LA Times copy editor uses 50th Anniversary of Crime to Challenge Murder Victim's Reputation and Veracity

Victim’s 3 1/2-year-old son John Lenorak Farrow’s witnessing of his mother’s assault by Dr. George Hodel also called into question by L.A.Times blogger, Harnisch.

Lillian Lenorak & son, John Lenorak Farrow (seen wearing his Elsinore Military Academy uniform) together several years before her 1959 kidnap/murder in Palm Springs. John Lenorak Farrow, born in 1946, is the biological son of Lillian Lenorak and famed film director, John Farrow and half-brother to Mia Farrow.


Lillian Lenorak seen above as Ruth St. Denis ballet dancer 

Though as yet unconfirmed, I believe that Lillian Lenorak’s filmography is the same as that of Lillian Hamilton (her maiden name) which lists her doing bit parts from 1950-1959.

Larry Harnisch, a Los Angeles Times copy-editor, rather than using the 50th murder-anniversary of victim, Lillian Lenorak as a memoriam to honor her tragic murder, has chosen to use the date as a springboard to question the victim’s mental health, life-style and veracity specifically in reference to her police reported 1950 drugging, assault and “staged attempt suicide” by then Hollywood physician, Dr. George Hill Hodel. (Referenced below as the Unkefer Letters)

By advising his readers to “adjust your skepticism” Harnisch also calls into question the truthfulness of Lillian’s then 3 1/2 year old son, John Lenorak Farrow, who was present at the Hodel residence and witnessed the assault on his mother. John told the police officer that, “He [Dr. Hodel] hit mommy hard and knocked her down. He made her cry hard.” 

[Four years earlier, in 1945, LAPD had formally investigated Dr. Hodel for the suspected “staged suicide” of his then personal secretary/girlfriend, Miss Ruth Spaulding. While that investigation was ongoing, Dr. Hodel left the U.S. for  China and LAPD was unable to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute him. However, in February, 1950, George Hodel became the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia investigation and detectives, during secret electronic surveillance of his residence, would obtain admissions wherein. Hodel implicated himself in the 1945 murder of his secretary.] 

Harnisch’s Allegations Believed Unfounded

In his L.A. Times Mirror/Blog of November 11, 2009, entitled, “Beating Victim Identified”, Harnisch makes the following statements related to the the Santa Barbara Police Officer, Mary Unkefer Letter which details the assault and criminal acts committed by Dr. George Hodel, against Lillian Lenorak.

“Unkefer’s Letter is one of the most disturbing items is the district attorney’s files on the Black Dahlia case.”

“To be sure this is a vivid account. The question anyone should have is to what degree is it reliable?”

“Keep in mind as you read these letters that this lady is not a typical, well-grounded middle-class suburban housewife but a chronic patient of mental hospitals and adjust your skepticism accordingly.”

 (Talk about being “lost in the Fifties.” How’s that for a sexist slam! Apparently, in his mind any woman that might dare to consider stepping outside the role of “a typical, well-grounded suburban housewife” can forget about being the victim of a crime. Outrageous!)

But the operative allegation here is his claim that Lillian Lenorak was “a chronic patient of mental hospitals.”  Exactly where is Mr. Harnisch’s support and documentation for these allegations? Has he seen ANY medical records to support his claim? Can he document even ONE other hospital where Lillian was admitted to for “mental problems.”

What we know is that: 1) George Hodel drugged Lillian unconscious, then used a scalpel or razor blade he inflict relatively minor cuts to both wrists while she was unconscious, and then bandaged both her arms. 2) Hodel admits to officer Unkefer to rendering Lenorak unconscious and that he “had given her [Lenorak] a large enough dose to keep her asleep for three hours.”3] Hodel threatened Lenorak, “that if she squealed he would have her admitted to an insane asylum and have her boy taken away from her.” 4] Officer Unkefer saw visible signs of a beating and, “scratches and bruises to her forehead and arms.” 5] Her three-year-old son, said, “the doctor knocked his mommie down & made Mommie cry hard.” 6] Joe Barrett was present at the Hodel residence and followed officer Unkefer up to Santa Barbara during the transport of Lillian and her son. Officer Unkefer interviewed Joe Barrett that night about Lillian and here’s what Joe had to say:  “He [Barrett] stated emphatically that there was nothing wrong with Lillian except what had been brought on by the cruel treatment received from Dr. Hodel. He stated that he knew Lillian had perjured herself at the trial because the Dr. had her under his influence.”

