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Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder Paperback – June 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

For 56 years, the Black Dahlia murder case remained one of the most notorious and high-profile unsolved crimes of the 20th century. Now, Steve Hodel, a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, believes he has finally solved the case. On January 15, 1947, 22-year-old Elizabeth Short—"The Black Dahlia"—was found dead in a vacant lot in Los Angeles, her body horribly mutilated, bisected at the waist, and posed in a bizarre manner. The horrific crime shocked the country and commanded headlines for months as the killer taunted the police with notes and phone calls. Despite the massive manhunt, the murderer was never found.

Hodel began working on the case after he retired from the LAPD when he chanced upon an intriguing piece of evidence that led him on trail that he had no choice but to follow since it pertained directly to him. As he dug deeper, he came to believe that the killer was also responsible for over a dozen other unsolved murders in the Los Angeles area around the same time. He also found copious evidence of corruption at the LAPD, leading him to accuse the department top brass of covering up the Black Dahlia murder in order to conceal a deeper conspiracy involving crooked politicians and gangsters.

Despite a lack of physical evidence (which had been destroyed), Hodel is able to connect numerous dots and make a plausible case, complete with lurid tales of wild orgies that were attended by celebrities such as the artist Man Ray, the director John Huston, and a host of other Hollywood elites. He also discloses his killer’s obsession with the Marquis de Sade and Jack the Ripper and how he modeled his own crimes on their behavior. In particular, there is a disturbing connection between the work of Man Ray and the horrific circumstances of Short’s murder. It is doubtful that this will be the final word on the Black Dahlia murder—too much myth surrounds it and much of his evidence is circumstantial--but Hodel’s labyrinthine tale adds much to this intriguing case. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“The best nonfiction book about L.A. crime I have ever read.” (Gerald Petievich, author of The Sentinel and To Live and Die in L.A.)

“This unsparing, chilling account of the actions of a perfect psychopath grips to the end.” (Toronto Globe and Mail)

“Hodel tells the story well and with incredible objectivity.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

“We can only glimpse who Betty Short was--but now we know who killed her, and why.” (-- James Ellroy, from his foreword)

“A fascinating family psychodrama; we watch [Hodel’s] image of his father morph from flawed but lovable ladies’ man to monster.” (Newsweek)

“George Hodel, I think is fit company for some of noir’s most civilized villains.” (--David Thomson, New York Times Book Review)

“Former Los Angeles police detective Steve Hodel has written one of the most compelling true-crime books of all time.” (Seattle Weekly)

“[Hodel] has written an intensely readable account…Has [he] solved the case? I think so.” (--Jon L. Breen, Weekly Standard)

“The most haunting murder mystery in Los Angeles county...has finally been solved.” (-- Stephen R. Kay, L.A. County Head Deputy District Attorney)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPB; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060589957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060589950
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (277 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,802,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steve Hodel is a New York Times and International bestselling author. His book, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America as a "Best Fact" true-crime book.

Steve Hodel was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He served four years as a medic in the U.S. Navy, and then joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1963. After six years in uniform patrol, he transferred to Hollywood Division Detectives where he worked all of the "tables": Burglary, Robbery, Auto-Theft, Juvenile, Crimes against Persons and was then permanently assigned to the Homicide Detail.

During his career at Hollywood Homicide, Steve promoted to Detective II and in 1983 was the senior field homicide detective. During his years of service he received more than 75 commendations and handled over 300 separate murder investigations and had one of the departments highest "solve rates. " Steve promoted to Detective III (the highest attainable rank in detectives) and retired from LAPD in 1986.

HODEL INVESTIGATIONS was established in 1986. Steve has been a licensed California Private Investigator, conducting mainly criminal defense investigations, for the past 23-years. He worked over six-years as lead investigator on a high-profile international murder case which resulted in an innocent man (Yoshikuni Okubo) being released from prison in Tokyo, Japan and reunited with his family, after five years of detention.

Steve's first book, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder published in 2003 with new updated investigative chapters added to the HarperCollins paperback edition in 2004 and 2006. Black Dahlia Avenger is a New York Times Bestseller, a NYT Most Notable Book and was an Edgar Award nominee in the Mystery Writers of America's- Best Fact Crime category.

