Author/Retired Dallas Police Officer Robert J. Sadler Discovers New “Most Dangerous Game” Clew- A Purloined Letter- Corroborating Zodiac Signage – “Z” Is For ZAROFF
October 3, 2021
Los Angeles, California
Once again my readers have come through with a new “clew” corroborating and linking my father, Dr. George Hill Hodel to the infamous serial killer known as, “Zodiac.” (Though this time it wasn’t an “armchair detective” but a longtime friend and actual “been there, done that” police officer.)
In Most Evil (Dutton 2009) I offered strong circumstantial evidence that my father was taking scenes from various classic films and using them as part of his crime-signature/M.O. Those early films included, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) where the film had been shot on location at Treasure Island at the same time Dr. George Hodel was actually stationed there and doctoring to the Golden Gate Fair attendees/patients throughout the entire shooting of the film.
Additional films used by GHH as part of his M.O. were taken from Red Dust (1932), The Mystery of Mr. X (1934), Spellbound (1945), and (The Sniper (1952).
After noting these films linkages, I then devoted an entire Chapter 21 connecting GHH’s crime signature to the classic film, The Most Dangerous Game (1932).
Zodiac’s editing of his crimes was not speculative on my part, but, rather came from the mouth of the killer in his taunting letters to the press and police.
As presented in Most Evil, Chapter 21, it becomes clear that GHH assumed the role of The Most Dangerous Game’s book and film’s lead antagonist, General Zaroff. GHH copied him in words, deeds, and even in costume. (In the Lake Berryessa attacks Zodiac appeared in a full costume identical to that of General Zaroff including All black clothing, a long-bladed knife worn at his side in a sheath, hunting boots, and a weapon.)
Zodiac sketch Lake Berryessa Clip from 1932 film showing General Zaroff in costume
Excerpts from Chapter 21:
In his mailings, Zodiac left what I believe were three separate references to his “most dangerous game.” The first was pre-Zodiac and found in “the confession” mailed to Riverside police and the press on November 29, 1966. After recounting his murder of Cheri Jo Bates, he wrote:
I AM NOT SICK. I AM INSANE. BUT THAT WILL NOT STOP THE GAME.
On the five-month anniversary of the crime, April 30, 1967, the killer dispatched a sadistic hand-printed note to the victim’s father signed with a simple “Z,” which suggests that the Zodiac persona wasn’t fully realized. Perhaps the killer was paying homage to another hunter and a stalker. A man who, like himself, knew the game and played it with precision: Zaroff, the Minotaur’s alter ego.
The second reference to both the short story and the film arrived three years later, hidden in the Zodiac’s three-part cryptogram mailed to San Francisco newspapers. Deciphered by the high-school teacher Donald Harden and his wife, the excerpted portion reads:
“I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FOREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST HONGERTUE ANIMAL OF ALL TO KILL.”
The third and final reference is found in Letter 19, mailed in 1971 and printed in the May 8, 1994, San Francisco Chronicle article “On the Trail of the Zodiac, Part I, “along with a cipher that remains unbroken. Zodiac wrote:
“I’LL DO IT TO BECAUSE I DONE IT 21 TIMES I CANT STOP BECAUSE EACH THAT I KILL MAKES IT WORSE AND I MUST KILL MORE MAN IS THE MOST PRIZED GAME ILL NEVER GIVE MY NAME BECAUSE YOU DONT UNDERSTAND NEXT TIME I WILL SEND A PATCH OF HUMAN SKIN IF THEIR IS SOME LEFT OVER.”
In the 1966 Cheri Jo Bates murder, the killer sent the below letter to: the victim’s father, the police, and to the Riverside Press. Note that he signed it with the singular initial “Z”, which I believe was an added “clew” to his impersonation (at that time) of his antihero, General Zaroff, the “player of the game.” (Again, in his Bates letter he informs authorities, “I am not sick. I am insane. But that will not stop the game.”)
A NEW THOUGHTPRINT
In my past postings, I have referenced by longtime friend and sometime graphic artist, retired Dallas PD officer, Robert J. Sadler. Robert has been helping me with designing many of my graphics for many years now. I have Robert to thank for many of the graphics used in both my later books and in my postings. Robert has an exceptionally thorough knowledge of all of my books and of late, I have come to refer to him as my “Dr. Watson.”
Robert “Dr.Watson” Sadler Author of 18 ‘Michael Grant’ mystery novels
In recent days Robert, after rewatching the 1932 version of The Most Dangerous Game, sent me the below graphic.
There, in plain sight. Another “clew”- another thoughtprint-another purloined letter. (I mean that literally.)
I missed it and to my knowledge so did everyone else.
General Zaroff’s signet ring, prominently displayed showing the letter “Z”!
“Z” for Zaroff and another major link to GHH’s copying and signage of “Z” in his 1966 Cheri Jo Bates letter.
Huge Kudos to Robert for finding this purloined “Z” which we can now add to the bulk of circumstantial evidence connecting Dr. George Hill Hodel to the serial killer known as “Zodiac.”
Why would the Zodiac killer refer to himself as Zodiac if he meant Zaroff?
This is PRE-ZODIAC in 1966. The first official naming of himself as “Zodiac” came in 1968. But, his identification with Zaroff and “The Most Dangerous Game” is clear and not speculative. I’m suggesting that before “Zodiac” he identified himself as “Z” for the human-hunting General Zodiac from the book/film of that name. Then “Z” (Zaroff) just two years later became “Z” but this time he’s identifying himself as “Zodiac.” The “Z” letter also has a separate history/origin which I will be presenting in “The Early Years” so stay tuned.
Wow that is good work to find that clue at first I was not on board with GHH being Zodiac but I am begining to see that he just might be the Zodiac.
