Birch Bay author and retired detective to present his father’s likely role in the infamous Black Dahlia murder


Birch Bay resident Steve Hodel, 82, was a former homicide detective at the Los Angeles Police Department with more than 300 murder cases under his belt when he got the first clue that his father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, may have been the killer of the Black Dahlia, one of the most infamous unsolved murders in U.S. history.

It was 1999 in San Francisco, shortly after George had died at the age of 91. Steve, then a private investigator in Bellingham, had traveled to California to help his father’s grieving wife. 

As a gesture of appreciation for the support, George’s wife gifted Steve, then 58, with a 5-by-5-inch photo book containing old family photos, many taken by artist Man Ray – and an old photo of a near nude woman with brown hair. 

“To this day, I can’t figure out how or why it came to me, but Black Dahlia came and went into my mind,” Steve said. 

A day or two later, Steve was on the phone with his half-sister, Tamar Hodel, talking about their father’s death, when out of nowhere she told him that their father was a suspect in the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short. Short’s body was found in a Los Angeles park, mutilated and severed in half, quickly vaulting her to front page national news with the coined name “Black Dahlia.” 

Tamar reported as a child their father had sexually abused her and, as she later told Steve, police had informed her in 1949 that their father was a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder when he was on trial for incest. (Despite two witnesses, George was acquitted.)

“With my background experience, I thought I’d be able to clear him in 10 seconds,” Steve said of the Black Dahlia rumor. “And that took 24 years. I followed the evidence and it took me exactly in the opposite direction.”

To follow the evidence, Steve moved to Los Angeles from Bellingham, where he had been rearing his two sons for 10 years and working as a private investigator for private Whatcom County attorneys and court-appointed cases in the Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office. 

Steve said he remembers his childhood as positive, centered in the glitz and glamor of old Hollywood during his earliest years. Steve’s mother married George after her divorce from her high school sweetheart, film director and screenwriter John Huston. George, a friend of Huston’s, was a successful physician and Hollywood socialite, known for rubbing shoulders with household names in the Golden Age.

The Hodels’ home resembled a Mayan temple and was built by Lloyd Wright, the son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. There they hosted parties that attracted George’s friends like Arthur Miller.

“Dad had this presence that you might find if you walked into the presence of a pope,” Steve said. “He had that mystique around him. He was very powerful. He would walk into a room and everyone turned to him.”

However, that childhood was abruptly changed when George left the country for the Philippines in 1950, not to return until 1990. Steve later learned through research that his father knew he was being investigated for the Black Dahlia murder and fled the country.

Steve only saw his father through quick dinners in the years that followed. It wasn’t until George’s last decade when the two became closer, taking trips to visit each other in Bellingham and San Francisco.

“He was never a warm-fuzzy,” Steve said. “When I started seeing him in 1990, when he came back, he was reserved initially but that grew into a warm relationship, or as warm as he was capable.”

As Steve dug, the evidence kept stacking: Police had agreed that the Black Dahlia killer was a surgeon because of Short’s mutilation. Steve found handwriting in anonymous letters the Black Dahlia killer had sent to police that matched his father’s; a handwriting expert showed there was a 95 percent match. Steve discovered Short knew his father.

Once he had enough evidence, Steve privately presented it to a district attorney in 2002 who told Steve that if George were still alive, there would be enough evidence to at least file charges against him for Black Dahlia and the murder of Jeanne French, dubbed “the Red Lipstick Murder.” Steve said Los Angeles police investigated his father as a suspected serial killer involved in at least four murders, but Steve thinks that number is closer to 10. 

In 2003, Steve published his New York Times best seller, “Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder.”

Steve continued the investigation in a series of books that built on new evidence, including a transcript vaulted in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that showed the Los Angeles Police Department and district attorney’s office had solved the Black Dahlia crime after getting tape recording confessions of George admitting to the Black Dahlia murder and other crimes. Police let George flee, Steve said, because the department and political figures were corrupt, and George had information they didn’t want revealed.

“There’s so much evidence that’s beyond a reasonable doubt,” Steve said.

His investigation has been featured on an extensive list of TV shows, including NBC “Dateline” and CBS “48 Hours.”

Steve’s two sons in Bellingham and Seattle encouraged him to return to Washington, where he settled in Birch Bay at the beginning of 2022. Besides publishing in November 2023 “Black Dahlia Avenger IV,” a historical fiction to give voice to George’s suspected victims, Steve said he’s putting down the pen, for now (though his blog on is still active).

Steve is enjoying the natural beauty and slower pace of life in Birch Bay, spending time with his grandchildren, and taking Rima, his two-year-old chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier mix, everywhere he goes. A TV series could also be in the works for the books, he added.

“You’ve got the loving son who was sure he was going to clear his father, and then you got the objective, trained detective with the experience of 300 murders looking at it,” Steve said. “I had a parallel investigation going on, personal and professional.”

Steve Hodel will give a presentation followed by a Q&A on his investigation into the Black Dahlia and other murders in which his father is suspected at Village Books in Lynden, 430 Front Street, at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13. Registration is $5, or $20 including the purchase of "Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder,” and can be done at


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