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A Message from Steve Hodel on the Black Dahlia Case

July 12, 2010

Back in March I wrote a piece for this blog titled The Pitfalls of the True Crime Genre. I argued that many true crime books are inherently flawed by their need to conform to novel- style narratives and clear resolutions which may be suited to fiction, but do not necessarily lend themselves well to factual reconstructions of historical cases. I had read several of the books and theories regarding the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, a.k.a the Black Dahlia, and used these as examples. There have been many books written about the Black Dahlia, some of them too ludicrous to be worth mentioning, but two Dahlia theorists in particular interested me: LA Times journalist Larry Harnisch and retired LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel. Through his research on the case, Harnisch identified a Dr Walter Bayley as a plausible suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short. After an extensive reinvestigation chronicled in his book Black Dahlia Avenger, Hodel named his own father Dr George Hodel as Elizabeth Short’s killer. What is unique about Harnisch and Hodel’s theories is that they both received endorsements from crime novelist and author of The Black Dahlia (1987), James Ellroy. Ellroy endorsed Harnisch’s theory in the documentary Feast of Death (2001), but he later changed his mind and endorsed Hodel’s theory and wrote the foreword to the 2004 paperback edition of Black Dahlia Avenger.

When I first published the post, I received an instant and somewhat critical response from Harnisch in the comments section. Then, just last week Steve Hodel contacted me. He gave me his response to some of the issues I raised regarding his theory and also an update as to what he has recently discovered in his continuing research into the case (also his thoughts on Ellroy’s various endorsements). Mr. Hodel has very kindly allowed me to post his response on this blog– you can read it below. Before reading it, however, it may be helpful for the sake of clarifying Harnisch and Hodel’s differing theories to read my original post, including the comments section. Here’s the link.

Dear Steve:

Greetings from Los Angeles. 

I chanced upon your blog tonight and thought I’d pass on a couple of thoughts to keep the record accurate.

First off since your doctorate is focused on James Ellroy, I thought you and your readers might enjoy a fairly recent email letter I sent in response to a reader’s conversation with James Ellroy in France.  In his email to me, Stephane Boulan passed on James’ response to his question related to his [Ellroy’s] current (2010) position on my book and the Dahlia investigation.

See my letter (here’s the link) to Stephane, which accurately lays out all of the facts surrounding Ellroy’s original contact with me and his offer to write the Foreword to the HarperCollins 2004 ed. of Black Dahlia Avenger, and the subsequent chronology of events that followed in 2004-2006.

As far as the L.A. Times copyeditor, Larry Harnisch’s vitriolic comments I will continue to ignore them as I have since my book was originally published in 2003.  As most readers know, Mr. Harnisch has been “writing his own Black Dahlia book since 1997.” For the past seven years, I have tried to limit my responses to my critics with fact based follow-up investigation.  In fact, for the most part, I have them to thank for pushing me on to discover additional linkage through either new witnesses, DA documents and hard physical evidence. 

There has been a massive amount of “new evidence” since my original publication. Two new chapters in the paperback editions have been added and some of the most compelling  new findings have come in just the past two-years. I refer only to the new evidence in my Black Dahlia investigation, not the sequel, MOST EVIL, which is a separate issue. (As those who have read it know, I  make no claim that the ZODIAC case is solved, only that I believe that George Hodel needs to go to “the top of the list” of possible suspects and that DNA may well support and confirm what I believe to be a strong circumstantial case pointing to him as the likely suspect.)

For those interested in discovering all of the new Black Dahlia information and evidence I would suggest they review my extensive FAQs and “Squad Room Blogs” at my website. Too much to attempt to summarize here. One of the most dramatic new links are the 50 lb paper sacks used to carry Elizabeth Short’s body from a residence to the crime-scene, which are circumstantially linked to cement sacks documented to be at our “Franklin House” residence just three days before the body was discovered. (LAPD at the original Coroner’s Inquest testified that the large paper sacks found and photographed near the body, were used to carry the bisected parts to the crime scene.)See Frank Lloyd Wright /Cement Sack link at my Squad Room Blog:

Another interesting fact that many  readers were/are unaware of was that Mrs. Betty Bersinger, the original Black Dahlia witness after discovering the bisected body on the vacant lot, then ran south with her daughter and telephoned the police from a neighbor’s residence. She made the call from the home of DR. & MRS. WALTER BAYLEY. (Unfortunately for Dr. Bayley, who died one year after the murder, some modern day self professed “experts”, discovering that the good samaritan’s husband was a surgeon, would attempt to turn Dr. Bayley into “a prime suspect.”

Another interesting fact is that in 2006 I was able to identify, locate and personally interview one of the women in the two pictures originally found in my father’s album. It turns out she was a friend of my father and the photo was taken at the Franklin House circa 1946. After obtaining a detailed in-person interview of her recollections of all the events, including her incriminating statements in support of Tamar being a victim of incest and child molestation, I then personally and publicly eliminated her photo as “not being Elizabeth Short”. This was done nearly four years ago, in November 2006, on CNN NEWS Anderson-Cooper 360.  For those interested in the full story, just enter the key word “Maganda” at my website. (To date, no other investigator/researcher but myself has had contact with this witness. I am the sole source of her “elimination” as not being Photo #1. My critics readily inform readers that “her photo has been eliminated” but they never include the fact that it was done by me and me alone.  The second photo (reclining nude) remains unidentified and may well be Elizabeth Short.

