December 28, 2021
Birch Bay, Washington
I thought I would end this old year with a story that many would consider has a bizarre twist, but what unfortunately has become an all-too-common occurrence in the discovery and telling of the—Hodel Saga.
Here then is that story!
It began some sixty-two years ago, just a few days before Halloween, 1965.
I am married to Kiyo, the Leo, Astrologer to the Stars. We are in the kitchen high up in Laurel Canyon in our home on Utica Drive. We are arguing (not uncommon in our now three-year marriage) about what, I no longer recall.
Out of nowhere, Kiyo yells at me, “Well, you know you’re not your father’s son. George Hodel is not your real father!”
I respond, “What the Fu*k are you talking about? What do you mean not my father?
Kiyo: “Your real father is Rowland Brown, the film director. He was having an affair with your mother. Everybody knew it, and you are Rowlands’s son, not George’s.”
At the time, I dismissed Kiyo’s comments as a wrathful response, her attempt to hurt my feelings. Though, in later years, after my separation and divorce from Kiyo, I must admit that what she yelled at me in anger—struck home.
Because in the 1950s, after our father left the country, Rowland Brown became a good family friend. He helped us financially and even moved us to Rancho Mirage, then just a tumbleweed town outside of Palm Springs, where mother rented a home near his and his actress wife, Karen’s residence. I liked his strong male presence, and the fact that he and I were even born on the same day (Nov.6th), I thought was very cool. Add to that the fact that Rowland “saved my life.”
It was Thanksgiving 1952 or 1953, and I had just finished eating lots of turkey at our home in Rancho Mirage. I went outside to ride my bike, got on it, and started to pedal, but the front tire was flat, and I fell toward the front window. I put my hand up to stop my fall, and it broke the glass and went through the window, causing a severe gash in my left wrist. Blood was spurting everywhere.
Mom, who had no car, called Rowland, who rushed over, rushed me to the nearest hospital in Palm Springs some twenty miles away, and the doctor sewed me up. (I have the 4” scar to prove it.) But, “I was saved.” (At least in my 11-year-old mind.) Rowland was MY HERO.
Fast forward to 1968. I am now working LAPD uniform patrol in Hollywood and three years divorced from Kiyo.
Shortly after my divorce from Kiyo in ’65, I learned from papers I had discovered along with confirmations from my mother that Kiyo was actually twenty years older than myself and, as a nineteen-year-old teenager (circa 1940), had had an affair with both my parents.
At this revelation, I asked my mother to tell me the truth. Was Rowland Brown my birth father?
Her answer? “No, Steven, George Hodel is your real father.”
I really wasn’t sure I believed her, and I felt much more kinship to Rowland than my father. I was determined to discover the truth of it.
I then went to a family friend, Joe Barrett, who in the 1940s was a young artist living as a resident-tenant at our Sowden/Hodel house in Hollywood. I felt he might know the truth.
I knew Barrett was living in an apartment in Hollywood, and one afternoon, while working patrol, I went, and door knocked on his apartment. Joe was home, invited me in, and I asked him point-blank, “Joe, you were close to mother back when I was small. What do you know about Rowland Brown and mom? Rumor has it that he was my real father? Do you know anything about it?”
Joe paused, then looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, everyone back then thought that. Your mother thought so too. She and Rowland were heavy into a romance at the time of your birth, so I was told. I think you were about six years old when I moved into the Franklin House. The war had ended, and I was just out of the Navy.”
Joe Barrett circa 1946 and later as an essential Black Dahlia Avenger witness 2004
After that conversation with Joe, my biological parentage remained—UNKNOWN.
That is, until Dr. George Hill Hodel’s passing in 1999.
At this point, I informed his widow, June, that I really would like to know the truth. I suggested a DNA test could be performed from some personal item he had worn or owned.
June sent me George’s hairbrush, containing hair follicles that I had tested in a laboratory near Vancouver, B.C., just north of my home in Bellingham, WA.
Results were “Negative,” no root material available, hence no DNA.
Well, at that point, I figured it would remain a mystery. But then suddenly I realized, wait. I can have my DNA tested with my half-brother, Duncan Hodel, who resided in Daly City and had remained in contact with June and who I saw on occasions when visiting dad in the last decade of his life.
I called Duncan, explained the situation, and said he would be glad to cooperate. So I sent him a DNA test kit, and he returned it to me, which I forwarded to the same lab in Vancouver.
Results followed in two weeks: “In all probability, you and Duncan Hodel are not related.” I was the odd man out.
So, perhaps it was true , Rowland Brown was most probably my father.
Several months passed, and I still had a gnawing in my belly for a definitive answer. The words from the lab technician, “In all probability…”, continued to bother me.
Another eureka moment occurred to me: “Wait a minute. I can get DNA from my full brother, Kelvin, and my half-sister, Tamar, and have everyone one of us tested and the results compared.
