Was Zodiac's 1990 "Secret Pal Christmas Card" a Rayograph? Another Coded Message from Dr. George Hodel Announcing His Return to the U.S. and the SF Bay Area by Way of Another Taunting Man Ray "Clew"?

February 3, 2007
Los Angeles, California









Last week I received the following email/comment from a regular contributor to this blog site, Mr. Luigi Warren. He writes:
Steve: Found a couple more possible thoughtprints. These are from Zodiac’s last missive, the 1990 “Secret Pal”/”Gonna Keep You Guessin” Christmas card mailed to the SF Chronicle a few months after GHH repatriated to the US, leasing a penthouse just minutes from the paper’s office (“always needs to feel superior”). One is that the included photocopy of the mailbox keys is quite reminiscent of Man Ray’s celebrated “rayographs” of the 1920s. Then there’s the postmark of Eureka, CA, a logging/Gold Rush town located almost 300 miles north of San Francisco. Apart from the obvious connotations, “Eureka” is the name of Edgar Allan Poe’s last book, in which he purports to solve the riddle of existence. Poorly received on publication, some Poe researchers believe it contains hidden messages. Birds of a feather! LW
For those readers, not familiar with LW’s reference, in my second book, MOST EVIL (Dutton 2009) in Chapter 14, pages 168-173, I included new information on a “Secret Pal Christmas Card” believed mailed by Zodiac in 1990. (The same year George Hodel relocated from the Far East to his penthouse suite in downtown San Francisco.) The card, mailed in December from Eureka, California (240 miles north of San Francisco) like Zodiac’s previous mailings, was addressed, “Editor, San Francisco Chronicle, 901 Mission Street, San Francisco, California 94103.”
Included in the card was a Xeroxed paper showing a key chain and keys. See below photographs.












Zodiac’s 1990 Christmas Card read:
(Interior of card)
Not only was the handwriting/printing identical to my father’s, but even more remarkable was the fact that the “new” Secret Pal Christmas Card” was not “new” and was manufactured and printed by the same company as a companion card to the 1970 “Halloween Secret Pal” mailed by Zodiac to the SF Chronicle in 1970. The same card that contained the Ogham cipher in which George Hodel as Zodiac signed his real name, HODEL.















Ogham Cipher seen as return address on envelope and as signatory to card spells- HODEL
The above 1970 Halloween Card, mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle contained the identical taunting theme promising that the sender would name himself. (In the above card he actually followed through but as a coded cipher.)
1970 Zodiac card reads:
(Interior of card)






Yves Person’s solving of the cipher signature as published in MOST EVIL II (Rare Bird Books 2014)










George Hodel’s unique “Saddle M” from personal correspondence shown in comparison to “M” on 1990 Christmas Card.






George Hodel’s 1990 Christmas Card hand printing compared to letters from Gladys Kern (1948 LA Lone Woman Murder) and Cheri Jo Bates(1966 Zodiac Murder) mailed to police by their killer. How many identical letters to you count? (I count 22.)
These revelations with the latest publication of MOST EVIL II in 2014 presenting M. Yves Person’s cracking of the Ogham Cipher leave no doubt that both cards, printed in the 1970s, by the same company, offering the same message (promising, then withholding the name of the “Secret Pal” (one for Halloween and the other for Christmas) were authored and mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, by Dr. George Hill Hodel. Clearly, based on our new evidence, that is now a given.
As seen above, in his updated 1990 Secret Pal Christmas message, George Hodel included a Xerox photo of a keychain and keys. (Believed belonging to an unknown Post Office Box.)
Was this, as our friend, Luigi Warren has questioned–a Rayograph? Another indirect homage by George Hodel to his fellow surrealist and longtime friend, Man Ray?
I think Luigi has very likely provided us with new keys (pun intended) to George Hodel’s unique method of taunting and announcing his 1990 return to the Bay Area as Zodiac by way of yet another homage to his good friend Man Ray’s art. (I’ve lost count, but this would be about the 12th “Murder as a Fine Art Clew” from GHH specific to Man Ray’s artworks.)
Rayograph: noun
Photograms were used in the 20th century by a number of photographers, particularly Man Ray, who called them “rayographs”. His style capitalized on the stark and unexpected effects of negative imaging, unusual juxtapositions of identifiable objects (such as spoons and pearl necklaces). …made by placing leaves and pieces of material onto sensitized paper, then left outdoors on a sunny day to expose. This produced a dark background with a white silhouette of the object used.
Man Ray early rayograph, “THE KISS” (1922)















Keys and key chains (shown above) were one of Man Ray’s favorite objects for use in his Rayographs.



