Black Dahlia: Jean Spangler and the Dr. George Hodel Non-Connection

Executive summary: A story in Entertainment Weekly looks at the 1949 disappearance of bit actress Jean Spangler. The author lists purported suspects, including Dr. George Hodel, whom Steve Hodel has accused of countless unsolved killings, including the Black Dahlia, and of being Zodiac. Newspaper accounts from the time show that when Jean Spangler disappeared, George Hodel had just been arrested on charges of molesting his daughter Tamar and held in the County Jail on $5,000 bond pending his preliminary hearing.

Interested? Read on, as I expose even more of Steve Hodel’s lies…

Jean Spangler Elizabeth Short

Jean Spangler

Elizabeth Short

“Spangler bore a striking resemblance to Black Dahlia victim Elizabeth Short.”

Uh-oh. This is not a good sign. Either the writer is stretching to make a point or never looked at a photo of Elizabeth Short.  

In an Entertainment Weekly feature story brimming with Los Angeles tropes (mandatory references to the “City of Angels” and evil “lurking among the fragrant orange groves and endless sunshine,”) Maureen Lee Lenker takes a long look at Jean Spangler’s 1949 disappearance.

Spangler’s story is, naturally, the occasion for one of the biggest Los Angeles tropes: The naive, ambitious, star-struck girl who comes to a bad end in Tinsel Town, the foolish moth burned by the Hollywood flame, a beautiful young woman who in death finds the fame that she so very desperately wanted in life. Cue the mournful trumpet, rainy nighttime streets and hard-edged narration by A.J. Benza or Robert Stack.

But then comes the next trope, popular in film noir: the mysterious, powerful Mr. Big, a man of pure evil who lives in a strange house and exerts weird powers over the police and public officials.

Enter Dr. George Hodel, now more fiction than fact, thanks to Steve Hodel’s tireless campaign to turn his father into a criminal mastermind – and cash cow.

In reality, George Hodel was eliminated as a suspect in the Black Dahlia case. But Lenker, alas, is no match for Steve Hodel’s usual lies.


George Hodel Frank Jemison Final Report

Dist.Atty’s Lt. Frank Jemison’s final report on George Hodel: “See supplemental reports, long [log?] sheets and hear recordings, all of which tend to eliminate this suspect.”

In reality, Dr. George Hodel’s home was bugged by the LAPD from Feb. 18 to March 27, 1950, and he was eliminated as a suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short. But you won’t hear that from the George Hodel franchise.

The George Hodel files Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 |Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35 | Part 36

The transcripts are online if you care to read them – and without Steve Hodel’s cherry-picking.

Like this: “Had trouble with one spool.”


Which becomes this: “I’m in trouble.”



So this is the kind of source a writer is dealing with in Steve Hodel. He lies all the time about everything, and he gets a pass from Lenker.

Here are some more lies:


The Los Angeles County district attorney’s material says absolutely nothing about the disappearance of Jean Spangler. There is material on the Jeanne French and Gladys Kern murders in the district attorney’s files, but nothing about Jean Spangler.

Followed by even more of Steve Hodel’s lies.

George Hodel was never a suspect in the death of his secretary – she committed suicide. Here’s her death certificate.



Steve Hodel also likes to claim that his father performed abortions.

Once again, we know the claims are false. Who says so? Duncan Hodel, Steve Hodel’s half brother, testifying in George Hodel’s trial on charges of molesting Tamar Hodel.

imageDaily News, Dec. 22, 1949
Duncan [Hodel] said Tamar once told him she was pregnant and wanted an abortion, but her father wouldn’t let her go through with it ‘because he’s death on abortions.’

But there is more…

Leslie Audrain tomb
Pro tip: Dr. Leslie Audrain died in May 1949, so he probably wasn’t heading an abortion ring in October 1949. This is the sort of lying you can expect from Steve Hodel and the lack of fact-checking all too common with most reporters.

Arpad Vass

And then Steve Hodel goes into the whole Buster the Cadaver Dog story, which is too long to recount here. Arpad Vass – after years of delays – said soil samples

“came up positive for human remains”

but he added:

I would say probably between maybe 20 and 100 years.

“Probably between maybe?” That’s so vague as to be useless.


And here’s where Steve Hodel’s claims about his father collide, requiring some fancy footwork.

Oct. 7, 1949, Hodel Under Arrested, Bail Set at $5,000

Jean Spangler disappeared on the evening of Friday, Oct. 7, 1949.

And where was Dr. George Hodel? He was under arrest Oct. 7, 1949, and held in the County Jail on $5,000 bond, pending a preliminary hearing Oct. 14, 1949.

Before we go on, let’s ask:

Why is this purported criminal mastermind so powerful that he can murder with impunity, but not so powerful that he can’t be placed under arrest?

And why is this purported criminal mastermind not so powerful that he has to make bail, set at $5,000 (almost $55,000 in today’s money)?

And why is this purportedly rich, powerful criminal mastermind so lacking in influence that the LAPD can bug his house?

And why, during the weeks that Dr. George Hodel was under LAPD surveillance, is there no record of him even once contacting any of his purportedly wealthy, influential friends for assistance to call off the LAPD?

