February 2016 Vanity Fair Article Explores — John Huston, Fred Sexton and The Black Dahlia Avenger Investigation: The Stuff That Surrealist Dreams are Made Of

February 20, 2016
Los Angeles, California

                  A BIRDIE AND A BOGIE 

bogie bird

This month’s Vanity Fair magazine’s lead article, The Mystery of the Maltese Falcon: One of the Most Valuable Movie Props in Historyby Bryan Burrough is an excellent read.

Burrough provides a history on “The Black Bird” and the efforts of Mr. Hank Risan, a wealthy collector, to establish provenance on his own “bird in the hand.”

Included in the attempts to solve the falcon’s mysterious past are threads that lead us to: my book, Black Dahlia Avenger, John Huston, George Hodel, Fred Sexton (the artist/sculptor hired by his good friend John Huston to create the Maltese Falcon used in the 1941 film.  SKH Note:  In 1941, Fred Sexton was reportedly paid $75.00 for his creation, which sold at a 2013 Bonham Madison Avenue showroom auction for 4.1 million.)

three amigos huston hodel sexton








As documented in BDA George Hodel, John Huston and Fred Sexton were close friends from their teen years through adulthood. (My mother, Dorothy Harvey, was married to Huston for seven years (1926-1933) then divorced him and married George Hodel. Gives new meaning to “out of the frying pan into the fire.”)

Photo above shows John Huston and Fred Sexton reunited in Mexico, where Sexton lived out the final decades of his life after molesting his 11-year-old stepdaughter at their Palos Verdes, California residence in 1968. Sexton fled to Mexico and in 1971, at age 63, married a teenager. Sexton died twenty-four years later in Guadalajara, Mexico at the age of 88..

See Fred Sexton Full Bio/Timeline link below:

FAQ 47 Sexton update 2010

The Steve Hodel/Hank Risan Connection

In March 2011, I located and purchased a Fred Sexton modernist painting from an art dealer in Europe, which I referenced and displayed in a blog on my website.


In 2013,  I was contacted by Mr. Hank Risan (referenced in the Vanity Fair article as “the protagonist of this noir thriller”) who expressed a desire to purchase the Sexton modern artwork, then in my possession  and we came to an agreement.

At the time of his purchase, he also requested that I provide him with a “To Whom It May Concern” letter backgrounding and summarizing my knowledge of Fred Sexton and his connections and friendship to both John Huston and my father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, as presented in my bestselling book, Black Dahlia Avenger.  

I would later discover that his purchase and interest in the Sexton painting related to his desire to establish the provenance of his “Black Bird” sculpture, which he believed was/is one of the several originals created by Sexton back in 1940/41.  My signed Sexton painting would be one of those used by Risan in his attempt to validate the initials, “F.S” as described in the article.

75th Anniversary Nationwide Theatre Screening of John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON to screen this weekend. The 1941 film will be shown across the nation, tomorrow,  Sunday, February 21st and again on Wednesday, February 24th. Though I’ve viewed it probably a dozen times on television, I’m catching it on the big screen, for the first time, tomorrow with a friend, here in Los Angeles. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you do the same. There just ain’t a classier classic than this one. (Well, maybe a few. *s*)

maltese falcon 75th anniversary








Vanity Fair: The Mystery of the Maltese Falcon: One of the Most Valuable Movie Props in History

Below “Hodel Investigations” Logo designed by me in 1989 when I opened my office, a decade prior to discovering that Fred Sexton had created the “Black Bird”  and his further connections to Huston and my father, George Hodel.

Hodel Inv Logo


  1. Kelly Hodel on February 20, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    The gift that keeps on giving.

    • Annette Mausser on April 29, 2019 at 12:14 am

      Thanks for giving thus story to us. I am fascinated to say the least. After all i know i am most sorry for all the children. The life they had to endure is beyond my scope. I pray they could somehow/someway overcome and be productive citizens. I hate parents who always put themselves ahead of the children they brought into this world.

      • Steve Hodel on April 29, 2019 at 12:45 am

        Annette M: Thank you Annette. I and my extended Hodel Family are grateful for your kind words and support. Best Wishes, Steve

  2. JR Neumiller on February 20, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Yeah, MF is one of the great Hollywood movies of all time. Thing that impressed me the most was the amount of dialogue delivered at an almost machine gun pace – without rushing. VERY difficult to achieve because you basically need two movies worth of dialogue.

