New Crime Linkage to George Hodel’s “Early Years” Crimes Begins to Funnel Back from Readers

November 13, 2021
Los Angeles
Just as I anticipated, readers of The Early Years have begun to send back potential linkage and “thoughtprints” that I missed during my initial investigations into the almost two dozen suspected serial crimes from George Hodel’s 1920s and 1930s.
Here’s the first return from my good friend, “LW”, Dr. Luigi Warren who has just finished both books and right out of the gate presents us with two powerful links (that I missed).
They were hidden in several 1921 articles reporting the murder of Father Patrick Heslin. Here is LW’s email message and observations:
Steve:  Just found an SF Examiner article from the day of Hightower’s
conviction about the role the number 13 played in his undoing. “It’s just one big thirteenth. “-LW

Excellent observation by LW.   And, while I find the newspaper reportage of the various “13’s” that played a role in the Hightower prosecution, very subjective in themselves, still it is the published article that is important. Of course, the press had no way of knowing that the number “13” also had direct meaning to the killer in that he was “13” at the time he killed Father Heslin in August, 1921. (George turned 14, on Oct. 10th,  just four days prior to the article’s publication.)
George Hodel in emphasizing the number “13” as Zodiac and for no apparent reason placed the sign of the cross directly below the large numeral “13.” Was he subtly referencing and “clewing us in” that he killed a priest when he was just 13? Further, it was reported that this cross under the number 13 was made with blood. Does it still exist?  Was it ever tested for DNA? The card was mailed by Zodiac to his former employer, The San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 7, 1970, just three days before his 63rd birthday. (George was a columnist for the Chronicle in 1932)
With George Hodel’s perfect photographic memory and pathological need to leave hints of his crimes in his messages, I find LW’s discovery very much on point.
However, it is LW’s second discovery that really jumped out at me as a definite thoughtprint!

The Bleeding Knife

LW included a portion of an article from August 11, 1921, that was written by the killer and sent to Constable Landini, who was the investigating officer on the Father Patrick Heslin kidnap. The killer’s message read in part:
…: Don’t try to get Heslin any more. He is done for. This is the text of a letter received yesterday by Constable Landini. Then follows the imprint of a black hand, made with a soft lead pencil. “This is how we did it.” follows with a picture of the knife dripping with blood.
As many of my readers familiar with George Hodel’s later crimes are aware, this is an important crime signature that GHH drew and sent to the press “crude drawings of a knife dripping blood.”  He did it both as the Black Dahlia Avenger and as Zodiac. (As mentioned in prior blogs I believe his “inspiration” was his knowledge and familiarity with the drawing of a crude knife dripping blood, sent to the press and police by “Jack The Ripper”  in 1886.
See December 2017 blog addressing earlier “bleeding knife” linkage HERE. 
Attached below is a two-page PDF recounting the full story as reported in the Red Bluff Daily News on Aug. 11, 1921, headlined: LOST PRIEST MURDERED; BODY FOUND IN TINY CAVE.

Red_Bluff_Daily_News_Thu__Aug_11__1921_ (1)


Huge KUDOS to LW for both of these additional links to the Father Patrick Heslin murder, which I believe was my father’s first murder and the precursor to his later “Zodiac Murders.”
Author Note:  A number of you have inquired as to when/if a Ebook version will be available on The Early Years parts I and II.  The answer is yes. Hope to have it out within the next four days.

Author Update 11/13/21

Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle dated June 18, 1904 referencing that the victim Rev. Patrick Heslin, then pastor of St. Columbia’s Chruch in Golden Gate was charged with a felony based on allegations made by an eleven-year-old- girl.  NFI at this time.
However, in my opinion, this having occurred some seventeen years prior would have no bearing or relationship to his 1921 kidnap/murder. 


  1. Luigi Warren on November 13, 2021 at 4:21 pm


    The front page of the San Francisco Examiner of August 12, 1921 really is one for the ages:

    1. Giant headlines about the police’s futile hunt for William Hightower’s secret pal.

    2. Photo of the inventor’s “deadly devices to cause death,” including the string-operated, spring-loaded cement “death bomb” (Hightower called it an “assassinator”), supposed to be mounted by the side of the road and positively ventilate would-be captors by firing off ten shotgun cartridges at once, and a knife with a curved blade just like the “bleeding knife of Zodiac.”

