"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sunday in the park with Steve and Doug

Before I start telling you about my Sunday afternoon author adventure, have you entered the contest yet? There's still plenty 'o time!

After Saturday's author saturation, what else could I do on Sunday, except attend a meeting of the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime? I joined this organization last year, at Jeff Sherratt's urging, but I am usually unable to get to their meetings. Karma always intrudes; it seems like every time I look at the agenda and decide to go, Ginny from the Placentia Library calls and asks me to volunteer at the Sunday book sale.

I made the extra effort to get to the SinC meeting this week because D.P. Lyle was going to be there as a speaker. When I was writing Freezer Burn, I spent a lot of time on his website, and bought his book, Forensics for Dummies, to figure out a few logistics about a frozen human hand. Naturally, I wanted to hear from the man who told me I was right, that frozen human skin would look a lot like frozen chicken skin.

In addition to Dr. Lyle, an author named Steve Hodel was going to be there to discuss "New Discoveries of the Black Dahlia Investigation." Some of you may already know who Steve is and the significance of his investigation – if you do, keep it to yourselves. As you can tell, I was clueless.

Steve Hodel began by reminding us of the Black Dahlia case, which was a murder committed in January, 1947, in Los Angeles. Elizabeth Short was discovered in a vacant lot in Leimert Park. She was brutally murdered, and her body mutilated beyond your wildest nightmares. The crime was sensational and never solved.

Steve then began to tell us about his own family history, beginning with his father, George Hodel, a precocious child who grew into a brilliant but troubled man. Steve grew up in a lavish, Hollywood lifestyle, and surprisingly, turned to law enforcement as a career. He's now a retired LAPD detective and private investigator.

I know what you're thinking: what do these two stories have to do with one another?

In 1999, Steve's father passed away and he was sent some of his father's old pictures, letters, etc. Imagine Steve' surprise when he saw pictures of a woman who looked just like Elizabeth Short. This began a decade-long search into both his father's past and the unsolved murder. Being in law enforcement, Steve got access to many people and records that the normal person wouldn't be able to see. I won't go into the details, but there's a high probability (over 90%) that his father was not only the Black Dahlia murderer, he was a psychopath and a serial killer.


Steve has written one book about the subject, and is now writing a book about his father.

During Steve's talk, Doug Lyle would intersperse medical opinion. For example, they went through the list of Elizabeth's wounds and Doug explained the difference between a killer's M.O. and their signature. The methods they use to plan, prepare and execute their crime may change to fit the circumstance, or as they learn from their previous attacks. Their signature, however, is the thing or set of things they must do to their victim, no matter how long it takes them.

Two things really struck me as I listened to these two men:

1. Doug Lyle has a typical style of doctor-speak that I would love to study. They have a confidence in their voice, as well as a timbre that, while not loud, cuts through the room so they're always heard.

2. Steve Hodel, for all of his knowledge of his father's evil, still loves him. He spent years upholding the law, he is not doing anything to shield his father's guilt, yet he still remembers his childhood fondly, especially having a brilliant father who could do anything.

A forensics expert who digs through physical and mental barriers to find the truth. A moral man who is mortified by his heritage and conflicted about his past. Wouldn't these all be great characters for a book?


C. Margery Kempe said...

The Black Dahlia story was always an intriguing one and Hodel's revelations only made it more fascinating. I did read his first book -- after a number of other true crime books and I think, a made for TV movie many years ago. Fascinating stuff -- so is Ellroy's book that grew from the case.

Nick said...

Verrrryyy interesting. I was only mildly interested in the Black Dahlia murder until I learned that Elizabeth Short (Due to her lack luster career) might have been making money as a lady of the night and was possibly a hermaphrodite,(promting the anger filled mutilation) Is this mentioned in Steve's investigation at all?


Gayle Carline said...

Nick - yes, Elizabeth's life is reviewed in Hodel's book. I guess I'm sorry to have to tell you she was not the lurid lady she was rumored to be. She had come to L.A. to be an actress, true, but had not reached such a desparate point to have to resort to prostitution, or any other questionable activities, to pay the rent.

Nick said...

Oh I didn't need her to be a prostitute or anything. LOL Just curious, as I have heard this in the past. I know I'm spouting hearsay, but is there any mention that she might have been transgendered? There is another book that delves pretty deep into this possible aspect of her life and murder.


Gayle Carline said...

Well, Nick, if you mean she dressed/pretended to be male, I don't know anything about that. I do know, from Steve's talk, that his father was very strictly into females, at least for murder. If you mean she had done things surgically to alter her female-ness, Steve showed us a few graphic crime scene photos, and there was no indication that she was anything but a girl. The coroner's report didn't mention it, either.

I do understand that police/doctors/etc might have been more willing to, um, omit things that would have no supposed bearing on a case, moreso than today's tell-all environment. This is probably a question best put to Steve Hodel.

Karen Brees said...

I run into Doug Lyle frequently at conferences and he's a steady contributor to SinC's listserve. He's got some fascinating stuff. The creepy Black Dahlia case will keep you awake nights.

Steve Hodel said...

For any of you that are interested in separating fact from fiction I would suggest checking out the FAQs on my website: www.stevehodel.com For the record: Elizabeth Short was a normal woman in every respect, was not a prostitute, was not pregnant, and and did not have any "physical abnormalities." She was a bit of a tease, had a propensity to tell lies, and was quite naive. Enjoyed giving the talk with Dr. Doug in O.C.

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks, Steve. From your talk, I didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary about Elizabeth, but I didn't want to state facts I didn't have. I knew you could set the record straight.

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