    Created the film noir style from the 30’s, and has never been surpassed. Very gritty, realistic, and suspenseful. Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre teamed up a year before for Casablanca, and they really had it working quite well.

    Was always a bit disheartened to learn of the Sexton connection with this film, as his proclivities only served to mess up the reputation, (although apparently John Huston’s raisin needs further examination accordingly.)

    Yes, this is a movie to see on the big screen with real blacks and grays in a restored print. Hope you have a great time, Steve. (Why do I get the impression you’ll cine away with a clew?)

  3. Marilyn Fuss on February 21, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I was born in 1947. I read the BDA from cover to cover, adding annotations when the first edition came out. Fourteen or fifteen years have watered down some of the facts for me, and I’d forgotten how close these three were. Odd that at least two of them shared the proclivity of molestation. Odd any which way one looks at it! I often think about the Man Ray connection, though, and how the BD’s body was configured similarly to a Man Ray photo or Rayograph. Do you think any of these men knew anything about Dr. Hodel’s offenses? Elizabeth Short and her sister victims are often with me in Los Angeles, and I am not a necromancer, just a fellow human, when I enter the Biltmore; when I pass DuCommun St. or Norton or the Lloyd Wright House. I may have written online before of a time about 35 years ago when a young man dressed in green which then matched the huge Wrightian maw in the front of the house on Franklin sat on the edge of it. He had a long paper cylinder on his head, looking rather like a bridge troll. He saw my reaction as I passed, and laughed along with me. I look at the direct line which Steve Hodel showed runs along Normandie St. down to Norton from one house to the other. Almost daily, I pass the building on Santa Monica and Virgil which is still a bar, and might be the same place where Dr. Hodel or someone, said to another patron, “I know who the Black Dahlia killer is.” When I went to Lowell, Mass. on a light rail some years ago to see my mother’s and Kerouac’s birthplace as well as the mill museum, I got a chill as we passed through Medford from Boston . You might say I have been permanently quixotized.

    • Steve Hodel on February 21, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Marilyn: A massive amount of new investigative findings have been presented since your first reading of BDA back in 2003. Three new books: BDA II, Most Evil and Most Evil II which present forensics, hard physical evidence, and many new witness links. That GHH was the killer is no longer in doubt based on the updated findings and statements confirming him as the suspect by four top LAPD/DA law enforcement officers. Sexton, George Hodel and John Huston were all very close since their teens. Yes, no question that John Huston KNEW, albeit after the fact. Sexton in addition to being one of the participants in the child molestation of Tamar, also had his own separate life as a child molester and very likely his own separate murders over the decades. Stay tuned more to come. Best, Steve

  4. John Ayers on February 22, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Maltese Falcon has been my favorite movie for at least 35 years. It introduced me to the whole film nor genre. Was surprised to see connections to your books and your private investigator logo decades later. Am really wondering if we’ll someday find out if Sexton had something to do with the killing of Ellroy’s mother.

    • Steve Hodel on February 22, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      John A: Yes, my Hodel Investigations logo was quite bizarre. I designed and had it drawn when I opened up my P.I. office in Bellingham in 1989. I used the “Black Bird” and the reverse lettering on the glass door which was clearly inspired by one of my favorite films, Maltese Falcon. At that time I had no idea about the Fred Sexton/John Huston connections, or that Sexton had created the Falcon for the film. Wouldn’t discover that until I talked to his daughter “Mary Moe” a decade later, who informed me of that and a lot more as presented in BDA.
      Re. Sexton’s possible connection to Ellroy’s mother’s murder, I think it is a fairly strong case based on the composite, witness statements, his known activity in and around the area, and the very unusual MO signature of bringing precut clothesline with him to tie and bind her, as done in some of the other Lone Woman linked crimes. At this point, the only way to know for sure would be DNA, which should be attempted, on that and many of the other murders. So far, I haven’t been able to get LE off their fat egos to move forward. Maybe some day? Best, Steve

      • Karen Hardy on July 25, 2022 at 3:55 pm

        As I read my dark places so many times I do believe the blonde women who was with Jean ellroy and the swarthy man on that faithful night of June 21 1958 never came forward for the reason that,the blonde woman was bobbie long who was murdered 6 months after jean ellroy in the same city about 4 miles from the site jean ellroy would be founded. It stated that bobble long one of the last sightings of her was seen with a man who was described as the same type man who was seen with jean ellroy at that bar. Plus this same type man was seen with bobbie long at the horse track. If u go on you tube and listen to fred sexton daughter Mary moe than u would realize she kind of blew the whistle on her own father by stating how much he loved horse’s than u would know and get a sense that if he loved horse’s so much than that put him as the man who was seen with bobble long at that horse track!!! And u would understand that bobble long was that same blonde who was seen with jean ellroy and the swarthy man and that swarthy man was fred sexton. That explains why the blonde never came forward with info about the jean ellroy murder,because sexton tied up loose ends by killing her before she could come forward about him killing jean ellroy it’s plain and simple.