    3. The ten arrayed chambers of the “infernal machine” and the three arrayed pins in the knife handle add up to 13 — oddly reminiscent of how the Zodiac signifies 13 with a 10-hole and a 3-hole array in the 13-hole postcard.

    4. Man Ray would surely appreciate the way the knife is erotically posed with the “rotary compound machine gun.”


  2. Dennis Effle on November 13, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    And the beat goes on. Another great contribution from Luigi. More dividends from your latest work, Steve. I suspect their will be more to come as more people read your work. Bravo.

    • Steve Hodel on November 13, 2021 at 5:15 pm

      Dennis E:
      Yes, and if the past is a prelude to the future (and it always is) the “Group Mind” as brother Mike would call them, (readers and bloggers of my books and website) will provide mucho mas in the weeks/months/years to come. S

  3. Patricia ONeill on November 13, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    Great research Luigi Warren👍! Just reading the article about Father Patrick Heslin’s murder in 1921, Steve & am pretty sure this name came up in family conversations twenty years later……(mid ‘40’) with hushed voices, “such a tragedy” etc. My father, brother & four grandparents are all buried in Colma Catholic cemetary. The parish was probably well known by that generation of my family. If William Hightower did not commit the murder, but perhaps by a young teen, knowing what we know today, could the motive have been sexual abuse of that teen by the Catholic priest? You also mention, Steve, on page 196 TEY, PII, (the Inglewood Babes) statement by Margaret Rigby describing “…a tall, very thin, foreign-looking man……running toward her house…..smeared with blood.” Sounds like a man who has definitely “lost it”, highly agitated, confused. While that doesn’t sound like the GHH we know from your writings, it could be a man suffering with severe mental distress! You did mention in the second Early Years (can’t find that page right now) that GHH did indulge in Morphine. High agitation, anxiety etc. (from my modest readings on the drug) can result from long use, mixing w/alcohol, other drugs can result in serious forms with the user. To quote once again from my old professional devlopment lectures on teaching teen boys w/emotional disabilities……”you’ve all heard the saying ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, well you ain’t seen nothin yet!” Could GHH have been eligible for my class? Sadly I think the answer is yes.……so very very sad😪.

    • Steve Hodel on November 13, 2021 at 8:05 pm

      Patricia O:
      In my research I did find some reference to possible sexual molestation allegations against Father Heslin and I believe it was the reason for his transfer to the Colma church. For some reason, I’m not finding the article now, but this was clearly a separate crime and I don’t see it as related. I see this as GHH’s first “Zodiac-like” crime and as indicated in the chapter he resumes his MO some nearly 50years later. Same city, same paper, same taunts, to my mind it all fits.
      More than that the Zodiac references to “a death machine” are just too unusual wordage and match the 1921 and 1969 crimes in taunts to police and press. I’m confident more will turn up.

  4. Francois Houle on November 13, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    I have difficulties seeing was is written on the knife drawings (1921 and 1947 drawings).

    Does it say “The bleeding knife of Zodiac” on both drawings ?

    • Steve Hodel on November 13, 2021 at 9:32 pm

      Francois H:
      No, just on the Bleeding Knife drawing of 1970 does it reference “Zodiac”.
      The press never published the “crude bleeding knives” in the 1921 (Heslin) or 1947 (Dahlia) drawings sent in by the killer. They just described them a “crude knife dripping blood.”.

  5. Barry Guerrero on November 14, 2021 at 1:47 am

    Not that it has anything to do with this, but my paternal Great Grandfather, Blas Celerino “Charles” Guerrero, is also buried in the Colma Catholic Cemetery, which is called Holy Cross. He was buried there in 1923, after having died in S.F. By the way, Holy Angels Catholic Church is actually in Daly City, close to freeway 280. Perhaps the church had moved at some point, or the borders between Colma and Daly City have since changed. Both towns are basically southwest adjuncts of S.F. The signs to Daly City are painted “Daly City: Gateway to the Peninsula”. I always get a kick out of that. For those who don’t know this area, the drop down Highway 1 from Daly City to Pacifica is quite spectacular. On a clear day, you can easily see the Farollon Islands. It must have been an interesting drive down that slope in 1921, especially in the dark and in the rain. How ‘noir-ish’ is that!

