Los Angeles

Black Dahlia Avenger and Zodiac Taunt Press with Note Signed:  “A FRIEND”

Below (top) taunting note mailed to newspaper by “Black Dahlia Avenger”
in 1947. Killer signed it: “a friend” (small letter “a”)
Below (bottom) taunting note mailed to newspaper by “Zodiac” in 1974. Killer signed it “a friend” (small letter “a”.)
a friend avenger note.jpg

Black Dahlia Avenger “a friend” Note
a friend zodiac note.jpg
            Zodiac “a freind”  Note
Zodiac  “a Friend” Note Mailed to press on the Anniversary of Black Dahlia Avenger Killing

Zodiac mailed his taunting note to  the press, (specifically to George Hodel’s former employer, the San Francisco Chronicle) on February 14, 1974, That day was the 26th anniversary of Los Angeles’ “Black Dahlia Avenger” murder of victim, Gladys Kern. 
Mrs. Kern, a real estate agent,  was lured by her killer posing as a home buyer. The killer accompanied her to an unoccupied “For Sale” Hollywood Mansion where he then stabbed her multiple times in the back with a long-bladed jungle knife and then mailed a note to the police informing them of his murder.
Prior to modern day police “psychological profiling” with its various schools of thought and varying track records of  “hits” and “misses”, old-school detectives relied on something much less sophisticated in their attempts to identify if a suspect might be involved in multiple homicides.  Now a lost art, the process had various names, but most knew it as something called, COMMON SENSE.   
Armed with the details and facts in their “Murder Book” detectives would use the teletype, the telephone, special bulletins, and if all else failed, they would meet and discuss their crimes over breakfast, lunch, or drinks after work. (In most cases, it was the latter method that seemed to prove the most productive in linking multiple crimes.)  
Generally, if detectives found two or three M.O. points that fit, they would consider that the crimes might well be connected to the same suspect, and when and if the case was solved they would be sure to take a hard look at the other possibles.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Black Dahlia Avenger’s MO in 1946-49 and compare it to Zodiac’s MO from 1966-69.  (Keep in mind that two or three similarities are usually enough to raise suspicion to the point where a detective would want to take a closer look.) 
Black Dahlia Avenger/Zodiac Crime Signature & M.O. Comparisons

M.O.                                                                                          BD Avenger   Zodiac

Serial Killer                                                                                    X                 X
Created his own marketing/public relations campaign                        X                  X
along with inventing and providing press with a pseudonym
(“Black Dahlia Avenger” & “Zodiac”) for them to use in headlining 
his  crimes and his “reign of terror.”

Contacted and taunted Press by telephone after crimes.                 X                  X
Contacted and taunted Police by telephone after crimes.                 X                  X
Used Press as his instrument to terroize public promising,                X                  X
“There Will Be More.”
Drew crude picture of knife dripping blood and mailed the                 X                  X
drawing to the press.
Brought pre-cut lengths of clothesline with him and used                   X                  X
them to tie and bind victims during crime.
Mailed more than a dozen notes to police and press feigning
illiteracy, used misspelled words and  disguised his handwriting.        X                    X
Mailed “Cut and Paste” notes to press and police.                            X                    X
Mailed typewritten letter to police describing his actions.                   X                    X
Placed excessive postage and multiple stamps on mailings                X                    X
to police and press.                     
Addressed his taunting  mailed n
otes  “To the Editor”.                       X                    X
Mailings sent on specific “anniversary dates” related to his crimes.     X                    X
Removed victim’s personal items after the murder and packaged and 
mailed them to the press  with taunting note to prove he was the killer.X                    X

Informed surviving victims and press he was “Going to Mexico.”          X                    X

Used both a knife and a gun in his separate murders.                         X                    X

Included puns and “word games” in his taunting mailings.                    X                    X

Killer continued to send in mailings to press and police months and      X                    X
years after the crimes occurred.   

Ego-maniacal personality demanded constant media publicity and        X                   X
front-page coverage under threat of committing additional killings.    

Identified himself as an “Avenger” claiming he was wronged by the       X                   X
female victim or that he was getting revenge for being spurned 
and ignored by victim.  Informs public that the crime was “justified”
and or “Divine Retribution”.     

Stabs victim with a long-bladed jungle or bayonet-style knife.                X                   X

Wrote taunting message at scene of crime either on bedroom wall,       X                   X
a nearby telephone post, a door panel of victim’s vehicle, or on victim’s
nude body. 

Left man’s white handkerchief either at scene near body, or used it to    X                   X            
wipe away his  fingerprints from inside victim’s vehicle or from knife left at
Manually rips away band from a man’s wristwatch and left both band     X                X
and watch near body at crime scene.
Geographically preselected crime-scene location by plotting                  X                 X
coordinates on a map; then randomly murdered victims(s) who 
by happenstance, entered his “killing zone”, or:
Geographically  preselected crime-scene by plotting coordinates          X                   X
 on a map then had unwitting victim (taxi-driver) drive him to that 
specific location, where victim is then slain, or:

Forcibly kidnapped female victim, strangles her to death, dismembers body X             X
with surgical skill and precision, then poses body parts in public view at a
specific location (street name) that contains taunting “clew” related to the 
crime or victim.