From his 39th-floor penthouse George Hodel for the last decade of his life (1990-1999) was literally looking down on the San Francisco Chronicle’s office just one-half mile away.
Many thanks to Luigi Warren and the rest of my readers for their ongoing commentaries and email contributions.
As my brother Mike regularly reminded his KPFK HOUR 25 radio listeners:
“There is no question out there that the “Group Mind” cannot answer.”


  1. Luigi Warren on February 3, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    “Criminal egotist find pleasure in laughing at police.” – Charlie Chan

    “I am now in control of all things.” – Zodiac

  2. Steve Hodel on February 4, 2017 at 12:22 am

    “Dr. Zodiac is a man of great ego. He enjoys using power to dominate lives of others. …We are destroying web of spider, now let us find spider.” Charlie Chan

  3. Jersey on February 12, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    I don’t know about the Zodiac killings,
    but reading ‘The Black Dahlia Avenger’ was a real experience –
    alot of investigation went into that, and even Steve Kay would
    have moved to charge George Hodel with the Black Dahlia murder.
    A fascinating piece of work!

    • Steve Hodel on February 12, 2017 at 8:58 pm

      Hi JG: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. The sequel Most Evil (Dutton 2009) unlike BDA, did not claim “case solved” but, did however, make a strong and compelling case that GHH should go to the top of the list of suspects on the Zodiac killings, and I suggested that LE get DNA on Zodiac and compare to my father’s full profile DNA now in my possession. However, with my ongoing investigation and publication of Most Evil II (2015) and with the cracking of the authenticated Zodiac cipher, I am now claiming “Case Solved.” Best Regards, Steve

  4. Jersey on February 12, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Can I ask what your thoughts are on this comment by George Hodel:

    “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia –
    They can’t speak to my secretary now because she’s dead”

    If Dr. Hodel’s secretary died 2 years before Elizabeth Short,
    could she have known that Dr. Hodel knew the Black Dahlia?
    I’ve been wondering about this comment for years.

    • Steve Hodel on February 12, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Jersey: Yes, suggest you read the updated BDA II (2014 edition). That is exactly what George Hodel is referencing on the taped statement. He overdosed his personal secretary, Ruth Spaulding in May, 1945, eighteen months prior to his murder of Elizabeth Short. GHH knew and had been acquainted with Elizabeth Short since 1943, sent her the “A Promise is a Promise” telegram in ’44 and on the DA tapes admits to killing both Elizabeth Short and his secretary and describes it in detail. “Put a pillow over her head. …I think they may have figured it out. etc.” The reference he makes is that if Ruth Spaulding had still been alive she could and very likely would have connected him to Elizabeth Short as a girlfriend and former patient. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and Ruth was not just his secretary, but also his girlfriend.

      • Jersey on February 12, 2017 at 9:44 pm

        Wow, the more I read on this case, the more tangled it gets!
        I originally bought and read your book when it first came out,
        found the photo analysis fascinating (the photos in your father’s
        album vs. ES’s photos), and read the entire book cover to cover,
        in no time, chilling!
        I will make it a point to read your next book, can’t wait!
        I assume LE has dna on the Zodiac killer, that will be
        very interesting to follow……..

