my father's doppelgänger was a serial killer
Most Evil (2009) Steve Hodel & Ralph Pezzullo | Black Dahlia Avenger (2003) Steve Hodel | Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism & the Black Dahlia Murder (2006) Mark Nelson & Sarah Hudson Bayliss
§§ Is the dummy posed in the department store window art... or the dismembered body lying in the weeds beside the sidewalk? Is art an imitation of an action, or is it simply an action imitating art?
Dr. George Hill Hodel certainly enjoyed art, and if you believe the criminal bio of him created by his "favorite son" Detective Steve Hodel, LAPD (retired) in Black Dahlia Avenger (2003) and in the recent follow-up Most Evil (2009), this Renaissance Man was/is the greatest serial killer in American history, and art was his modus operandi.
The thing is, are these books fact or are they fiction... or do they blend as "faction" -- a term Steve Hodel uses to describe the contemporary detective's crime modelling method -- never conclusively becoming real? What can you believe here: that Dr. George Hill Hodel was a prolific, artistic serial killer who went to his grave in San Francisco Bay in 1999 uncaught, or that he has been framed by his own vengeful son mashing some known historical facts with some literary derivatives that add up to nothing more than a pure post-mortem mysticism? Whatever you might decide after reading these books -- especially Most Evil, which names Dr. Hodel as the real Zodiac Killer -- you will be impressed by the obsession driving Steve Hodel's argument.
At the time of the Black Dahlia murder in January 1947, who is Dr. George Hill Hodel exactly? A successful physician in charge of the Los Angeles County venereal disease unit living in a fabulous Lloyd Wright (Jr.) Mayan temple house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, married to Dorothy Harvey, the ex-wife of his friend the movie director John Huston, with three young boys and a daughter Tamar (from a previous liaison) in their family. Accomplished pianist, art photographer, literary magazine editor (Fantasia), occasional poet -- all these things as well as now being a successful physician and surgeon. And he's tapped into the artistic avant-garde in Hollywood, socializes with writers like Henry Miller, artists like Man Ray. He has the pad, he has the money, he has the mojo.
Yet it seems his personal life is a facade. Although his wife is still living with him and their children in this beautiful house, they have been legally separated for three years. Her son Steve describes her as a melancholy "bisexual sensualist" who has affairs, although perhaps not as many as her ex-husband George. George's bohemian depravity becomes so extreme that he's charged with incest in 1949.
Significantly, George Hodel is committed to the aesthetics of surrealism, with its Dadaist principles of totemic primitivism, expressionist nihilism, figurative deconstruction, spacial warping... surrealism, shrouded in the sexual anarchy of dream. In other words, a chop-job, or a mash-up of classicism and institutional reality, a sort of revolt-or-die credo for the modern artist pushed by the vivisectionist horror of World War and the violence of industrial speed. Surrealism. Romanticism gone amok, death by geometry.
The term comes from Appollinaire, the poet, was given ideology by Breton. The cultural status quo in post WW I Europe was stifling, artists had to push beyond the old fixed God universe into secular relativity. It was a push that had been in the making a long time. You see it in Dostoevsky, you see it Alfred Jarry. For some, the nihilism would become burn the book, burn the painting, burn the model. As the French surrealist poet and dramatist Antonin Artaud -- like Dr. Hodel, an admirer of the writings of the Marquis de Sade -- says, "We must have done with this idea of masterpieces reserved for a self-styled elite and not understood by the general public; the mind has no such restricted districts as those so often used for clandestine sexual encounters." (No More Masterpieces, 1938)
Perfect. Well said. Let's just kill the model and pose her in a public place; the public will understand that.
On January 15, 1947, a woman is walking with her child past an undeveloped lot on Norton St in Los Angeles when she notices the naked body of a woman lying in the rough grass. It looks like a discarded white dummy or mannequin. The body has been cut in two just above the navel button, and mutilated in several places, including the sex organs. A disguised abortion or an insensitive autopsy discard or another tiresome Ripper copycat job? It has to be a dummy, thinks the woman, hurries to raise the alarm, but those who subsequently see the crime scene or later examine the photos recognize that this is no casual body dump, that the victim appears to be "posed" in the manner of a disarticulated nude figure in, say, a surrealist painting.
