Former Los Angeles police department detective Steve Hodel has spent the last 15 years cataloguing proof that his dad eliminated Elizabeth brief – and also others


True crime author and also former LAPD detective Steve Hodel at his house in Sherman Oaks, California. Photograph: Emily Berl/The Guardian
True crime author and former LAPD detective Steve Hodel in ~ his home in Sherman Oaks, California. Photograph: Emily Berl/The Guardian

Shortly ~ receiving the news of his father’s death, Steve Hodel discovered himself sorting with his belongings. Despite Steve’s father, George Hodel, loomed large throughout his at an early stage childhood, their connection had constantly been strained. George was a grandiose physician with a distant personality who abandoned the household shortly after ~ Steve’s nine birthday, at some point moving far away to the Philippines.

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As the went v his father’s possessions, Steve uncovered a picture album tucked far in a box. That was small enough come fit in his palm and bound in wood. Feeling prefer a voyeur, the perused it. It to be filled through the usual pictures – his mom, dad and brothers – as well as portraits of the family taken by the world-famous surrealist artist male Ray, a family friend.

But towards the back, something caught his eye: two photos of a young woman, her eyes actors downward, through curly, deep-black hair. Steve tho doesn’t understand why he had actually the idea, but as the looked at the images, he thought to himself: “My God, the looks favor the black color Dahlia.”

The black color Dahlia, the course, is the nickname offered to Elizabeth quick after her grisly fatality on 15 January 1947. The 22-year-old aspiring actor to be living in Los Angeles as soon as her corpse was found maimed and split in two, its body parts presented in one grotesque attitude on the floor of a vacant lot.

The personal connection in between Short and also George Hodel argued by the album photos seemed outrageous. Hers was among the most brutal murders in American history, and, after the Zodiac killer’s shooting main actor in mountain Francisco, perhaps the most famed unsolved crime in California. Yet from this minute on, Steve to be hooked.


Elizabeth Short, known as the ‘Black Dahlia’, to be murdered in 1947. Photograph: save on computer Photos/Getty ImagesIn simply over 23 years, Steve had diligently risen through the ranks of the Los Angeles police department, developing a reputation together an unfaltering homicide detective. So favor any an excellent cop, Steve started digging and the details began to include up.

Crime step photos verified that brief had been offered a hemicorporectomy, a procedure that slices the body beneath the lumbar spine, the only spot wherein the body have the right to be severed in fifty percent without break bone. It was taught in the 1930s, once George had remained in medical school. The letters sent out to the press and also police indigenous The black color Dahlia Avenger, a man claiming to be Short’s killer, also bore a chilling resemblance to his dad’s handwriting.

Cataloguing evidence has been Steve’s life because that the last 15 years, throughout which the pursuit to connect his dad to Short’s murder consumed his life. It brought him ago to Los Angeles, wherein he currently spends his work in a usually apartment, documenting his father’s an alleged criminal past in a snowballing body of work-related including four books, a play and also a generally updated blog. And though his very first book, black color Dahlia Avenger: The True Story, is little much more than thousands of pages that evidence, noted chronologically prefer a cop’s instance log, it made the new York time bestseller list after it was released in 2003.

This research has actually won him fans. It has likewise made many civilization uncomfortable provided his tone, i beg your pardon blurs the line in between obsession and also admiration, and also his conveniently gripping narrative: a homicide detective, elevated in the love of gritty Los Angeles, finds his father guilty the the city’s most infamous unsolved murder.

Steve, who is currently 74, isn’t the very first person to insurance claim that he’s solved Short’s murder; he’s not also the an initial to case that among his parents was the killer. But Steve has dug increase a cache that evidence, including law enforcement files that present that his father topped the LAPD’s perform of suspects at the moment of the crime.

While law enforcement public representative disagree about whether Steve Hodel is a excellent vigilante or one obsessive crackpot, no one has been able to prove the wrong. That fact has been all the encourage Steve demands to keep digging.


A newspaper short article on Short’s death. Photograph: Los Angeles The celebrity condition of Short’s fatality was driven, in part, through a relentlessness media. The Los Angeles Record carried related item on that is front page for 31 continuous days, and also sales of papers surged as the LAPD’s investigation continued.

component of the intrigue come from the extraordinary brutality of her murder. Prior to she to be killed, short had been forced to eat feces. Flesh and pubic hair had actually been shave off her body and also inserted right into her vagina and rectum. Short’s uterus to be removed. Long gashes extended her mouth right into an eerie smile.

