SBPD Officer Mary Unkefer 1943 Rescuer of Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short Removes New Victim from Hollywood Residence and Reports Dr. Hodel "Staged Suicide and Threats to Kill Witness" to DA Office
(Updated from 2007 blog)
Q: Lillian Lenorak identified Elizabeth Short as being a girlfriend of your father’s and also as being at parties at the Franklin House. Could you explain George Hodel’s connection with the policewoman who wrote the letter to LAPD about your father.
Yes. The policewoman, Mary Unkefer, was from Santa Barbara Police Department. Her letter (scanned below) was mailed to District Attorney Investigators, Lieutenants Jemison and Sullivan– not LAPD. It was dated, January 30, 1950.
SANTA BARBARA POLICE OFFICER MARY UNKEFER & THE UNKEFER-ELIZABETH SHORT-LILLIAN LENORAK- DR. GEORGE HODEL CONNECTIONS
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*
*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.
SANTA BARBARA OFFICER MARY UNKEFER’S ORIGINAL LETTER
AS FOUND IN DA FILE
Below is Santa Barbara Police Department officer Mary Unkefer’s actual letter to the DA, as she typed it. In it she documents Dr. Hodel’s assault and drugging of the victim, and his “staging of her attempted suicide.” She additionally provides information re. Dr. Hodel’s “payoffs to police and DA through his attorney, Jerry Giesler.”
SBPD Officer Mary Unkefer mails letter “Special Delivery” to DA on January 31, 1950
(SKH Note- Franklin House witness/roomer, Joe Barrett, in a 2003, on-camera television interview for ABC’s DATELINE 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 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 also stated 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?”
It is my belief that this “rifle incident” occurred in late-January, 1950, and is the event that immediately precipitated my father’s “staging her attempted suicide.” Lillian Lenorak was going to reveal to the DA what she knew, and he 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 hard and knocked her down.”
I expect the critics who claim Lillian was just a “mental case” would also have to include her child as well since he dramatically and immediately corroborates his mother’s assault.
May 7, 2016, UPDATE
Due to the strong interest, I’ve received on this subject, I am here adding an update to the life of Lillian Lenorak and her son, John. “The rest of the story” if you will. Unfortunately, there is no “happy ending.” Lillian’s three-year-old son, “John” was named after his father, famed film director, John Farrow, who had an affair with Lillian in the early 1940s. The full story of her life was added to Black Dahlia Avenger II, Chapter 4. I include excerpts from that chapter so that my readers may discover what followed the tragic events from 1950.
See attached PDF for further information on Lillian and John Lenorak’s lives post Dahlia.
Chapter 4 Lillian Lenorakrevskh
Don’t recall if you addressed this in BDA or not, but did Joe Barrett believe your father was a serial killer? And if so, was he ever afraid of him?
Also…do you know where I could find the Dateline episode with his interview?
See updated clip on Joe Barrett interview here.
No, as far as I know, Joe Barrett had no clue that GHH was a serial killer. He never mentioned any other crimes other than that “your father was a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. The DA investigators took me in for questioning about him and told me that.”
That said, I now also know that Joe was not being completely candid with me. He did tell me about the Lillian Lenorak “rifle incident” and his taking the gun away from her, and informing George about her. But, he omitted his role in going to Santa Barbara with Officer Unkefer, and the statements he made to her about my father’s brutality while en route. (He later, according to officer Unkefer, recanted or denied those statements apparently at the sanity hearing probably under threats from George Hodel.)
No, don’t know where you would find a copy of the original DATELINE episode unless NBC sells it at their DVD store, or it may replay and could be recorded?
Is this it (hosted by Bill Kurtis)? Watch it ASAP because YouTube might get a copyright infringement complaint and delete it.