  6. Luigi Warren on November 14, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    From the San Francisco Examiner, August 13, 1921:

    “A feature of the case is the large number of anonymous and erratic letters being received by police purporting to give clews to the identities of the slayer and his accomplices, as well as to their current whereabouts. None of the information offered thus far has proved of any service.”

    Deja vu all over again.

  7. Steve Hodel on November 14, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    Yep. LE just assumed that the many letters/cards were “cranks” just as they did with the dozen or so letters he sent in Dahlia, and also later disregarded many of the Zodiac cards/letters as “cranks”. I think through the decades GHH wrote about twenty + legit letters as Zodiac. Taunts to press and police were an integral part of his crime signatures. In my 300+ murder cases over 17 years I never had even ONE letter/taunt from a suspect.

    • Luigi Warren on November 14, 2021 at 12:47 pm

      Almost seems like something a clever, egotistical, malicious child would do. -LW

      • Steve Hodel on November 14, 2021 at 1:01 pm

        LW: Yes, like someone with a Mental age of 35 and an Emotional age of 13.
        “Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.” King Claudius, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.

  8. Luigi Warren on November 16, 2021 at 3:18 pm


    Perhaps the Zodiac’s 13-hole postcard is all a riff on the Heslin murder. The same 8/12/21 Examiner front page that depicts the “infernal machine” talks about San Francisco city police closing in on Hightower’s pal, “the foreigner who appeared at the house of Father Heslin.” The “price tag” for Heslin — the ransom, and the reward for information on his fate — did indeed keep changing. As for “Some of them fought, it was horrible” — the coroner thought Heslin had been struck on the head and shot almost simultaneously, which suggests a struggle rather than an execution, possibly involving two assailants. Maybe the State’s theory was largely correct, but Hightower’s diminutive pal was tasked with luring the priest from his house. The jury members told the press that they all thought Hightower was not the sole perpetrator — implicitly rejecting the conveniently tweaked testimony of the two eyewitnesses — but they did think he was guilty (Examiner, 10/14/21.)


  9. Julian AOP on November 17, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    Big fan here of all your books and I usually buy them in both the Kindle format, for easy reading and then either paperback or hardcover for research, as photos and thumbing back and forth for notes is easier for me as I’m pretty old school when it comes to electronics.
    Question, when will your two newest books be out on Kindle? I am thinking of getting the paperback editions, but am itching to stay home, now that the weather is nice and cool and sit by the fire while reading your two volume set. Should i wait a few more days for the Kindle versions or will they be out in a month or more.
    Best regards

    • Steve Hodel on November 17, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Julian AOP:
      The ebooks should be out in the next few days. Soon as I get the few conversions typos corrected will upload to Amazon. So, probably wait and I will post a notice when they go llive.

      • Julian AOP on November 21, 2021 at 6:24 am

        Greetings Steve,

        I’m currently reading Volume One which I bought in soft cover via Amazon and they arrived yesterday morning. Last night I checked and saw that both volumes are now available on Kindle, so, of course, I downloaded them and spent a few hours in bed into the wee hours reading. I really enjoying studying the photos and the minutiae so the book copies help with those images that are a bit smaller on the Kindle.

        Love your work and research.

        Best regards,


        • Steve Hodel on November 21, 2021 at 9:28 am

          Julian AOP: Thanks. Yes, the ebooks are also great for “searching” and can serve as an index when you want to check/search a particular keyword. Best, Steve

  10. Dan Lackey on November 18, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Hi, Steve
    When I saw the note attached to Bud Lord’s coat, with the tell-tale GHH block lettering and signed with the Zodiac symbol, I just about fell out of my chair. Just finished the two volumes and they were well worth the wait. The tie-ins from the 20’s to the 70’s are mind blowing. The new revelations help to explain many of his Zodiac letters. (Such as the 13 with the cross underneath). A great job of tying it all together.

