Book Review: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder

21706Title: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder

Author: Steve Hodel

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

In 1947, California’s infamous Black Dahlia murder inspired the largest manhunt in Los Angeles history. Despite an unprecedented allocation of money and manpower, police investigators failed to identify the psychopath responsible for the sadistic murder and mutilation of beautiful twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Short. Decades later, former LAPD homicide detective-turned-private investigator Steve Hodel launched his own investigation into the grisly unsolved crime — and it led him to a shockingly unexpected perpetrator: Hodel’s own father.

A spellbinding tour de force of true-crime writing, this newly revised edition includes never-before-published forensic evidence, photos, and previously unreleased documents, definitively closing the case that has often been called “the most notorious unsolved murder of the twentieth century.”

Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder is a difficult book to rate. In the book, retired LAPD homicide detective, now private investigator, Steve Hodel launches an investigation into the unsolved murder of the Black Dahlia. After his father passed away, Steve had the opportunity to look into one of his father’s personal photography albums and discovered a picture in there of a woman he recognizes as the Black Dahlia. At first, he believes his father probably just met her at some point. Yet, he’s determined to find out more about the connection between his father and Elizabeth Short.

However, the deeper he starts digging into the past, the more he comes to realize his father might be involved in the Dahlia’s murder. And not just in her murder, but in the murder of other young females too.

It must be horrible to find out your father is a murderer. Although I’m not one hundred percent convinced of Mr. Hodel’s guilt, I do feel sorry for Steve, and how it must make him feel. It must take courage and a special kind of integrity to keep digging, though. Regardless, if George Hodel is the murderer of Elizabeth Short or not, he was not a loveable man – as the reader discovers through Steve’s recollections of the past, George Hodel was once put on trial for raping his own daughter, he was quite tyrannical, had four wives and over a dozen girlfriends, and was very much into sadism.

However, if that makes him the murderer of Elizabeth Short remains to be seen. The book is part memoir of Steve’s childhood with his father, his father’s life and the trial regarding his raping of his own daughter, and I thought I wouldn’t like those parts. However, I did like them. They’re writing with an easy flowing style, more so than the rest of the book, and George Hodel, despite being a rather cruel, self-absorbed man, does make an interesting person to read about.

The evidence linking George Hodel to the Dahlia crime is circumstancial at best. At least, for the first 90% of the book. The handwriting analysis didn’t convince me (handwriting analysis has often been debunked, and I’m quite skeptical about it), nor did the military-watch near the crime scene that matched Hodel’s watch, and to be honest, I found most of the evidence rather flimsy.

He also talks a lot about an LAPD cover-up. I skipped that chapter for the most part. For one, I don’t believe in cover-ups. They might happen, but they’re rare, and when someone isn’t convicted or even tried as a suspect, I choose to believe it’s because of lack of evidence rather than a cover-up. I find that it’s a sensationalized reaction given too often just for cases where there’s simple not enough evidence to do anything. The theory that George Hodel committed the crime with another man involved too, a friend of his, doesn’t persuade me either. Killers are solitary beings, and the Dahlia murderer doesn’t strike me as the kind of murder you’d commit with two people – it seems the work of a solitary predator.

Either way, by the end of the book I was nowhere near convinced. Then, however, comes some of the new evidence released by the LAPD, and what convinced me of the strong possibility of George Hodel’s guilt there was the phone conversation he had at some point at his home residence (the LAPD wired his house, they too considered him a strong suspect). You don’t say those things unless you’re guilty. I don’t want to give away more, in case you want to read the book, but this convinced me at least of the strong possibility of George Hodel being the murderer of Elizabeth Short.

However, I don’t follow Steve Hodel’s other claims in regards to the other murders. There’s simply not enough evidence to link Hodel to any of those cases. The cases don’t even have the same M.O. (victims differ too much in age, murder method differs a lot). What I can believe, is that Hodel killed Elizabeth Short – the link with sadism is rather evident, the staging of the body relates to surreal art, and Hodel was a fan of both surreal art, and of Marquis de Sade’s writing. Based on the LAPD-gathered evidence, combined with Steve Hodel’s claims, George Hodel seems a strong suspect.

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