And how does George Hodel hold sway over all Los Angeles public officials? Because he runs a VD clinic in Little Tokyo.

So you’re telling me VD is worse than murder?

Note: Hodel’s clinic actually treated poor Blacks who were housed in Little Tokyo during World War II, when people of Japanese ancestry were in the internment camps.

How is all of this possible?


Steve Hodel likes to claim that his father was wealthy and powerful, and says his father bailed out of jail the same day he was arrested. And, being the evil genius that he was, went off to “disappear” Jean Spangler, whom he had dated (oops, no evidence of that). And why? Well she “knew too much” about the incest allegations, or about something or other and it’s dangerous to “know too much” about an evil genius.

By all accounts from George Hodel’s trial on charges of molesting Tamar Hodel, for which he was found not guilty, there were five people in the room:  George Hodel, Tamar Hodel, Fred Sexton, Barbara Shearman and Corrine Tarin. None of whom was Jean Spangler. So how on earth could Jean Spangler “know too much?”

Steve Hodel has such a horrible record of lying about everything that I would want to see the paperwork documenting George Hodel’s release before I believe him.

Isn’t it just as likely that if George Hodel were released on bail, the police would put him under surveillance? And might they be checking on him when the rolled up to his house the next day to arrest his tenant?


Because the LAPD came to Hodel’s house Oct. 8, 1949, when Jean Spangler was missing, and arrested Joe Barrett, who languished in the Hollywood jail for several days at least.


And if George Hodel were really a powerful, evil genius, wouldn’t you expect him to bail out his tenant because he “knew too much?”

But Barrett stayed in jail, unable to make bail.

Oct. 13, 1949, George Hodel Loan

What we do know is that the supposedly wealthy, influential criminal mastermind George Hodel didn’t have the money for legal counsel and on Oct. 13, 1949, took out a second mortgage on the Sowden House for $10,000, payable to attorneys Jerry Giesler and Robert A. Neeb Jr. to defend him on charges of molesting Tamar Hodel.

Bottom line:

There was no connection between Dr. George Hodel and Elizabeth Short.

There was no connection between Dr. George Hodel and Jean Spangler.

Frank Jemison’s final report on George Hodel: “See supplemental reports, long [log] sheets and hear recordings, all of which tend to eliminate this suspect.”

Sometimes you have to get down in the dirt when looking for the truth

Lenker ends with a noirish kicker – to which I can add: “You didn’t dig deep enough in the dirt — or at all, really — when it comes to Steve Hodel.”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, 1949, Another Good Story Ruined, Black Dahlia, Cold Cases, LAPD and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Black Dahlia: Jean Spangler and the Dr. George Hodel Non-Connection

  1. Eve says:

    Excellent, fascinating work, as usual.

    And, not for nothin’, I would watch the hell out of a cartoon series titled “Buster, The Cadaver Dog.”


  2. Dan says:

    After all these years, Larry, I never knew old man Hodel owned and/or lived in the Sowden House on Fountain Ave. It’s nice at my advanced age to enjoy learning things that are new to me all the time!

    I respect and concur with your scholarship, and am in awe of your persistence on the whole murder deal, but still find Hodel to be a fascinating and very LA-centric eccentric. We know how to grow ’em out here.

    Elizabeth Short, poor thing, deserves better than she has gotten from the tides of sloppy journalism over the years. Keep up the good work, and thanks for your highly entertaining blog, even if I can’t keep up with the weekly mystery photo business. My bad.


  3. Stephen Powers says:

    Beyond brilliant Larry. A beautiful takedown of lies and the extremely poor attempt to establish a connection between Jean Spangler and Dr. Hodel. Or that Dr. Hodel was a serial killer by any common definition, let alone a murderer. Entertainment Weekly should print a retraction. As outlined, Dr. Hodel had no apparent wealth. He had no known friends in the LAPD, or in the courts, or in the District Attorney’s Office. Instead, he apparently mocked the DA’s office or claimed they took bribes in a recording for police ears when his house was bugged. Regarding close and influential Hollywood friends, though his former wife had been married to John Huston, that second mortgage certificate after his arrest certainly would indicate Hodel had no Hollywood friends wealthy, powerful, or caring enough to help him with money for a lawyer. I guess no one feared him after all.

    Lazy journalists, lazy TV show producers and hosts, and an even lazier public assumes Steve Hodel has done their work for them so they quote him and leave it at that. No, it’s worse than that. If there is a simplistic retelling of the Black Dahlia case on YouTube, there always seems to be a fanatical element of Hodel supporters in the comments section. The worst thing about all the false and misleading claims Steve Hodel has made is that he knows better.

    BTW there have been TV shows in recent years – The Hunt For The Zodiac Killer for one, and Ghost Nation for two, that have had cadaver dogs alert to the scent of human remains. Yet no remains were found. I greatly suspect the same would be true if permission was granted to dig at the Franklin House. Thank you for your Herculean efforts on behalf of facts and very likely probabilities.


  4. Kris says:

    It must be exhausting trying to keep up with steve hodel. Its unfortunate that he even has a platform. Whenever I read one of his comments I always imagine the family of Elizabeth Short who have to suffer through this year after year. Thank you for your honest research.


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