  5. Ann Loray Bartels on February 14, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Steve, hello. It’s your almost cousin Loray. I was reading the new info on your website for the 70th anniversary and new evidence. I noticed an obvious connection to two of the Man Ray pieces ” Querelle” and ” The Kiss” even though they were 20+ years apart. I cannot help but feel it’s more than a connection to the just artist’s style. Do you feel there is a possible clue not previously known about the earlier piece that perhaps GHH knew? Maybe something related that prompted Man Ray to do a similar piece later as a gift to GHH. I did notice the following exert listed as a quote from page 77 of Millers book “In our dream life we live indiscriminately in past and future.”. It almost seems on point. The inner circle certainly liked to be cryptic in their meanings, and there is no doubt the tributes to each other exist. Perhaps 1922 has some clues and ties the past into their lives. Could the earlier piece be a tribute to another potential crime or acquaintance in which GHH shared an admiration of ? It seems too much of an important piece Ray did for GHH, and to be so similar, I feel the earlier piece must have been equally if not more important to Ray. I just don’t see Ray creating a custom piece for such a close friend not being completely unique in style, unless he made it intentionally similar for a reason. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Steve Hodel on February 14, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Hi Ann Lory B: Well, certainly cannot rule it out as possible. One of the missing pieces of GHH to Man Ray for me remains, “When did the first meet?” Evidence seems to point towards post-1940, after MR arrival in Hollywood. But, cannot rule out an earlier meeting. Did my mother meet him earlier when she went to Paris in the Thirties? The LIPS theme was fairly common in many of the surrealist works early on, and I am sure it is symbolic and open to multiple interpretations and meanings. So many “riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas” it was their way of game playing and communicating between each other, so the interpretations are endless. To my mind, GHH’s “Modesto Lovers” gift to Juliet Man Ray after MR’s passing is most telling. A sexual and violent reinterpretation of MR’s original. All my Best, Steve

  6. Teresa on February 20, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Hello Steve;
    I tried searching however I did not find anything regarding the signature on the Riverside Poem of “r? h”
    does the “r” mean anything to you?

    • Steve Hodel on February 20, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Teresa: No “r h” has no meaning to me. skh

  7. Luigi Warren on March 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm


    A few notes on the Groucho Marx angle in the 1990 Christmas card:

    1). In the 1971 movie “The Zodiac Killer” (a quickie-exploitation “docudrama”) the Zodiac is depicted wearing a Groucho glasses disguise and is commanded to kill by his pet rabbit. Obviously, the card seems to reference this. Zodiac Killer “traps” were set up in movie theaters when this film played in San Francisco as a publicity stunt.

    2). As you note in ME, Zodiac researchers suspect that the killer was more than slightly familiar with Groucho’s 1960 TV performance as Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner, in THE MIKADO, and/or the associated Columbia LP recording.

    3). Groucho made his final film appearance playing “God,” a dapper mob boss, in Otto Preminger’s 1968 film, SKIDOO. The bizarre and commercially unsuccessful film is a satirical comedy that juxtaposes old-school, Runyonesque characters with sixties hippy/drug culture and modern technology.

    4). Groucho aspired to be a serious “man of letters” rather than an entertainer/gag man. It has been argued that the misanthropic, scornful, sardonic, absurdist and anti-authoritarian qualities of his humor reflect resentment at being shut out of that club owing to poverty and lack of formal education. (See “Groucho Marx’s Comedy Is Pure, Bleak Nihilism” in Slate, a review of Lee Siegel’s biography, “Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence.”)

    5). Groucho knew both Ben Hecht and George Antheil and joined them in the Ben Hecht Symphonietta, an amateur musical group, in the early 40s. (See “City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s” by Otto Friedrich.)

    Was GHH a Groucho fan? I assume you have no specific recollections on that point, as you have not mentioned any. At least, one could see a link between their respective sensibilities.


    • Steve Hodel on March 26, 2017 at 3:01 pm


      Dad never mentioned Groucho and I suspect the main linkage was as you say to Groucho’s KOKO/MIKADO performance, which GHH also used in his Bay Area taunts to police and press.
      Though not impossible that they could have met through mutual friends like Hecht or ? back in the Forties.

      GHH was almost totally devoid of humor. I can only recall one instance of him relating something he considered humorous to me, which was a limerick. He recited it to me on one of our drinking weekends out in Manila, circa 1960. It related to his favorite subject, SEX. I can see him now, raising one finger and pointing it in my direction and pontificating,

      “There once was a man from Belgreen
      Who invented a fucking machine.
      It was concave and convex
      Satisfied either sex
      And played with itself in between.”

