Thursday, January 15, 2015

L.A. Confidential For Real: The Twisted Tale of 'Black Dahlia Avenger'

Sixty-eight years ago today, a 22-year-old beauty by the name of Elizabeth Short was found brutally slain in a vacant lot at 39th and Norton streets in Los Angeles. Her body was cut in half at the waist with surgical precision, her face and breasts slit, and there was a large gash where her vulva should have been. She had been drained of fluids as if prepared for an embalming and she was left in a garish pose, her head turned to the side and one arm above her body.
The case became known as the Black Dahlia Murder because Betty, as the wannabe actress liked to be called, wore her hair and clothes black.
The lurid crime shook Angelenos usually inured to the rampant crime in their midst, and a huge team of detectives was assigned to track down the perpetrator. Many suspects were pursued, but all were released and the case technically remains unsolved.
I'm somewhat of an armchair expert on the Black Dahlia Murder and have looked pretty deeply into it in connection with research on another brutual murder for my true-crime book, The Bottom of the Fox, that also does not lack for suspects and hasn't been solved.
I was involved in many homicide cases during a long newspaper career, and you haven't really lived until you've stood in a morgue and watched a coroner in a white lab coat open one of those stainless steel drawers and slide out a sheet-covered corpse. Yup, just like in the movies. I also have read dozens of criminology and forensic texts and true-crime books in order to steep myself in investigative methodology and police jargon for my own tome.
Steve Hodel's Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius For Murder was the best of the true-crime books I read, although it may be the least well written.
As for literary pretension, it certainly cannot be compared to the Black Dahlia, the first of the novels in James Ellroy's acclaimed "L.A. Quartet" and the book on which The Black Dahlia, film director Brian De Palma's 2006 bomb, was based. But Hodel's Black Dahlia Avenger is in its own way an extraordinary stemwinder.
Here's the story:
Hodel was a career Los Angeles Police Department detective and a model of the good cop. He was retired in 1999 when Dr. George Hodel, the brilliant but troubled father from whom he had been estranged for most of his adult life, died at age 91.
Included in his father's personal effects was a small palm-sized photograph album. The doctor's wife -- the last of four -- thought that the son should have it.
Among the photos were Hodel as a child on his father's knee, Hodel's mother and two photos of a young Eurasian woman that Hodel, to his horror, recognized as Kiyo, his own former wife. Yet Kiyo is much younger in the photos than Hodel ever saw her and can only be a Kiyo whom his own father had known years earlier.
The mystery deepens when Hodel looks at two photos of another young woman -- a white woman with two flowers in her black hair, her eyes cast down. He wonders if she was asleep when the photos were taken. Or dead.
Hodel is struck by the face but can't remember why until he later realizes to his shock that the flowers are dahlias and the woman could be . . . you guessed it, Elizabeth Short.
George Hodel was tall, dark, suave, handsome and a connoisseur of fine art and women. He also was an abortionist and a devotee of the Marquis de Sade and Jack the Ripper.
He ran orgies in Steve Hodel's boyhood home frequented by avant-garde artist and photographer Man Ray, legendary film directors John Huston (who previously had been married to George Hodel's wife, Dorothy) and Orson Welles, among other notables. One orgy involved the gang rape of Steve Hodel's older half sister, Tamar. George beat the rape rap because he told the LAPD that Tamar had made the whole thing up. Investigators were notably uncurious about whether the well known doctor was lying.
Steve Hodel began working on the Black Dahlia case despite a lack of physical evidence, which was destroyed by bumbling and corrupt detectives trying to cover up an unrelated conspiracy involving crooked pols and gangsters and a number of notes possibly written by the murderer to throw them off the trail.
I am not spoiling the book by stating the obvious -- that the son came to believe that his father, acting out his obsession with De Sade and The Ripper, murdered Betty Short (who is shown atop this post with an autopsy photo superimposed). There also are intriguing indications that Wells may have been an accomplice, although Steve Hodel says he has found no evidence that he was.
Welles's alleged involvement is circumstantial but intriguing: Production of The Lady From Shanghai, the movie he was making, shut down on the day Short was murdered, the way she was mutilated is uncannily like that of a woman in The Lady, Short's body was found on a vacant lot once used by Welles's The Mercury Wonder Show, a circus in which he famously sawed a woman in half, Welles took out a passport a few days later, Short wrote in her diary of dining with a man called "George" (Welles's first name) at a restaurant he frequented, and most bizarrely of all, a few days before the murder he had applied to register as an assistant with a local mortuary.
Meanwhile, Hodel has published a sequel to Black Dahlia Avenger that sheds little new light, but do further cement the George Hodel-Elizabeth Short link.
PHOTOGRAPHS (From top): George Hodel and Elizabeth Short; Black Dalhia murder newspaper clipping; Detectives kneel over Short's body; One of the notes sent to police to throw them off the trail; Photos from George Hodel's album; Salvatore Dali with Man Ray; John Huston; Mia Kirshner as Short in DePalma's Black Dahlia.


