Doctor George Hodel first came under policy scrutiny in October 1949 when he was accused of molesting his fourteen-year-old daughter, Tamar Hodel. Three witnesses testified at trial that they had seen Hodel having sex with his daughter. Hodel was later acquitted of the sexual assault charges in December 1949. The molestation case led the LAPD to include Hodel in the suspect list for the Black Dahlia case.
The LAPD put Hodel under surveillance from February 18, 1950 to March 27, 1950. They installed two microphones in his home, which were monitored by eighteen detectives. They wanted to see if Hodel would make any comments to insinuate that he was involved in Elizabeth Short’s murder. Most of the transcript is dull at first, with Hodel having sex, berating his secretary, and talking about money problems. However, on February 19, 1950, there is something horrific in the recording.
8:25pm. “Woman screamed. Woman screamed again. (It should be noted, the woman not heard before the scream.)”
Later the same day, Hodel was recorded talking to his confidant.
“Realize there was nothing I could do, put a pillow over her head and cover her with a blanket. Get a taxi. Expired 12:59. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her.”
The surveillance routinely continued, catching an highly incriminating statement.
“Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary any more because she’s dead.”
The secretary referred to in the transcript was Ruth Spaulding, who died from a drug overdose. Due to Hodel’s comments in the recordings, he was investigated for her murder. He had been present when the secretary died and had burnt some of her belongings before the police were called, causing the Spaulding case to be dropped due to lack of evidence. However, documents were later found that indicated Spaulding had been planning to blackmail Hodel. She was potentially about to come forward about Hodel intentionally misdiagnosing patients and billing them for laboratory tests, medical treatments, and unnecessary prescriptions.
Hodel’s son, former LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel, believes Elizabeth Short may have been one of these victimized patients.
Lieutenant Frank Jemison of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office wrote the report to the Grand Jury, dated February 20, 1951. In the report, he noted that Lillian DeNorak, who had lived with George Hodel, identified Elizabeth Short as one of his girlfriends. She also said that Hodel had spent some time around the Biltmore Hotel, where Elizabeth had been dropped off before she went missing. Tamar Hodel stated that her mother, Dorothy Hodel, told her that her father had been out partying on the night of the murder and stated, “They’ll never be able to prove I did that murder.”
The LAPD retrieved a photograph of a nude Elizabeth and a nude model from Hodel’s personal effects. The model was identified as Mattie Comfort, who said that she knew nothing about Hodel being associated with Elizabeth. Rudolph Walthers, who had been acquainted with Elizabeth and Hodel, stated that he had never seen the two of them together.
George Hodel died in 1999. In 2003 Steve Hodel, George Hodel’s son, published the book Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder. In the book, he claims that his father had committed the Black Dahlia murder and other unsolved murders at the time. Steve Hodel says that he started his investigation into his father when he saw two photographs in his father’s photo album that resembled Elizabeth Short. However, the Short family insists the photographs are not of her. Steve later learned that one of the girls photographed was a former friend of his father, yet the woman in the second photograph is still unidentified.
After reviewing the information in Black Dahlia Avenger, the Head Deputy D.A. Stephen Kay proclaimed that the Black Dahlia case had finally been solved. However, others noted that Kay formed his conclusion by believing all of Steve Hodel’s statements as established facts instead of treating them as hunches. Detective Brian Carr was the LAPD officer in charge of the Black Dahlia case during the time of Steve Hodel’s briefing. Carr could not believe Kay’s response and stated that if he ever took a case as weak as Steve Hodel’s to a prosecutor, he would be “laughed out of the office.”
Despite mixed opinions on his theory, Steve Hodel maintains a website where he continues to update information on the Black Dahlia case.