Black Dahlia: Publicity Hounds Wag the Dog Over Purported Death Scene

It’s been interesting to watch the news media’s reaction to Buster the cadaver dog’s cavorting at the Sowden House.  Most of the coverage is single-source or two-source reporting with no counterbalance.

I haven’t seen any reaction from  the LAPD or anyone else who is informed about the Black Dahlia case. One would think that if a writer were reporting on “UFO theorist says alien ship landed in his backyard” that there would be reaction from NASA.

Before we go any further remember this:

– Elizabeth Short is buried in Oakland. Her body was cut in half and mutilated, but nothing was missing when she was found. Some dubious sources report that she was disemboweled, but this is totally wrong.

The body was drained of blood using running water, and therefore the blood and water went down a drain.

– The killer washed the body and scrubbed it using a brush. Fibers from the brush were found on the body.

Let me repeat: The body was complete and it was washed and scrubbed by the killer.

Bottom line: There is nothing of the Black Dahlia case to be found in the basement of the Sowden House.

Now let’s take a look at what’s being written.

Most of the news coverage doesn’t bother to do any original reporting, but merely quotes another source, like the San Bernardino Sun.

Here’s a typical example from Graham Wood, writing on AOL’s real estate blog:

A possible break in the decades-old “Black Dahlia” murder case puts the spotlight back on the John Sowden House in Los Angeles, the home where 22-year-old Elizabeth Short (pictured below with a companion in an undated photo) is believed to have been killed in 1947.

OK, who believes that? Not the police, that’s for sure. As far as I know, nobody thinks Elizabeth Short was killed at the Sowden House except for those foolish enough to fall for the nonsense in “Black Dahlia Avenger.”

Katy St. Clair, writing in the San Francisco Examiner, hedges a bit by saying

“Former LAPD Detective Steve Hodel is convinced that his father was the killer of the famed Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short, and he recently brought in a cadaver dog to prove it.

Hodel’s theory is that she was murdered at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Sowden House, and he employed Buster the cadaver dog to investigate, according to the L.A. Daily News.

Of course, the Sowden House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright. Oops.

Frank C. Girardot does a reasonably credible job in the Daily News of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Sun.

A former LAPD detective, who believes his father killed the Black Dahlia, said Friday that a cadaver dog’s search of a Hollywood home turned up the scent of death.

And here, at least, we get a bit of sanity in an outside source, Marcia Koenig of something called cadaverdogs.com:

“There are pitfalls. Dogs can be influenced by their handler’s body language and sometimes they can be wrong, Koenig said.”Sometimes dogs just do things we just don’t understand,” she added.

Unfortunately, the Daily News headline goes too far:

Author: Cadaver dog discovered Black Dahlia death scene at Hollywood home

Because the story merely says:

A former LAPD detective, who believes his father killed the Black Dahlia, said Friday that a cadaver dog’s search of a Hollywood home turned up the scent of death.

Not the crime scene, just the “scent of death.”

Some folks, like Jeff Stone of the International Business Times, take the easy way out and rewrite someone else’s story. In this case, it’s the Daily Beast account, and Stone adds new mistakes, such as the common error that the Sowden House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

But stories like Anya Vinclauv’s post on examiner.com make my jaw drop:

Hodel says was away with his mother and siblings at the time of the grisly murder, but police reports revealed “a woman’s screams had been heard coming from the house’s unfinished basement.”

When was Elizabeth Short killed? 1947. When did police bugging detect a woman’s supposed screams? 1950.

How is it possible to get the facts so utterly mangled?

Then  Adrian Glick Kudler of Curbed L.A. drinks the George “Evil Genius” Hodel Kool-Aid and says:

Plenty of people, including an LAPD detective involved with the case, are skeptical, but now a helpful Labrador retriever is corroborating the story!

And I like the headline: Dog Agrees Black Dahlia Killed at Lloyd Wright Sowden House

Recall that Christine Pelisek, writing in the Daily Beast on Feb. 3, said:

Soil samples were taken and results are expected next week.

