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Dr. George Hill Hodel, circa 1952
George Hill Hodel Jr.
October 10, 1907
|Died||May 16, 1999 (aged 91)|
San Francisco, California
|Known for||Black Dahlia murder suspect|
George Hill Hodel Jr. (October 10, 1907 – May 16, 1999) was an American physician. After the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia, police came to consider Hodel a suspect. He was never formally charged with the crime, and came to wider attention as a suspect after his death when he was accused by his son, Los Angeles homicide detective Steve Hodel, of killing Short and committing several additional murders. Prior to the Dahlia case, he was also a suspect in the death of his secretary, Ruth Spaulding, but was not charged; and was accused of raping his own daughter, Tamar, but acquitted. He fled the country several times, and spent 1950 to 1990 in the Philippines.
George Hill Hodel Jr. was born on October 10, 1907, and raised in Los Angeles, California. His parents, George Hodel Sr. and Esther Hodel, were of Russian Jewish ancestry. Their only son, he was well-educated and highly intelligent (scoring 186 on an early IQ test). He was also a musical prodigy, playing solo piano concerts at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium. Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff traveled to his parents' house to hear the boy play. Hodel attended South Pasadena High School and graduated at age 15 and entered the prestigious California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in Pasadena, but was forced to leave the university after one year, possibly due to a sex scandal involving a professor's wife, though this is not the only account.
By around 1928, Hodel was in a common-law marriage with a woman named Emilia, and had a son by her, Duncan. In the 1930s he was legally married to a model from San Francisco, Dorothy Anthony, and had a daughter by her, Tamar.
Hodel graduated from Berkeley pre-med in June 1932 and enrolled in medical school at the University of California, San Francisco immediately afterwards and received his medical degree in June 1936.
After the establishment and success of his medical practice, Hodel was moving in affluent Los Angeles society by the 1940s. He was enamored of the darker side of Surrealism and the decadence surrounding that art scene, and was friends with such artists as photographer Man Ray and film director John Huston, and those who associated with them. With Ray and some other Surrealists, he shared an interest in sadomasochism and the darker side of art and philosophy; with the young men of the Hollywood scene, he shared a fondness for partying, inebriation, and skirt-chasing. Hodel's second legal wife was Huston's ex-wife Dorothy (who changed her name to "Doreros", at least within their circle, but is better known to the press as Dorothy Huston-Hodel); they married in 1940.
Hodel purchased the Sowden House in 1945, and lived in that Hollywood property from 1945 until 1950. The structure, built in 1926 by Lloyd Wright (son of the noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright), has since been registered as a Los Angeles historic landmark. Hodel was effectively a polygamist in this large household: In the late 1940s, during the period of the deaths of Spaulding and Short, Hodel was living with "Doreros" and their three children (including Steven, who would later write books outlining a case to prove George Hodel a murderer); with his first legal wife Dorothy Anthony and their daughter Tamar; and, at times, with his original common-law wife, Emilia, mother of Hodel's eldest child (by that time an adult). He was also prone to taking a series of temporary lovers; multiple witnesses later suggested such a relationship between Hodel and Short.
Hodel left the United States in March 1950 for Manila, Philippines, where he married an upper-class Filipino woman, Hortensia Laguda (after another four children, they divorced in the 1960s; she was later a member of the Philippine Congress as Hortensia Starke). Hodel returned to the United States in 1990, and married (legally) for the fourth time, to a woman named June, in San Francisco, where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in 1999 of heart failure at the age of 91.
Murder and rape suspect
Hodel first came under suspicion for murder in 1945, following the death of his secretary, Ruth Spaulding, by a drug overdose. He was suspected of having murdered her in order to cover up his financial fraud, such as billing patients for tests that were never performed, and to protect various valuable secrets he had obtained about police and politicians from clients for his illegal abortion services. At about this time, Hodel left briefly for China, where he had earlier worked with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. These events first came to public attention in 2004.
In January 1947, the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was discovered in an empty lot in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Short had suffered gruesome mutilation, notably her body being cut in half at the waist. The case earned major publicity and prompted one of the largest investigations in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. The case was never solved. However, authorities at the time interviewed hundreds of suspects and focused on about 25, one of whom was George Hill Hodel Jr. Various aspects of the case have suggested a strong connection to Surrealism, including the works of Man Ray in particular.