Steve's sequel, MOST EVIL: The Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel, was published by DUTTON - PENGUIN GROUP on September 21, 2009. The book examines the possibility that George Hodel committed additional serial crimes in both the U.S. and in Manila, Philippines during the 1960s and establishes a circumstantial case that he may well have reinvented himself as the infamous "Zodiac" and committed a series of crimes in the San Francisco Bay area.

Black Dahlia Avenger II published in 2012, is the author's six-year follow-up investigation which establishes the Hodel residence as the original Black Dahlia crime scene and links physical evidence from that historic Sowden/Franklin House to evidence found in the vacant lot where the body was found. The book also includes the complete 146-pages of the DA's 1950 Hodel/Black Dahlia taped transcripts.

A GENIUS FOR MUDER: A Play in Three Acts was published in 2013 and is a Hollywood Noir dramatization based on the author's books. The play focuses on events occurring during the five-year period in the life of Dr. George Hill Hodel, just prior to his fleeing the country. (1945-1950)

Steve resides in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Author reviews of: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder:

"Los Angeles is the construct of its mythologies good and bad, fact and
fiction. The legend of Elizabeth Short is one of the most enduring. But
now Steve Hodel has come to put the Black Dahlia painfully to rest. With
the tenacity and patience of the veteran homicide detective he once was,
Hodel goes from odd coincidence to rock solid conclusion. Taking us on
the intriguing and unsettling journey every step of the way, Hodel's
investigation is thoroughly and completely convincing. So too is this
book. As far as I am concerned, this case is closed. Elizabeth Short's
legend is now shared with a killer who has been pulled from the shadows
of time and into the light. Everybody counts or nobody counts, and that
includes the people shrouded in our myths. Steve Hodel knows this. And
now we do, too."
Michael Connelly
Bestselling author of Harry Bosch series

"The best nonfiction book about L.A. crime I have ever read."
Gerald Petievich
Author of To Live and Die in LA and The Sentinel

"[Hodel] has written an intensely readable account...So what's the final verdict on Black Dahlia Avenger? Its accounts of cover-ups and civic corruption are all too believable, and much of the circumstantial evidence it presents against George Hodel is persuasive....Has Steve Hodel solved the case? I think so."
Jon L. Breen
Author and two-time MWA Edgar Award winner

Author Black Dahlia Avenger related Television Appearances

1. DATELINE NBC "Black Dahlia" Josh Mankiewicz (2003) 1-hr (20 min seg)
2. COURT TV "Who Killed the Black Dahlia?" Josh Mankiewicz (2003) 1-hr
3. CBS 48-HOURS "Black Dahlia Confidential" (2004) 1-hr
4. A&E Bill Kurtis COLD CASE FILES "Black Dahlia" (2006) 1-hr
5. NBC Universal (France) The Truth About The Black Dahlia (2006) 1-hr
6. CNN Anderson Cooper-360 "Black Dahlia" (2006) 8 mins
7. Discovery Channel "MOST EVIL" (2007) 1-hr
8. The View ABC 7-min segment
9. Travel Channel "Hidden Cities-Los Angeles-The Black Dahlia" (2011)
10.SyFy Ghost Hunters Season 9, "Historic Sowden-Black Dahlia House (2012)
11.SINISTER,The Movie, DVD Lionsgate,"True Crime Authors" Interview (2012)
12.NBC News Patrick Healy, "Black Dahlia Cadaver Dog Sowden House" (2013)
13.Univision KMEX, Leon Krauze, "La Dahlia Negra" Spl Investigation" (2013)