We’ll be waiting.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, LAPD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Black Dahlia: Publicity Hounds Wag the Dog Over Purported Death Scene

  1. Lynne Ray says:

    Well, if a dog says it’s true, and it’s on the interwebs, then I say “case closed”!

  2. William P. Barrett says:

    I think you’re having entirely too much fun with this.

  3. Herculean as the task will be, Larry, you are the obvious default to publish the complete, annotated Black Dahlia. Seriously. I see the cover of the collectible hardback edition, with grimly muted colors, spare deco ornaments and a single, poignant black dahlia embroidered in the center. Or perhaps artificially distressed, with suspicious discolorations, as if the dew-warped book had been found lying in the grass next to Elizabeth. (For something similar, see ‘Wicked: the Musical’ Grimmerie Hardcover.)

    At this point, the prospect of writing the definitive Black Dahlia casebook may be only slightly less appealing to you than a salad bar is to a cat. However, with the tsunami of ink that has already been spilled over poor Elizabeth Short and the vulgar circumstances of her death, your book would be a cleansing antidote to the mountains of wittering rubbish. It would be an instant bestseller, and a must-read for any serious student of crime, journalism, and Los Angeles history. Lord knows how many other Black Dahlia books are incubating, however if the trend toward lunacy maintains its current apogee, we’re bound to hear that Elizabeth was murdered by dimension-hopping aliens who got bored with mutilating cattle. That so many people are willing to swallow the most outlandish nonsense hook, line and sinker speaks to what William N. Griggs, writing about the infamous “moon hoax” of 1835, called our “voracious credulity.” Barnum put it more bluntly. What’s more astonishing is that so many others inevitably come forward to corroborate the humbuggery–a phenomenon Griggs amusingly refers to as “spontaneous mendacity.”

    The truth is important, and in a 21st century world ablaze with the latest information technologies, one would think we’d get more of it. As your article illustrates, this is clearly not the case. I don’t believe in the Devil, but they tell me he’s in the details; the only way Elizabeth Short’s Devil will be found, if at all, will be through dogged pursuit of the truth, wherever it leads. And that is your forté.

    So write that book. The rest of us will buy it, and you’ll make great flipping wadges of cash. But most importantly, you’ll get to be right.

    P.S. – I am given to understand that intact human DNA has been effectively isolated from ancient human fecal material, and that the rate of successful extraction from paleofeces is much higher than that from skeletal samples. If such material was found in Elizabeth’s gut, and a small quantity could be recovered from her remains, even at this late date, a PCR comparison with a buccal swab from Steve Hodel would settle the Dr. Hodel question once and for all. A survey of notorious Los Angeles copraphiles would be illuminating.

  4. Lee Rivas says:

    I ask myself, do people really want to read the truth? We are often more comfortable with treasured legends than with hard facts.

  5. Carol Price says:

    I know from various books Elizabeth Short’s blood is AB positive or AB negative which is rare. Dr. George Hodel was a suspect since the 1949-1950. He could have cut her in half in his basement and some of her blood could have spilled over in the basement. He did not see it. If Buster the Wonder Dog does find AB postive or AB negative blood, it is a good chance this is Elizabeth Short’s blood.It could be George Hodel’s own blood, he had cut himself with something. Or even if it turns out to be O positive, it will give Steve Hodel a rest in peace. He believes his father is a murderer. He needs to know without a shadow of a doubt, did his father kill Elizabeth Short or not.

    • Naes says:

      Steve Hodel is well aware that his father is not the Black Dahlia murderer or any other murderer for that matter. He does not care; he wants to keep selling books. There is not even a shred of evidence to link him to the murders other than the fact the LAPD did a thorough investigation. A rational person doesn’t need proof that someone is NOT a murderer but rather requires some actual proof before he labels someone a murderer. Steve Hodel is either not rational or not honest. His theories/obsession tell us more about Steve Hodel’s psychology than Dr. George Hodel.

