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Interview With Steve Hodel

Aired May 22, 2003 - 20:51   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get now to the story on the notorious murder mystery that has stumped investigators and fascinated the public for more than 50 years. Now a retired LAPD detective says he has solved the Black Dahlia murder case.
Steve Hodel claims, and get this, his own father committed the brutal crime. And Hodel details his research in the new book, "The Black Dahlia Avenger."

Steve Hodel right with us here in New York City tonight. Good evening. Thanks for being with us.


KAGAN: As I was telling you I spent way too much time poring through your book this afternoon. It is fascinating what you've come up with. For people who are not from Los Angeles, like we are, who are not that familiar with the Black Dahlia, briefly tell us about the case.

HODEL: The Black Dahlia was Elizabeth Short, 22, came out from Medford, Massachusetts to L.A. in mid '40s. Beautiful, looking for a job in movies. Not an unusual story.

On January the 15th of '47, her body was found in an isolated lot, 39th and Norton, five miles south of Hollywood. Bisected, scrubbed clean, a hysterectomy had been performed on her. Clearly the work of a skilled surgeon.

KAGAN: Now you have to take me many, many years forward. You've already retired from the LAPD at this point.


KAGAN: How do you come to the place where you even suspect your own father?

HODEL: Well it came in stages. The first was, I was given a small secret album that my father had secreted for 55 years. And in fact, here it is right here.

KAGAN: Oh, that's the album.

HODEL: This is the actual album.

KAGAN: And this is after he died.

HODEL: This after he died. May of 1999 he died. Flew down and his -- my stepmother, his wife, two years younger than I, gave me this. And I began going through it. It was loved ones, my mother, myself, some manray (ph) photographs of us.

KAGAN: And then you come upon a particular photograph.

HODEL: And then I come upon a particular photograph which is this one. And it's dark-haired, raven-haired beauty, about 22 years of age. And I looked at it and I said, looks familiar. Why do I know this?

And I said to June (ph), who is this? And she said, somebody your father knew from a long time ago. So with that, I couldn't quite pull it in. But a day or so later, Black Dahlia comes to me.

Now I'd seen the movie with Lucie Arnez and Efrem Zimblist Jr. on TV. And I think that was probably the source because of the flowers in the hair and the resemblance.

Anyway, I got on the Web, started researching, in fact...

KAGAN: That kind of becomes your obsession?

HODEL: Well, not really an obsession at that point. It was like, well, so dad knew Elizabeth Short. Interesting. But that in itself doesn't necessarily mean anything. He knew a lot of young women.

The second phase was actually when I started researching the crime itself. And I discovered I knew very little about it even though it was LAPD's most notorious unsolved. I was concerned with the present not the past.


KAGAN: ... I just need you to get me to the point where your father comes to the top of the list.

HODEL: Yes. So basically, the handwriting. It was done by a surgeon, Dad was a skilled surgeon. The next thing I find is handwriting. And I look at that and I clearly identify it as my father's. No question about it.

So at that point I begin three-year my investigation going into it, knowing that Dad...

KAGAN: There's the handwriting that we're looking at.

With that (UNINTELLIGIBLE), of course this has gone on for many, many years. Some might think this is a son who has issues with his father who's trying to put together a case. What would you say to those critics?

HODEL: Those that say this is a daddy dearest, I say absolutely not. I loved my father. We were very close. In the few years before he died, we had shared a lot. And in fact, I was very close to him.


KAGAN: You talk about in the book your father definitely did have some issues. It's not just like this is father of the year who you came up with that would have committed this crime.

HODEL: No, but he was an amazing individual. Despite the fact that he didn't identify with any of his children, that doesn't make -- he was an amazing man, 186 I.Q., a child prodigy. I mean we worshipped and loved him in our own way, even though she was estranged.

KAGAN: Have you had reaction from your old employer the LAPD?

HODEL: The LAPD is looking at it. In fact, transcripts have come up now that verify what I've alleged. They've been hidden for 55 years. And as it turns out, I was allowed much to the credit of the -- Steve Cooley, who is the D.A, of L.A., allowed me to go through the files 12 days ago. There's 150 pages of transcripts, 1,000 hours, 18 detectives. Dad was the prime suspect in the last 40 days before he fled the country.

And on these recordings, I'll read to you, this is a direct quote from the transcript. "Supposing I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn't prove it now, they can't talk to my secretary anymore because she's dead."

There's hundreds of pages of transcripts that they've actually recorded. So in fact, they have these -- this came out after the book came out.

KAGAN: And just finally, in our final seconds here, your reaction, the idea that your father might have been a cold-blooded killer.

HODEL: I'm totally -- it's -- I'm divided.


HODEL: Well he was a Jekyll and Hyde. I see it both. I see the detective. I was trained to investigate this case. The irony of it, he's my father.

But he was a Jekyll and Hyde. I love the Dr. Jekyll, and I grew to hate the Hyde from after 15 or 20 murders.

KAGAN: Well it as fascinating journey. And you spell it out in your book. We'll leave it for the readers to decide if they follow it case as you do.

Steve Hodel, thanks for joining us. Good luck with the book. Appreciate the story.

HODEL: Thank you.


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