Most families resist the possibility that one of their members is not only a murderer, but a serial sexual sadist killer linked to one of the most infamous, unsolved murders of the 20th century. For the Hodel family it was something acknowledged as the truth of who their patriarch, George Hill Hodel was. Dr. George Hodel died in 1999 at the age of 91.
Even George Hodel's great grandchildren grew up being told that he had been the one to kill the Black Dahlia.
On a January morning in 1947 Betty Bersinger who was accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter came upon what she thought was a mannequin. She assumed this because the human figure sprawled on the ground had been bisected at the waist and was inhumanely pale (since it had been drained of blood). Once she realized it was a dead woman she called police about what she had found on a vacant lot in what was then an undeveloped area known as Leimert Park.
The murder victim was later identified as Elizabeth Short. Her face had been slashed at the mouth from ear to ear, giving her a grotesque smile. There were cuts all over her body, rope burns and defensive wounds on her wrists, hands, and ankles, and one breast had been cut off.
Ironically one of George Hodel's son, Steve Hodel went on to become an LAPD homicide detective. After his retirement he started to investigate the story that his father had been the killer, with the hopes of clearing his father of suspicion, however the more information he uncovered, the more he realized he was finding clues that inevitably led to his father being a very dangerous individual.
He has written books concerning his years of research which convinced him that his father was the person who killed Elizabeth Short. He described a telling clue based on the way she was killed, “The killer had performed a hemicorporectomy on her. It’s a unique procedure that was taught at medical school in the 1930s, when he was there, where you cut between the second and third lumbar vertebrae. It’s the only way you can divide a body without cutting through bone.”
George Hodel had become one of Los Angeles' top medical officials, and despite being an eccentric individual he was also highly intelligent, understanding only too well that his position in society gave him a veneer of respectability in which to hide his true nature.
He moved in the wealthy circles of LA society, and his love of surrealist art brought him to a friendship with artist Man Ray who lived only a few miles from Sowden House, and who became the family's unofficial photographer. His third wife Dorothy was director John Huston's ex-wife. He was married four times.
From 1945 to 1950 George Hodel lived with Dorothy and their three sons in a mansion modeled on the design of a Mayan temple and designed by Lloyd Wright. It was called Sowden House after its first owner.
Part of his job for the Health Department was a specialization in venereal disease, and it was through this job that he crossed paths with Elizabeth Short.
George Hodel's granddaughter and great-granddaughters refused to go inside the house in later years, claiming that they were afraid of the events that had transpired there, especially in the basement. Steve Hodel claims this is where his father slaughtered the Black Dahlia. He later verified that his mother and brothers were absent for three weeks visiting his uncle during the time of the murder.
Steve Hodel believes that based on his research his father is linked to the Chicago "Lipstick Murders" that were committed in 1945-1946. One of the victims was a 6-year-old girl who was bisected the same as Elizabeth Short. All these murders pointed to someone with a knowledge of human anatomy, like George Hodel who was surgeon.
Another strange coincidence if you can call it that is that in 1945 George Hodel's secretary Ruth Spaulding died of a drug overdose. In 1949 he went on trial after being accused of molesting his 14-year-old daughter named Tamar who he had with his second wife. He was acquitted when Tamar's mother testified that her daughter was a liar, despite three witnesses testifying that they saw Dr. Hodel engaging in intercourse with his daughter,
Despite his acquittal George Hodel had not dropped from the police radar and in 1950 they bugged his house. It wasn't until many years later that his son Steve came across the transcripts of what was recorded which included a woman screaming and his father stating to an unknown person, “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.”
In August 1950, as these events swirled around George Hodel, his wife Dorothy had grave doubts about her husband, and according to Steve Hodel she sent a telegram to her ex-husband John Houston which read: “Your hunch about George true, can you help children and me get out of the house, today if possible.”
