The Black Bird’s True Crime Book Review:
Steve Hodel’s Black Dahlia Avenger II
It goes without saying that I’m obsessed with the murder of beautiful, young Elizabeth Short – Los Angeles’ Black Dahlia Murder case of 1947. Just take a peek at my WoW bio. I admit that, even though I don’t agree with every theory presented, I simply have to read each book published on the subject. A coupla good examples: I repeatedly refer back to John Gilmore’s Severed or the chapter in Craig Rice’s 45 Murderers. I especially love prowling through my vast collection of original newspaper clippings. You see, I never stick all my eggs in one basket as far as suspects go.
So it was, friends and fiends, that my eyes bulged when I read the news: former LAPD detective Steve Hodel, author of Black Dahlia Avenger and Most Evil, was publishing a third book on the alleged criminal exploits of his father, Dr. George Hill Hodel. I confess that I rather liked the first BDA. It was a professional affair, save for Hodel’s propensity to phrase things in a manner like “Then dad did [blank]…” As if every last drop was established fact. Dr. George Hodel, for the uninitiated, was a wealthy SoCal doctor who specialized in venereal disease control, and lover of bohemian and surrealist art. Another confession: I was increasingly sceptical of Steve Hodel’s allegations in his second exposé, Most Evil. That he whole-heartedly believed his dad was also the Zodiac killer of 1960s to Seventies NoCal infamy. I still devoured the book, and found it well-presented compared to other Dahlia tomes like Jacque Daniels’ Curse of the Black Dahlia (with its shoddy design, layout and proofreading). There’s much to be said for a pro layout and making certain there are no grievous typos and grammar blunders, especially in a print-on-demand book (BDA II is POD). On the whole, BDA doesn’t suffer from the usual textual and layout foibles of many POD titles.
Another humongous “true crime” outing, BDA focuses slightly less on the Zodiac than Most Evil. The focal point of BDA II remains George Hodel. Elizabeth Short is dealt with almost peripherally, mainly as mentioned mostly as a victim and in the investigation of her murder. Details of her life are few and far between. I was hoping–if the title itself was any indication–to read more background on Beth Short herself. Nope! Hodel has been gracious enough with his past readers in sharing many new updates free of charge through blogs and FAQs on his website. I was likewise hoping that he wouldn’t repeat himself in BDA II, heaping much material available online on our plates. I suppose this may work fine for the casual crime enthusiast who is reading BDA II with little retention of Hodel’s previous two books or the case itself. Hodel belabors himself and us w What about the compulsive tendencies of the “Dahliaphile” type folks out there? The ones who pore over every nook and cranny of minutiae? It will most likely be a drawback for the obsessed (like me!). Maybe it was necessary to repeat for those with short attention spans. Also, when you’re bibliomaniac (like your humble Black Bird), you prefer to refer back to a book than constantly hooked up to electronic gadgetry. In that respect, having the blog and FAQ items in BDA II can be looked upon as a benefit. I consider both sides of the coin.
There are a few intriguing and not-so repetitive sections of BDA II. One contains letters from Steve Hodel’s mother, Dorothy (Harvey Huston) Hodel, to her ex-husband iconic director John Huston, many mentioning danger she perceived from her most recent ex, George. Another interesting bit fleshes out the life of Madi (or Mattie) Comfort, George Hodel’s black mistress. Comfort revealed her secret before she passed away in the mid 2000s – that she believed George Hodel did indeed kill Elizabeth Short. Another section introduced a bit of new info from a well-known surrealist photographer (now deceased), which furthers the possibility that foul things were afoot at the gaudy, exotic Lloyd Wright-built Sowden house – occupied by the suave Dr. Hodel in the mid 1940s – at 5121 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, CA.
My verdict? Well, I could do without all of the statements Steve Hodel makes beginning with the phrases “we now know that” or “we know that.” Do we really know for sure? How much is hearsay, especially in the case of unrecorded conversations with deceased people? I wish the public could finally know the full truth about Beth Short’s murder, the many other women slain in L.A. throughout the 1940s, the Zodiac, etc. But I’m not so certain yet that I can point my finger at any one suspect, much less George Hodel. I consider Hodel, along with others. I’m a completist, and I recommend others like me pick this puppy up. If you enjoy reading about seedy, seamy L.A. corruption, there are plenty of juicy details. I’ve come away from BDA II feeling, more than ever, that George Hodel was definitely involved in some very shady affairs. I’m convinced he molested his own daughter (probably paid off the authorities to be proven not-guilty), performed abortions when they were illegal in L.A. (although I feel women should always have the choice!) and committed insurance fraud. Murder? I don’t know about that just yet. Perhaps time will tell. Perhaps not!
P.S. I invite WoW readers to share their opinion on Steve Hodel’s books, the Black Dahlia case, the so-called L.A. Lone Women Murders of the 1940s, the Zodiac, etc.