“It’s the body itself which to adjust the groundwork for countless generations of black Dahlia zealots,” the writer john Gilmore said an interviewer. “It’s choose this tremendous, bizarre magnet.”

The job after Short’s body was found, the Los Angeles Examiner sold more copies than it had any type of other day, except when the announced the allied success in the 2nd world war. Sales were fueled by the tawdry way the tabloid push covered short – together a streetwalking, sexualized young thing (the rumors the she was a prostitute were untrue). Together a childhood friend later on recalled, “It was just horrible, the method she to be portrayed.”

This sensationalized portrait has withstood over time. Her murder has been memorialized in movies (The black color Dahlia, certification Scarlett Johansson, is the latest), and on television reflects (most recently on an illustration of American horror Story).

The Biltmore, the hotel where brief was checked out alive a couple of days before her death, uses a well-known Black Dahlia cocktail. Dozens of threads on Reddit are devoted to learning the identity of her killer.

numerous writers have actually written books about the case. Choose Hodel, a woman called Janice Knowlton believed that her father to be the black Dahlia killer, and wrote a book about it. “Her book was trash, and also it wasn’t also true,” her sister told the Los Angeles times after her fatality in 2004. “She thought it, however it no reality.”

So far, only Hodel’s own investigation warranted an official acknowledgement from the DA’s office.


Steve Hodel at house in Sherman Oaks, California. Photograph: Emily Berl/The GuardianHodel stays in a salmon-colored stucco apartment complex in Studio City, simply a few miles from his childhood home. His unit overlooks a small, empty swim pool. His girlfriend, Roberta, would prefer something nicer, but the rent is low and the room is large.

A physical imposing man, Hodel is high and vast with a dusting the white hair and a tenderness demeanor – like Santa Claus, vibrating top top a darker frequency. And after 16 years immersed in Dahlia-lore, the the smallest details are ingrained in Steve’s mind. Once, as soon as I referred to an officer ~ above the situation with the not correct title, Hodel lunged forward, his eyes narrowed, and also began a well-rehearsed monologue top top the officer’s role in the case.

“He’s favor a pit bull,” his brothers Kelly Hodel says. “Once he gets his teeth into something, he doesn’t let go.”

Steve started investigating his father v the deliberate fastidiousness that the great cop he’d always been. The surveyed the case from scratch, digging v witness interviews and newspaper archives. That filed a liberty of info Act come retrieve the FBI files on the murder, and also other information the office had accumulated on his father. He sent the photographs that he discovered in his father’s picture album to face recognition experts (one remains unknown, the various other he identified as an additional woman).

A handwriting expert identified that there was a strong likelihood that his father’s handwriting suitable the manuscript on some of the notes the killer sent out to the LAPD, but the results were inconclusive.

In the archives the UCLA, Steve discovered a folder containing receipts for contracting work on his childhood home. One of the receipts proved a acquisition a few days prior to Short’s killing of 10 five-pound bags of concrete – the very same size and brand discovered near Short’s body that police believe her killer offered to bring her.

As a civilian, Steve doesn’t have accessibility to the original police files and, together an officer admitted to him in his only meeting with the LAPD, the bulk of the physical proof has been shed over the years. Most of the witnesses room dead, as room the initial cops that operated the case.

to sidestep the period of the evidence, Steve relied on very closely assembled anecdotes. He has recreated conversations the dead cops had actually with friends, household members, and, in one case, the daughter that a lieutenant’s family members dentist. A number of them report hearing the the department thought the culprit was a physician “who lived on Franklin Avenue”, whereby the Hodel family members lived at the time of the murder.

Steve tracked down a policewoman who reported seeing short on the street with a man and a woman, ~ above the night prior to she was discovered murdered, but fifty percent a century later, the cop could only remember what brief looked like, not the 2 other civilization present.

In 2001, after 2 years the researching the situation full-time, Hodel turned to Steven Kay, one acquaintance who functioned in the Los Angeles county ar attorney’s office. Hodel quiet wasn’t certain he can prove past a reasonable doubt the his father to be the black Dahlia killer. Yet he was persuaded his investigation had unearthed enough new material to justification a new look from legislation enforcement officials.

