True Evil at NoirCon 2014

Steve Hodel spent twenty-four years with the Los Angeles Police Department. After his retirement he worked as a private detective for another twenty and thus has decades of investigative experience. He's a man used to separating evidence from speculation and speaks in a careful, measured way when forming conclusions from the things he uncovers. And what he has uncovered over the last fifteen years of dogged research is among the most chilling and unsettling things anyone could ever discover. In short, Steve believes his father is not only the infamous LA "Black Dahlia" murderer, but that he was also a serial killer who killed dozens of people over a period of at least thirty years.

In two riveting ninety-minute presentations spread out over the NoirCon weekend Hodel summarized the contents of his books Black Dahlia Avenger and Most Evil in which he makes the case that Dr. George Hodel, or "Dad," not only tortured, killed, and mutilated Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia, but at least a half dozen other women in the LA area over the same time period. These killings were known as the Lone Woman Murders and were never officially connected to the Short murder. Hodel, calm and convincing, makes the case that not only did the LA police suspect his father of the first killing but that they were also deeply suspicious that the other murders were connected and likely done by the same person. Hodel went on to show that there was a high probability that not only had his father murdered several people in Chicago but that he was also very likely the Zodiac killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s. It sounds, I know, almost impossible to believe, but this is not a man given to hyperbole or sensationalism. NoirCon attendees lined up to purchase his books as he had made such a compelling case.

I remember vividly the Zodiac killings from my childhood as two of the victims were discovered on a remote ranch road just outside the town of Benicia where I grew up. That was in late 1968 and in the summer of 1969 two more people were killed a few miles away near Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo where I had played as a kid many times. In fact I went to Catholic school with relatives of the Borges family that owned the ranch! The Benicia Chief of Police actually "cancelled" Hallowe'en trick-or-treating that October due to fears the Zodiac would strike again.

Regardless of any personal connection, everyone in the audience was moved by the extraordinary story of a son exposing his father's evil. Crime writers deal with fictional murder and imagined terror and here was a man who had to face a truth no one should have to. All of this came to light after his father's death, but the fact remains that few can imagine the emotional journey the author had to endure. Dr. Hodel, amazingly, lived into his nineties and fathered eleven children by five different women on two continents. He was freakishly brilliant and a highly successful physician and entrepreneur and was wealthy and comfortable for his entire adult life. The fact that he was probably one of the most disturbed and truly evil men of his time--and never caught despite a lengthy string of grisly murders--gives the tale an unusual power. Lou Boxer, the organizer of NoirCon (pictured on the right below with Steve Hodel), obviously saw that the poignancy and revulsion that surround the story would captivate the crowd and scheduled the presentations to lead off both Friday's and Sunday's gatherings. NoirCon, more than anything, is about fellowship and camaraderie, and finding others who share your taste in unusual literature. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that crime and killing are real things and that the fictions we enjoy are really forays into the darkest places of the human heart.

--Mark C. O'Connor, from NoirCon 2104 in Philadelphia