That same year George Hodel moved to Hawaii and then in 1953 he left for the Philippines where he lived for the next 40 years. He traveled regularly back to the United States, maintaining ties with his sons. Steve Hodel linked him to murders that occurred in Manila after his father moved there which involved corpses that were dissected and posed the same as the Black Dahlia's
Throughout the years, Steve Hodel has come across more and more evidence confirming that his father was true-life Jekyll and Hyde. In 2008, he found documents dated from 1947 in which “a direct link between 50-pound cement sacks left at the [Sowden] House by workers, contracted by Lloyd Wright for renovation, to identical paper cement sacks used by Elizabeth Short’s killer to transport her body parts to the vacant lot, just five days later. This is hard physical evidence connecting items from the Hodel residence used to transport the body to the dump site.”
Steve Hodel believed that his father a "nihilist, a misogynist and a sadist of the highest order" identified with surrealism as an expression of his inner world.
George Hodel's peculiar actions continued even though he had moved to another country.
Tamar Hodel who accused her father of molesting her, at the age of 16 went on to have a child out of wedlock and gave her away claiming that her baby was fathered by a black man. The child named Fauna Hodel did not discover that this was a total fabrication and that both of her biological parents were white until many years had passed.
She grew up in poverty in a town named Sparks which is just outside of Reno, Nevada. Her adopted parents were a maid and a shoe shine man.
Her black mother was named Jimmie Lee, who was an alcoholic and was in and out of jail for fighting. She was described by Fauna Hodel as being abusive spurred by the fact that she knew her baby was only white, but the nonetheless loving her.
Fauna became pregnant when she was sixteen and gave birth to a biracial daughter she named. Yvette. By then she was haunted by knowing her true origins since Jimmie Lee had showed her a copy of her birth certificate showing her birth mother's name as Tamar Hodel.
When she was in her twenties she was working at Saint Mary's Hospital in Reno. She confided the circumstances of her birth to Sister Hillary a nun she had befriended while working there. Sister Hillary went to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in San Francisco where Tamar had been born and went through their records, discovering that Tamar's grandfather was Dr. George Hodel.
By then George was living in the Philippines and Fauna spoke to him by phone. She told him that she wanted to speak to her real mother, and he tried to talk her out of it, but eventually let her know that Tamar was living in Hawaii.
In 1974 Fauna finally tracked down her mother in Hawaii and visited her there. She told Fauna about an incestuous relationship she had with her father George Hodel. She had become pregnant by him when she was 12 years old but went on to abort the baby. She told Fauna that she was the product of a rape by a white man, that was not George.
Tamar's own children and mother warned Fauna that her birth mother was a compulsive liar and manipulator which made her doubt if indeed her biological father was not George Hodel, and she never knew the true identity of the man that fathered her.
Tamar Hodel might have moved on from the daughter she have away but her father George appeared to keep tabs on this member of his family throughout the years.
Fauna Hodel wrote a memoir titled One Day She'll Darken. She described where she noticed she was being followed on different occasions. One time she saw a man exit a limo and stare at her and her daughter Yvette and then turn and leave. Later when she saw a picture of him she realized it was George Hodel.
During the mid-1970s Fauna and her husband WIlliam "Billy" Sharp not only suspected she was being followed but also that their phone was being bugged, as they would hear strange clicking and echoes during calls.
This suspicion became even more pronounced after an event that involved Fauna's cousin Johnny. She had not seen him in several years and he unexpectedly called her asking if he could visit. She was surprised when he kept calling her "baby" and "sugar" and that he wanted to "feast his eyes on a sexy thang like herself". His speech was slurred and he kept referring to when they used to play under the bed. Despite her misgivings she agreed to his visit. During the call she heard the strange clicking noises she had noticed before, as if someone was listening in.
The day of Johnny's visit arrived, but Johnny didn't. Fauna then got a call from Johnny's sister Barbara telling her that Johnny had been murdered by drowning. At the funeral she thought it was odd that the casket was closed until she found out that his body had been mutilated and his penis had been shoved in his mouth.
Fauna and her husband wondered if the person eavesdropping on their calls was Johnny's murderer. Was this the work of George Hodel trying to protect Fauna? Or was George Hodel worried that she would uncover the secret that he had indeed fathered her and would confirm him as the murderer of Elizabeth Short and others?
Fauna Hodel died in 2017 and her mother Tamar in 2015.
Source - NYPost, HistoryVsHollywood
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer