The recent publication of the book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac and The Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hodel marks a sad chapter in the unending saga of the unsolved “Zodiac” crimes. Several years ago, former detective-turned-author Steve Hodel appeared on the “true” crime scene with his claims that his deceased father was responsible for one of the most horrific and infamous killings ever recorded, the so-called “Black Dahlia” murder. The sensational case has been the subject of debate, speculation and constant exploitation since the body of Elizabeth Short â€“ carefully severed in half at the waist â€“ was first discovered in a Los Angeles neighborhood in 1947. Along with Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac, the Black Dahlia killer was the stuff of legend.Â TheÂ unsolved crimeÂ made for popular entertainment, most recently in director Brian De Palma’s revisionist account of the unsolved crime BLACK DAHLIA. Hodelâ€™s best-selling book BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER named George Hodel as the killer, and the authorâ€™s meteoric rise in the world of the true crime business included appearances on radio and television as well as a movie deal. Even Los Angeles County District Attorney Stephen Kay endorsed Hodelâ€™s theory. However, others found the authorâ€™s case lacking in evidence and substance. Many of Hodelâ€™s claims proved unsound, including the theory that a photo found among his fatherâ€™s possessions depicted victim Elizabeth Short. Hodelâ€™s critics cited the fact that his entire premise rested on shaky ground; his defenders cited the fact that George Hodel was, at one time, a suspect in Shortâ€™s murder and was actually named in official documents as such. Without any definitive method to confirm or refute Hodelâ€™s accusations, the theory that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer simply lingers in limbo, dismissed by most critics yet embraced by many believers.
In his second book, MOST EVIL, Steve Hodel claimed that his father was responsible for the Black Dahlia murder, the killings of many other victims, and the Zodiac crimes. Of course, Hodel is not the first person to come forward and accuse a deceased parent of murder; Dennis Kaufman first surfaced at the turn of the century with the claims that his dead step-father was the killer, and now the publicity-seeking Deborah Perez accuses her own dead step-father. Yet Hodel is the only father-accuser given credibility by the mainstream media, and the only one with a publisher peddling his nonsense.
Hodelâ€™s article THE CSI EFFECT is little more than a self-serving attempt to avoid the inevitable; Hodel knows the accusation that his father was the Zodiac cannot withstand scrutiny. He also knows that the day will come when someone will demand that the DNA evidence be compared with that of his father. Hodel has taken a cue from the other Zodiac theorists and decided to attack the evidence first.
There is some truth to the notion that popular crime-science shows such as CSI have given the public the impression that forensic science can solve any crime, and that DNA is a magic bullet in criminal investigations. Indeed, in these programs, authorities obtain DNA results in a matter of seconds, and can even discover a personâ€™s DNA in a room when that individual only thought about entering that room. Hodel wants us all to believe that this fantasy-thinking has tainted the discussion of the DNA evidence in the Zodiac case, and his presentation in defense of that position leaves much to be desired.
The issue at the center of the debate seems to be the validity of the DNA evidence; i.e. is the DNA taken from a Zodiac envelope actually the DNA of the killer? While many theorists accusing suspects who were cleared by this DNA are eager to dismiss this evidence, the San Francisco Police Department has clearly expressed its confidence in this evidence â€“ and rightfully so. As Inspector Kelly Carroll stated years ago, it is unrealistic to believe that that Zodiac took precautions against leaving genetic evidence on the envelopes or stamps because DNA testing did not exist back in 1969. Further, given the fact that Zodiac was brazen and reckless â€“ leaving victims alive, allowing himself to be seen, sending authorities samples of his handwriting, calling police, and much more â€“ the assumption that the killer was driven by such concerns for caution is not supported by the known facts. In truth, if any killer was likely to have licked a stamp or envelope without concern, it was the Zodiac.
Theorists are quick to claim that the DNA is actually that of a detective who handled the envelope or a deranged postman who licked the mail as he made his rounds. As much as these explanations may be tempting â€“ even more useful â€“ for the theorists, the rest of the world cannot afford to accept such nonsense. After all, perfectly usable DNA has been retrieved from envelopes and stamps, some just as old or even older; in some cases, that DNA then identified a specific individual who was, in fact, responsible for a crime. The fact that an envelope has been stored in a police filing cabinet, handled by others, or even exposed to certain temperatures, will not cause the DNA under the stamp or envelope to magically transform into the DNA of someone other than the individual who licked that stamp or envelope. Hodel and others seem to believe that the DNA of a detective or postman could somehow seep under the stamp, obliterate the original DNA, and replace that DNA. In truth, the results would indicate mixed DNA, or the sample would simply be unreadable.
Hodel references the claims made by theorist Mike Rodelli, who has been accusing his suspect, Mr. X, for several years. In 2002, the DNA of Mr. X was compared to the partial profile obtained from the Zodiacâ€™s envelope, and the results excluded Mr. X. In a surprise twist, Mike Rodelli then devoted his efforts to discrediting the DNA evidence. After interviewing anonymous sources, Rodelliâ€™s website presented the claim that NO DNA was ever found on any of the Zodiac letters during previous testing; the inference being, that if DNA was found, it cannot be that of the Zodiac because none of the other letters contained any DNA. At its core, this explanation is designed to cast doubt on the DNA evidence while, at the same time, portray the authorities as disinterested in the truth. In Rodelliâ€™s world, the SFPD is simply trying to make him shut up and go away, and they are using this falsified DNA evidence to laud over theorists with worthy suspects because they refuse to care about this case.
Steve Hodel has most likely studied the history of Rodelli, Robert Graysmith and others, and he most likely has no desire to follow in their footsteps on the path of public humiliation, back-peddling and desperation. Therefore, he has chosen to act in a pre-emptive fashion and denounce the evidence before that evidence is used to clear his suspect. Like most con-artists, Hodel hopes that he is smarter than his audience.
The notion that the DNA is the final word on a suspectâ€™s viability is laughable. As with the notorious fingerprints found on the cab of victim Paul Stine, DNA should only be given great credence when that evidence implicates an individual. As I have stated in the past, if a suspect was found in possession of the missing portion of Paul Stineâ€™s shirt yet his fingerprints did not match those found on the cab, dismissing this suspect would be unwise, to say the least. At the same time, when a suspect stands accused based on the flimsiest of evidence and the fingerprints do not match that suspect, then the fingerprints or DNA could be considered as the last word on a debate that should have ended long ago. This was the case with Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, Charles Clifton Collins, etc., and will be the case with Guy Ward Hendrickson, Jack Tarrance, and now George Hodel. These theories were not supported by credible evidence, the available evidence cast severe doubt on these theories, and these theories were often in direct conflict with known facts and/or presented by accusers with no credibility. When the DNA, fingerprints, palm print or handwriting fail to implicate such suspects, that should be the end of that theory. Unfortunately, for Graysmith, Rodelli and so many others itâ€™s only the beginning.
In 2002, the ABC network obtained access to the SFPD crime lab as it tested several Zodiac letters in search of sufficient DNA in order to create a genetic profile. Dr. Cyndi Holt presented her findings, which excluded Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, and Collins. As she spoke to the ABC correspondent on camera, Holt stated that the DNA belonged to an individual who, at one time, had “come in contact” with the stamp. Steve Hodel splits every hair of the ABC PRIMETIME transcript for his own purposes. To Hodel and other theorists, Holtâ€™s words provided a window of opportunity, a tiny crack through which they can pass and continue to promote their respective theories. Again, the real culprit is a sloppy detective or a drooling mailman, and the DNA does not belong to the killer.
During the recent History Channel broadcast of the program MYSTERYQUEST, a forensic technician stated her belief that a DNA sample obtained from under the sealed portion of an envelope mailed more than 40 years ago most likely belonged to the individual who had licked that envelope. This genetic material was sealed under the envelope flap, as was the DNA sample found under a stamp on a Zodiac envelope. The technician further stated that it was not unusual when testing older items to obtain only a partial profile, as was the Zodiac profile. These comments reflect a simple, common sense â€“ and scientific â€“ approach to the evidence: genetic material trapped in the sealed portion of the envelope or under the stamp is considered more reliable than DNA found on the outside of the envelope, or in the areas exposed to and handled by others. Some may choose to continue attacking this evidence and claim that the DNA obtained from a Zodiac envelope belongs to someone other than the Zodiac. Those who use common sense, the facts, and logic, will most likely reach a different conclusion.