Yes, it’s a tough one to transition to. The age for the “collective awareness” is so much younger. But, once I got into it and discovered the other two artist composites from witnesses that were “picture perfect” to GHH then I followed the evidence. It really has come together now and stay tuned. It will take some Giant Steps with the publication of “The Early Years.”
Interesting stuff, Steve. I was wondering at what time Lucila Lalu’s body was posed off Zodiac Street in Manila, and it was just a month after the April ’67 letter on 29th May. Do you know where your father’s inspiration came from to rename himself Zodiac? I’ve read all your books but I can’t think if I’ve seen anything about it. Looking forward to the Early Years and the mini series.
All the best,
P. (couldn’t resist)
Don’t know/recall if the newspapers ever presented an exact time. I’m sure it was early morning.
I think she was seen being pulled into a vehicle in the evening and the killing/torture/dissection of the body
would have taken some time, so it likely was a similar timeframe to Elizabeth Short’s. Expect posing body parts was in hours of darkness likely just before daybreak. And, of course, in GHH’s “Confession Letter” sent to Riverside Press and PD one month after the Bates murder, he makes the threat, “I SHALL CUT OFF HER FEMALE PARTS AND DEPOSIT THEM FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE.”
Well, he did just that just five months later, but not in Riverside, but rather in the city of Manila, Philippines.
I will be providing additional information in “The Early Years” on possible sources for signatures, but keep in mind that he was doctoring at San Francisco’s Treasure Island during the entire time the 1939 film, “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” was being filmed. The arch villain in that film? -DR. ZODIAC. I can see how for a psychopath,how “Zaroff” and “Z” and “Zodiac” can easily morph and become one. There’s more, so stay tuned.
Ah yes, I remember now. There’s so much detail to the story I’m sure the mini-series will bring the multiple strands together for a lot of people (and will be leaving a few doubters pretty red faced). Any updates on how the series is going or is it all very hush hush?
There’s an interesting Swedish series currently running on bbc four here in the UK called ‘The Hunt for a Killer’ that’s worth your attention. If you haven’t seen it try and check it out. Some interesting MO connections with GH (taunting letters, telephone calls to authorities and so on) and a well made true crime series at that.
Sorry I meant to say MO parallels not connections.
Steve….just reading this & realize “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” is the movie set my father assisted on where he met “Charlie Chan” (most likely Sidney Toler) in 1939! My dad was 33 then, still in good health and the “go to guy” from SFPD if any swimming, surf advice etc. was needed! If there was an escape from Alcatraz in those days, Tom McGoldrick was called on to dive into those waters! He spoke often about meeting CC back then and who knows, he may have met GHH then too! Small world indeed!! The movie must have made quite an impression on your dad as he chose the name Dr. Zodiac from the movie. Unfortunately that’s where the “fiction” ends and real life tragedies ensue….pretty horrific!! 😞🌵
Kudos to Mr. Sadler for having such a keen eye for detail. It now seems obvious that GHH patterned his crimes using movies and art as a springboard.
I wonder if there is a “trail of blood” of unsolved murders resembling those in crime movies or novels along the routes he took traveling across the USA and when he was living in Asia? Something tells me there is. That would be a huge project to investigate since he was extremely mobile for quite a while. Perhaps a shout out to fellow retired or active officers might be in order to help find such murders?
I’m sure there are many more that I am missing. Especially in Manila, Asia, and possibly Europe where he made regular trips to during and through the 1950s-1980s. As far as getting “help” from active or retired officers, highly doubtful, as, sadly, they are not even willing to take a look at my current investigations. But, stay tuned. I will be presenting many more of his crimes from “The Early Years.” Have just completed and am shooting for a November publication on those. A lot more coming.
Steve, I was taking a cursory look at Gerald Mohr’s filmography after his performance as Dr Zodiac in Charlie Chan and noticed he played Police Sgt Joe Ferris in The Sniper in 1952. From his vast array of radio work he also performed in a 1948 radio play of Spellbound. Perhaps this is just coincidence. I’m a bit late to the party but thought it might be of note.
All the best!
Good observation, but I think it is simply because he was pretty much of a “go-to guy” back then. A character actor for thirty years (1939-1969) with 155 film credits.
Have you seen this? :
Yes, just released today. Claims of “case solved” come out regularly every year or two.
I see this as just another one of those. A quick glimpse at what’s been “revealed” is pretty weak. The San Francisco Chronicle has already claimed LE say’s, “It doesn’t hold water.”
Steve. I stumbled onto a series of killings in Texarkana TX. He was called the phantom. He killed couples in cars on lovers lanes in 1946. We know GHH took his show on the road to Texas before. I know it’s more of the zodiac mo than the avenger but it’s an interesting thought. Any thoughts on if it could’ve been George. Long shot but there’s definite similarities I think.
Yes, have seen these before in my research. I think he was also called “The Moonlight Killer.” But, GHH had a good alibi on these, he was doctoring in China for UNRRA during those months in 1946.
Looking forward to “The Early Years”, Mr Hodel! I have already remarked to you that the quote from Gilbert and Sullivan in the Zodiac’s notes to the police has me 100% convinced you are on the right track. I also told you long since that I examined George Hodel’s horoscope and there is also no question in my mind that he is EXACTLY the sort of person to be a serial killer. As well as the horoscope of his accomplice (whose name escapes me, but who was suspected to be working alongside him for a time,) It is a well-known phenomenon that you can get two people together and they will aggravate” each other’s “tendencies” more so as a team than they would have been otherwise. I can’t remember what happened to the “other guy”; it’s been a while since I read your books, but I think I need to go through the whole series again!