    • Karen Hardy on July 25, 2022 at 3:39 pm

      My opinion is that Steve hodel has presented wayy more than enough evidence thar proved that the late fred sexton killed James ellroy mother,and the blonde women who was at the dessert inn bar in June of 1958 just off the identical kit of jean ellroy killer alone which matches sexton likeness than any other person in the country doing that time.

  5. Mark S on February 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

    “the stuff dreams are made of.” Very cool article, fascinating connections. Frustrating to see when evil criminals live to a ripe old age, getting away literally with murder. Or pedophilia. Keep shining a light in the darkness!

    • Steve Hodel on February 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      I’ll keep trying Marcus. Hope by batteries don’t run out. I know I could definitely use more RAM. steve

  6. Kenneth Green on February 28, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Great article. Just finished reading it. You’re work continues to help people in unexpected ways.

    • Steve Hodel on February 28, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks Kenneth. Much appreciated. Steve

  7. Kenneth Green on March 1, 2016 at 1:35 am

    That same issue has an article about Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. In it your sister Tamar is mentioned (p. 226, 1st col, 3rd par.). It also mentioned that the Dunnes lived on Franklin Ave bet 66 – 71 but it doesn’t mention the house. As you already know Dunne wrote the novel True Confessions which used elements of the Dahlia murder. I’m wondering if Dunne knew via of Tamar.

  8. Eddie Sotto on March 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    I handled the actual “Black Bird” myself once, installing it in a museum display and thought of the Sexton connection. Mentioning my trivia to an elderly gentleman, who was then head of Warner Bros Security (ex BHPD) supervising the install, he smiled and topped my factoid by recounting how as a young man he worked the rope of the CBS Radio Theater and recalled the distinctive look of a young Elizabeth Short and let her in to the Radio programs more than once. What a Kevin Bacon mind blower! As I recall, his name was Jack and you interviewed him in your book.

    It might be interesting to revisit the Huston film “Chinatown” (if you have not already) for thought prints, as there are some interesting crossovers…

    • Steve Hodel on March 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Eddie S: Yes, Jack Egger. He positively identified George Hodel as the man that was with Elizabeth Short in line at the radio studio. George showed him a “Chicago PD police badge” and he let the couple jump the line and enter the studio for the Jack Carson radio performance. Very very small world. He as you say, later became a DA investigation, then BHPD Captain of Detectives, then Head of Security at Warner Bros. And yes, lot of parallels in Chinatown that many have brought up as relates to “She’s my sister, she’s my mother” and John Huston Noah Cross similarities. Best, Steve

    • Steve Hodel on December 11, 2016 at 2:32 am

      Hi Eddie: Yes, that was Jack Egger, Head of Security. He would later positively ID GHH as the man who was with Elizabeth Short at the radio studio and badged him using a Chicago Police badge. He took both to the front of the line and let them in to watch the Jack Carson Show. Best, Steve

      • Frank Adkins on May 16, 2023 at 4:38 pm

        Interesting he flashed a “ chicago” police badge. That sure made my ears perk up, considering he’s suspected of the Chicago lipstick murders. Tbh I always thought it was a stretch but now idk. I’ve always wondered about Betty shorts trip to Chicago. To allegedly investigate George’s time there. Is there any evidence showing either of them visited Chicago during the time frame of the degnan/lipstick murders.
        If you covered this before I apologize I don’t remember seeing any evidence of their Chicago trips?
        Only speculation. If i remember correctly. Thanks for such interesting reads. All the best to you and your family.

        • Steve Hodel on July 29, 2023 at 10:35 pm

          Fred A:
          Unable to establish that GHH was there for sure, but all indications were that he could well have been possibly studying “Chinese” at the University in prep for his trip to China. We do know he was in WA D.C. in January on assignment to UNRRA. The Degnan father had just transferred from WA D.C. to Chicago, shortly before the murder of Suzanne. The other “biggie” is “a highly skilled suregon did it by severing her body between the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae exactly as he did with Elizabeth Short a year later. Best, Steve

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