Regarding her admission to the hospital, officer Unkefer reported that she attended the hearing at the Psycho Ward on Jan. 30, 1950 and it was determined “that she was mentally upset. Both ward doctors stated that they felt she should have medical care, so she is to be taken to Camarillo State Hospital for treatment.”

[SKH Note-  The law then as now, permitted the involuntary commitment of a patient to a mental hospital for 72 hours observation if there is an indication that the person could be a “danger to them self or others.” Obviously based on the circumstances, Lillian due to her fear, distraught condition qualified. That said, nowhere that I am aware of in any records that I have seen was there any documentation to indicate or justify Harnisch’s claim that, “she was a chronic patient of mental hospitals.”

It is my opinion that Harnisch has made this “blame the victim” statement to imply and suggest that perhaps these events as documented in the Unkefer report actually happened as Dr. Hodel would have people believe, rather than add weight to the fact that he committed the crimes as listed.

This position defies logic and goes against everything the LAPD, the DA, officer Unkefer and the follow-up investigation would reveal. Two weeks after the Unkefer incident officers placed the surveillance microphones at Dr. Hodel’s residence and were able to obtain his tape-recorded  conversations in which Hodel admits to committing murders [Dahlia & Spaulding] and multiple other felony offenses.

Lillian Lenorak, the victim of a brutal 1959 kidnap-murder is not here to defend herself against  totally unsubstantiated charges of being “a chronic patient of mental hospitals” so I WILL. As we have seen, the January 30, 1950 admission to Camarillo State Hospital was a set-up and needs be discounted. So, by my count-that’s ZERO. Where are the others?  How many “others” are you aware of Mr. Harnisch?

Maybe you  can provide the hard evidence and answers to the victim’s son, John? You remember John. Lillian’s son,  The boy that was present and saw his mother get knocked to the ground by Dr. Hodel. The boy that said, “He made Mommy cry hard.”  


George Hodel (center) at L.A. Courthouse Dec. 1949-  His assault and “staged suicide” assault on Lillian Lenorak occurred approximately one month after this news photo was taken. (Late January 1950) In February, 1950 18 detectives from DA/LAPD would begin their five-week 24/7 electronic stakeout/surveillance of Dr. Hodel as the prime-Black Dahlia suspect. As a result they would obtain taped statements and admissions connecting Dr. Hodel to multiple murders (Dahlia & Ruth Spaulding); police payoffs, and to performing abortions at his downtown First Street V.D. Clinic.  
ghh 1949.jpg 

Lillian Lenorak and the  Mary Unkefer Letter- The Back-story

I first introduced Lillian Lenorak to the public in a 2004 updated chapter of BDA after I discovered a letter written by officer Mary Unkefer, a Santa Barbara P.D. policewoman and former acquaintance of Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short. The Unkefer Letter, buried deep in the DA secret files documented, confirmed and greatly expanded upon  a verbal report first made by , Joe Barrett.

 Joe Barrett, then [1950] was a young artist renting a room at our  home in Hollywood.  In a 2003, on-camera television interview for ABC’s DATELINE Joe Barrett recounted witnessing an incident in early 1950, involving Lillian Lenorak at the Franklin House. He tells of returning home to find an excited Ellen (our maid) warning him that Lillian Lenorak was in George Hodel’s bedroom and was threatening to shoot Hodel when he came home.


Barrett entered the bedroom, and found a hysterical Lenorak, armed with a rifle belonging to George Hodel. Lenorak was screaming, “He is going to pay for what he has done. He has to pay for it. I’m going to kill him.” Barrett claims he calmed her down, and removed the rifle from her person. When asked in this interview by reporter Josh Mankiewicz, “What Lenorak was referring to?”, Barrett replied, “It was about the fact that Lillian knew that George had killed Elizabeth Short. Lillian knew Elizabeth and had met her at the house, and said that George had to pay for killing her.”


Barrett went on to say that “When George came home, I told him about what happened, and that Lillian was going to shoot him, and George’s response was, “Why didn’t you let her?” (In the DA Hodel Bugging transcripts in March, 1950 George Hodel confirms Barrett’s account and is overhead to say, “She [Lillian Lenorak] was going to shoot me and then kill herself.”


From Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder pg-479:





            On January 16, 1947, the day “Jane Doe Number 1” was identified by the FBI as Elizabeth Short, Santa Barbara policewoman Mary Unkefer was one of the first important witnesses contacted by LAPD in the Black Dahlia investigation. Why? Because Officer Unkefer had direct and extended contact with Elizabeth Short after Elizabeth‘s September 1943 arrest for “minor possession.” The L.A. Daily News of January 17, 1947, under the headline: “Identify Victim as Hollywood Resident,” detailed Officer Unkefer’s connections:


            She (Elizabeth Short) had been a clerk at the Camp Cooke post exchange near Santa Barbara and was picked up for drinking with soldiers in a cafe there.


                Policewoman Mary Unkefer of the Santa Barbara police department took the girl  to her own home to live with her for nine days…


                “We put her on the train for her home, and several times later she wrote to me from there” Miss Unkefer recalled. One of her letters said: “I’ll never forget you thank God you picked me up when you did!”


            Incredibly, from information contained in these DA documents, we only now discover that Officer Mary Unkefer–who in 1943 had been directly responsible for rescuing Elizabeth Short from a dangerous environment–in January 1950 drove from Santa Barbara to Dr. Hodel’s Franklin Avenue residence and there removed another young female victim from harm’s way. Officer Unkefer, after safely returning the victim, whose name was Lillian Lenorak,* to Santa Barbara, typed a letter to Los Angeles DA investigators, describing and informing them of Dr. Hodel’s involvement in multiple crimes, including subornation of perjury and felony assault. Here for the first time is that remarkable letter, published in its entirety, exactly as it was typed:


Santa Barbara P.D. officer Mary Unkefer Letter.pdf



·         Through other DA documents, we know that Lillian Lenorak was a 1949 defense witness who testified at the Hodel incest trial, was an acquaintance of George Hodel’s, and when shown photographs of Elizabeth Short by DA investigators identified her as Hodel’s girlfriend. Miss Lenorak was preparing to recant her previous sworn testimony and admit she perjured herself at the incest trial. Lenorak’s perjury at the Hodel trial had to do with the fact that  she was present at Dr. Ballard’s office with Charles Smith, when Tamar, George Hodel’s 14-year-old daughter was “examined” but no abortion occurred.  She was now going to admit the truth of it, that in fact, an abortion was performed on Tamar.


[ SKH Note:  It is my belief that the “rifle incident” occurred in late-January, 1950, and is the event that immediately precipitated my father’s “staging Lillian’s attempted suicide.” Lillian Lenorak, under pressure from George Hodel had perjured herself twice in the preceding weeks. First at his incest trial in late December, 1949, and then again on January 15, 1950 at the abortion trial of Dr. Francis Ballard and Charles Smith. Lillian testified as a defense witness that she had been present with Tamar at Dr. Ballard’s office when she was examined, but lied and informed the court” that no abortion had occurred.” Her perjury resulted in Dr. Ballard & Smith being found “not guilty” by the judge hearing the case.


Lillian Lenorak was now threatening to reveal the truth and to inform the DA that she was present and did witness Tamar’s abortion. George Hodel had to either kill her, or try to discredit her.  With Barrett as a witness, he couldn’t kill her, so he took the next best step.  Try to set her up as a “mental case.”  He then drugged her, and staged her “attempt suicide” as described in policewoman Unkefer’s letter to the DA.  (We even have the dramatic corroboration from Lillian’s three-year-old son, John, who witnessed George Hodel’s assault on his mother. In route to Santa Barbara with his mother and officer Unkefer, the child tells the policewoman, “He [Dr. Hodel] hit mommy and knocked her down. He made her cry hard.” 


Director John Farrow –Where Danger Lives (1950)


In January, 1950, At the same time that George Hodel is assaulting Lillian Lenorak, and setting her up as “a mental case” by staging her  “attempted suicide”  and threatening to have her 3-year-old boy, John taken away from her if she informs, John’s biological father, director, John Farrow is down the street, cutting and editing, Where Danger Lives for an L.A. release in July.


But there’s more- 


Not only is that film a noir murder mystery  about a young medical doctor (Robert Mitchum) who  falls in love with a femme fatal (Maureen O’Sullivan, current wife of John Farrow) and becomes involved in the death of her husband and has to make a run with her to the Mexican Border, but John Farrow has also given a bit part in the film to an attractive Eurasian woman by the name of  Amilda  Cuddy (Kiyo) the former mistress of Dr. George Hill Hodel and the future wife to be (1962) of his son, and future LAPD homicide detective, Steve Hodel.


where danger lives.jpg






 Lillian Lenorak – The 1959 Palm Springs Kidnap/Murder

The story behind the tragic murder of Lillian Lenorak some nine-years later, is short and sad.

