slaves in the afterlife”, would appear to make sense with the themes of Sadomasochism that he developed a fascination towards. Although there is no direct proof linking George Hodel to the Zodiac crimes, Steve Hodel believes the 1970 Zodiac greeting card was his father’s signed confession as the killer.
In July 2018, whilst going through the personal effects of her recently deceased mother, Sandi Nichols of Indianapolis, Indiana, came across a “Dying Declaration Letter” written by her grandfather, W. Glenn Martin, some 70 years before. The handwritten envelope read, “In case of Margaret Ellen’s or Glenna Jean’s Death” and was initialed “WGM”.
The letter was dated, October 26, 1949, and was written out of fear that one or both of his teenage daughters might be killed. The contents of the letter revealed that W. Glenn Martin had been a paid LAPD police informant working for the newly established Internal Affairs Divison run by Inspector William H. Parker and Sgt. Kenneth McCauley.
Martin described his activities as working undercover for LAPD detectives to help them identify and arrest corrupt police officers, and in his words, “… it was to try and see if other officers could be inveigled into crime.” The Martin letter makes reference to “GH” on 17 separate occasions and identifies him as a personal acquaintance of Martin’s as well as of Sgt. McCauley’s. It also goes on to name him as the killer of both Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia” and of a second murdered woman, Louise Springer, the “Green Twig Murder” victim.
Martin’s letter claimed that both he and “GH” personally knew the Springer woman and that he believed “GH” also killed her. The LAPD was at that time actively investigating the Louise Springer and Black Dahlia murder cases, and had publicly identified them as “probably connected.” 28-year-old Springer was garroted on June 13, 1949, just two blocks from where the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found in 1947.
The letter also mentions that after the LAPD were informed that “GH” knew victim Springer, that “GH” was taken in and “grilled about the Springer murder.” The letter clearly states that “GH” was known and protected by law enforcement officers, and that they “let him go.” It also makes mention of another incident in which a young woman was found dead in an L.A. hotel. “… I saw in paper where a girl had been murdered at 116 E 3rd St. an unidentified body plus other conditions mentioned in paper.”
The paper Martin makes reference to was the October 25, edition of the Los Angeles Times, the day before Martin wrote his letter, which covered the story of an ex-burlesque dancer found dead. The victim was identified through items in her handbag as Mrs. Lucille Bowen, however fingerprints revealed her as 40-year-old Rena Lucille Hodge, who arrived in L.A. from Oklahoma City to appear in Hollywood motion pictures. Lucille and an unidentified man checked into the St. George Hotel, and registered the room under the names Mr. and Mrs. James Johnson.
An anonymous caller informed police that the victim at the hotel “has been murdered and her killer is the same man who killed the Black Dahlia”. Steven Hodel claims his father made numerous telephone calls to the press and police informing them of his crimes in L.A., Chicago and San Francisco, prior and shortly after the bodies were discovered. At the time of her death, she was found “to have heavy bruising about her head and face”, however, despite those injuries the cause of death was attributed to be “due to alcoholism”.
No police follow-up was ever made on the identity of the tipster who called in her “murder”. Police found “Courtesy Cards” in her purse, one from the LAPD Central Division Vice Squad that belonged to officer C.O. Smith, who had written on the back “Lucille Bowen, a good friend of mine. Any courtesy extended to her will be appreciated.”
The other belonged to officer R.E. Myers who was assigned to Administrative Vice and was apparently signed by him and had a similar inscription, indicating she had close relations with both vice squad departments. At the time of her death, LAPD vice officers were under significant pressure from scandals that were being actively investigated by Sgt. McCauley’s Internal Affairs, and major corruption cases were going before the courts and the Grand Jury, while LAPD Vice officers were put on trial for corruption.
The apparent murder of Rena Lucille Hodges, that was linked by the unknown tipster to the Black Dahlia slaying, as well as the Louise Springer murders would have been an embarrassment for the LAPD. This might be the reason why the death was attributed to alcoholism and not foul play. Martin’s letter makes further mention of “GH” in relation to the Lucille Hodge murder, “… Of course people from Olk. were sent word of a Lucille Bowen (Hodges) death. I believe that a phoney made by G.H. as he knew all Okla City neighbourhoods. They would think it Lucille but where is Margaret Ellen Martin & Glenna Jean. G.H. was with Joe when he took her to hotel & knew he would get out of it.”
Martin believed some harm might come to either of his two daughters, possibly at the hands of George Hodel. His instructions were that his letter was to be opened only in case of such harm coming to either of them. As no harm befell either of them, the letter remained unreported and in the family’s possession for 70 years until discovered and read by Martin’s granddaughter. The case against George Hodel is a convoluted, complex and mysterious one.
He was undoubtedly involved in several nefarious activities, possible complicity in the death of his secretary and even other murders of L.A. women around the same time. Steve Hodel’s arguments to support the theory of his father being the Black Dahlia murderer are strong, considering the level of suspicion LAPD detectives had at the time, and coupled with the incriminating conversations that were recorded.
However, his assertions about George Hodel being the Zodiac Killer are more circumstantial and controversial. There is less evidence to support the theory that his father was a cross-country serial killer, and the modus operandi of the Black Dahlia/L.A. Killer and the Zodiac are significantly different in every way. One killed lone women in a brutal fashion, the other targeted courting couples on lover’s lanes, shooting them to death.
The only similarity is that both allegedly communicated with the police. Unless further evidence is uncovered, these infamous crimes will forever remain unsolved, but the life and alleged crimes of George Hodel are reminiscent of the vintage pulp detective novels during that time, and bore all the hallmarks of a scandalous true-life L.A. Confidential, featuring prostitution, police corruption, murder and unsolved crimes.