      The next limerick recited by my father, came not from his own lips, but some forty-five years later in 2004, from the secret police report. The DA Hodel/Black Dahlia Files transcription, where the officer, listening in on the 1950 electronic surveillance, staked out in the basement of LAPD’s Hollywood Station, quotes GHH speaking to an unidentified woman at the Franklin House.

      Transcription reads:

      February 26, 1950

      9:20P Water running in bathroom, and lady says something about bath tub.
      9:30P Hodel- wisecracks.


      “A peculiar people, the Persians
      The country produces no virgins.
      They fuck all day in a violent way
      And at night they practice sexual perversions.

      As far as I know, that was about the full extent of his “humor.”

  8. Teresa on April 20, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Ever since reading your books and blog I have looked at serial crimes as telling a story, and crime solving as a creative process if you will….so the ‘Diamond knot’ killer is more like the ‘love knot’ killer because the actually look the same especially when it is couples that are bound together.
    It seems as if crime solving has to be looked at both objectively and abstractly. Anyway it seems to be a common thread amongst successful serial killers…what do you think?

    • Steve Hodel on April 21, 2017 at 2:18 am

      Well, especially with someone like GHH. But, his crime signatures are most unique and would generally not apply to the average run of the mill serial killer. Much more complex, but yes, in crime analysis one needs to look objectively and also think out of the box.

  9. Dan Lackey on July 24, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Hi Steve,

    The rayogram seems all the more significant considering Man Ray would have been 100 yrs old in 1990. A little nod to his late friend three months after turning 100. (Groucho was also born in 1890.)

    I looked into murder cases in Hawaii from 1950 to 1954. I found a handy index to archives of the Honolulu Adv. I found mostly domestic homicides, w/ many being women killing husbands. I’m not done yet. I have looked particularly at cases near Oct 10. Best Regards, Dan

    • Steve Hodel on July 24, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Dan: OK, Thanks re. the Hawaii searches. Hard to imagine him going “Cold Turkey” for three or four years! Maybe he did his killings on stateside trips during those years. I’m sure he was a regular traveler to the U.S. “In and Out” so to speak. Best, Steve.

  10. Luigi Warren on November 5, 2017 at 1:11 pm


    Eureka is quite a drive from San Francisco. Any idea what could have taken GHH to this old, coastal Gold Rush town among the Redwoods in December 1990? Could he have been headed up to Bellingham by car? I see a major antiquarian bookstore opened in Old Town Eureka in 1987, which might have piqued his interest. Robert Durst had a house there in the nineties, and the town provides the backdrop for Anna Biller’s splendid 2016 movie about a nymphomaniac serial killer, THE LOVE WITCH. Certainly seems to be a vibe about the place.


    • Steve Hodel on November 5, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      LW: Yes, for Whale Watching. Neither drove, so could have hired a driver for the day, or could have had his eldest son, Duncan and his wife doing the driving for a day trip? Not familiar with THE LOVE WITCH, will check it out. skh

  11. Luigi Warren on January 16, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Steve: Beside the rayograph reference, another Man Ray Centenary allusion here might be to Kiki de Montparnasse, if we interpret the two keys as a rebus (“Alphabet for Adults”). The arrangement of the keys is suggestive of the iconic “Noire et Blanche” series in which Kiki poses with an African mask. Man Ray is buried at the Cimetière du Montparnasse, as are Charles Baudelaire and Joris-Karl Huysmans. -LW

  12. Steve Hodel on January 16, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    LW: The Noire et Blance (Black and White) was actually used by Man Ray in a photograph of/with my mother, Dorero. She was posed nude with a black woman head by head in a photo dad showed me back in the Sixties. He had it at his apartment in Manila. Unfortunately, never have seen it since. Not catalogued in Man Ray Trust photos online. Doubt they even know who she was prior to my publication of BDA. I suspect the female model with my mother was actress Suzette Harbin from the Forties. (Based on the reference by Mattie Comfort in her MS in which she said she was introduced to George and Dorothy by Suzette.) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0361924/?ref_=nmbio_ql