The Pose -- pure chance, or by evil design? A man's military issue wrist-watch is found nearby; the cops think of the perpetrator, others think of Dali. Dropped accidentally (or accidentally on purpose) by the killer... or part of the surrealist tableaux arranged by the "artist"? The victim is identified as Elizabeth Short, 23, known by some as the "Black Dahlia" because of her black hair and black dresses and sexy looks. Of course her hair isn't really black (dyed) and her finger nails are chewed. The murder is a sensation in Los Angeles, and the crime-scene is just a short drive from Dr. George Hill Hodel's Franklin Street house in Hollywood. Because the bisectioning of the body appears to be a professional "hemicorpectomy" job, the LAPD investigating detectives draw circles, see what doctors live in close proximity to the crime; Dr. Hodel's Franklin Avenue house is only 7 miles away.
At this time, Dr. Hodel is friendly with Man Ray, a surrealist photographer and painter now living uneasily in the philistine pulp culture of Hollywood. Both men share Russian ancestry, speak French -- Man Ray, although American, has relocated from the Left Bank because of the war, and Hodel, whose mother was French, lived in Paris for a year studying at the Montessori School as a boy -- and share an interest in photography and the macabre. They socialize, hang out with their wives, do the art scene. Man Ray photographs the melancholy Dorothy Hodel in his signature soft shadow style and Dr. Hodel adds Man Ray works to his collection. One is The Minotaur (1933) -- an upper torso section of a headless female figure which some people now think is the blueprint or script for the Black Dahlia murder scene.
In their interesting spin-off book Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism & the Black Dahlia Murder (2006), authors Mark Nelson and Sarah Bayliss compare the crime-scene photos of Elizabeth Short's body to Man Ray's pictures and trace the bi-sectioned female figure in the works of various surrealist artists. They do this as an expansion of Steve Hodel's ideas in his 2003 book Black Dahlia Avenger. If you're thin on your history of surrealism, and/or want to examine the Steve Hodel thesis in more depth, then Exquisite Corpse is a useful book to consult.
All the while Dr. Hodel is leading a double-life, picking up young women at downtown L.A. dancehalls and other social venues, conducting brief affairs... some not so brief, if you believe he was indeed involved with Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. Steve Hodel believes his father knew Elizabeth Short for almost three years ('44--'47) and that his mother Dorothy knew of the affair. Proof? All by inference, unfortunately... unless you agree that two photos in his father's private chick album are indeed The Black Dahlia. The authors of Exquisite Corpse aren't convinced and indeed these two photos could be of two different people, never mind the Dahlia.
While Dr. Hodel was indeed one of the LAPD's prime suspects and they went so far as to install a wiretap in his Franklin Avenue house, there is no hint that his friend Man Ray recognized smooth George as the killer or that Hodel used The Minotaur as a schematic or was even trying some artistic one-up-manship (i.e. "You draw it, Man, but I, The Black Dahlia Avenger, actually do it."); you can imagine some conversations between Hodel and Man Ray (and what an audio drama they would make), but there's no hard evidence to date to suggest they ever discussed the surrealist pedigree of the Black Dahlia murder.
If indeed the Dahlia murder was a surrealist tableaux by Dr. Hodel or someone else, then the crime scene photos would have to be the real artistic statement bound for the gallery. Perhaps the "artists" weren't involved in the death but access to the body presented an opportunity. Perhaps. Perhaps... perhaps... perhaps. There are too many "perhaps" in any scene caught en medias res, and the Dahlia crime scene is certainly an en medias res situation. Immediately before and after are pure blanks.
Dr. Hodel's son Steve Hodel simply doesn't like his father's fellow bohemians, those George Hill Hodel grew up with and/or socialized with in the Franklin house days... and really, what's to like about them? John Huston, Man Ray, Fred Sexton -- womanizers and debauchers all if you believe what Steve Hodel's sources say, and others elsewhere. Users and abusers, all under the special moral license of art. You can include Henry Miller in there too as he was an occasional visitor at the Franklin house.
