Black Dahlia Scavenger

Oh dear not again!
“Black Dahlia Avenger” CSI forensics edition!

I was in Vroman’s in Pasadena, my favorite independent bookstore, and when I wandered by the “true” crime section, I noticed that Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger” was – rather quaintly, I thought — still in print.

But no.

On closer examination, it turns out that there is a new CSI forensics edition. Understand, I already own the hardback (a gift from Times columnist Steve Lopez) and the paperback (purchased), so I’m not about to buy a third copy, no matter what is in it.  I have better things to do with $15.95 plus tax than read more lunacy.   I’m still trying to get rid of two extra copies of Hodel’s “Most Evil”  that mysteriously turned up on my desk overnight.

So I thumbed through the new section, and here’s my take on it:

This “revised edition” is nothing but a cynical  attempt to squeeze some more money out of people by throwing in a few crime scene photos and some mumbo-jumbo interpretation as “proof.” There’s nothing new in it except to show how lost people can get explaining their way around one fact after another to prove a nonsensical theory instead of admitting that it’s all wrong.

On the left, a mystery woman presented in “Black Dahlia Avenger” as Elizabeth Short. On the right, a known photo of Elizabeth Short. Can you tell the difference? Not everybody can.

I really don’t want to spend much more time on “Avenger.” The book exists in a topsy-turvy world where black is white, up is down, east is west, the earth is flat and whatever picture is handy must be Elizabeth Short if it suits the purpose of implicating Dr. George “Evil Genius” Hodel, who purportedly killed the Black Dahlia and committed every unsolved killing in Los Angeles, with stops in San Francisco and Chicago.

But here’s a simple explanation for those who haven’t followed all the different books and don’t know the various “killer daddy” theories out there (the late Janice Knowlton also insisted that her father killed Elizabeth Short).

When Steve Hodel introduced his book, he presented two photographs purportedly found among the belongings of his late father, which allegedly showed Elizabeth Short. It was obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that these were two different women and that neither was Elizabeth Short – obvious except to a few people who desperately wished it to be true.

Did it matter that Elizabeth Short’s family said the photos weren’t her?

Not to the true believers.


Photo: A woman presented in “Black Dahlia Avenger” as being Elizabeth Short, later identified as Marya Marco.

What finally put a dent in the theory was when one woman (obviously not Elizabeth Short) recognized the photo of herself and came forward. Her name is Marya Marco and she was a minor actress in a few ethnic roles.


Does it matter that this proved the photos – just as I said – were not of the same woman?

Not with this crowd.

Does it matter that Elizabeth Short’s family says it’s not her?

Evidently not.

The latest edition of “Black Dahlia Avenger”  also goes crazy with close-ups of moles and identifying marks with Mystery Woman No. 2, when it’s obvious (except to the true believers) that’s it not her and that her family still says it’s not her.

If you hear Steve Hodel’s presentation, and someone corners him on this subject, he’ll talk his way around it by saying that the photos only served to interest him in the case and it doesn’t matter whether they’re her or not. At least that’s what he did when I heard him discuss the photos. But he always comes back to: “I think they’re her.”

Sorry, they’re not. All the mumbo-jumbo in the world about moles and similar marks doesn’t matter in the least compared to her family’s insistence that it’s not her.

One of the other issues in the new section adds to “Avenger’s” continuing obsession with a military-style watch that allegedly belonged to Dr. Hodel and was purportedly found at the crime scene, and therefore, the theory goes, proof of his guilt. If you have the patience to read “Avenger,” you’ll find that the watch was purportedly found at the crime scene, in close proximity to the body.

And in the latest edition, a photo purportedly shows the watch inserted into the Black Dahlia’s body. No, really!

And then reality rears its ugly head:

Jan. 21, 1947, Los Angeles Times
Jan 21, 1947: A military-style wristwatch is found – 200 yards from the crime scene.

That’s right. The watch wasn’t found by the police. It wasn’t found at the crime scene. It was found 200 yards away by a teenager who was trying to help investigators.


And why doesn’t “Avenger” come clean and confess to readers that the watch wasn’t found at the crime scene? Because anything that undermines the “Evil Genius” theory is ruthlessly and systematically suppressed. “Avenger” cannot be truthful because so much of it is a lie.

There is nothing to the new edition of “Black Dahlia Avenger”  except an attempt to scrounge up a little more money on the bones of poor old Elizabeth Short.

If you really want to know about the case, forget all the books, go to the Los Angeles Public Library and read the original news reports on microfilm. Start with the Examiner, then The Times, then the Herald-Express and finally the Daily News. Don’t bother with the Hollywood papers, which were little publications that used wire stories, or any of the suburban papers, for that matter. If you’re really industrious, you might read the Long Beach coverage or the what the San Diego papers did, but the L.A. papers will give you a good working knowledge of the case.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Cold Cases, LAPD and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Black Dahlia Scavenger

  1. Jessell says:

    I thought it was just me! I’ve read quite a few books claiming to solve the Dahlia case and thought I might as well give this one a try, too. I mean, even my beloved Ellroy had a blurb on the jacket backing Hodel up! I read it about a year or more ago and my INSTANT thought was “those don’t look like her.” That inserted doubt into everything else he wrote, though, I’ll admit, some of it could seem convincing and his father’s life… um…different? Interesting? Then I saw he had also written Most Evil and that’s when I called it a day. His father was on that kind of a rampage for that long and never caught? Really? He’s apparently even responsible for all the Zodiac killings!

    So glad to see someone else agrees.


  2. Father and son demons can eat away at a man’s soul. When money-making enters the mix, it can add another ugly ingredient to the devil’s brew. John Steinbeck may have tackled the subject best in “East of Eden”. Fiction may, in the end, offer more insight than twisting facts around.


  3. Kristine says:

    “The CSI edition”? *shudder* What is it with these accusing sons (and daughters) of dead fathers in the Elizabeth Short murder? It’s like Confessing Sam Syndrome by Proxy.
    I am glad to have found your current site, Larry. (I apologize for “me, too!”-ing on older posts, but I have followed this case for a long time.) I appreciate your voice on the Black Dahlia murder, as you are the only sober researcher amongst the various book hawkers about poor Bette Short. “Heaven Is Here!” was very impressive. I dread the next book sure to come out.


  4. Cyn says:

    I must have been living in a box, (east coast?) because I just caught the ID Discovery show last night and emailed the author tonight. I heard about the case long ago but never knew there was a library of books written on it. I just wanted to say, I’ve never read the book/s by Hodel but I suppose my comment is that that no matter what the opinion of the book, coming out to the world and saying your Father is a serial killer has to be a bit troublesome, (even if you are making a few bucks by doing so.) Writers don’t get paid nearly enough to brag about that. (do they? ) I am glad however that maybe because of all the books, there is new pressure to open the cold case and solve it once and for all. That poor girl deserves that at least.


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