Customer Reviews

The book is on my kindle,but I haven't read it yet.
In this book, Steve Hodel writes of his investigation into the murder of beautiful, young Elizabeth Short, called "the Black Dahlia".
Bob Schulenberg
Many who've read it remain unconvinced, but nevertheless, the book itself is very well researched and written.
J. R. Neumiller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Walrus Rex on May 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Quoting from AP reporter Linda Deutsch's review of this book as published in Denver's Rocky Mountain News on April 15, 2003:
"When District Attorney Steven Cooley decided recently to release the long-secret files on the [Black Dahlia] case, Steve Hodel's theory gained substance. His father's photograph was in the file, along with transcripts of electronic surveillance on his home for three weeks in 1950.
The reports on onionskin paper that is yellowed make clear that Dr. Hodel was a prime suspect in the investigation of Short's murder. . . . The transcripts of overheard conversations include a statement in Hodel's voice saying, 'Supposin' I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn't prove it now. They can't talk to my secretary anymore because she's dead.'"
This may not be conclusive (and may well be to obscure for anyone who has not read the book) but it does prove that Dr. Hodel was the wealthy and influential Hollywood resident referred to by the grand jury and it proves that the LAPD or the DA's investigators zeroed in on Dr. Hodel without benefit of the two pictures that may or may not be Short that began the author's investigation.
I, of course, do not know whether the author's theory is wrong or right. I found this book to be highly entertaining and I think that it may have lit a fuse that may solve the case once and for all. At the very least, it has caused previously secret files to be released. I see a film all right, but not an Oliver Stone film, this should be a film by somebody who cares whether a story is true or false. This theory deserves to be taken seriously.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By F. Chloupek on July 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
There's a ton of reviews here, so I'll cut the plot synopsis to the quick.

The author finds two photographs of Elizabeth Short -- the victim in the Black Dahlia murders -- in his father's possessions. Now, the author is an ex-LAPD detective and launches his own investigation into the crime and comes to the conclusion that his father was the killer.

In order of proof there are a number of conclusions that come to light.

1. There was a cover-up of the crime in terms of distruction of evidence and basically nobody gives a hoot about this case inside the LAPD anymore (This one seems awfully clear to me)

2. His father was a suspect in the case (documents did come to light that showed this)

3. His father was a nasty piece of work -- and had even nnastier friends (again, clear)

4. His father was being "protected" through freinds in the corrupt LA/LAPD at the time (again, fairly clear, if not for this murder for something)

Now his also concludes....

5. His father was the prime suspect in the murder (harder to say since much evidence is missing)

6. His father and an accomplish actually committed the murders (now a LOT of the other reviews take issue with this. I'll say its at least a case where the circumstantial evidence the remained and was also uncovered fits the theory -- along with the outside expertise, such as handwriting analysis, that Hodel was able to bring in)

7. His father was a serial killer of possibly dozens of victims. (on this last one Hodel even admits that some assignments are tenuous. I felt that he threw every murder at his dad and tried to make them stick here).
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61 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Okay, I've read this fascinating/horrifying book and I'm convinced that Steve Hodel is right - his father, Hollywood insider Dr. George Hodel, was the killer of the Black Dahlia and, most likely a dozen or more other unfortunate women. Respected LA DA Steven Kaye, co-prosecutor of the Manson family, agrees.
Now, here's what's bothering me... I've googled the book, and there are a number of folks out there who are unwilling to look the truth in the eye and accept it. One writer, who's been trashing the book, has an obvious agenda - he has a decade-long investment as a "Black Dahlia Avenger" himself. If Hodel's right, he's wrong. Bye bye book deal. I guess that if Hodel's theories are right, there won't be any more books to debate, like the one by the certifiable woman who claims "her" father did it, or any of the other "theorists." Sorry, the Black Dahlia franchise ends here, folks.
The conclusions reached in the book are the result of several years of grunt work by a veteran of over 300 homicide investigations for the LAPD, over 80% of which he solved. He's a detective with a spotless reputation, and having checked him out at a local book signing, I can tell you he's bright, articulate and extremely believable. If George Hodel was the embodiment of evil (as the daughter he molested at 14 insists), his son is his polar opposite. Hodel junior is someone, who, with a similar amount of brain power as his twisted father, used his power for good.
I don't know if it was nationally publicized, but Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter assigned to the book, was extremely skeptical when he began his story. In fact, he remained so even after interviewing Hodel. So he called in some favors, and was able to look where Hodel couldn't - the files of the LA DA.
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