The narcissist selfishness of the avant-garde is really the culprit here, the egomania of it all, and Dr. George's friend the painter Fred Sexton is one of the worst in this regard. Steve Hodel suggests that his father and Sexton committed a series of murders -- either in concert or sometimes alone -- of which the Black Dahlia was merely the most sensational. They were misogynists whose sadistic natures allowed them to seduce (or rape) and kill women as disposable totems in the pursuit of art and pleasure.
It's heady stuff, and the argument is powerful, if completely circumstantial. As Steve Hodel assembles his scenario -- at times a bio of his father, others an autobio of himself -- you're drawn into the copthink of MOM (motive, opportunity, means) and Steve's special analytical method of "thoughtprints". In essence, the whole case against Dr. George Hill Hodel is one large artistic thoughtprint or hyper-faction; you want to know your killer? Don't bother with his trash can -- check out the books he reads, the pictures in his den, the movies he sees, the objects he collects. Check out his whole intellectual gestalt, divine his obsessions, materialize his crimes.
Nowhere is this method more practised than in Most Evil (2009), the recent book wherein Steve Hodel builds the case that his father was also the notorious Zodiac, the killer who used astrological mapping in a series of existential killings in the San Francisco Bay area in the late sixties. Preposterous? Steve Hodel's scenario is certainly a lot more interesting than the one adopted by director David Fincher in his 2007 geek-drear movie version of the Zodiac killings and the futile hunt for the real killer. (not a single hippy in it yet this is San Francisco in the late sixties?)
While the Zodiac shot and stabbed his victims by random selection and seemed to have no immediate sexual interest in his subjects, Steve Hodel somehow sees this as the m.o. of his father Dr. George Hill Hodel, now "the greatest serial killer in American history" whose artistic expression has moved from simple surrealist meat sculptures into the more grandiose and megalomaniacal "earthworks" art... or, in this instance, the creation of a geographical zodiac in the Bay area.
can't get no hyper-faction
It's an incredible idea, one which goes as follows: Steve visits his father in his downtown SF penthouse which has a grand view of the Bay. There's a telescope on the deck, and it seems to be trained on Mt. Diablo (just beyond Oakland) or perhaps a cemetery called Mountain View on an Elysian upslope behind Oakland. This is what his father now looks at: the Bay, Oakland, Mt. Diablo. At 80 something he's now a slow-moving retiree tended to by his fourth wife, a Japanese woman who is much younger than him, and who was his personal assistant when he still had his international advertising agency in Manila. But it's only much, much later that Steve sees the sinister design in this situation.
After his father's death in 1999 (at the age of 91) and his ashes are scattered near the Golden Gate, Steve's sister Tamar says, "Steve, did you know our father was a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder?" Although Steve says in Black Dahlia Avenger (2003) that he first grew suspicious after seeing two photographs of Elizabeth Short in his father's personal photo album, he now says in Most Evil (2009) that it was his sister who alerted him.
Of course this is a hedge against those who say the photographs aren't Elizabeth (Black Dahlia) Short... but whatever the case Steve is launched on his oedipal hunt to prove that his father was a sadistic serial killer. So he writes Black Dahlia Avenger (a powerful meta-fiction of fact, speculation and innuendo), and infamy descends. He knows Elizabeth Short's remains were buried in Oakland; now a reader alerts him by e-mail to a strange possibility: "My father happens to be buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland with a fantastic view of the SF skyline across the bay. Then I learned Elizabeth Short rests in the same cemetery... it appears your father may have had a commanding view, albeit from a distance, of Elizabeth's final resting place."
With this stunning revelation in mind, Steve -- who is already building a case against his father as being the Zodiac Killer based on his handwriting compared to that in the Zodiac's taunting letters -- immediately thinks of the Zodiac's June 1970 letter to The San Francisco Chronicle which included a Phillips 66 map of the Bay area, with the Zodiac symbol (cross on a circle) marked on Mt. Diablo, its function being a "radian" angle hub; in 1981 a Zodiac researcher discovered that the radian angle (57 d) pointed to the locations of two Zodiac attacks.