Hodel came to police attention as a suspect for the Elizabeth Short murder in 1949 after the sexual abuse trial; known or suspected sex criminals in the area were being investigated first, and it had come out in that trial that Tamar had allegedly claimed that her father was the Dahlia killer. Hodel's medical degree also aroused suspicion, given the hypothesis that whoever bisected Short's body had some degree of surgical skill. At least eight witnesses claimed first-hand knowledge of a 1946 relationship between Short and Hodel, then back in Los Angeles from China. The full details of the investigation came to light only in 2004, when a "George Hodel–Black Dahlia File" was discovered in the vault at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. The file revealed that in 1950, Hodel was the prime suspect of the Dahlia murder. His private Hollywood residence was electronically bugged by an 18-man DA/LAPD task force during the period February 15 to March 17, 1950. The transcripts of conversations revealed Hodel's references to performing illegal abortions, giving payoffs to law enforcement officials, and to his possible involvement in the deaths of his secretary and Elizabeth Short. The DA tapes recorded him saying:
Supposin' I did kill the Black Dahlia. They can't prove it now. They can't talk to my secretary anymore because she's dead. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her. Maybe I did kill my secretary.
Hodel was also interviewed as a suspect in the nearby June 1949 murder of Louise Springer, the "Green Twig Murder", though evidence to support this accusation was not publicly available until July 2018 (see below).
In October 1949, George Hodel's name was mentioned in a formal written report to the grand jury as one of five prime suspects in the Short murder, but none of the named suspects were submitted to the grand jury for consideration for indictment, as the investigation was still "ongoing". By April 1950, Jemison had gathered enough evidence to charge Hodel and was about to arrest him for the Short murder, when Hodel again left the United States. Living in the Philippines, he started a new family there, and appears to have remained until 1990, finally dying in 1999 in San Francisco without charges ever being filed. (However, his son Steve has written that he believes George Hodel re-entered the United States for at least 1968–1969 to commit more murders, then returned again to the Philippines.)
After George Hodel died in 1999, his son Steve Hodel, a former LAPD homicide detective, wanted to learn more about his father. During that process he uncovered information that led him to believe his father was in fact Elizabeth Short's killer. His investigation began with the discovery of a photo album owned by George Hodel, which contained a portrait of a dark-haired young woman whom Steve Hodel believed was Elizabeth Short. During Steve Hodel's investigation, he learned that his father may have been responsible for more than one murder. Steve Hodel also suspected his father of being the Chicago "Lipstick Killer" of the late 1940s, the Manila "Jigsaw Murderer" of 1967, and even the San Francisco "Zodiac Killer" of the late 1960s, among other such crimes.
A September 2006 episode of Cold Case Files, hosted by Bill Kurtis, illustrates the mixed reaction to Steve Hodel's hypothesis as outlined in his first book, Black Dahlia Avenger (2003). Head Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay described himself as highly impressed by Steve Hodel's research and conclusions, and even went so far as to declare the case had been solved. Others have noted that Kay, who has since retired, formed this conclusion by treating Steve Hodel's many disputed assertions as established fact. Less impressed was active Detective Brian Carr, the LAPD officer then in charge of the Black Dahlia case which was still officially open. Carr's opinion was that Hodel's theory was based on a few intriguing facts linked together by unsubstantiated supposition. Short's relatives also disagreed that the photos in Hodel's album were of Short. Carr added that if he ever took a case as weak as Steve Hodel's to a prosecutor he would be "laughed out of the office". Carr, admitting that he had not read all of Steve Hodel's materials, added, "I don't have the time to either prove or disprove Hodel's investigation. I am too busy working on active cases." Steve Hodel has since produced two additional books on the Dahlia case, and several books on the Zodiac killer and other cases, attempting to link them to his father.