Kay, one assistant ar attorney in ~ the time, i agree to testimonial Steve’s work. 6 weeks later, Kay responded v a glow letter. “Thanks come some an excellent detective work-related by his courageous boy Steve, the surname of Dr George Hodel will live in infamy,” composed Kay, who added that, if George were still alive, that would file two dues of murder against him. Surprisingly, Kay thought Steve to be right.

“When I had actually that, that was sort of the moment where i said, OK, instance solved,” states Steve.


Dr George Hill Hodel. Photograph: Courtesy of Steve Hodel The assessment provided Steve the reassurance he necessary to begin on a publication – the ideal vehicle, he believed, to share his story through the world. Michael Hodel, Steve’s son, was continuing to be with his dad the summer he started writing the manuscript. Every day, “he’d get up at 5 in the morning and also he’d it is in up in his room doing research”, Michael recalled, “I was simply impressed v his dedication.”

at the time, Steve called no one yet his girlfriend, Roberta, what he was functioning on. But in January the 2002, a couple of weeks prior to the book was slated come come out, he started informing friends and family. He dubbed June Hodel, his father’s widow, first, a conversation that came to be their last. “She just kept saying, this no true, your father was a scholar,” Steve claimed (I make the efforts to find June Hodel for this article, however couldn’t contact her).

among the next civilization he dubbed was his younger brother, Kelly Hodel. As soon as Kelly picked up the phone, Steve no waste time with tiny talk.

“Our father to be a homicidal maniac,” that said, by way of greeting.

nearly as if scripted, startle revelations come after Steve break up his research.

Steve Lopez, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, obtained a copy the Steve’s book and decided come write about it. While fact-checking his column, Lopez inquiry the Los Angeles county ar attorney’s office for an ext information ~ above the murder. The DA’s office complied, and Lopez received accessibility to a record that Lt candid Jemison, among the original officers investigating Short’s murder, had left behind in a safe in the basement of the district attorney’s office.

The file, a copy of i beg your pardon the ar attorney also shared through the Guardian, contains an assortment that photographs, newspaper clippings and several hundred pages of typed interview notes, pixelated with age, compiled through Jemison.

buried in the notes is the bombshell the Steve had been hope for: the Los Angeles police department was concentrated on 6 suspects in its black Dahlia investigation, and George Hodel to be on the list. And also then there is the transcript that the period in 1950 as soon as the police were bugging George Hodel’s home.

many of the transcript is dull: Hodel has sex; he berates his secretary; that talks around money problems. However on 19 February 1950, there’s a haunting exchange.

8:25pm. “Woman screamed. Woman screamed again. (It have to be noted, the woman not heard before the scream.)”

later in the day, Hodel talks to a confidant.

Realise there to be nothing I might do, put a pillow over her head and also cover her v a blanket. Acquire a taxi. Expired 12:59. They assumed there to be something fishy. Anyway, now they may have actually figured the out. Eliminated her.”

The security continues, routinely, yet for one informing moment.

“Supposin’ ns did kill the black Dahlia. They can not prove the now. They can’t talk to my secretary any an ext because she dead.”

Lopez’s discovery of this document – the surveillance, the confirmation of his dad’s location on the suspect list – to be a redeeming moment for Hodel, and also he still beams once he talks around it now, more than a te later. “Here you’ve acquired independent corroboration the he to be in reality the element suspect,” the says. “Basically, ns was puffy away.”

Steve Hodel ~ above Norton Avenue, the area where the black color Dahlia’s body was found. Photograph: Emily Berl/The Guardian top top a brisk morning in January 3 years ago, Steve decided to re-enact the drive the he to trust his father took the night he killed Short. Steve woke up beforehand 16 January (a day after the anniversary the Short’s actual killing on 15 January 1947), and drove at 6am to his childhood house on Franklin Avenue. “I wanted to watch the approximately lighting,” Steve said me. He has recreated the drive many times due to the fact that then, because that reporters, friends and family.

once Short’s body to be discovered, the Leinart Park community was just developing. It was nothing more than a series of overgrown lots through a scattering that houses. Now, the solidly middle-class, with rows that close-set houses with manicured laws. Top top a clear day, you deserve to see the Hollywood sign in the distance.