The real problem should be obvious to even the most casual observer: theorists feel the need to attack, discredit and discard all of the evidence in the Zodiac case. From fingerprints, DNA, a palm print or even the handwriting, this evidence is constantly cast aside by those who know that such evidence will put an end to their efforts to exploit this case for their own benefit. If anyone is really sitting around wondering why the theorists attack the evidence and employ such methods, you are exactly the kind of person that Steve Hodel and others are hoping will spend 25 bucks to buy a book filled with pure nonsense.
MOST EVIL is a perfect example of what has gone wrong in the Zodiac case, and in our society. The cynical nature of such books in the Zodiac, Jack the Ripper and other cases has become so common place that we donâ€™t even bat an eye when we hear that yet another classless clown has come forward with a story that should make even the most jaded among us do a spit-take. Lying, distorting the facts, and doing so for personal profit is now the American way, and Steve Hodel canâ€™t be faulted for wanting a piece of pie. He can, however, be called to account for his crimes against the truth.
Hodel will have his defenders. On another website, the owner uses his real name to promote the book while hiding behind a fake name to endorse the book on another site, posting, “I think he really solved it!” and “Thank you, Steve Hodel! YAAAYY!” Of course, this is all about increasing traffic and hits to websites, and padding wallets. Some less-than-ethical individuals have figured out that its profitable to join in and help others exploit the case if the run-off trickles down to them. In this world, anything goes, and the ends always justify the means.
We should remember that the evidence used to accuse George Hodel can only be described as speculation at best. Steve Hodel has not constructed a circumstantial, fact-based case against his father; instead, he has simply offered a theory supported by nothing other than his own conclusions based on that strained speculation. In the end, there is no credible evidence that George Hodel was the Zodiac, and that is the central issue, not the value or results of the DNA testing. Like all theorists, Hodel wants to put the cart before the horse and then asks us all to ignore the fact that he has no horse to propel that cart. Hodel wants us to talk about DNA rather than recognize the fact that he has failed to provide a credible case in the first place. This same pattern has played out with other suspects in the past, and is at the core of the recent accusations against Richard Gaikowski. The question should always be: What credible evidence implicates a suspect? However, the theorists, accusers, crackpots and opportunists want the question to be: Do you have any proof that a suspect is not the Zodiac? This twisted logic enables the theorists to continue to accuse their suspects when the more practical, fact-based approach would cut them off at the knees before they ever got out of the gate.
Here are three good reasons to avoid Steve Hodel, his book, and his claims:
1) The last time Hodel accused his dead father of one of the most notorious crimes in US history, much of the evidence he claimed implicated his father turned out to be distorted, erroneous or flat out wrong.
2) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he was convinced based on rather flimsy evidence in the first place, even before some of that evidence was discredited or proven false.
3) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he made a lot of money doing so, and he liked it.
At the time of the Zodiac murders, George Hodel was approximately 60 years old. The oldest witness description placed the Zodiac somewhere in his mid-thirties to mid-forties. There are many other reasons to conclude that Hodel was innocent but, at the end of the day, the best reason to believe that George Hodel was not the Zodiac is simply that he stands accused by Steve Hodel.
Do I think that Hodel actually believes that his father was the Zodiac? No, not for a second. According to reports, Hodel had a movie deal in the works after the publication of BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER, but the deal apparently fell through after the writerâ€™s strike in Hollywood. Perhaps Hodel was in need of cash when he decided to write MOST EVIL. Who knows.
Many Zodiac buffs may feel the need to rush to their local bookstore and buy a copy for their Zodiac collection, but I encourage those who care about the Zodiac case to avoid Hodelâ€™s book like the plague. If you want to read it, go to the library, sit down at the bookstore with a copy, or wait until its in the remainder bins where it belongs. Letâ€™s do what little we can to discourage this kind of shameless, immoral behavior, and show Steve Hodel and the other con-men that while they may keep selling pure nonsense, we arenâ€™t buying.