Was Dr. George Hill Hodel the Biological Father of Author Steve Hodel? DNA Reveals ‘His’ Father’s Longtime Paternity Claim as a Lie
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).
“The Blue Four” artists: consisted of Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Alexej von Jawlensky.
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.
Wow. Another family tree sapling that was totally unexpected.
I found this so interesting, I wished you had more time to talk with Tamar, she had a rough time with your dad.
Yes she did. We actually had a lot of conversations after his death. Long phone conversations where I really got to know her, well, a part of her, for the first time. A very complex person. She was at times very insightful and at others totally wearing blinders.
Is it true that there is d n a of Z that could be compared to both doctors ?
Well, not exactly. It is true that several different law enforcement agencies in the SF Bay Area, as well as the Riverside PD, have unconfirmed DNA related to their investigations. Whether it is “Zodiac DNA” or some other who can say? To my knowledge, NONE have been matched and linked to each other, so until they do that they do not have confirmed Zodiac DNA. Any one of the samples could be, or none could belong to Zodiac? So, they are only valuable to rule a suspect IN, but not OUT.
In other words, a negative match means nothing, only if the DNA is positive would the evidence be valuable. Best, Steve
Quite a Christmas, Steve, for two (one being me!) rather confused people wading thru 80 years of life getting surprises all along a very twisted path!! As I read this and saw the photos there really is quite a resemblance between you & Roland Brown! Quite a resemblance! And thankfully he was around to save your life, physically & financially! I too had some very nice surprises (both financial & emotional) & good conversation(s) which smoothed out many “rough edges” in my past! I thought on 12/26 as I went to sleep that if I pass away tonite, I’m very satisfied with all the ups/downs, lessons learned and the tremendous results (children & grandchildren) garnered along the way! Of course a couple of glasses of Champagne add to the rosy glow! On to 2022!! So glad you are now near your family, Steve…..another roller coaster ride for sure!!👍 Happy New Year🥂!! 😎🌵
Yes, the Irish/English genes from my mother definitely gave me a “Rowland” look for sure. Not much of the Russian genes on the face of it. (pun intended).
I have had those very same thoughts Patricia. If I passed tonight, I am satisfied and feel complete. Two beautiful sons and two beautiful grandchildren, a boy and a girl. Couldn’t ask for much more of a “legacy”. Lot of Life’s mysteries both real and imagined “Solved.” New beginning in the Great Northwest. So, if I get another decade or so GREAT, but if not FINE. Life is Good.
Steve, I so admire your thoughtfulness in withholding this info. It would have served no purpose and surely would have destroyed a 91 year old man and to what purpose would that serve. You story is so fascinating that I cannot stop following and it seemingly never ends.
I just learned in my few days old telephone conversation with his son, Ken, that Duncan died just 7 weeks after his wife, Georgina passed in 2019. According to Ken he was totally dependent upon her and they were married for 72 years. Amazing. I long ago made the decision to keep it secret until he passed. Best, Steve
God Bless you, Steve, for all of your relentless work and investigations and your sensitivity to people.
Thanks Cathy and Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Wow, I thought my family had secrets. That was a kind n humble thing you did not telling him. I feel like many ppl would’ve used the information as some kind of emotional ammunition to use against him when he took the news about George badly.they way kiyo did when y’all were arguing. That shows your good character and kindness.ppl like to say the truth is always best, this is normally the case but in cases like this,it only hurts. The story makes me think of something I overheard a old man tell a guy inna deli when i was s kid. He asked the younger fella “ boy,you know how ya know who your daddy is? The guy kinda stammered n before he could answer the old guy said “because your momma told you so.” It was crass for sure but as I thought about it it rang true. Before dna it was true.
Congratulations on moving closer to the family. Family is the true wealth in this world. Hope you and yours had a great Christmas n happy new year.
Thanks for the kind words Frank. Yes, and also so important to now let his son KEN know the truth of it. I could tell from my long conversation with Ken that he valued the jTRUTH of knowing above the shock that as he said, “would have destroyed my dad.” Best to you and yours. p.s. Frank I replied to your private email, but it kicked back-no such address? May have been a typo on your part?
I accidentally hit send before I finished the message if it’s ok il send a complete message. I apologize for the unfinished message. I wasn’t sure if it had simply deleted it or sent it. Lol. Thx.
Hi Steve ,
we,ve met briefly through email, I’m Loray B. I’m the cousin of Ken . Duncan was married to my fathers sister. I moved out of California and was not aware that both of Ken’s parents had passed. I feel sad at having lost touch and certainly would have sent Ken my deepest condolences had I known. I also send them to you for your half brother…blood test or not I feel family is family , though not always blood relatives. Do you know when Duncan’s wife passed? One thing I can confirm there were always secrets in our family. I found out literally at my fathers funeral that I had a half sister. I looked for her and thought I found her, all evidence I had pointed to one person, but upon contact she felt she was not. I believe once again secrets were the reason she was unaware. However it did warm my heart she said she would have been honored to have me for a sister. I was the only person in my immediate family not aware of this half sister. Most likely because the family knew me, I’d have knocked on her door….apparently she lived at the corner on the block at one point in my childhood.
I don’t know why our family and yours were so involved in secrets, but there were always things discussed with hushed voices and kept from us as children. My uncle was high up in the government and my grandfather in the church so maybe that was it.
At any rate I hope you are doing well and are healthy and happy after the pandemic and the changes in the world as we know it. I moved to New Mexico , the people are nice, but I’m terribly homesick for California . Sorry for the public note , I seem to have lost your email.
Love from your almost cousin,
Many families have these kinds of “secrets.” Most remain secrets. Our family’s secret would have remained unknown forever had I not pursued the DNA testing to determine if my father was in truth, my biological father or not?
Duncan’s wife passed just a few months before Duncan and with her gone, according to Ken, his father deteriorated quickly and died within six months I think he said. So, Duncan never knew the truth of it and of course never believed that “our father” could have committed such horrific crimes.
Life is truly very bizarre.
My email is: [email protected]
All my best,
“Family photo by Galka Scheyer” , Not only did she introduce the Blue four, she did so in Jake Zietlin’s bookstore whose interior was designed by LLoyd Wright.. She was one of RM Schindler’s mistresses. Schindler was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Schindler’s house on Kings Road was ground zero for the LA modern art and music scene and was also a place of sexual experimentation and “Free Love. ” I was standing on a ladder in the late 1970s stripping paint off the ceiling on Schindler’s wifes section of teh house. A very old German woman who was the wife of someone important was being interviewed and said this was the first place she heard live jazz, the first orgy she attended and the place where she first experienced Lesbian sex. Ive always thought there should be a connection between Schindler and Hodel and here is one,,