In the years following George Hodel's leaving the country, investigators from both the LAPD and the District Attorney office privately stated that they believed Black Dahlia case was "solved" and that Hodel was the killer, though they didn't have enough evidence to go to trial. Specific quotes from the top brass include the following: Chief of Detectives Thad Brown: "The Black Dahlia Case was solved. He was a doctor who lived on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood." LAPD Chief of Police William H. Parker: "We identified the Black Dahlia suspect. He was a doctor." LASD undersheriff James Downey:, "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: "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. Head Deputy DA Steve Kay reviewed the case and provided a legal opinion that "the case was solved," then presented it to then active LAPD Chief of Detectives James McMurray in 2004. McMurray, after reviewing the investigation, gave the following order to the Robbery/Homicide detectives under his command: "Unless you can find some major holes in [Steve] Hodel's investigation, go ahead and clear the Black Dahlia Murder." In 2014, Detective II Mitzi Roberts, the currently assigned LAPD Black Dahlia case detective, stated in an interview with KMEX Univision television newsman Leon Krauze, "I actually agree with you. I think he [Steve Hodel] has made a very compelling theory. I think there is a lot of things that look like it, and his dad could actually be responsible for the murder of the Black Dahlia."
In July 2018, Sandi Nichols of Indianapolis, Indiana, while going through her recently deceased mother's personal effects, discovered a "Dying Declaration Letter" written by her grandfather, W. Glenn Martin, some 70 years before (October 26, 1949). The handwritten envelope read, "In case of Margaret Ellen's or Glenna Jean's Death" and was initialed "WGM"; the letter was written out of fear that one or both of his teenage daughters might be killed. The three-page letter identified W. Glenn Martin as a paid LAPD police informant working for a "Sgt. McCawley" (Sgt. McCauley, LAPD Internal Affairs Division). He described his activities as working undercover for LAPD detectives to help them identify and arrest corrupt police officers; in his words, "... it was to try and see if other officers could be inveigled into crime." The Martin letter, reproduced in full in the chapter "Afterword" in Black Dahlia Avenger III, went on to name "GH" on 17 separate occasions identifying him as a personal acquaintance of Martin's as well as of Sgt. McCauley's, and named him as the killer of both Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short and of a second lone 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. LAPD at that time was actively investigating the Louise Springer and Black Dahlia murders and had publicly identified them as "probably connected". Springer was garroted on June 13, 1949, just two blocks from where the body of Elizabeth Short was found in 1947.
Included in the letter was the fact that LAPD, after being informed that "GH" knew victim Springer, that "GH" was taken in and "grilled about the Springer murder". The Martin letter made it clear that "GH" was known and protected by law enforcement officers, and that they "let him go". Martin's instructions were that his letter was to be opened only in case of harm coming to either of his daughters. No harm came to either of them so the letter remained unreported and in the family's possession for 70 years until discovered and read by Martin's granddaughter.
Hodel compared to the Zodiac killer
In 2009, Steve Hodel's book Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel was published. This follow-up work examined the possibility that Hodel had also committed crimes outside of Los Angeles: in Chicago (the 1945–1946 "Lipstick Murders"), in Manila, Philippines (the 1967 "Jigsaw Murder"), and in the San Francisco Bay Area (the 1968-1969 "Zodiac murders").
For the San Francisco cases, thirty-one unique MOs and criminal "signatures" were presented, along with a questioned document expert (QDE) testimony that "the George Hodel and Zodiac handwriting samples were written by one and the same person." The California Department of Justice (DoJ) conducted their own independent handwriting examination and while 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." (Currently, lowercase handwriting samples have not been found.) While police often use document examiners during investigations, court rulings on the scientific validity of handwriting analysis have been mixed to negative. This investigative sequel, while not claiming "case solved", did request that law enforcement obtain and compare DNA samples. As of 2019, no confirmed Zodiac DNA exists that can be compared with Hodel's known DNA.
Another suspect, William Heirens, was convicted as the Lipstick killer in Chicago in 1946, but professed his innocence (despite confessing). A second major suspect was a man named Richard Russell Thomas, originally of Phoenix, Arizona. George Hodel was never considered a suspect until Steve Hodel interviewed Heirens in 2003, thought him innocent, and proposed George Hodel as the killer in the 2009 book. According to the book, information in the district attorney's Hodel/Black Dahlia files, released in 2003, documented that victim Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short some six months prior to her murder in June 1946, traveled to Chicago and began her own investigation into the "Lipstick Murders" while her acquaintance and possible lover George Hodel was temporarily doctoring for the UN in China. The files indicate that the Chicago coroner believed that the killer of one of the victims, six-year-old Suzanne Degnan, "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." Under Steve Hodel's hypothesis that his father, was responsible for both murders, George Hodel discovered that Short was investigating the Chicago murders, then he quit his job and returned to the US to put a stop to it; Short was dead within two months. Steve Hodel's view is that her killer performed surgery too closely comparable to that in the Degnan child case to be coincidental. Short's body was also placed off a street named Degnan, matching the surname of the Chicago child.
