February 8, 2014
Los Angeles, California
I have received numerous requests to explain George Hodel’s connections to the San Francisco Chronicle.Here is an excerpt from Chapter 16 of my book, MOST EVIL (Dutton 2009) that addresses the subject.
The Chronicle Connection
Bay Area investigators have often speculated that Zodiac seemed to have a special relationship with the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the book Great Crimes of San Francisco, “Zodiac began his publicity campaign with several Bay Area papers, but he soon began to concentrate on one: the San Francisco Chronicle.”
Many experts suspect that Zodiac had a direct, personal connection to the newspaper. Perhaps he was related to someone who worked at the Chronicle or had once been an employee himself.
Zodiac’s Halloween card of 10/22/70 (Letter #17) was addressed directly to “Paul Averly, San Francisco Chronicle.” In his final letter (#25, dated 4/24/78, Zodiac took the time to acknowledge Herb Caen, one of San Francisco’s most beloved columnists, as though they were old friends. He wrote:
This is the Zodiac speaking, I am back with you. Tell herb caen, I am here. I have always been here. That city pig toschi is good but I am bu (crossed out) smarter and better he will get tired then leave me alone. I am waiting for a good movie about me. who will play me. I am now in control of all things.
yours truly :
On the surface, Zodiac’s message can be taken as just another taunt to San Franciscans, reminding them that he’s a local boy and still on the prowl. But the person who carefully composed these letter and risked being discovered, isn’t someone who says things casually. Everything that issues from his complex, enigmatic, psychotic mind alludes to a deeper meaning as he plays his dangerous double game — relying on his superior intellect to outsmart the police, while at the same time feeding his massive ego that demands that he leave subtle clues to his identity.
In the earlier biographical summary of my father’s life, I mentioned his experiences as a young journalist, first in Los Angeles as a crime-reporter for the Los Angeles Record, then later, while he was living and attending medical school in San Francisco. It was during this time that he was employed as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Francisco Chronicle columnists George & Emilia Hodel with son, Duncan, circa 1932.
Beginning on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1932, George and his (first wife) Emilia Hodel wrote a weekly Sunday column in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Abroad In San Francisco.” The following insert printed next to their first co-bylined article, “Little Italy, Like Naples, Leans Over Azure Bay; Breath of Mediterranean,” shows how George and Emilia Hodel were introduced to San Franciscans back in 1932:
Editor’s note—This series of articles, by George and Emilia Hodel, deals with the foreign colonies of San Francisco. The various foreign quarters—Chinatown, the Latin Quarter, Little Greece, and the rest are veritable cities within a city. There are more than twenty of them, with a combined population of over 190,000. Each Sunday you will explore, with the Hodels, one or another of these colonies.The foreign populations of San Francisco have merged their interests inseparably with those of all San Francisco. In many respects life in the “colonies” is indistinguishable from that of the entire American scene. Nevertheless, each group has brought over with it its old-world heritage—customs, festivals, philosophies, foods.
The old ways have in many cases been carefully preserved, and each now lends its special color to the life of San Francisco.
Each subsequent Sunday, George and Emilia described the sights, sounds, customs and tastes of another ethnic enclave within the city. These included: Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Spain, Fisherman’s Wharf, Greece, the Danes, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Germany, Chinatown, and France. Accompanying the articles were photographs showing traditional dress and interviews by George Hodel featuring a prominent citizen.
A collage of the series of articles.
Note the 1932 sketch of George Hodel seated at a restaurant about to order some food.
After reading the Abroad in San Francisco series of articles, one comes away with two distinct impressions of George Hodel. One, he was a man who loved things that were different and exotic. Two, he was an acute observer who saw everything and remembered every detail.
George Hodel left the Chronicle in 1932, after writing some fourteen articles over a five-month period. Herb Caen, some nine-years younger than George, didn’t begin writing for the newspaper until 1938.
Herb Caen went on to become the Chronicle’s greatest journalist and wrote about the city he loved for almost sixty-years. While my father encouraged San Franciscans to explore the cultural diversity of their own city, Caen spoke to them much more directly. His message: let’s laugh at ourselves and the vagaries of our time and in the process learn to accept one another in our splendid diversity.
While Herb Caen was likely completely unaware of George Hodel, I suspect George followed Caen’s career with interest. Given the enormity of his ego, he probably considered himself to be Caen’s predecessor. As he read Caen’s column, he probably thought to himself, “I’ve been there and done that, said that before you.”
In his cryptic message to Caen, the author adopts a familiar tone. It no longer sounds like the Zodiac pontificating, but former San Francisco Chronicle columnist George Hodel talking to a colleague, as he says:
I am back with you. Tell herb caen, I am here.
I have always been here.
 In 1978, several months after the receipt of this letter, a controversy arose when it was learned that Inspector Toschi had anonymously written himself some “fan mail” letters and sent them to a friend at the San Francisco Chronicle. This caused some to wonder if the “I am back..” letter was genuine. Toschi adamantly denied writing the Zodiac letter and was backed by command staff on the SFPD. On 7/16/78 an article appeared in the New York Times headlined, “POLICE OFFICIALS ON COAST DENY INSP. FORGED ZODIAC LETTERS.” I quote in part from that article, “ Police officials have emphatically denied reports that Insp. Dave Toschi, who has investigated the Zodiac killer case for nine years, ever was suspected of forging the latest letters attributed to the murder…. Mr. Toschi was reassigned from homicide to the pawn shop detail Monday after admitting that he used fake names to write self-flattering fan mail to a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist.”
 Herb Caen is credited with coining the term Beatnik. Kenneth Rexroth was a well known San Francisco poet and considered by many to be one of the “father’s of the Beat Generation.” George Hodel and Rexroth were good friends. In fact, in the spring of 1950 Rexroth, while visiting George from San Francisco, was overheard discussing his pending divorce by detectives who were staked out on the Franklin House and conducting electronic taped recordings. At the time of the Rexroth conversation father had been identified as the prime Black Dahlia Avenger suspect.