What is a radian? A radian is like a slice of pizza; in this case the angle at the hub (Mt. Diablo) is 58+59' although a true radian is just over 57 degrees; the bottom line extends west to the Presidio neighbourhood where the taxi driver/graduate student Paul Stine was shot by the Zodiac; the upper line extends north west to the Blue Rocks Springs area where the young lovers Ferrin & Mageau where attacked by the Zodiac.
So? you say. Other than the fact that this radian adds weight to the suspicion by some that the Zodiac is/was a military man -- the Wing Walker boot print, the Presidio, the cryptograms, the weapons used, etc -- the south radian line from Mt. Diablo passes through the Black Dahlia's grave, Dr. George Hill Hodel's penthouse, and the Paul Stine murder location adjacent to the Presidio.
A macabre coincidence? Steve Hodel doesn't think so. He's familiar with Gareth Penn's 1981 article Portrait of the Artist as a Mass Murderer wherein Penn (aka George Oakes) suggests that the Zodiac used his kill spots as an environmental Earthworks art piece, best viewed from a high altitude (think of the famous 1970 Robert Smithson Utah earthwork Spiral Jetty) "Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits" (Robert Smithson) -- and isn't this exactly the thinking of a man looking for a follow-up to his surrealist magnum opus, the Black Dahlia murder scene?
How credible is this "earthworks" idea? We know and Steve Hodel knows that the Zodiac at one point instructed the people of the San Francisco Bay area to start wearing Zodiac buttons (the circle with the gunsight cross) which is a very "conceptual art" kind of thing to do, and certainly fitted in with the freak-show counter-cultural vibe of the times. It's this idea of the Zodiac being an artist that Steve Hodel latches onto, as it fits well with his idea that his old man was the greatest serial killer in American history. The guilty symmetry of his retirement penthouse located on the southern radian of Z's "San Francisco Zodiac" is just too good to pass on, fits well with certain classics in crime fiction, be it Edgar Allen Poe's The Gold Bug or Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game -- Dr. George Hill Hodel as, say, Count Zaroff (a Russian like himself), etc.
But what is a Zodiac? How could it be likened to an earthworks art piece? A celestial zodiac is a circle of constellations that lie along the apparent path of the sun, moon and planets, and an earth zodiac would be an area of the landscape in seasonal alignment with these constellations, and featuring markings in homage to these constellations.
A remarkable example of this would be the Glastonbury Zodiac, discovered by Margaret Maltwood in the late 1920s, and subsequently confirmed by RAF photographs in the thirties. In the Glastonbury region of southern England a section of the landscape is marked with geoglyph effigies such as a lion (the constellation Leo), a hunter and his dog (Orion), et al. Says Coleston Brown in his essay on the subject: "The Glastonbury star complex is a set of giant figures formed in part from natural features of the landscape, although these have been contoured, sculpted and altered. The complex covers some 78 square miles and is 10 miles across." Clearly this ancient zodiac can be considered art.
But the Zodiac's radian pocket in the San Francisco Bay area? Is this art? According to Steve Hodel, his father went so far as to have a star named after himself. The Dr. George Hill Hodel star "can be found by pointing a telescope at the Zodiacal constellation Aquila (the eagle)." (Most Evil p. 258) No question this is an interesting discovery and perhaps confirms the man's egotism, or simply a playful nature. It adds weight to the notion of the killing zone being an earth zodiac if indeed Dr. George Hill Hodel was the Zodiac. Yet, as evidence, this is (once again) circumstantial, is more literary occultism, more meta-fiction. It thrills the imagination to think that George Hodel could think in terms of symmetries this grandiose, and like Conan Doyle's arch-villain Moriarty, evade capture.
The identity and fate of the Zodiac Killer remains unknown, although Steve Hodel feels DNA matching should determine if his father was involved. The strongest argument he has is the similarity and style of the Zodiac's messages to the San Francisco Chronicle (for whom George & Dorothy once wrote a column) and other papers to those sent to the Los Angeles papers after the Dahlia killing and to the known literary and musical interests of Dr. Hodel. As you would expect from a cop with a special interest in the case, the comparison is quite fastidious.
Coupled to a remarkable similarity in the street names of some of the killing locations in Frisco and L.A. and elsewhere, the sense of a master design presents itself.