Brutal assault and overkill, particularly savage with his female victims.      X                X

Telephoned and or sent sadistic note to female victim’s parents after        X               X
slaying their daughter. 

While a few of these twenty-nine MO patterns, if isolated, could be considered generic, in combination they become exceedingly rare. In my twenty-four years with the LAPD, I investigated more than three hundred separate homicides. None of those murders included an MO where the suspect mailed in a taunting note to the press or police, or sent threats to the victims parents. 
In fact, I am unable to find a single modern-day serial killer prior to Zodiac’s 1966 Riverside killing, who has used the specific MO of taunting the police and press with letters containing obvious misspellings with one exception–Dr. George Hill Hodel, in the 1940s, calling himself the “Black Dahlia Avenger.”  Prior to those crimes, we have to go back another sixty-years to 1888 and London’s–Jack the Ripper.

In previous investigative summaries in BDA, BDA II and in MOST EVIL, I have addressed many additional specific links to handwriting characteristics, as well as the surrealist connections to art, literature, music and film. (In 2010, a California Department of Justice handwriting expert examined and compared the known writings of George Hill Hodel to the known writings of Zodiac, and while not being able to positively identify him as Zodiac his report stated, “We are unable to eliminate George Hodel as
being the writer/author of the Zodiac Letters.”  

DOJ at that time then requested I provide them with additional known handwriting exhibits belonging to my father that contained “lowercase writing.” Since most of my father’s handwriting in my possession is either block printing uppercase, or typewritten, I have to date, been unable to supply them with additional samples. (Hopefully, at some point in the future, some additional samples may become available for analysis.) 

From the cover of MOST EVIL:

                         George Hodel was a prolific serial killer whose
                         signature is visible not in any single method of murder,
                         type of victim, or specific killing ground, but rather as
                         a series of complex arrangements, installations, and 
                         obscure references to art, culture, and film that, taken
                         together, reveal a chilling and never-before-documented
                         variety of serial murder: murder as a fine art.




  1. Derek Andrews (otrabrit) on April 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Hi Steve
    Fascinating stuff indeed.
    Not sure I follow comparison # 27 (Forcibly kidnapped female victim…….).
    OK I have a dose of flu but surely there’s no comparison between the ES killing where “…. strangles her to death, dismembers body
    with surgical skill and precision, then poses body parts in public view at a
    specific location (street name) that contains taunting “clew” related to the
    crime or victim.” and any of the Zodiac victims.
    Am I missing something ?

  2. Steve Hodel on April 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Derek:
    Note in these last comparisons I use “or” to compare. Yes the specific acts are very different, but the MO similarity can be found in what he is doing, which is part of his “signature.” Key is the Avenger’s placing of the body at a specific location which gives a secret “clew” to his crime. (Street name Degnan ties to his Chicago murder) This is identical to Zodiac who ties the placement of his victim’s bodies to points on a map then sends the map to the press with “clews” on how to locate them. Recall also, that the Manila, Philippines dismemberment where the killer placed Lucila Lalu’s body parts adjacent to street named “Zodiac.” Regards, Steve

  3. Marie Tsikopoulou on March 24, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Steve!
    Excellent analysis. I happen to agree with U that all these crimes are 4 ART’S sake. How evil is that? MUCH. And what the heck with this “radian” business in reference 2 the Zodiac’s map? Math incorporated into this madness. Was UR horrible dad an IVY LEAGUER? He certainly was ENOUGH scientifically brilliant 2 produce such a concept and super-impose it on the population at large. I heard there was another suspect (not divulged by the cops who thought he might be the ZODIAC and that they were crediting him 4 being the mastermind behind the plan. And that whoever planned this ALSO was the SAME person who wrote those messages. (I AGREE ON THIS ONE.) In terms of age discrepancies (there is a very good possibility that this guy had some accomplice to carry out his orders.) Any logistic problems would B solved right here at the same time////something 2 sidetrack the cops.
    To get back to WHY is this serial Monster is doing all of this: What’s in it 4 THEM? Interesting about the MO (taunting and contacting others with threats)…U see some similarities with Jack the Ripper? So do I. OCCULT, Surgical Skills, Above Average Scientific abilities come 2 mind. I’m now wondering whether these killers ALL did it for THEIR God ====”slaves 4 the afterlife”?

  4. Brittany Kearney on July 3, 2016 at 7:49 am

    Really inspiring your investigation into these horrific crimes. I myself, would like to be a researcher of some sort. My question is if there are plans to further excavate the Sowden house? Considering there is no statue of limitations on murder, wouldn’t Buster’s cue for human decomposition warrant a more thorough search of the grounds? Thank you for your extensive research and I hope to hear back from you.

    • Steve Hodel on July 3, 2016 at 10:38 am

      Hi Brittany: Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated. No plans to excavate the Sowden House or the adjacent property uphill at the rear. LAPD has “passed” claiming they are “too busy with other active cases.” Truth is, they can’t defeat the evidence presented over the years, and despite the fact that their then active Chief of Detectives, James McMurray ordered them to “clear the Dahlia case based on my investigation” back in 2004, the only way to avoid it is to make that claim. As I’ve said many times, you readers, are my judge and jury and about 90% of you “get it.” That’s enough for me. Best, Steve

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