True Crime Studies: Black Dahlia Avenger, it’s more blind accusation than actual theory
Why are there so many books about the Black Dahlia? Every couple of years brings a new one to light and they all have their own theories about who done it and from what I can tell, none of them match. One of the worst, however, is Steve Hodel’s Black Dahlia Avenger published in 2003, in which he accuses his own father of being the murderer. It’s a book that is as disjointed, melodramatic, entitled, and self-pitying as most of the Hodel family. If you haven’t heard of Steve Hodel, just know that he is the boy who cried murder. The king of the “Daddy Did It” genre. He’s not the pioneer though, that honor goes to Janice Knowlton who popularized it with her own Black Dahlia book, Daddy was the Black Dahlia Killer.
Steve Hodel went way beyond that though. He also accused his father of being the Zodiac, the one behind the “Lipstick Murders” (supposedly solved in 1946) and the “Jigsaw Murderer” of 1967. Which means, either Dr. George Hodel had an awful lot of free time, or his son just really loves to point the finger. Any believable theory offered in Black Dahlia Avenger is discredited by these continuing accusations.
Not that the book needed any of that to be discredited. Black Dahlia experts have debunked the book and all its presented “evidence” many times.
Black Dahlia Avenger is a book that tries so hard to be taken seriously. It reeks of desperation, biting off more than it can chew. For starters, Hodel is not a very good writer. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t spend so much time jumping paragraphs by separating multiple sections with subheadings as if he’s writing an essay. The chapters all feel like sections of an incoherent Wikipedia page.
Most of this appears in the many “investigation” sections, which are all very disjointed. They appear and disappear sporadically throughout the book as Hodel breaks away to, more or less, whine about his childhood. This is honestly what really bothered me about Black Dahlia Avenger. Hodel inserts details that have nothing to do with the case in which he’s discussing. Most of this is meant, I think, to prove Dr. George Hodel’s abusive, controlling personality, but fails to do so.
None of it is necessary, and not only is it unnecessary, but it also contradicts some of Hodel’s later claims. One example is the claim that his father’s unseen and secret abuse turned his mother into a depressed alcoholic. Yet in her backstory, he admits to his mother being somewhat of a party girl who suffered from bouts of depression and drank a lot while married to her first husband. He also briefly mentions his father’s other wives, none of whom suffered the same “damage” when he divorced them. One even went on to become a Philippine Congresswoman.
Black Dahlia Avenger
On January 15, 1947, Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia, was found in a vacant lot savagely mutilated, severed at the waist and completely drained of blood. There were cuts on her thighs and breasts and her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth creating a “Glasgow smile.” The cause of death was determined to be hemorrhaging from lacerations to her face and shock from blows to the head and face. It was a onetime event with no murder like it to come before or after, and most of the leads went cold.
Jump to the year 1999 as retired LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel learns of his father’s passing. His father was the prominent doctor George Hodel who was well known among the Hollywood elite. He treated women for venereal disease, including many actresses. They had a fractured relationship and were just starting to reconnect after so many years. As part of the mourning process, Hodel goes to his father’s house to visit his widow June and this is where things start to unravel.
Hodel is very odd in regarding June. She is quiet and monotone, as many people would be after their spouse dies, yet he seems genuinely confused about this behavior. His bewilderment to June is worded as such:
“She was hesitant, secret, aloof and cautious with me. Was this an Asian cultural response to dealing with grief that kept mourners from sharing emotions? I’d never seen it before, particularly when as a P.I. I worked with my Japanese colleagues on criminal cases. Maybe it was only specific to widows. I didn’t know, but I also sensed there was something deeper- and it didn’t have anything to do with grief.”Black Dahlia Avenger pg. 36-37
God forbid a woman doesn’t want to socialize with her dead husband’s grown son who she barely knows just days after becoming a widow. June (probably to get him off her case) then hands him a box of family photos that belonged to his father and it’s what’s in the box that cracks the case. (Cue Phantom of the Opera music) Inside is a picture of Elizabeth Short! But not really.
Among the pictures are two photographs of a young woman with black hair sitting in intimate poses. Hodel believes her to be the late Elizabeth Short even though she looks nothing like her. Other than the fact that they’re both white women with dark hair, Short and the woman in the two photos don’t look anything alike. Apparently all white women look the same to Steve. Short’s own sister thought so when she saw the photos sometime later.
“The first thing I noticed was that [it] was definitely not Betty. She never wore flowers all over her head only one on her ear. She always loved Hawaii and I think it made her think of that and Dorothy Lamour.”Larry Harnisch from Heaven is Here
This is the grand piece of evidence and the rest isn’t much better. Contradictions, random accusations, and “clues” that Hodel magically links to his father. Now, I will say, that when the book actually focuses on Elizabeth Short, it’s not bad. When Hodel stops reciting childhood memories that offer nothing to his theory, we’re reminded of what this book is supposed to be about: the Black Dahlia.
Unfortunately, Hodel is not very good at tieing it all together. Short’s final few months of life are recounted through eye-witness accounts, but they don’t follow any pattern. Some aren’t even in order. He just dumps it all down and expects the readers to craft the timeline themselves.
