UnSubs Central

Your stop for killer book and film reviews about the world's most notorious serial murderers

December 12, 2018

Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac, and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel
By Steve Hodel
Penguin Publishing Group

What if your father was a serial killer?

For most everyone, that answer will be no, of course your father is not a serial killer. For a painful few though, the answer is yes.[1] But what if you suspect your father might have been a serial killer? In other words, what if you were Steve Hodel?

In part one of ‘Is there a Serial Killer in the Family’, I review Steve Hodel’s book, Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac, and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel. A former Los Angeles detective, Steve Hodel asserts his father, Dr. George Hill Hodel not only killed the woman often referred to as the Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short, but that he was also responsible for the Lipstick Killings (Chicago from 1945 to early 1946) and the Zodiac murders. His bold claims are met with a variety of responses, such as “Steve Hodel makes Sherlock Holmes look like an amateur,” or “I’m convinced,” to “amateurish and insulting.”[2]

In Most Evil, Steve Hodel begins with a brief overview of his family and his father’s background. From the start, it’s clear the Hodel’s were a troubled family, and rampant are accusations of orgies, incest, rape, and forced abortions. A physician who specialized in the treatment of venereal disease, George Hodel fathered eleven children with five women. Seeming to enjoy a glamorous life in Los Angeles, he would leave it and his children, moving to Hawaii in 1950. The year prior, Hodel was charged with the sexual assault of his fourteen year old daughter, Tamar Hodel. Following a high profile trial he was acquitted, even if questions about his guilt remain.

Interspersed throughout Most Evil are stories of Steve Hodel’s childhood, letters from his father, and an insight into father and son’s relationship at the end of George’s life. There is mixture of awe, anger, confusion, and reverence in the way Hodel speaks about his father. Even as he accuses him of being a sadistic and evil serial killer, he appears enamored by his father’s talent and charisma.

While there is a modicum of truth in Hodel’s account, examining his book with a heavy dose of skepticism isn’t hard. Hodel uncovers that his father was in fact, an early suspect in Elizabeth Short’s murder, enough so that LAPD detectives placed a wiretap in the Hodel home. While in those tapes George Hodel does mention Short’s killing, he was never charged with any crime. Instead of sticking with the Black Dahlia case, though, Hodel has taken it upon himself to bolster his father’s image as a psychopathic mastermind of epic proportions, by tacking on the crimes of both the Lipstick Killer and the Zodiac. Overkill? Yes, with pun intended.

Briefly, here are just a few of the issues with Hodel’s account:

    • George Hill Hodel’s age – to fit Steve Hodel’s narrative, George Hodel would have been 61 years old when he committed the Zodiac killings (if you consider Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday the first Zodiac victims). Every account about the Zodiac’s identity place him nowhere near this age.
    • The Zodiac sketch used in the original Dutton pressing of Most Evil (below is picture from my copy). As any Zodiac armchair detective knows, this is clearly not law enforcement’s rendering of the suspected killer. Hodel did release a statement trying to explain his guffaw, but if one were to believe his account was as well researched as he claims, you would also believe that such a simple mistake would not have occurred in the first place.
    • Hodel’s expanded descriptions of the criminal acts in which he provides minute details only the killer could know are misleading and stated without proof, appearing to be his way of reinforcing his theories.[3]
    • Hodel relies heavily on one particular handwriting expert, Hannah McFarland, to examine the notes from the Black Dahlia killer.[4] Subsequently, the CBS News show 48 Hours had the same documents evaluated by John Osborn, “one of the most respected document examiners in the field,” but unlike McFarland, his results were not conclusive. Per Osborn, there was not enough evidence to “prove one way or another whether his father was the writer or not the writer.”[5]
    • It becomes apparent that in Hodel’s eyes, his father is the prototypical serial killer. White male? Check. Travels and operates interstate (or as Hodel asserts, internationally)? Check. An evil genius? Check. And last, but most important for Hodel, the premise that “serial killers don’t stop until they’re caught, go to prison, or die.”[6] Therefore, according to Hodel, his father must be responsible for more murders. Among the many issues with this supposition is that these stereotypes aren’t always true, even if continually perpetuated.[7]
    • In both Most Evil and in the Discovery Channel series called Most Evil (unrelated), Hodel takes credit for a pseudo-scientific theory called “thoughtprints,” but it’s not entirely clear he is the originator of the idea, as psychiatrist Andrew Hodges appeared to advocate for the concept as early as 1998. [8] Either way, the “thoughtprint” theory has no clear basis in scholarly or academic research, and Hodel’s use of it only further undermines the validity of his assertions.[9]

This inaccurately attributed Zodiac sketch occurs not once, but twice (on pages 108 & 190)

Throughout Most Evil, Steve Hodel admits that his evidence is circumstantial, but in closing says, “As a man who has dedicated his life to criminal investigation, I can’t ignore the facts.” Yet this is exactly what Steve Hodel has done. It appears that his desire to make his father pay for his perceived and possible sins have clouded his judgment and his conclusions.

Most Evil illustrates just how many theories about the Zodiac killer exist, just how passionate each of those espousing his or her said theory are, and how often circumstantial evidence is just that. Were Hodel to leave the accusations against his father at the Black Dahlia and the Lipstick Killer, he may have continued to convert the public to his theories. With Most Evil, it’s evident that Hodel has stretched his assertions to make his suspect fit not just one notorious crime, but also some of the highest profile crimes of the century.



Further reading:

For a full debunking of Steve Hodel’s theories that George Hill Hodel was the Zodiac, visit:

FBI files on the Black Dahlia murder: https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2006/october/dahlia_102006

For an in-depth article about Steve Hodel’s half-sister, Tamar Nais Hodel, see: Weller, Sheila. “Uncovering the Secrets of the Black Dahlia Murder.” Dujour. 2015. http://staging.dujour.com/news/uncovering-the-secrets-of-the-black-dahlia-murder/

A possible television series about Tamar Nais Hodel daughter, Fauna Hodel: https://variety.com/2017/tv/news/chris-pine-patty-jenkins-tnt-one-day-shell-darken-1202507134/

[1] Kerri Rawson is one of those painful few. Daughter of BTK, she has endured something we wouldn’t wish on an enemy. Come back at the end of January, when I review her upcoming book, “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming.”

[2] From Amazon.com book reviews.

[3] For example, see Hodel’s theory of how his father cleaned the crime scene after Elizabeth Short’s death, 88-89.

[4] Certified Document Examiner and Forensic Handwriting Analyst, Hannah McFarland. See her web page at: http://www.writeexam.com/writeexam.htm

[5] “Black Dahlia Confidential,” 48 Hours. December 31, 2005. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/black-dahlia-confidential/3/

[6] Hodel, Most Evil, 109.

[7] At a 2005 symposium that gathered a multi-disciplinary group of experts, the FBI called out many of these tropes as myths. See, Behavioral Analysis Unit, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), “Serial Murder: Multidisciplinary Perspective for Investigators.” Edited by Morton, Robert J. and Mark Hilts, p. 3-6. PDF of symposium available at: https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder; see also, Ramsland, Kathryn. “Persistent Myths about Serial Killers.” Psychology Today. February 12, 2018. At: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201802/persistent-myths-about-serial-killers

[8] Discovery Channel “Most Evil” season 2, episode 4, “Unsolved Cases.” Original airdate: September 2, 2007. See the video at: https://youtu.be/dEClH1a8i2E?list=PLM98pZNJOqZhSeb1w14MKE20OGf2PGBfS

[9] See: Andrew Hodges –http://www.andrewghodges.com/forensic-profiling/recognition-of-thoughtprint-decoding

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