Steve Hodel thinks his father looks like the police composite of the Zodiac. Indeed he does. The problem is, any male who wears heavy-framed glasses can look like the Zodiac in passing. Buddy Holly... even Robert Smithson (now deceased), the artist behind the most well-known earthwork of all, Spiral Jetty. You can always think of someone. An absurd need to hang a relative with a crime always manifests when the police publish a composite drawing of a criminal.
Once again, a thoughtprint becomes an indictment.
The Zodiac could've been a cop, as he approached the majority of his victims from behind, or a military man as many speculated at the time. But Dr. George Hodel? Are we expected to believe that Hodel flew into San Francisco for a few days, checked into a hotel, assumed his Zodiac persona, started killing on the installment plan? His two personae would've been awfully crowded -- business man by day, Zodiac by night... or days between. It just seems preposterous. Ritual murder is not like casual sex with time-outs for business calls; it requires devotion and time -- lots of time. Time arriving, time leaving, time planning, time trolling, time taunting. The time required by the Zodiac to carry out his killings and writings had to be considerable. Full time, you'd think. The fever would've extended over days or weeks at a time -- yet the Zodiac would be holed up in a SF hotel or in business meetings or airborne to and from Manila? Never mind suiting up, driving to Vallejo or Lake Berryessa, lock and load, call me Mr. Z. The logistics are improbable.
You can see how Steve Hodel's mind became seduced by some of this. The Paul Stine taxi murder makes a nice symmetry, not only because it's on the radian line, but also because George Hodel was a taxi driver himself for a period when he was a young man. You could go further -- hey, we can all read symbols and dredge sub-text. If you reason that this murder was a symbolic suicide for George Hodel in his persona as the Zodiac, then it's a neat closure. But it all depends on whether or not you accept Steve Hodel's theory that his father suffered from D.I.D (dissociative identity disorder) so that he was this bourgeois professional some of the time, and some of the time he was this cunning serial killer who plotted and executed his murders as a fine art (this is a nod to De Quincey's essay On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts). De Quincey, de Sade... and even the fictional Count Zaroff are all called upon to complete the brutal thoughtprint that is Dr. George Hill Hodel, doppelganger extraordinaire.
my father's doppelganger was a serial killer
There's a "I want to live in a novel or in a movie" feeling here. Sure, some people are like this, especially the young, when identity is still a matter of invention. It's possible that the young George Hodel had a theatrical persona, one based on the Ripper or Count Zaroff. The Zodiac's Lake Berryessa attack was certainly theatrical when he dressed himself in a black hooded shawl with the Zodiac cross on the front (this scene is the best one in Fincher's otherwise dull movie about the Zodiac). Alone, in a lonely spot -- this is how the Zodiac chose his victims. Yet Dr. George Hill Hodel? A loner? Everything his son tells us about him reveals a highly social and gregarious individual.
Reading all this -- here or in Steve Hodel's books -- you will say, how could this man carry on like this for all these years, running two personae, one the smooth professional (doctor, administrator, advertising executive), another the most fantastic serial killer America has ever seen? When a person is sick, the sickness shows, you say, cold-blooded or not. Steve Hodel's answer: D.I.D. (dissociative identity disorder) (also known as M.P.D. or multiple personality disorder). Examples: Jekyll and Hyde, obviously... Batman, obviously... any double-figure or doppelganger from the history of literature. While the term excites the imagination, it has no real standing in the medical community; while the asylums are full of mad people with various "selves", these people are mad, and show it. Dr. George Hill Hodel didn't show it.
Steve draws a great picture, although it never becomes chemical. His proof is just an elegant idea, designed by emotion, sold by politics. If D.A. Stephen Kay thinks -- as he states in the closing stanza of Black Dahlia Avenger -- that the circumstantial argument is better than one based on a few witnesses, then why not try to make it more real? For example, the term, "a wealthy Hollywood man", as applied by the LAPD to their BD suspect: if Steve really believes this description applies to his father, why doesn't he give proof of his father's wealth in 1947? Was any sort of audit done at the time of the LAPD investigation or recently by Steve Hodel when building his case? How wealthy in fact was his father: did he inherit substantial monies from his parents; how much money could he have amassed between 1935 and 1947 as a doctor with a family to support; did he have clear title to the Franklin house; what were his income tax returns like in the Hollywood period; did he in fact have a large amount of money that couldn't be substantiated from his clinic and LA County medical administrator fees, i.e. was he acquiring wealth by extra-legal means, such as selling drugs, abortions and the like, anything that might tie him clearly to organized crime?