    All the Best, (Now try to some rest)
    Dan Lackey

    • Steve Hodel on November 18, 2021 at 11:41 am

      Dan L:
      Hi Dan. Thanks. Yes, exactly so. His “early years” crimes prove his future crimes and his future crimes verify his past ones. So consistent and with his unique crime signatures even one going back 100 years screams out. It’s clear that Father Heslin really was his first urban terrorist crime, just slightly revised and edited as “Zodiac” in 1968-9 with a tweak in the Bud Lord murder in the Thirties. I’m relatively certain that his HODEL Zodiac Sigil was created thirty years before in the Bud Lord murder. Best, Steve

  11. Dan Lackey on November 19, 2021 at 10:47 am

    Hi Steve,
    I happened to check Diane Hodel’s site and saw a photo of her mother Hortensia and George sitting on a bench looking cozy. I had never seen that photo before. I think the site was called

    All the Best,

  12. Luigi Warren on November 19, 2021 at 1:01 pm


    Continuing to read up on the contemporary coverage of the Heslin case. Some more thoughts:

    1. The “ib” thoughtprint doesn’t fly. If you review the SFC’s 8/11/21 front page coverage, the image of the 2nd note is truncated but it becomes clear that “ib” must be “if” (“forgive this act *if* you can.”) Moreover, although early reports suggested the note came from a “crank,” it was subsequently revealed to be a ruse cooked up by police and Nick Harris, head of a big detective agency of the day, to try and flush out the kidnappers. Judging by the timing of Hightower’s coming forward, it might have worked. I think the reason this letter evokes GHH is that he probably consciously adopted or parodied the hoax note’s “woe-is-me” tone and the “fate made me do it” idea in his own later communications — it all became part of the “game.”

    2. It’s pretty strongly indicated that the heavily disguised man who lured Heslin away in his car was not Hightower, but someone significantly shorter than the blue-eyed, sandy-haired Texan, who was 5’8.5″ per San Quentin records. Evidently, that’s what the jury thought, although they also believed Hightower was guilty. So far, I find myself leaning to the same view. Most interesting evidence that the theorized accomplice could have been GHH is the description of the “little fellow” seen apparently rendezvousing with Hightower and “trotting” behind him in the Pacific Building on August 8, just before he came forward seeking the reward. Several aspects of the description dovetail with the 1922 High School Yearbook photo and Ted Le Berthon’s 1925 profile. Of note, in 1919 Hodel family friend Alexander Zelenko established offices in the Financial District, just a few minutes walk from the Pacific Building as well as the offices of the Chronicle and the Examiner.

    3. It’s at least mildly interesting that the Zodiac killer first introduced himself as “the Zodiac” in a letter to the San Francisco Examiner received on Monday, August 4, 1969, given the date of the 1921 kidnapping was August 2 and the ransom letter was postmarked August 3. The “This is the Zodiac speaking…” letter also boasted in detail about an ingenious electric gunsight, which is somewhat in the same vein as the “gadget” talk in the 1921 missive.


    • Steve Hodel on November 19, 2021 at 3:13 pm


      Attention to all Readers:
      LW’s correction to my “ib.” is correct.
      In the torn letter published in the paper, it showed only the partial “Second Note” to Arch Bishop Hanna ending with what appeared to be “ib.” But, in reality, the note continued and clearly continued with not ib. but “if you can.”

      Full Note reproduced in the Sacramento Bee on Aug. 10, 1921, reads as follows: “New Letter Asks $15,000 Ransom For Colma Priest” …
      … : Father Heslin is not dead. Neither is he injured yet. Fate has made me do this. Sickness and misery has compelled my action. I must have money. Please forgive this act if you can. Have $15,000 ready. You will hear from me very soon. The manner in which this is to be paid will be revealed to you in my own way very soon. In fact, now that the excitement is died down Father Heslin is brave and says for you help him. Have money ready for my future instructions. You will hear from me very soon. You will know I am the right person as will have the piece of paper that fits on this letter.”

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