Yes, one of the problems with these “old” hour documentaries is that they are literally ten years behind in the updated investigation. Since making the Kurtis “Cold Case Files” I have, as you know, published the three updated books: Most Evil, Black Dahlia Avenger II, and just a few months ago, Most Evil II. Massive linkage and of course, my personal locating, interviewing and elimination of the one “Maganda” (Identified as Marya Marco in BDA II) photograph in my father’s album as not being Elizabeth Short. Also, the connecting of physical evidence from the Franklin House to the cement sacks found next to the body at the vacant lot at 3815 S. Norton Ave. The police reports establishing that GHH and ES knew and dated each other prior to her murder. Buster, the police cadaver dog’s “alert” to human remains at the Franklin House along with soil sample analysis confirm the presence of human remains. The new Man Ray Nexis artwork connections, and the confirmation of the separate statements of Chief Bill Parker, Chief of Detectives, Thad Brown, Lt. Frank Jemison and Undersheriff James Downey all independently confirming that “the case was solved and the killer was George Hodel.” But, you already know all of this. Many others simply have not read the follow-up investigations as presented in the separate books in 2009, 2014 and 2015. But, the word is definitely getting out. Thanks as always for your ongoing support. Here’s a recent five-minute clip from 48 Hours “Black Dahlia Confidential” that I just posted on YouTube addressing Head DDA Steve Kay and DA Investigator Walter Morgan commenting on the LAPD/DA “coverup” back in 1950. Again, this is early on in the investigation and made in 2004.
Why did Unkefer go to hodel’ home in 1950? Was Unkefer curious and wanted to meet Hodel l for herself ?
No, She received a telephone call and was asked to go to the Hodel home and transport Lillian Lenorak and her son, John by Lillian’s mother, Mrs. Hamilton. George Hodel had “staged” Lillian’s “attempt suicide” by drugging her and lightly cutting both her wrists, then bandaging them up. Officer Unkefer transported both mother and son to Mrs. Hamilton’s home in Santa Barbara, but Hamilton refused to take custody of her daughter, just taking her grandson, John. That left Unkefer with no choice but to take her to the hospital “for a three day observation” which was the norm back then. See BDA II for complete details.
I’ve been an active researcher in Hollywood history for quite a while. What actually led me to your book was an interest in finding out more biographical facts regarding John Huston. I was beginning to catch on to Huston’s pronounced dark side even before I read your book, but after… I can never look at “Chinatown” again in the same light, even though gradually he was seeming to me more and more to actually resemble Noah Cross. It seems like a composite of him and his friends, Sexton and your father. I was wondering, have you ever met the author of the original screenplay, Robert Towne and talked to him about where he got the idea for the incest theme? I’m wondering how well Towne knew Huston while he was writing “Chinatown. (I know that he was a friend of Nicholson who was a collaborator and involved with Huston’s daughter.)
Hi Mark. I haven’t had direct contact with Chinatown screenwriter, Robert Towne, but have heard “through the grapevine” that he apparently claims to have had no prior knowledge of the Huston/Hodel connection.
That said, there are other direct connections to the Noah Cross/Huston/portrayal that would seem to strongly suggest prior knowledge of the “Hodel History.” Michelle Phillips was godmother to my half-sister, Tamar’s children and a life long
friend who knew the story (incest) from her teens forward. She then met GHH years later in SF with Tamar. Michelle of course would have related it to her good friends, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty and of course that would have been confirmed by Huston who was a life long friend to GHH from high school forward. You can search my blogs under keywords (Huston, Michelle Phillips, Chinatown, etc.) for various references. I will be publishing BDA III an updated separate “progresss report” this fall which will delve a lot deeper into the Hollywood Connections and my father’s personal friends through the decades in Hollywood. Also, a look at Hollywood films as they relate to the historical true story. So stay tuned. Expect it will be a book you as a Hollywood researcher will enjoy reading. Best Regards, Steve
P.S. In case you dind’t see film critic/film historian David Thomson’s NYT review of BDA way back in May 2003 with reference to “Chinatown” here’s a link to it:
Thanks so much for your reponse. “a look at Hollywood films as they relate to the historical true story.” This sounds real tantalizing! Can’t wait. Would any of these films relate to John Farow? I’m quite interested in him. I think his work has been unjustly neglected. It’s quite interesting visually, especially the long takes. One of my favorite Farrow movies is the noir Where Danger Lives, I was surprised to see that your ex-wife has a bit part in it. Do you have any info on how she got the role? Do you know if she knew Farrow before she was cast? Any idea if GHH knew Farrow? (I also notice that Mitchum had the same lawyer as GHH when he was trying to beat his pot wrap, Jerry Geissler.) I’m also reminded that 1948’sThe Big Clock has surrealist (parody) painting as clue in it. I’ve read the novel but can’t recall if that element is there.