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Anonymous said...

I saw a documentary on tv about this and George Hodel's daughter said when she was 13 George "gave" her to John Huston to have sex with. I wonder what daughter Angelica Huston thinks of all this.

Anonymous said...

I've read one of Steve Hodel's books about his father (borrowed from the public library), read a bit more on the internet, and in my opinion Dr George Hodel never molested his daughter, and never killed anyone.
There's no doubt that Dr George Hodel was a remarkably talented man, and he may even have been a good man.
Dr George Hodel was acquitted of the incest charge because the girl's mother reportedly testified under oath that she had made similar unfounded charges against 19 other men, all of whom had been exonerated.
Which makes me wonder where the prosecution found 3 eyewitnesses to the "crime" which the jury obviously did not believe.
When he left LA, Dr Hodel moved to Hawaii, still within the USA, and the LA police could still have easily brought a case against him, if they had one to bring.
Quite obviously they did not.
Dr Hodel's "estranged ex-wife" had told the police that she considered him a friend, thought of him as an idealistic doctor who put his patients' welfare ahead of money, and didn't think he was capable of harming anyone.

I've seen it written that Dr George Hodel had eleven children, and I wonder what the other nine children who have not charged him with any crime have to say about him.
I'm wondering if Dr Hodel was a terrible father, or just unusually unlucky with two of his children.

Steven Leech said...

Fascinating, especially the possible Orson Welles connection. Some report Welles had a dark side, especially regarding some of the more extreme versions of Voudoun.

Anonymous said...

Having personally met Tamar and her children, there is NO doubt she was abused/raped.
The aftermath of such an abuse leaves an unquestionable affect on the abused actions and behavior.
Having met her and her children if which are affected as well and face their own demons because of it, I have NO doubt of her and her second born,Elizabeth Hodels accusations of Dr.Hodel

FaunaElizabethHodelWilson- said...

Denies it, but she was not there of course but Michelle Phillips & other friends of family new John Huston. Also other witness were there that evening. I belive my Mother Tamar Hodel. Michelle Phillips & another friends knew of him though the years & have have reason to believe it was very plausible, sincerely FaunaElizabeth HodelWilson

FaunaElizabethHodelWilson- said...

For some reason Sarah I assume that you did not read anywhere that he emptied it not only molested and raped it myself his granddaughter but rude to me in order to do so... how on Earth did you miss that? It was her father and her mother who says she accused other men of raping her which is also a lie... remember the times in which this happened still today it is very difficult to prove one's innocent I still today suffer the consequences of what happened to me nearly the same age as my mother... age 13. FaunaElizabethHodelWilson Tamar's Hodels Daughter I would gladly take a lie detectors test anytime to prove what I say is the truth. I doubt that anyone else in his family protecting him or George himself would have done the not without the help of some drug to avoid the truth!

FaunaElizabethHodelWilson- said...

Clarification This is Dr. George Hodel's Granddaughter, FaunaElizabeth HodelWilson, Tamar's Hodels Daughter.
For some reason "Anonymous" I assume that you did not read that my grandfather George Hodel did not only molest me the for hours on end but also photographed the whole entire horrible event. While drugged I could not move but was aware of what was happening. Because I didn't KNOW he was capable doing this to me as well...he tell my Tamar ( My Mother only did this to her because he "loved" her ( so she thought "I" was safe) naive and twisted but true... How on Earth did you miss that? And futhermore It was her father who said she "falsely" accused other men of raping her (of course he would) because at his hands she was "passed around" and touched ... remember the times in which this happened... still today it is very difficult to prove one's innocence. I still today I suffer the consequences of what happened to me at nearly the same age as my mother... age 13.  I would gladly take a lie detectors test ANYTIME to prove what I say is the truth. I doubt that anyone else in his family protecting him or George himself would have done the least not without the help of some drug to avoid the truth!!! Even Today!!!