It took us a minute to find the spot where Short’s body was found, using a compass app and also the home numbers. Steve seemed pleased when we ultimately located the spot, top top the closely cropped grass of a single-story home, a few feet far from the sidewalk.

one of the most difficult parts the Steve’s ideas is exactly how flatteringly they make out his dad. In his estimation, the George’s connection with the surrealist photographer, guy Ray, that assisted propel Short’s murder. Two of man Ray’s photographs, Les Amoureux and Minotaur, do bear a chilling resemblance to Short’s mutilated body.

Short’s body, Steve argues, to be George’s method of emulating his friend’s surrealism, permitting him to develop what Steve call a “masterpiece, a crime so shocking and horrible it would endure, it is in immortalized through the annals that crime lore”.

In the car, after us left, i asked Steve what he assumed his father would certainly think that his investigation. The paused because that a moment, prior to replying. “I nothing know,” he said, after protecting against to think. “I’m guessing he’d be proud of me.”

Though Steve’s household is proud the his dedication, your pride has slid, slowly, in the direction of bafflement. At one point, ns asked Steve’s boy Michael why he assumed his father kept investigating.

“Have friend figured that out?” he asked me, “Because I’d choose to know.”

He paused, and then added, “To mine dad, the black color Dahlia is his story,” the said. “If there’s any type of kind of noteworthiness in his life, it probably came from this. This is type of his calling card at this point. So, yeah, I deserve to see just how you would want it to it is in as cool as possible.”

Steve Hodel at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Photograph: Emily Berl/The GuardianSteve states that, because that him, the black color Dahlia instance is prefer a loose thread in a sweater: girlfriend tug on it gently, thinking you’ve come to the end, and also it continues to unravel. There has actually never to be a comfortable end allude to finish his investigation: each item of evidence leads to another, in turn leading to one more crime.

All told, Steve trust he’s located a trail that connects his dad to dozens that murders, stretching across California.

Details from murders in Los Angeles command Steve to a string of killing in Chicago, which climate led him come Manila and the slaying that a 28-year-old woman called Lucila Lalu, who dismembered body had been discovered situated oddly prefer Short’s. She body was found scattered around a half mile indigenous his father’s home, along a street called “Zodiac”.

Steve take it it as a clue. “I thought, no, no, no, yes no way,” that told me. That worried the there was no method to suspicion his father of the Zodiac murders without seeming loony. “I had spent all of this time and also effort and also blood, sweat and also tears establishing my credibility in black Dahlia. And now this guy’s saying his dad is additionally the Zodiac? that like, oh man.”

That assessment has proven mostly accurate.

After his first book, black color Dahlia Avenger, to be released, Steve appeared on the verge of a breakthrough. It to be met v a wave of largely positive push coverage. The Seattle Weekly dubbed it “one the the many compelling true-crime books of every time”. The brand-new York Times offered it a rave review. Steve appeared on Dateline, CBS and NBC; Anderson Cooper interviewed him for CNN. However after that turned his fist to the Zodiac, and also published many Evil, which suggests that his father to be responsible for the Zodiac murders as well, attention in his work has actually been middling.

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Ultimately, every one of his investigate have created precious little in the way of genuine results. As well as hosting one meeting v Steve, soon after the release of his book, the LAPD has actually largely ignored him. Together Lt Brian Carr, the officer that was responsible for the files told Cold situation in 2009, “I don’t have the time to prove or disprove what says. I’m buried in other situations that execute have proof that are probably solvable.” Steve said me he see this as more evidence that a massive LAPD cover-up.

In a re-release of the black Dahlia Avenger, Steve writes the he’s upset that major papers, prefer the Los Angeles Times, have actually chosen come “ignore the story”. The reality, however, is an ext complicated. “When I found out what was, it struck me together pretty spectacular,” Steven Lopez, the time columnist, told me in one email. “An LAPD detective solves among the most notorious unsolved murders in LA history, and the murderer is his father.”

“But i was struck, in analysis the book, through the fact that Hodell never sealed the deal,” created Lopez. “I thought he offered mostly circumstantial evidence, then acted as if the situation was closed.”

In fact, many people, as well as Steve, it seems ~ to have actually moved on indigenous the case. Short’s 2 closest family members members, she mother and also her sister, space dead. Steven Kay, the ar attorney who reviewed Steve’s files, decreased to talk about the situation for this article.

Steve claims he has actually long due to the fact that given increase on trying to sway regulation enforcement officials. “My judge and jury are the public” the said. “My readers. And also they acquire it.”