I’m now a tour guide in Hollywood for Starline Tours’ Turner Classic Movie Tour. We include Hollywood High School in the tour. In the notes I was provided for training John Huston is listed as an alumnus. I can’t find any reference to this in the Huston bios I’m reading. They say that his mother put him in two military schools while in his teens. Do you know if he indeed went to Hollywood High? At what high school did Huston and GHH meet?
Somewhat lighter: I watched the 1979 film Winter Kills starring Huston just the other night while I was in the middle of your first book. Have you seen it? Do you know that the dog of the Huston character and of the character of his wife is named “Koko”. Is it possible, given your anecdote in Genius for Murder, that Huston and your mother had a dog named Koko during their marriage?
Well, as you know, the main Farrow connection would have been one degree of separation with Lillian Lenorak. (mother of John Farrow Jr due to an affair she had with Farrow in early Forties.) I’m guessing Farrow must have known GHH due to both the Kiyo and Lenorak connections but no hard info. My mother mentions meeting Farrow “years ago” on the DA transcripts in a call to Huston’s agent where she’s asking for payment for some script doctoring she did for her former husband.
Never heard that GHH went to Hollywood High. My understanding is he went to Lincoln Heights HS (about 3 miles from GHH’s home in So. Pasadena) GHH and Huston didn’t attend same HS, dad went to So.Pasadena HS. But, they lived near each other and likely met through mutual friends or their mutual interests in art/literature and ?? Huston Dropped out of HS after two years and did some boxing then married my mom and went to NY. (They returned to LA and divorced after 7 years of marriage.) Both GHH and Fred Sexton were close friends of Huston’s and Huston, attended art school with Sexton as a teen or young adult.
I recall mother saying John did go to Military school in LA as a youth. (Fox Military I think, but not sure?) Mom put us three boys in Page Military school for short time during the scandal, but then we moved to Palm Springs.
My memory on “KOKO” was that my older brother Michael named the dog. Since she was a boxer, he came up with KO KO as in double knockout. That was what I thought, but could have come by way of our mother to Mike from the prior Huston reference? Had never known about the film Winter Kills, no never seen it. Did not know of the “KOKO” Huston name until your reference here. Mom and Huston did have a dog (a pug) in NY but never hear its name? Mom used to describe a scene where they also had a monkey and the monkey would ride on the pug’s back down the street during walks.
Do you think your dad would have had assistance in the actual medical procedures used on Elizabeth Short after her death? It does seem to me that someone with some sort of medical or surgical background would have been of more use than a layman, in what seems to me a two person job..
Also would he have known Dr. Walter Bailey while a medical student or during his residency?
GHH was “sole surgeon at a CCC logging camp for several years in AZ and New Mexico” before taking the job at LA Health Department and was praised for his surgical abilities while attending medical school. He needed no help in performing the “operation.” He had also performed and displayed the same surgical skills on the body of young six-year-old, Suzanne Degan just one year earlier.
Did he know Dr. Bayley, also a surgeon? Very possible since Dr. Bayley was by all indications involved in performing abortions and was likely a member of the “protected doctors” being paid off to the LAPD Abortion Squad. It’s all in my books. Do I think Dr. Baylet was involved in the crime-NO.