Tamar and Root of Evil
There are multiple sections in Black Dahlia Avenger that deal with George Hodel’s daughter, the author’s half-sister, Tamar Hodel who accused her father of molesting her when she was 14 in 1949. Tamar is Hodel’s centerpiece in debouching his father’s character, but anyone who knew anything about Tamar would have their doubts about her integrity. There are many indications that she lied after becoming angry with her father over a personal matter. She also accused over a dozen classmates, male neighbors, and family friends of raping her.
She is dealt with in detail in the podcast, Root of Evil, where her own children admit to how manipulative she was.
Tamar is interviewed in Black Dahlia Avenger but nothing she says makes sense. I don’t know if Hodel put words into her mouth or if Tamar just doesn’t know what she’s talking about. One glaring error I couldn’t help but find humorous was when Tamar has a “memory” of her father naming one of her dolls Elizabeth Anne while laughing manically. She then sits back in shock at the realization that the Black Dahlia’s full name was ELIZABETH ANNE SHORT. Except that it wasn’t. Elizabeth Short didn’t have a middle name. The name “Anne” was included by accident by the LA Times during the 1970s. Short’s mother later corrected this fact and testified that her daughter never had a middle name.
Honestly, the Root of Evil podcast makes a much better case for Dr. George Hodel’s guilt. It has a few holes but it’s much more believable.
If you want to read up on Black Dahlia, do yourself a favor and skip this book. I did not go into this with an impenetrable preconceived theory about the case. I have my own theory about who did it, but I was open to considering whatever argument Hodel had to offer, unfortunately, the story he’s crafting feels like a soap opera.
In simple terms, Black Dahlia Avenger lacks common sense. It’s also just plain bad. As a closing point, I feel the need to point out that despite Steve Hodel’s claim that his father was “the prime suspect”, Dr. George Hodel was actually one of the narrowed down 21 suspects, most of whom were quickly eliminated. The real prime suspects were actually Leslie Dillon and Walter Bayley. (2 / 5)
The Replacement (2010), a Book Review
The Replacement (2010) by Brenna Yovanoff is a paranormal young adult novel published by the Penguin Group.
The Replacement (2010) by Brenna Yovanoff is a paranormal young adult novel published by the Penguin Group. This standalone book acts as Brenna Yovanoff’s debut novel, whose catalog produces thirteen additional novel-length works. This catalog includes a Stranger Things tie-in, Stranger Things: Runaway Max, which suggests some earned attention and respect for Yovanoff.
Mackie Doyle never had to be told he was different; he learned that quickly enough. With his father being Gentry’s preacher, he learned hallowed ground didn’t agree with him, along with other odd illnesses. It seems the town knows some of these secrets, never mentioning the children who disappear and reappear. As Mackie grows older, he must learn to balance his life between the regular world of Gentry and the supernatural world underneath.
What I Like About The Replacement
Gentry creates an unsettling atmosphere where the reader remains unsure of what the town is complicit in and what remains a mystery to them. It makes the reader uneasy as Mackie tries to “fit in.”
Mackie Doyle makes an interesting protagonist, navigating both the Gentry community and the supernatural underworld. His relationship with his sister, in particular, remains a highlight throughout the novel. In a genre that often puts the sister in danger to motivate the protagonist, their relationship somewhat subverts expectations.
Though somewhat underexplored, the supernatural world really hooks me in. It plays on the old fables of changelings while adding enough originality to be its own thing.
For a debut novel, Brenna Yovanoff deserves respect. The novel had me eager for more of her work, something I hope to rectify in the future.
From what I gather, this novel seems to be a standalone. While I want more from the world, I appreciate a novel that accomplishes its story and has a definitive ending.
The potential love interest remains competent and interesting throughout the novel. She remains essential to the conclusion, forcing the plot along, but did feel a bit underdeveloped considering her importance to the plot.
I read an eBook copy, but the length of a paperback copy is 368 pages. This page count may vary depending on the edition, but The Replacement remains a manageable and easy read for the majority of its page count.
Tired Tropes or Considerations
In recent years, the reexamining of the changeling myth opens up potential justification for ableism and discrimination towards neurodivergent individuals in ancient times. Some elements in this novel might tie into this neurodivergent history. While I find this a story of acceptance and empowerment, I lack the perspective to speak for others. There are elements that might evoke masking, but it isn’t my place to commit further.
One small plot point somewhat evokes that mention plot point where the sister motivates the protagonist. There’s a bit more complexity, but noting it seems essential, considering my earlier positive note.
The Replacement isn’t a dark novel, but the book gets pretty dark toward the end. This jumping point follows the rising stakes of what happens to the lost children.
What I Dislike about The Replacement
Throughout my positives, I point out underdeveloped elements of the narrative. From characters to world-building, I want more. It’s certainly not the worst problem for a novel, but it is a recurring issue.
This underdevelopment issue leads to elements where the story underwhelms me. This underwhelming nature is specifically notable toward the antagonists, who are perfectly built up but don’t do much. I want a little more to earn that tension and build-up, but I am left wanting.
The Replacement won’t frighten its readers. It might creep the reader out, unnerve them, or break their heart, but it’s not a terrifying ride. The ending does deserve a special mention, however, as it certainly steps up its tension.
The Replacement remains an engaging supernatural debut novel from Brenna Yovanoff. While not terrifying, it engages the reader throughout. Don’t expect in-depth supernatural elements, but what you get has you wanting more.
(4 / 5)
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)