For a man with a heart condition, he certainly seems to have had a lot of free time to gad about the bars and dancehalls picking up chicks for the purposes of sex and murder. When did he do any real work? In Most Evil, Steve Hodel hangs the Chicago Lipstick murders, the Black Dahlia and other LA murders, the Manila Jigsaw murders, and all of the San Francisco Zodiac murders around the neck of his philandering father. It's a great read in fiction time, but like the movies, it cheats in real time.
Dr. George Hill Hodel is just a montage as a serial killer, teleporting himself through time and space like a villain in Star Trek.
The argument that he was involved with the Dahlia murder on some level is much stronger -- his womanizing, his interest in erotic photography and art, his incest trial, his predilection to sadism, his association with criminals, his possible surgical skill -- but many questions remain, i.e. why hasn't more been made of the fact that Elizabeth Short's body was dumped across the street from the house of Dr. Walter Bayley? (the woman who discovered the body called the police from this house) Some say he was a member of the LA abortion ring; some say no.
you'd hate him too
As the UK writer and crime authority Colin Wilson has noted in his Origins of the Sexual Impulse, the Black Dahlia killer might've been influenced by Otto Steve Wilson, who killed and horribly mutilated two women in Los Angeles during November 1944. Wilson was ex-military and at the time of the murders was working as a fry cook at the Terminal Island shipyard. He was obviously adept with a knife, as he cut open his first victim from the throat to the pelvis, cut off her breasts and severed one leg. He has been described as tall and handsome, with a moustache. So although he went to the gas chamber in San Quentin in September 1946 and can't be considered a Dahlia suspect, his example was out there, and Elizabeth Short's murder could've been a copycat killing.
Think about it: in 1947 Los Angeles had to be full of men repatriated from combat in the Pacific theatre who knew how to use a knife.
Smooth George Hill Hodel: he doesn't smoke, he's a control freak, he's like a beast with a concealed tail. How different is he than any other American professional of the era? With his slicked hair and moustache, you can see him wearing tails and a dickie in some light-weight debutante movie of the thirties... except for the fact that he's bohemian hip during his downtime from the clinic. To actually buy a house like the Lloyd Wright Jr. Franklin house shows more than a simple materialistic bourgeois longing, and his friendship with John Huston and Man Ray -- far from being sick -- shows more than just a mere sexist boys club, although it was probably just as sexist as the Sinatra Rat Pack.
George Hodel is described as having a photographic mind, yet lacking in originality. This may or may not be the case -- it's just someone's opinion, yet on the rap sheet, it's a crime. His library is also a crime because it contains the Marquis de Sade, a banned author in America at that time. Henry Miller was also banned and many many others. It's easy for Steve to refer to this as "deviant", although today these books are legal and not viewed by the law as deviant. There was a cultural shift going on, imported into Hollywood by the European diaspora. Conventional morality was a casualty, and sexual protocols were revised. Seances, hypnosis, drugs... these were all party favorites. Was George Hodel guilty of incest? The jury said no, but Steve says yes. Could reading de Sade inspire this sort of transgressive behavior? It could... but not always.
Steve Hodel is on record as saying he hated his father, and if you'd been taken down into the basement of his fancy house and whipped with a belt (for smoking and being a wiseass) you might too; yet it has to be recognized that this sort of punishment as family discipline was common in those days. Incest? If this was your sister, and your father did this, you would hate him too. But as the old taboos disappear, the law struggles to keep pace. The jury found him innocent, and most of his family believed he was innocent. Corruption or collective denial or all of the above. Essentially, all of this -- Steve Hodel's indictment against his father -- comes down to the fact he believes his sister Tamar when she says her father trained her as a sex toy from the age of 12 or 13. As well as incest, it's borderline paedophilia. Ugly. Yes, you'd hate him too.