  6. Carol Price says:

    Lets just say the murderer was someone else…some place else. Dr. George Hodel is still a suspect of the Black Dahlia Case. Steve Hodel was only three years old during this time. He did not know Elizabeth Short or about the Black Dahlia Case. He is haunted when he had found out the truth when his father had died of him being suspect of this case 1995.

    • lmharnisch says:

      Dr. George Hodel was a suspect for a while in the Black Dahlia case. That much is true. There were, in fact, many suspects and he was one of them. He was never a “prime suspect.” That dubious title would go to either Red Manley or possibly Leslie Dillon.

      Everything else about Dr. George Hodel is an elaborate house of cards built on a foundation of wishful thinking and systematic distortion and suppression of the facts, reverse-engineered, working backward from the killing to implicate a pre-selected suspect.

      And I won’t even get into the ever-expanding claims that he was the Zodiac killer and committed every unsolved murder in Los Angeles for decades. It’s absurd.

      • Eve says:

        Plus, Dr. George pushed Peg Entwistle off that H! Dr. George crammed those pills down Carole Landis’ throat! Dr. George fiddled with Jayne Mansfield’s brakes! Dr. George shot William Desmond Taylor!

        His nurse had a terrible time squeezing in actual patients.

  7. Naes says:

    It would be funny if the dog actually finds Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Steve Hodel would then add that he now “remembers” how much his father vehemently hated Teamsters. I remember when I was a child, I pretended my Dad was an astronaut and the President of the United States- not a psycho-sexual sadist responsible for every unsolved high-profile murder. George Hodel was eliminated as a suspect like dozens of others after thorough investigation which included wiretapping of his residence. While police had far fewer forensic tools at their disposal back in the 40s, they had much more leeway at the interrogation stage… it sort of evened-out. This was an extremely difficult case no matter the decade. Larry’s theory about Dr. Baily is compelling as a jumping off point for further investigation. Likely Dr. Walter Baily was just the victim of a few coincidences and would be cleared with a quick follow-up, but so much time has passed that such follow-up is impossible. What makes Larry’s theory different? There is a huge difference between Larry saying, “This person warranted further investigation because of the following coincidences X, Y and Z” versus Steve Hodel’s: “My Dad is undoubtedly a murderer of dozens of people in different decades and different cities as part of a cubist/modernist artistic statement! He also committed these murders with completely different MOs and even managed to dramatically vary his height and weight in the process!” The Black Dahlia case is not just unsolved; it is unsolvable. That’s probably why it is so compelling. We always feel we are just on the cusp of breaking it open but we are really no closer to solving it than we were in 1947. Same as Zodiac. Same as the Boy in the Box. Scotland Yard solved the Jack the Ripper Case contemporaneously (Kominiski) but people prefer to fill in their own gaps with royal conspiracies and so forth. It’s just human nature… although being in the same species as Steve Hodel is distressing.

    • Stacia says:

      You’re exactly right about the differences in how Larry has presented his theories versus Steve Hodel.

      You’re right that the case is likely unsolvable, at least by the media who doesn’t WANT to solve it. I don’t think a lot of people interested in the case want to solve it, either. If you look around online, you’ll see people make wild claims about Larry and his research. It’s bad enough that I was banned off a “true crime” forum last year for posting one reply in a thread where people had started making specious claims about the case. I linked to Larry’s blog where he discussed Hodel’s book and was banned, because I don’t think most people interested in the case want reality. They’re looking for fiction, but maybe they don’t even realize it themselves.

      • lmharnisch says:

        I rarely look at any of the websites devoted to the Black Dahlia case. They are pretty much a waste of time and some of them are really crazy.

      • Stacia says:

        So true. I stumbled across a few when I lost my bookmarks looking for your blog from a couple years ago. There is some extremely odd, freakish stuff out there. It would take a few Jungian scholars to unpack it all.

      • lmharnisch says:

        Some of it is quite bizarre. And not in the good way.

  8. JAMES says:

    I don’t think any theory is crazier than the Orson Welles theory.

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