    • Luigi Warren on January 17, 2018 at 2:45 pm

      Steve: Kiki, Ko-Ko, 2K’s — variations on a theme. The front of the card references Ko-Ko by virtue of referencing Groucho Marx, which I think is our hint to read the two keys as “Kiki,” which is a hint to read the photostat as a Rayograph and remind everybody that it’s the Great Man’s Centennial and by the way here is a message from his “Secret Pal,” Zodiac. -LW

  13. Luigi Warren on November 6, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Steve: Do you happen to know exactly when GHH arrived in the US on his return in 1990? I believe you’ve indicated he took the SF penthouse in October? Just learned of the “Celebrity Cipher” card sent to the Vallejo Times Herald from Oakland, CA on September 29, 1990. Shows driftwood on a California beach and features a cipher and a stamp depicting modernist poet Marianne Moore. Looks somewhat credible as a true Zodiac correspondence. -LW

  14. Steve Hodel on November 6, 2018 at 12:44 pm


    No, but I expect he was in San Francisco a number of times that year before actually making the move from HK and taking possession of the property.
    I had not seen this “Celebrity Cypher” before now. but I have to say that the HW looks very GHH to me. More importantly to me is THE STAMP, which was issued in 1990.

    June was very particular about selecting stamps and would buy sheets for their mailings. But, almost always her selection would be a well-known poet and or novelist. I believe her major in college was LITERATURE and I know she loved many of our American writers/poets. That stamp is not something that would have been particularly common, even back then in its year of issuance. Likely would have had to make a specific request at your post office and buy a sheet of them. Really sets off my internal bells seeing that for the first time. The stamp is very GHH/JUNE.



    • Luigi Warren on November 8, 2018 at 12:14 am

      Likely the real deal, then. The symbolism of the driftwood on the beach seems obvious. Hartmann’s “Drifting Flowers of the Sea” might have come to mind. -LW

  15. Luigi Warren on November 6, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    BTW, I do find mutual associations between “Imagist” poet Marianne Moore and both Man Ray and Sadakichi Hartmann going back to the teens and twenties (Guido Bruno, Ezra Pound, Alfred Kreymborg), so perhaps GHH was aware of her work. -LW

  16. Sharon on January 28, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    I really need to talk to you Steve Hodel. Please see my review on one of your books. I believe you. but about the Zodiak. I am almost positive who he is. Not your dad. But I believe Black Dahlia. So many clues right in front of you. My email is published with this, you may have to contact Amazon.

    • Steve Hodel on January 28, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      Not really into getting into pissing contests with other theorists. I just present my evidence and leave it to the reader to decide. Even if we get DNA confirmation “down the road” that directly matches GHH to Zodiac, there will still be others that say, “Yeah, Well, that doesn’t prove anything.” I will be presenting additional evidence in my upcoming books “The Early Years” that will further establish the linkage of GHH to Zodiac, so stand by. Best email for me is: steve@stevehodel.com

  17. Bridget G on August 2, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve finished BDA and I’m on to Most Evil per your reading order recommendation. I’ve just come to the chapter regarding this post and was really happy to find this post as a supplement! When I saw the key chain with the 2 keys I immediately noticed that there is a little tiny eighth note musical note on the side of what appears to be a tiny vintage key chain flashlight. I wonder if this has been discussed before and if there’s any significance since your father was so connected to music. Absolutely love your books!

    • Steve Hodel on August 2, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Bridget G:

      Hi Bridget. No, not aware of anyone mentioning that. Excellent observation. Hard for these old eyes to see it clearly. Not seeing the eighth note because my photograph is not very good. Does it actually appear clear to you? If so nice catch.

      • Bridget G on August 3, 2022 at 9:08 am

        Steve, it does appear clear. The photo is posted 3 times in this post. If you refer to the 2nd one that’s posted to the right of the ‘Groucho’ snowman post card I think that one is the clearest. Especially if you zoom in on the little white circle on the key chain. Cheers!

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