Finally, as to Mr. Harnisch’s comment/response to you that he, ” never claimed to have solved the Dahlia case. Never.” I would suggest he is playing with semantics. Here are two separate posted verbatim quotes written and posted by Mr. Harnisch in 1999. (That date was two years before he appeared on James Ellroy’s FEAST OF DEATH documentary in 2001 (Toronto Film Festival) and four years before the publication of my book, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder.):

“On the 52nd anniversary of the murder of Betty Short, nicknamed the “Black Dahlia,” I am announcing that I have identified an individual who is quite probably the killer. This is not conjecture nor coincidence, but irrefutable, concrete evidence.”

                                             Larry Harnisch, website posting, 1999

“We may never know exactly how Betty Short was murdered. The probability is extremely high that Walter [Dr. Walter Bayley] was the killer, but there is no signed confession. “

                                             Larry Harnisch, “A Scenario for Murder”, 1999

Wishing you the very best from across the pond.

Steve Hodel
Los Angeles

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 8:05 am

    People should read about Dr. George Hill Hodel and leave out the part where he is a killer. Now look at the life he led. Would you think any one person was capable of all that? What was he? A doctor, a business man, a government worker, a child prodigy, an art collector. Look at the house he lived in. Now doesn’t what is fact sound like a novel? I have trouble concieving that what is fact is actual fact BUT IT IS TRUE. So, since the real man was richer, smarter, and more socially connected than Albert Einstein, you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure it out. He outsmarted investigators and the ones he didn’t outsmart, he intimidated. There is a government connection somewhere to why he wasn’t arrested. Perhaps he did some government contract work that would have come out if he were arrested or so he made them think.

    • January 17, 2013 8:27 am


      Thanks for commenting. Steve Hodel presents a very good, convincing argument about George Hodel. That’s my opinion. Black Dahlia Avenger is a huge, sprawling and complex work which is impossible for Dahlia students and scholars to ignore.


  2. Jonathan permalink
    April 6, 2013 2:21 am

    Just a side note: in the two verbatim quotes from Harnisch that Hodel identifies, Harnisch uses the phrases ‘quite probably’ and ‘the probability is extremely high’. At no point does he claim the ‘concrete evidence’ he has uncovered ‘proves’ Bayley to be the killer, nor does he rate Bayley as ‘100%’ the killer. He simply finds it to be very likely. Ergo, he hasn’t claimed to have it all worked out.

    This isn’t Harnisch ‘playing with semantics’; he makes clear his awareness that he hasn’t solved the case.

    That point aside…

    I’m a very keen follower of the Short case, hence my writing here. At this moment in time, neither Bayley nor Hodel can be irrefutably identified as the killer, so I’m open to both Hodel Jr. and Harnisch’s respective theories. I really hope Harnisch publishes his book, as his website promises something special.

    • April 6, 2013 7:30 am


      Thanks for commenting. Yes, I hope Harnisch publishes his book. Donald H Wolfe’s The Black Dahlia Files was published after Black Dahlia Avenger and was interesting (although I disagreed with its conclusion).

      Best wishes,

  3. Hanna Parnell permalink
    November 20, 2015 9:12 pm


    I’ve been trying to find an answer to my question everywhere so hopefully you can help me.

    I’m interested in reading Black Dahlia-avenger but see there is now a second book out published in 2012.
    Is it nessasry to read both the first and second or will I get all the information from the first book in the second ‘avenger2’?

    Thanks heaps,

    • November 20, 2015 10:01 pm

      I would recommend reading the first Black Dahlia Avenger, but the extended edition with new info. If you like that book as much as I did you will enjoy BDA2.


  4. Brian permalink
    January 19, 2018 6:47 pm

    I’m obviously late to this thread. Calling Harnisch’s verbage “vitriolic” does not invalidate the premise of his counter-argument. Upon closer review, the photos that Steve hodel claims are that of Elizabeth short, which were found in his fathers belongings, are most clearly not, even to a lay person, such as myself. Every independent source has discounted them. One of the women actually came forward to reveal herself as an old friend of Dr. Hodel. There is absolutely zero evidence that Dr. Hodel and short ever met, let alone dated. Nobody within Dr. Hodel’s inner circle knew Elizabeth or had never seen her. Dr. Hodel has zero connection to the body dump site on Norton ave, nearly 8 miles away from his home on franklin ave. Who drives 8 miles through hollywood, people walking around, cars, police, stoplights, stop signs etc., just to find a random side neighborhood road to stop and dump the body where anybody could find It? On top of that, it just happens to be in the virtual backyard of a surgeon who knows the family and is experiencing mental deterioration. At least larry harnisch provides documentation and even photographic evidence of a direct family connection between bayley and short (his daughter is pictured at virginia short’s wedding), autopsy report revealing his declined mental state, a wedding certificate of the victims sister with bayley’s home address on Norton ave listed. Steve hodel just keeps revising his theory whenever something new comes along. Now he is saying, “oh, well, my father (dr. Hodel) must have known Dr. Bayley since they were both doctors.” Never mentioned it before. How many surgeons are 3 blocks from the last seen location at the Biltmore, 1 block from the body dump location and with a direct family connection? On top of that, Dr. Hodel wasn’t even a surgeon. This argument that Dr. Hodel was so powerful that he could stop a police investigation, even after his death, is just nonsense. Its a movie script, not real life. His specialty was VD. Even Dr. Hodels ex-wife calls his book “pure fiction.”

    • January 19, 2018 8:25 pm

      Brian, it’s been years since I read BDA so I can’t defend every point. I will say that, like Ellroy, I was convinced of Hodel’s argument when I first read the book, although I was as sceptical as everyone else about the two photos. And the books that have been published since on the case came nowhere near to convincing me.


  1. The Pitfalls of the True Crime Genre « The Venetian Vase

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