The facts are these:

In November, 1959, Lillian, now age-42,  is on a weekend date to Palm Springs with a boyfriend, Dr. Frank Back, a wealthy Hollywood physicist and manufacturer of movie camera lenses.

They had a quarrel and Lillian ordered Dr. Back to stop the car and she got out in front of the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs, and walked away.

The next day Lillian’s bludgeoned body was found on the north-side of town. She had been beaten to death.

Her killer, Tord Zeppen-Field, a 21-year-old psychopath was arrested a week later.

His admissions to the crime can be seen below. He didn’t know Lillian, offered her a ride, she refused, he forced her into the car at rifle-point, drove to an isolated area and beat her to death with his sawed-off rifle. No real motive. No rape, no robbery. Just a psycho who killed for no reason.


lenorak murder susp.jpg 

Dearest Lillian:

On this the 50th anniversary of your death MAY YOU REST IN ETERNAL PEACE.

My deepest apologies go to you for all the pain and suffering you had to endure at the hands of my father.

My thoughts and condolences also go to your son John who grew to manhood to become a bright and good man.  You would be proud of him and his family. I haven’t spoken to John for a number of years now, but am confidant he is well and continues to “survive.”

Most Sincerely,

Steve Hodel

Los Angeles, California 












  1. MB on November 21, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Harnish is nothing but a bombast in my opinion.
    In terms of probability I cannot believe that Dr. George Hodel was innocent of attacking women. Why? We have his own admission that the Dahlia murder couldn’t be pinned on him because his secretary was dead. Would an innocent man say this? That one statement incriminates him in the BDA case as well as in the death of his secretary. Then we add in your mother’s comments about your father being bloothirsty, Ms. Lennorak’s ‘staged suicide’ – which resembled the death of his secretary, and a number of other accounts of GHH being violent, abusive, demeaning and misogynistic. Of course the old saying about smoke meaning fire applies here. How likely is it that he was the top suspect in the BDA murder, as well as these other attacks, and didn’t commit them? It defies imagination.

  2. Steve Hodel on November 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Yes, the DA “Bugging Tapes” are strong corroboration to his many crimes. I was just reviewing the transcripts today and to my mind the Feb. 18th incident where the woman is heard crying, then calling the operator, then has a drink with dad and goes silent (hmmm) then an hour later the woman screams out TWICE, sounds of a pipe hitting an object, sounds of digging in the basement with the mention of George to Baron Harringa “not a trace.” We are not talking about an S&M party here. I think the officers monitoring this incident very probably overheard a murder in progress. AND DID NOTHING. That’s what really tightens my jaws. This lack of taking any action ALONE could have been enough for the powers that be to want to keep a lid on it.

  3. Bud Whtie on November 22, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    The Feb. 18th incident is frightening. What I find fascinating is how on previous posts you diagrammed the sequence of events leading to GHH fleeing LA. Looking at the big picture, you really get a sense that he was being squeezed. First the trial; then the Lennorak incident, the bugging of the Franklin House, and Jamison’s questioning your mother. It was all a rather short period of time.
    By the way, I wonder if there’s any missing women from around Feb. 18 1950?

  4. Steve Hodel on November 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I tried to check on that, but as I recall, didn’t find any reported homicides or bodies in the area in the following days. The problem is that absent any known foul play, the woman’s husband or relative(s) procedurally, would have been made to wait 24-hours before LAPD would take a formal “missing” report then nada after that. That’s why L.A. during that period became known as the “Port of Missing Persons.” Victims just vanished and many were never even discovered to be homicides, just MIA’s. None of the Missing Reports from that period exist in LAPD files. Pretty much all non-homicides have been destroyed.

  5. BostonRob on February 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    So, you are saying that Lillian Lenorak was a mistress of John Farrow? It does not appear that they were ever married. Could you please point me in the direction of the evidence that John Farrow fathered a male child with Lillian Lenorak. Thanks.

  6. Steve Hodel on February 7, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Yes, that’s what I am saying. No, they were never married. The son, John Farrow Jr. as an adult, was accepted into the Farrow family. Further details can be found in my follow-up investigation Black Dahlia Avenger II. Regards, SKH

  7. Steve Hodel on February 7, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Yes, that’s what I am saying. No, they were never married. The son, John Farrow Jr. as an adult, was accepted into the Farrow family. Further details can be found in my follow-up investigation Black Dahlia Avenger II. Regards, SKH

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