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In September 2015, Steve Hodel published a six-year follow-up under the title Most Evil II. The new volume offered additional allegations that linked George Hodel to the San Francisco Bay Area "Zodiac" murders, and presented evidence that George Hodel may have been the writer of the legitimate 1970 Zodiac coded cipher mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle and turned over to SFPD. The solution and "cracking of the cipher" was performed by M. Yves Person, a high-school teacher in Paris. According to Person, George Hodel, using Ogham (an ancient Celtic alphabet) signed his real name, H O D E L, placing it both as the return address on the envelope and as a signatory inside the card which read, "You Ache to Know My Name...I'll Clue you in...". The code had remained undeciphered for 45 years.
- Fauna Hodel — Hodel's granddaughter and true-crime author
- I Am the Night, a 2019 TNT Drama TV miniseries, featuring Jefferson Mays as George Hodel
- Weller, Sheila (June 2015). "Uncovering the Secrets of the Black Dahlia Murder" (PDF). DuJour. New York City: DuJour Media. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 6, 2019 – via SteveHodel.com.
- "George Hill Hodel Jr (Deceased), South Pasadena, CA California". South Pasadena High School Alumni Association - Classes of 1907-2018. South Pasadena Public Library, 2011. 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
George graduated early from South Pasadena High in 1923 and later that year at only age 15, entered Cal Tech.
- Hodel, Steve (2015) . Black Dahlia Avenger: One of the Most Notorious Murders of the Twentieth Century ... Solved! (updated ed.). Arcade Publishing. ISBN 978-1628724394.
- Nelson, Mark; Bayliss, Hudson (2006). Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder. New York City: Bulfinch Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-8212-5819-2.
- Hodel, Steve; Pezzullo, Ralph (2009). Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel. Dutton. ISBN 978-0-525-95132-2.
- Season 5, episode 16
- Hodel, Steve (2014). Black Dahlia Avenger II: Presenting the Follow-up Investigation and Further Evidence Linking Dr. George Hill Hodel to Los Angeles's Black Dahlia and Other 1940s Lone Woman Murders (2nd ed.). Thoughtprint Press. ISBN 978-0983074434.
- Hodel, Steve (2018). Black Dahlia Avenger III: Murder as a Fine Art – Presenting the Further Evidence Linking Dr. George Hill Hodel to the Black Dahlia and Other Lone Woman Murders. Rare Bird Books/Vireo Books. ISBN 978-1945572975.
- Hodel, Steve. Black Dahlia Avenger II; "Chapter 18: Handwriting Update".
- E.g.: "Even more troubling is an apparent lack of double-blind studies demonstrating the ability of certified experts to distinguish between individual's handwriting or identify forgeries to any reliable degree of certainty. This lack of testing has serious repercussions on a practical level: because the entire premise of interpersonal individuality and intrapersonal variations of handwriting remains untested in reliable, double-blind studies, the task of distinguishing a minor intrapersonal variation from a significant interpersonal difference—which is necessary for making an identification or exclusion—cannot be said to rest on scientifically valid principles." United States. v. Johnsted, 30 F.Supp.3d 814, 817 (W.D. Wis. 2013).
- Hodel, Steve (2015). Most Evil II: Presenting the Follow-up Investigation and Decryption of the 1970 Zodiac Cipher in Which the San Francisco Serial Killer Reveals His True Identity. Rare Bird Books. ISBN 9781942600459.
- Rudd, Matt (October 4, 2015). "Crime Scenes: Case No. 8, The Zodiac Murders (Part 2)". The Sunday Times. London.
- Butterfield, Michael (2018). "Steve Hodel & Most Evil: Debunked". Zodiac Killer Facts – Separating Fact & Fiction. Archived from the original on August 27, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
- Hodel, Steve. "Squad Room Blog". SteveHodel.com. Archived from the original on February 6, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
- "George Hodel". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
- Cooper, Kim (January 26, 2019). "A Rare Tour of Dr. George Hodel's Whimsically Weird Childhood House". Esotouric.com. Archived from the original on January 26, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2018.