I phoned Kelvin, “Sure Steve, happy to help.” I called Tamar in Hawaii. “Sure, happy to help.” And so it was done. Kelvin, Tamar, Duncan, and my DNA were all sent to the lab to be compared.
It seemed like an eternity, but finally, I received the written results.
“Subject Kelvin Hodel is your full biological brother. Tamar Hodel is your and Kelvin’s half-sister. Duncan Hodel is not related to you or Tamar or Kelvin.”
Another full twist in the Hodel Saga- SOLVED.
I was not the odd man out, but rather it was Duncan Hill Hodel.
Duncan’s mother, Emilia, became pregnant in 1927, giving birth to Duncan in Los Angeles in March 1928. George Hodel assumed the role of “father,” and so it remained—another HODEL SECRET.
Another of George Hill Hodel’s LIES, this one lasted an entire lifetime. (His and Duncan’s.)
This HODEL SECRET I have kept to myself since discovering its truth in 2002.
In 2008 I was able to obtain Dr. George Hill Hodel’s full DNA profile which confirmed that he was the biological father of Steven K. Hodel, Kelvin G. Hodel, and Tamar N. Hodel.
I chose to maintain George’s secret for almost twenty years because I expected, if revealed, it would cause psychological trauma to DUNCAN.
Duncan respected, admired, and truly loved ‘our’ father. But, more than that, Duncan idolized George. He was proud that he bore the same middle name-Hill.
When I learned the truth in 2002, I was sixty years old, and Duncan was seventy-two. So I decided not to reveal this truth until Duncan passed away.
In this way, I could spare him the pain, knowing it was doubtful that he would ever be able to discover who was his biological father. Those who knew, or might know are all gone.
My contact with Duncan had always been infrequent. Just an occasional meet for lunch, usually with our father during my visits in the last decade of George’s life.
And, once I made the phone call to him in 2003, just before the publication of Black Dahlia Avenger, providing him with the facts and findings that “our father” was a serial killer, I knew he would find it very hard to believe it and would have no desire to speak with me again—even if the truth would separate him from my father’s crimes.
That call, I believe, was my last communication with Duncan.
The family photo below was taken by Galka Scheyer in 1943.
George and Duncan (top)
Steven, Kelvin Michael (bottom)
(Galka Scheyer died just two years after taking this Hodel Family photograph.)
Galka Scheyer was credited with bringing Modernism to Los Angeles (See full bio HERE).
In recent years, uncertain that I would ever be notified of Duncan’s passing and aware that he was now in his nineties, I kept checking Ancestry.com for an obit notification. None found, so I assumed he was still alive and living in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco.
It was only a few days ago that I discovered the Facebook Page of Duncan Hodel’s son, Ken. And though we have had no contact with one another through the years, I decided to ask how his dad was doing?
I left Ken a short message, and he responded to my great surprise that his dad “had passed away in 2019.” (So, Duncan would have been 91.)
I did want Ken to know the truth and that HIS supposed grandfather, George Hodel, was not biologically related.
I believed that contrary to Duncan’s being informed, which would have brought pain and sorrow, in Ken’s case, I expected it would bring RELIEF.
And, of course, after sitting on this information about his dad for twenty years, I wanted to notify Ken personally of the facts before making any public disclosure.
On Monday, December 27, 2021, I called Ken Hodel around 7 PM.
In a long conversation, I provided him with all the above details and what DNA testing has revealed.
We both filled in a lot of the blanks, as I had only met Ken on one occasion way back when Dad, June, and I were invited to dinner at Duncan’s home in Daly City.
Ken was about 15 years old then and recalls that I had mentioned having just taken a Hot Air Balloon ride with dad and June, so it must have been around 1978.
(I describe “the Balloon Ride over Mill Valley” in detail in my previous writings. (Unbeknownst to the naïve Big City Homicide Detective) his dad, the serial killer, was giving him a tour of some of his old killing fields near Sausalito/Mill Valley.)
George, Steve, June, and pilot and co-pilot circa 1978 about to ascend on a tour of SF Bay Area
My call with Ken Hodel lasted about 90 minutes. By the time it was over, I’m sure he was overloaded and overwhelmed with all the new information and various family connections and disconnections.
Ken was gracious and warm, and we both assured each other that the Hodel Story in all its bizarreness was “to be continued.”
With the death of both of Ken’s parents, I now feel comfortable to reveal the facts and results discovered in my DNA testing conducted over the years.
As I indicated above, my reason for withholding the information, George Hill Hodel was not Duncan’s biological father, was to spare Duncan any pain and suffering should this be revealed.
My decision was confirmed during my conversation with Ken.
He told me that learning the truth would have destroyed his father.
For further reading on the Dorothy Hodel/Rowland Brown screenwriter connections to Black Dahlia investigation see my June 2021 blog below.
Hollywood Confidential: Screenwriters Ben Hecht, Steve Fisher, know identity of the Black Dahlia Killer: On the QT and very Hush Hush.