Otherwise George Hodel is like an artist without a subject. Obviously his precociousness as a classical pianist came to nothing (where's the jazz), and his excursions into photography stalled in soft pornography (photography always becomes porno, as it's the only drama an amateur can play without a script). The fact that Dorothy Harvey -- his early girlfriend, then Huston's wife, then his -- was ever associated with him in the first place must show a certain sensitivity to beauty and idealism. Yet clearly neither had the nature to commit. By the time they married, both were saddled with histories that intruded on their marriage. The truth is, you can't hang out in the art gallery and hold a middle-class family together. This has nothing to do with reading the Marquis de Sade or hypnotising women at parties. Art is a whore; art is a whore in pursuit of new flesh and a reincarnation in stone. With art, nothing lasts... except the idea of art itself.
So where does this leave us? Trusting the perception of a LAPD detective who, by his own admission, couldn't tell that his first wife was twice his age when he married her? There's a classic conflict-of-interest here, something like the undercover cop who falls in love with the criminal and is then obliged to testify. It's an inside job, like Hamlet or Oedipus Rex. Power, heart-ache and madness. The "Reconstructed Timelines" read like movie scenarios, real yet hallucinatory, and where the facts are missing, the witnesses AWOL, the text goes extra-sensory. Is this how people got convicted before DNA?
"I believe that circumstantial evidence cases are often a lot stronger than direct evidence cases, because there is no potential problem of misidentification by an eyewitness," says Stephen Kay, the Deputy District D.A. (BDA p. 441) No doubt -- this is the premise of the famous Japanese film Rashomon (1950). But what about all the hyper-faction in circumstantial evidence, the fiction required to imagine a chain of events? After 60 years, all circumstantial evidence is just an orbiting mythology.
Indeed, it seems that every biography that is written with feeling is about the writer, not the subject.
never trust a man with a moustache
It must've been a humiliating experience for George Hodel to be arrested and have his mug-shot taken and held in jail until his trial on the charge of incest with his daughter Tamar. Unless, of course, he thought of Frank Sinatra who was arrested in 1938, charged with "seduction and adultery", so there was a cachet to sexual dismeanor. Pure Hollywood Babylon. Even though the jury dismissed the charges, what chance did he have of restoring his professional reputation? Of course he had to sell up and get out of town.
He didn't exactly "flee" as has been described; he went to Hawaii, at that time a U.S. Territory. There he obtained a psychiatry credential (make of that what you will) before moving on to Manila.
The loss of income and the legal expenses during this period would've been significant. So he was one of the top ten suspects in the Dahlia murder and his house was bugged... but did anything come of any of this? Nothing. It was all guilt by association. Even "Dorero", his estranged ex, denied that he had it in him to murder anyone when interviewed by the LAPD. She even denied that he was a surgeon, said that he was just "a medical administrator" and a VD specialist. A man who was just charged with incest and known to be a womanizer made an easy target... although to be fair, a logical one for the police investigators working a process of elimination. The peculiar situation that existed at that time -- the police corruption, the abortion ring -- makes an interesting back story, but actually muddies the question of Dr. George Hill Hodel's complicity in the Black Dahlia and other murders. Even with motive taken out of the equation, guilt is more than opportunity and means; guilt is a witness or witnesses, and today guilt is DNA.
In Most Evil, Steve Hodel uses a coauthor, Ralph Pezzullo, who was obviously brought in for the meta-fiction. His dramatization of the Black Dahlia murder by George Hodel at the Franklin house is quite good. The bi-sectioning and decorative mutilations in the bathtub and the transportation in the pre-dawn to the Norton Avenue dump site is all described in a credible way. The posing of the body a la Man Ray, the posing of the wrist watch in or on the upper torso a la Salvador Dali, and the possibility of a disinterested witness at the other end of the empty lot. For a man who supposedly kills in a jealous rage, there's a certain dispassionate premeditation in this scenario. But if it's true that Elizabeth Short was a wannabe movie actress, then she'll get her wish, albeit by proxy as the Pezzullo website states that he has already written and sold a screenplay based on Black Dahlia Avenger. Could be good. Has to be better than the disappointing Brian di Palma/James Ellroy effort.
© Lawrence Russell / April 2010
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